“We should take her to meet the Hooreejo (chief),” a member of the slowly expanding Pulaar émigré crowd around me in praca dos restauradores suggested. I had spent close to an hour eavesdropping on their conversation before I revealed–much to their surprise–that I could speak Pulaar. I understood that the novelty of a white girl in Lisbon who could speak their language was something that needed to be shared with the entire Pulaar community, but when it was proposed I meet with the “chief” I agreed reluctantly. That little voice in the back of my head (you know, the one I hardly ever listen to…) was whispering “Hey girl, something don’t seem right.” (yeah, the voice in the back of my head sounds like a cross between Queen Latifah and a Thai prostitute.)
You see, I had been sitting with these guys for most of the morning and I couldn’t figure them out. About half of them were from southern Senegal and Guinea and the other half were from Guinea Bissau. They were obviously not working, but they all wore very nice clothes and had the latest high-tech phones. When I tried asking what they did in Portugal they brushed me off with the response “yeeyoowo” (someone who sells stuff). My little voice kept whispering, “something not right here, something missing.”
As we started walking towards the “chief” I took a swig of my venti non-fat Starbuck latte (save your judgment for someone else because I am a caffeine-starved-third-world-baby-saving-peace-corps-volunteer). As the shot of caffeine flowed into my veins it hit me. They probably sold drugs. Holy shit. Drug dealers. My little voice was now screaming “Baby girl get you-self outta there. Now!” And of course, I ignored it.
As we approached the “chief” I did my best to quell my little voice by attempting to guilt her into silence. “shame on you little voice, you’ve lived in Africa for a year and a half and you think all black people are drug dealers. What the hell is wrong with you?”
But my little voice wasn’t hearing it, “Oh hell no, don’t be stupid girl. Doesn’t matter if they back or white you get outta here. Oh and if you survive download that Michael Jackson song ‘cause now I wanna get my groove on…”
I greeted the “chief” with my best respectful village Pulaar-which he responded to with just an arch of his eyebrows–and as I shook his extended hand I genuflected (to which my little voice scoffed, “oh so now you subordinate to a drug lord?”).
“Your coffee is done?” The “chief” asked. And I responded by simply shaking my cup to demonstrate it’s emptiness. He whispered something into the ear of a man standing next to him and the guy took my cup and disappeared.
He asked me to sit and I obliged him. We made small talk about the hotness of the sun, how expensive everything was in Europe, and the relative goodness of a variety of Pulaar last names. It was hard to maintain conversation, and I kept stumbling over my words as the little voice kept screaming “Did you learn nothing from Locked Up Abroad?! Run dummy run!”
Then a man appeared with two Starbucks cups, one for the “chief” and one for myself. The chief had bought me a deuxieme latte. This gesture hit my little voice in her soft spot and she began to reevaluate, “so what if he is a drug lord, he seems like nice man. He treat you good. Buy you coffee.”
I took a sip and casually asked the “chief” what he did for a living. His response, “I import things.” (ahem, drugs?)
But little voice was nowhere to be found. She was too busy getting high off the caffeine pumping through my veins and plotting how to get the nice drug lord to start sending me care packages of coffee beans. “He use it to hide the smell of drugs right? He have lots of extra and probably send it to you for free. Smile nice and pretty and give him address. Now!”
Disclaimer: The contents of this blog are mine alone and do not represent the positions or views of the U.S. Government or the U.S. Peace Corps.