by JEDIDIAH FIX & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & arrived in Palmarin -- a 700-person village on the last isolated section of Senegal's Atlantic coast -- a year and a half ago, just after electricity arrived but before running water. While there are now several refrigerators and televisions in town, it is still a bumpy 20-mile drive to pavement. As a Peace Corps eco-tourism and small business development volunteer, I live with a family in the village, train business owners and women's groups in accounting, give entrepreneurship classes to young people and help a local organization manage a natural reserve area.
While walking toward the reserve last fall, I discovered the first in a series of connections linking Spokane and Palmarin. Amid rubbish at the edge of town, a place where the blowing wind deposits plastic bags and paper cartons, I noticed a sports card: John Stockton, Gonzaga basketball star and hometown hero, in his Utah Jazz uniform. The discovery soothed me at a time when most elements of Senegal and the village felt mysterious and confusing. Treasure in hand, I hurried home to share it with my host family. I did not yet speak much Sereer, the local language, but I understood enough of the ensuing conversation to correct Mama Emily when she mistook Mr. Stockton for my father. When I explained that we are not related but we do share a hometown, she was unimpressed; most people here do not understand just how big the U.S. is and are surprised that my Peace Corps predecessor, who lives in Florida, and I live six hours apart -- by airplane.
Soon after, Simo, the captain of our soccer team, arrived at a match wearing a familiar white, black and red Whitworth basketball jersey. At first, I laughed because the former No. 23 for the Lady Pirates was evidently smaller than my 6-foot, hulking friend; his midriff was exposed and his arms constricted by the tight sleeves. Nevertheless, he looked sharp in his new shirt. Many such cast-offs cross the Atlantic in container ships and move through the countryside to the ubiquitous fukijia -- second-hand clothing stalls that line markets in Senegal and much of West Africa. This system provides people with inexpensive and well-made clothes, but at the same time it stifles a domestic garment industry that could provide jobs for Senegal's chronically unemployed youth. Evaluating such tradeoffs is never easy, and there are always winners and losers, as my college economics professor liked to say. Regardless, Simo wasn't pondering the global economy when he saw me laughing and pointing at his shirt. When I explained its history and connection to my home, he shared my delight and now we joke about it around Palmarin.
Such examples of America's reach in the world are no secret -- anybody who has traveled can add stories like these or attest to Coca Cola's prominence in the marketplace and Hollywood's over the airwaves. From my vantage point as a Peace Corps volunteer, however, living for two years in a community on the other side of these exports, I am at once excited, hopeful, confused and frightened by the forces drawing our societies closer together. As the surprising connections between Spokane and Palmarin demonstrate, these changes extend beyond brand names and music. In some cases, the relationship is equally impersonal -- but still worth a chuckle -- while in others it is profound and represents a genuine and mutually beneficial exchange of culture and ideas. At the same time, the fundamental values accompanying liberalization -- including individualism and competition -- are disrupting habits and transforming communities around the world. Palmarin will not look the same in 20 years; no community will.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he third chance connection between Spokane and Palmarin illustrates these more substantial interactions. I was passing through the main area of town when an unfamiliar man walked by and asked if I was French. No, American, I replied. "I did America," he said in English. "Chicago, Boston," and without missing a beat, "Spokane, Seattle."
Spokane? My jaw dropped. Was he teasing me? I looked down at my clothes and bag: Was I wearing anything that revealed my Eastern Washington past? More surprising than the name was its company. His inflection did not distinguish Spokane from larger cities like Chicago and Seattle; absent was the usual self-deprecating humor that Spokanites fall back on. Sure enough, this fellow, Michel Ndour, spent six months studying sociology in Post Falls and at Farragut State Park on Lake Pend Oreille. He knows Spokane, including Manito Park, and loves to talk about his favorite Zips restaurant in the Valley. Michel observes that in America "nothing matters -- not religion, skin color or family -- except how hard you work and following through with your word," and he appreciates the freedom and hospitality he experienced abroad. In a later meeting, he admitted how the presence of a fille charmente -- a charming lady -- colors his memory of this time; he still blushes describing their final moments together at the airport: "she cried, I cried..."
While not every immigrant shares such flattering memories of America, it was inspiring to hear Michel talk fondly of his time in the Northwest. Moreover, Michel's travels helped him better understand Senegal and influence his work with an NGO that encourages natural resource management. He puts a living face on the abstract notion of the new global citizen.
In many cases, however, Senegal suffers from the modern mobility of populations. People see more of the West and its wealth -- though few of its problems, its struggles -- thanks to mass communication. Seeking their fortune, almost 50,000 young Senegalese took frail fishing boats to the Canary Islands and Spain last year; another 7,000 were lost at sea, victims of rough water and inadequate provisions. A Spanish surveillance plane routinely buzzes Palmarin to spot such desperate craft. Last week, a barber from a neighboring village paid 300 mil (about $600) for his spot on a boat and a shot at smuggling into Spain. The same mobility that allowed Michel Ndour to study in Spokane -- and use American knowledge to build his community -- contributes to internal migration of Senegalese to the coast and external migration towards Europe.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & H & lt;/span & ow should we, supporting players on a big stage, interpret this brave, new (and scary) one world? To be honest, I am not sure. At times, thinking about it makes my head spin: Every action has a reaction, every decision an aftermath; anticipation is complex and imprecise. We do the best we can, but can our best provide enough? In Senegal, in my work, I try to move from premature certainties toward more useful shades of gray. The world will change in more ways than we now can say, so let's train for adaptability. If I can assist two or three Senegalese while representing my own culture with dignity and pride, I may contribute to our common future.
Meanwhile, the Eastern Washington/West Africa chain adds another unexpected link. In recent days, it has been a visiting official from the U.S. Department of State: Class of '65, Fairfield, Wash., and a true basketball fan. Wait until he sees my prized Palmarin John Stockton card.
Jed Fix grew up in Spokane and graduated from St. George's in 2001.