The Bench, the Bucket and the Gendarmes…

Last night I was bored. So when Isaa and Ibrahma invited me to go to the forage (the water tower) with them to (what I thought at the time) lock it up I heartily agreed. Usually the two of them jump on Isaa’s motorcycle and go, but it is broken. A walk sounded nice. Before I continue with this story I need to make perfectly clear to any Peace Corps employee reading this that any rules broken in the retelling of this story are the result of me being totally and completely misled…and stupidly assuming things that are stupid to assume. My dad always said that to assume makes on “ass” out of “u” and “me”. When he is right, he’s right.
 Ibrahma’s nephew drives up in his car, which he calls un auto africain. I ASSUMED that they were just being really lazy and didn’t want to walk. Just to be clear on what exactly an African car is, let me explain: it has no windows, it has no back seats and the front ones aren’t attached to anything, it is missing most of its interior (walls, ceiling, etc.), and to start it one must hotwire it. To hold the front seats in place you simply stick your arm out the side window and wrap your hand around where the windsheild should be. (Bugs don’t taste that bad but they get stuck in your teeth) In the back was a small wooden bench and a five gallon bucket to sit on.

I think, what the hell? The forage is maybe 150 yards away. Here is my mistake…no wait, not yet. We get to the forage and they tell me to stay in the car. Ok. Then they grab four five-gallon jugs and put them in the trunk. I ASSUMED that maybe this was why we took the car. Until we started driving again and not in the direction of the village. Here was my mistake. The bugs are worse on the main road, but it is made better by the comical affect of turning around and seeing three adult African men essentially squating in the back of a car holding on to the roof in any way that they can. We end up in Thiès. Here is the big rule breaker no-no: no traveling at night.

I didn’t feel unsafe apart from that there were no windows and the roads are barely wider than the car. So I didn’t worry. Until we reached a gas station. Hmm? Apparantly the buckets were to collect gasoline. For some reason in my head I had just ASSUMED they were for water because that is the only thing I had ever seen anybody put in buckets. Wrong. So now I am in this l’auto africain with little more than two semifunctional pedals, one headlight, and gasoline in the trunk. Now there is a voice nagging in the back of my brain…”I hope nothing hits us, but at least I wont smash my head into the windsheild when I fly from the vehical.”

We are going home, Inshallah. Slowly. Surely. Damnit!

For those reading from the America side, les gendarmes are the French-African version of the state police. But much, much, much shadier. Not that they would do anything to harm you. But they like to make some extra cash on the side. For what or whom, xamuma (I don’t know). They stop us. Make fun of the automobile and make the men get out. Just to clarify how normal this is, some of the men decided to shop at the little boutique booth five feet away while the gendarmes spoke to the driver.

Then, after the men handed me their shopping, Ibrahma’s nephew gets back in the drivers seat and we leave…I mean we leave Isaa and Ibrahma behind. I don’t know what is going on because I don’t really speak Wolof and no one tells me. The only comment I got is “ces gendarmes sont imbacilles”. Now I am slightly concerned. But then they get in with the gendarmes and follow us.

We get to an intersection before our village, where you turn to go to the forage. We have line of site. Then the gendarmes stop. They make all of us get out and stand there for about thirty minutes. Just hanging out at an intersection in the middle of nowhere nearing midnight. The fields look nice though. The gendarmes procede to pull over every vehical that drives by until we have two motorcycles, two cars, a taxi, and an alham (a large taxi bus). They let the alham full of nice middle women go (after getting paid of course).

They ask me where I am from. I say I am American. They say “Ahh! Barack Obama!!!” I say I voted for him. I tell them that I am in the Peace Corps and they seem excited. Then they ask how my dad feels about me being in Africa alone. I say that I am a very independent person. Their response: that isn’t good for finding a husband. Then, after half an hour of chatting and joking and just sitting on our car they say we can go. So we walk to the forage (the nephew drove the car). Put this gasoline in storage. And I go home and go to bed.

The moral of the story…I should have believed Ètienne when he said the gendarmes get bored.

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