Letter to the Editor
Three weeks after college, I flew to Senegal, West Africa, to run a community center in a rural town. Life was placid, with no danger, except to your health. That danger was considerable, because it was, in the words of the Peace Corps doctor, “a fecalized environment.”
In plain English: s— is everywhere. People defecate on the open ground, and the feces is blown with the dust – onto you, your clothes, your food, the water. He warned us the first day of training: do not even touch water. Human feces carries parasites that bore through your skin and cause organ failure.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that a few decades later, liberals would be pushing the lie that Western civilization is no better than a third-world country. Or would teach two generations of our kids that loving your own culture and wanting to preserve it are racism.
Last time I was in Paris, I saw a beautiful African woman in a grand boubou have her child defecate on the sidewalk next to Notre Dame Cathedral. The French police officer, ten steps from her, turned his head not to see.
I have seen. I am not turning my head and pretending unpleasant things are not true.
Senegal was not a hellhole. Very poor people can lead happy, meaningful lives in their own cultures’ terms. But they are not our terms. The excrement is the least of it. Our basic ideas of human relations, right and wrong, are incompatible.
As a twenty-one-year-old starting out in the Peace Corps, I loved Senegal. In fact, I was euphoric. I quickly made friends and had an adopted family. I relished the feeling of the brotherhood of man. People were open, willing to share their lives and, after they knew you, their innermost thoughts.
The longer I lived there, the more I understood: it became blindingly obvious that the Senegalese are not the same as us. The truths we hold to be self-evident are not evident to the Senegalese. How could they be? Their reality is totally different. You can’t understand anything in Senegal using American terms.
Take something as basic as family. Family was a few hundred people, extending out to second and third cousins. All the men in one generation were called “father.” Senegalese are Muslim, with up to four wives. Girls had their clitorises cut off at puberty. (I witnessed this, at what I thought was going to be a nice coming-of-age ceremony, like a bat mitzvah or confirmation.) Sex, I was told, did not include kissing. Love and friendship in marriage were Western ideas. Fidelity was not a thing. Married women would have sex for a few cents to have cash for the market.
What I did witness every day was that women were worked half to death. Wives raised the food and fed their own children, did the heavy labor of walking miles to gather wood for the fire, drew water from the well or public faucet, pounded grain with heavy hand-held pestles, lived in their own huts, and had conjugal visits from their husbands on a rotating basis with their co-wives. Their husbands lazed in the shade of the trees.
Yet family was crucial to people there in a way Americans cannot comprehend.
from Karen McQuillan