“The New Way”

You would have no trouble recognizing me if you came to Pikine.  You would fly to Senegal in West Africa from Paris or maybe London, and arrive at the Dakar airport.  Then you would take a taxi into the city, and the driver would give you a very funny look when you told him you wanted to go to Pikine.  “That’s not the best neighborhood,” he would tell you.  And you should be careful here, even though most of the people are good and most are very friendly. 

 If you arrived in the morning, you might see me at the market with my sister or my Mother.  At noon you might see me walking to the Job Center with Catherine, my best friend.  If you went into the Center you might see me at my station, monitoring the airport parking lot in Quebec, or watching the employee entrance at the car factory in Lyon.  After work, on a good day, you’d see me on the bus, headed to the club with some of the other girls to dance and listen to the music.

 But you would have no trouble picking me out from the crowd.  I’d be the girl with a big smile on my face.  I guess I have kind of a big mouth, and it just naturally wants to smile all the time.  My friends make fun of me, but I don’t care.  I smile for a reason, and it’s who I am.  But God has been very generous with me, and He has given me a reason to smile.

 I’m supposed to tell you a little about my job.  Earlier today I came very close to not having a job at all.  One of the supervisors tried to fire me today, because I would not be his girlfriend.  This is not right, even though it happens a lot.  But Catherine wouldn’t let me just leave – she made me walk into the Manager’s office and make a complaint, which made me very nervous.  Why would they listen to me?

 But he did listen to me, and he sent me right back to my station, and I guess he gave the supervisor a very stern warning.  This would not have happened before.  This is why the Job Center is not just a place where people work.  It represents a new way of working, and a new way of living, for a place like Senegal.  When President Wade first gave his speeches about this “new way” nobody in Pikine really believed it so much.  When Youssou started singing about it we started to believe maybe it could happen someday.  But today I saw it with my own eyes.

 Speaking of my own eyes, that’s basically what my job is – I watch things for people.  Most of the people in the Job Center are Guardians – we watch over places or things or people.  Some of us just watch and hit an alarm button if something doesn’t look right.  Like today, it was snowing in Quebec and about twenty people left their headlights on when they parked their cars at the airport – one of the alarm buttons on my monitor screen is “headlights”.   When they go to get on the shuttle bus to the terminal, there is a sign that lets them know that they need to go turn their lights off.

 I also watch the employee entrance at a car factory in Lyon, France.  The employees already had magnetic badges that open the gate for them, but the security wasn’t very good.  Sometimes two people would enter on the same badge, or someone would borrow or steal someone else’s badge to get in.  My job is to watch for people outside the gate who look like they don’t belong, and also to compare the person’s live picture with a file photo that comes up on my monitor screen when they scan their badge.  If anything doesn’t look right, I hit an alarm button and a guard at the factory appears to check it out.

 Other Guardians do more than just watch.  Some greet visitors to the facility they are guarding.  Some watch store aisles, making sure no one steals anything, but also keeping track of what things they look at, how long they stay in the aisle, and things like that.  Catherine watches over an area outside the Louis Blanc metro station in Paris, looking for suspicious characters or people who might commit an act of vandalism.  She watches the same area every day, so she gets to know some of the people and the way things are supposed to look.  She has a direct connection with the onsite security guards so that she can report any suspicious activity.

 Also, two days a week I come to the center three hours before my shift starts.  I am taking a special training to become a receptionist.  They offer this training for free to the guardians who score in the top 10%.  They score us on the quality of our work, on our attendance, and on a written aptitude test.  I am taking classes in Customer Service, Work Processes, and Business French.  I hope to complete my certificate next December and then enter the pool for reception jobs immediately.  These jobs pay a lot more than guardian jobs, and the work is a lot more interesting.

 The guardian jobs are very boring.  But they are very important as well.  And to us, these jobs are a miracle from God, because there is not enough work here in Dakar for all the people.  Many of the men and some of the women go to other countries to find work, and they send money back home to their families.  But they cannot be with their families, and sometimes they forget their families and they make a new life in the new country.  It is much better that the job in the other country can come here, and we go home every night.

 So you can see that I have a lot of reasons to smile.  But I skipped over a lot of things that aren’t so nice here, and if I told you I smile all the time because life is so wonderful, I wouldn’t be telling the truth.  Plus, you’d think I was kind of stupid if that’s what I believed.  In fact, that’s exactly what some of my friends do think.

 They say to me, “Amsatou, how can you smile all the time?  How can you go out dancing at the concert hall?  Your mother and your father almost starved to death in the village.  She moved you to the slums of Dakar to give you a better life, but half the time you go to bed with nothing but worms in your belly.  You have the most boring job in the entire world, and you’re nothing more than a slave to a bunch of rich white people who don’t even know your name.”

 But they are missing the whole point.  Yeah, I go to the concert and I dance.  But why I go is to hear Youssou sing of a new way, where we work hard but we work together and we get ahead.  When he sings ‘My Hope Is In You’, he’s singing it to me, and it goes right into my heart and I can’t stop dancing and I can’t stop crying either and when I walk out of that concert I know what I have to do.  I smile because I know what I have to do.

 What you need to see is that I’m not just protecting the wall around the airport in Quebec from graffiti artists, or warning rich white businessmen that they left the headlights on in their BMW’s.  I’m part of the new way, and my life and my friends’ lives and someday my kids’ lives will be different because God is giving us this opportunity.  It’s not right to waste miracles, and this is a miracle to me.

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