On Generosity

Keur Mbaye Fall, SenegalOne thing keeps coming into my mind now that I’ve been back in Spain from Senegal for a couple of weeks: grace and generosity are a completely different sport there, as shown to us by our hosts. It was astonishingly unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. Anywhere.

Generosity is the habit of giving freely without coercion, which leads my mind to something else: while there, our hosts would typically and immediately describe to us their need, listing specifics in some cases, leaving no margin for egotism or hidden agendas. They relinquished any such notions, admitting freely that they needed our help and welcomed us wholeheartedly into their intimate communities. The best part of this is: this freed us all up to then enjoy each others company in earnest, having gotten the “business” of expectations quickly out of the way.

In the developed world, it’s all about the poker face, which I wonder what the effect of is, exactly, over time to the way we relate to each other.

Once past the meeting stage, the graciousness displayed by all of our hosts was unrivaled. Truly. Letting a complete stranger into their home to film them: me and my camera shooting the poverty surrounding them and yet also how little it seems to matter to their general satisfaction with their lives. The people of Keur Mbaye Fall need little to make them happy. In contrast, I worked hard not to project my own guilt about taking so much for granted in my own life, for having problems that aren’t really problems at all outside of the traps my Western mind sets for itself for seemingly no reason at all.

One example of what I mean is worth relating here: after one particularly long and hot work day, one of the community leaders invited a few of us to his home to wash our hands and faces. Upon entering, I felt a most peculiar feeling come over me. It felt familiar. Deja vu. Familiar as if from an early childhood memory, from a room in my mind that had had its door shut a long time ago, only to have it opened on this day. It certainly could have been the heat, however, I choose to believe there was much more to it than that.

Upon preparing to leave his home and return to our team and the shuttle that would return us to the compound where we were staying, he offered us the most unlikely of things: Keur Mbaye Fall, Senegalfrom a freezer (photo below) he removed four small, plastic baggies, twisted in half with an orange-ish substance in them. As soon as he placed one in my hand (it was cold, frozen) my entire body shuddered from the shock of it – pleasantly. I was stunned. Here was a man who had exponentially less than any of us could ever imagine, sharing something of a most exquisite nature with us, something not just anyone could acquire in this place. Something that surely took him a great deal of trouble to finagle into his own life for his own family and here he was, sharing it freely as if it were no trouble at all.

As we left the shady comfort of his home, we bit off a corner of our baggies and began manipulating the frozen stuff out through the hole using our lips to smash it gently without further tearing the baggy. It tasted not unlike a Push-Up, yet another childhood memory that I couldn’t have known would be connected to this day. I dawdled along behind the others, savoring it, wondering whatever had I done to deserve such an amazing experience and this selfless and so very fine a gift from a man of such simple means. Right then and there I stopped in the middle of the road and stood, humbled, with a cool and soothing ice cream in the harsh desert climate of Africa.