People with physical and mental disabilities endure lives we cannot imagine in a number of places I've traveled. Here in Senegal their seems to be underfunded efforts to assist them in participating in society but you see them struggling daily. Many eke out an existence panhandling. Whole troops of people in wheelchairs congregate on medians here in Dakar. People missing limbs are not numerous but they are here, breaking your heart a bit---I wonder often how this happened to them---what strange accident or difficult birth has befallen them? Little people are here too. I see what seems to be a mother and child near the hotel a few times. They are proud. They are beautiful in a way that I cannot describe here with words.
On the ferry home from Goree Island I am at the bow of the ship, photographing the port of Dakar as we come in. A young man crawls up to me on my bench. His legs are withered and of hardly any use to him but he manages to move, sit up, halfway stand. He tries to sell me some simple paintings on parchment that I don't really have a desire for...I say no for the hundredth time today it seems---Goree is a gauntlet of street sellers wearing you down---they are even on the boat. He tells me that his wheelchair is broken. I still say no, selfishly not wanting to get my wallet out in the throng---inviting perhaps even more unwanted interactions. He resignedly crawls away on the dusty, filthy deck. I am ashamed. As I exit, I look for him. He is propped up against the wall of the port, already hawking his wares. I quickly walk over and hand him almost $20 in Francs. Fix your chair I say. He thanks me. I do not recount this to engender your praise for my "generosity". But as I write this I have tears in my eyes. Sometimes the world seems a place beyond hopelessness and I feel powerless to change anything. I felt the same way in Russia one day as I watched a boy in a wheelchair trying to descend from a bus with atrociously inadequate disabled facilities---the driver trying to expedite his exit by closing door on him as he and his elderly mother tried to disembark. The faces on the bus impassive.....The cold there sapping my own healthy body of any will to continue on. I see it on my own campus sometimes as fellow students avert their eyes at someone without their own innocuous physical advantages---or who simply look different. Words escape me.