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A glimpse beyond the numbers - in two days - in frames - in memory fragments



On the local French dialect, Senegal means "our boat". Senegalese are not much different from Bulgarians, although such a statement might sound absurd to many. Children play football (soccer) a lot because this is their chance to move out of Africa and to jump up through class structures. Every possible space is a football playground. The cities in Senegal enlarge at the expense of the baobab forests. People want what everybody wants - to be in good health and to have a job. The economic power of the Western states defines the contours of their economy. Somebody said - I am so happy we don't have petrol - this way at least we live in peace. The European Union uses with priority the resourses of the Senegalese waters which leads to a drastic decline of the national fishing industry. Senegalese define themselves as an agricultural economy, although they work their land in small portions, and often local people rely on barter trading. The Gorée island is close to Dakar. It is famous for being a slavery dispatch station to Northern America, although historians tend to question its fame. Nonetheless, Gorée is a place which does remind of the cruelty and crimes against those enslaved. Now it is a centre of local art. It is beautiful, with buildings and vegetation speaking many foreign stories. Local people wonder where are all the Chinese who are in town -There is so many of them, and noone can see them.

The Senegalese public officials (at least in their health sector), their experts and professionals speak the language of the global professionals, and it seems as if they are resolved to make Senegal overcome the hardships. In the suburbs of Dakar, which can straightforward can be described as a ghetto, live people from the middle class - side by side with the horse and the sheep and goats. Coulourful, barefoot, smiling and observing people. The sclera of many children bears the traces of malaria and other diseases. Good main roads (I mean with no wholes in the asphalt), colourfully painted minibuses which transport people, sometimes hanging out of the van to enjoy the air draft rather than for the lack of enough space inside. Four on a scooter, probably going to work or coming back, and loaded up not for any hov lane requirements. Beautiful mosques - much bigger than what my eye is used to, combining Arabic tradition and African art. Shopping, trade, need for a carriage? All the loads, bags and goods locals carry on their heads - amazing balancing skills. One would not see a baby pushchair or a straller in Senegal - mothers carry children on their backs in a way which reminds me of the most "ecological"/"green" fashion wave of the day - the sling. Drinking water is very expensive! While travelling by car,  in traffic jams or on traffic lights, from everywhere you would be approached by traders offering you bananas, water, fruit, or ice in bags... Beyond question, everything is a great teaser to the senses.

The health institutions and the medical centres are beyond our idea of a health centre - little one-storey buildings, with sandy front yards and a couple of baobabs to shelter the incomers in need. Inside, in a very simple order there are some main equipment sets to help the diagnosing process. The medical staff is very moved by the visit of the head of the anti-malaria programme in Senegal (the director of PNLP Dr. Pape Moussa Thior). Sheep is everywhere. On the walls there hang instruction for precaution measures against malaria - one of the country's biggest problems, and a main source of foreign aid. There hang unstructions for malaria vaccination during pregnancy. The doctors are proud and happy to provide information about the decrease of malaria cases in their region. In the last months, there are 0 cases of malaria deaths. 

On the may to the region of Khombole, Senegal presents itself with a scenary which is closer to what we would imagine about this so culturally and historicall distant place. Wilderness, dust and wonderful big baobabs with fruits hanging like monkeys. Through the dust we could see the world in silhouettes. We are on our way to a small village, where malaria has been eradicated. To my greatest surprise, we arrived to a place, which probably with the meanings of our arrangement of the civic space we could call a square, outside the village walls, full of people. This is the day of my 30th anniversary. In the middle, on the sand large beautiful carpets are spread. Microphones, an amplifier, and speakers plugged in (auto) batteries. Around, in a U-shape there are rows of chairs. On the one side are seated the women with children - they fill the eye with colours and smiles. Even in such a small society one could see the freedom of religion (probably I've worded it too strong, since most of the Senegalese are Muslim) - women and children choose whether they would wear a rather African or Muslim attire. The men are seated on the front side. Our delegation is seated in a honorary couch. After all, it is the reception of the director of PNLP! Then it started - the story of a man who after losing his young daughter to malaria, and finding out that it is a curable and preventable disease, created the necessary sanitary order in his own village and other 28 neighbouring settlements - information, hygene standards, insecticide treated nets, and a mutual fund for rapid reaction in case of malaria. There followed a touching theatre performance of children from the village presenting the common ignorance and myths regarding health, and particularly - malaria. It is a strikingly similar story regarding health to many small and distant villages in our country. In short, when sick, don't cast spells, go to the doctor!...

It was probably the first time that most of those people saw a caucasian. It was the first and only time in those 2-3 days in Senegal, when I felt different from them. I asked them to show me around their village and how they live. My first impression was - modesty. We need so little to live with! We have forgotten this. A room with a bed - covered by an ITN - and a chest of drawers. Little one-storey houses of two or three rooms. It seems as if the goats are everywhere. The infirmary is outside the village. It was a big celebration! A celebration of the fact that their efforts are successful and examplary! A celebration for the kids, because their acting was amazing, and because there was a camera which drew irresistably their attention! Although I wouldn't say they are infamiliar with new technologies.    

Such a trip incites a lot of reflections. Maybe every big deed starts with a very private story!

I remember the beginning of a charming book Sophie's World - "… the only thing we require to be good philosophers is the faculty of wonder..."

The story told by Iskra Djanabetska-Kavaldzhieva and photographed by Hristo Dachev