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The legal groups said they located 17 women who were forced to work as "comfort women" - a euphemism for sex slaves - including one who was only 12 at the time. Fourteen were under the age of 18 when they "suffered repeated sexual violence," the report said.
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There are six married males -- and presumably six families -- in this little Fula village. The adults are all gone -- to a market in a larger village. We sit for some time on the floor of a straw hut -- quality time -- with ten children, ranging in age from about four to twenty-two. These kids speak only Fulani. Their feet -- all of their feet -- look more used, older than mine. They have no plumbing or toilets of any kind; they use the bush. They have grown up without TV, though they all have occasionally seen movies on TV in another village. They have grown up without telephone or electricity, though there are flashlights hanging on the wall and a battery-operated radio/cassette player on the floor. (None have heard of Madonna; all say they know Senegal's top musician: Youssou N'Dour.) Their parents own no motorized vehicles, though they all have ridden in one at one time or another. And none of these children, a first in my experience, have gone to school. The boys memorize, without understanding my guide says, passages from the Koran. But no real school. "We would like to," a teenage girl says through the translator, "but it is not a concern of our parents." One of these girls stands barefoot in a Nike, "Just do it!" T-shirt she cannot read.
The two oldest girls here, fifteen and sixteen, were both recently married -- more or less arranged marriages. "But more and more parents are being open and understanding about whom their children are able to marry," one of them explains. The girls will be leaving the village to live with their husbands for the first time sometime soon.
My guide tells a Fulani story of his own as we follow the fifteen-year-old girl to the well. It is one of those stories that makes most other stories seem small. "My parents didn't want me to go to school," he explains. "My father wanted me to follow the cattle." But Ousamane, who is now twenty-nine, grew up in a larger village, which also had some Wolof families, even some people who worked as administrators. "I saw other kids going to school and starting to speak French. I was very jealous." He began trying to pick up some French words on his own from the other children. "Then one day I met the teacher on the way to the market, and I said, 'Hello. How are you?' in French. He responded and asked me, in French, where I was going? I told him I was going to the market. He asked me what I was going to buy at the market, but I didn't know how to say that in French. Then he asked me if I had ever been to school. He ended up taking me to the school himself."
I asked that fifteen-year-old, recently married Fula girl whether she would allow her children to go to school. "Yes," she responded. Why? "Because school is good. It helps them be open to the world."
Bahal, who comes and goes, announces that he's trying to organize a little party for me -- for me? -- tonight. Okay. It keeps not happening until -- and it guess it is this way with "it"s -- it does, late (no go-to-sleep-when-the-sun-sets for these folks) and outside a tent some distance away across the night-darkened, but still faintly glowing desert. Teenage girls sit in a clump and start banging out a rhythm on something and singing. For me? Well I'm grateful, whomever they're doing this for. And then I'm a little cold. (That's the way it goes with desert nights.) And then I'm a little bored -- eight or so girls singing long, long songs for a couple of hours in the mostly dark ain't exactly the Yankees against the Red Sox. And I'm standing the whole time, cause I couldn't -- being someone who does not belong -- manage to settle myself on the mat. The girls and their audience of fellow teens don't seem at all bored. They live in a encampment without electricity, telephone and, of course, Yankee games. (You can, however, buy a pack of Marlboros here, I learn when Bahal reloads.) I don't normally live in such a place. Soon I'm more cold and more bored.
Mind around. New thing, found. More insufficiently supported conclusions on Africa: Do I see people starving? I do not. But I'm getting only a tiny glimpse of a few countries. Is the absence of scenes of starvation at least a good sign? There's a chance, though I suspect that the statistics would support other conclusions. Mostly I feel the ache, the sometimes desperate ache, for some more money, for a reward for labor -- the labor of guiding, driving, begging. In almost every encounter I have with a citizen of these countries the wealth is unequally distributed between us. The dollars in my wallet would mean much more in theirs. I feel, consequently, the wind of demand, of need, blowing between us.
Guide and driver let us off in the desert (everything now is in the desert) about a kilometer from the Mauritanian side of the border. This is quite a place to be let off: sand all around, a wispy road we're instructed to follow, a little border post just discernible in the distance. And it is already after five in the evening, almost dark. We walk. Eventually, we see a fatigue-clad figure on a hill of sand looking at us. We approach. I try to explain our presence, in French. We are essentially inviting ourselves to spend the night at their "place." He asks us to follow him across the desert (I assume he knows where any mines might be) to the "poste" -- a shack closed on three sides, where more fatigue-clad fellows are sitting around. These men, we learn, live out here on the frontier for fifteen days before returning to Nouadhibou for a month. They seem content to have us as overnight "house" guests.
I lose it again. Odd. I'm not the sort of fellow who loses it often. But once I convince myself that the man at the "Information" booth at the ferry terminal, morning of March 26, has in fact given me false information -- designed to get me to buy, from him, a ticket on one particular ship -- I start carrying on. Patience. Surrender. The gift of delay. All I have presumably learned is suddenly lost. And I'm just another pissed off tourist complaining loud and fast -- too fast in English to really be understood -- about the presumed sanctity of an information booth. I was told the ship for which I was sold a ticket would leave at eight, maybe eight thirty; the other ship at ten. For a while, I'm convinced the opposite is true. In fact, I can't even get on my ship because there's no policeman around to stamp my passport. And traveling up the side of West Africa hasn't been easy. And I didn't get much sleep. I'm worn. And who cares if they think I'm just another pissed off tourist. I just let go. In fact the other boat leaves at nine thirty; we depart fifteen minutes later. By then I've calmed down. 041b061a72