Friday, March 30, 2007

Electric Sliding, What is Literacy?, Sine Saloum, Marabout fun

A lot has gone on since I last wrote. Pictures are to the right and I also posted the link to Lizzie’s Spring Break pictures, because she took better ones than me.
The Saturday after spring break was International Student Day at Suffolk. All of the students at the University prepared food from their native countries, displayed traditional clothing and dances, and also participated in a talent show. Lizzie, Andrew and I made chocolate chunk cookies, which tasted kind of funny, but they were still good. Another professor brought cheeseburgers (Senegalese style though…which means they had a huge egg on top). Countries on display included Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Mauritania, Benin, Ethiopia, and the Gambia. Our “American” dance was the electric slide, haha. In the middle of the talent show, a pretty famous singer came to perform his extremely popular song “Blocaz.” He invited a bunch of people on the stage to do the blocaz dance with him; it was a lot of fun. Much later in the evening we went with him to this very nice discotheque.
The following week my Education and Culture in Senegal class went to an adult literacy class on a field trip. The class consisted of maybe fifteen women over the age of forty and who almost all held jobs as a vendeuse (seller). They did not speak French and their first language was Pulaar (Fulani in English), but they could also speak Wolof. What I found most incredible was the fact that their literacy class was not in the National language (and therefore most written and utilized language in the country) of French. Instead the women were learning to write Fulani, a language that has only been written down for 60 years and in which nothing is written in this country. Our class was faced with this conundrum: what is the point of learning to write in your native language if it isn’t the language that signs, newspapers, etc. are written in? One classmate of mine said it was difficult to learn an alphabet, so it was better for them to learn the alphabet of their own language before moving on to French, which is foreign to them. Yes, this would make sense if there were adult literacy classes in French, but there are not. Most of those women will live their entire lives without ever learning French. Another classmate said, well at least they will be able to recognize letters and numbers on street signs. But does that really help? At the beginning of the literacy class, the women repeated the saying that those who are illiterate are lost and do not know themselves. Perhaps the literacy course is only to empower these women, whose children probably speak French that they learned in school. The women will be able to better handle their commerce through having the ability to keep documents of sales and balance the numbers, as well as help their children with their homework to some extent. I also think it is a pride thing; the Fulani are a large group in Senegal, but Wolof is the most wide spoken language. Through teaching literacy classes in their native tongue, they are protecting their culture and language.
Last weekend we went to the Sine Saloum delta. That is where the Saloum River meets the ocean. It was a most relaxing trip; we took a pirogue down the river, a horse cart tour of the local village, and got to chill on the beach. Saturday night we went to a traditional wrestling match. The pictures aren’t very good (there wasn’t much light), so you are going to have to use your imagination. Think Sumo wrestling, but with thin, muscular black men (in other words, the only thing the two have in common is the little thong/underwear thing they wear). There were many participants in this particular match, so the ones not wrestling walked around the circle and danced to the drumming and singing. It was quite a spectacle; especially when our lovely “toubabs” joined in the extravaganza. Three boys and two girls from the USA wrestled Senegalese people in the middle of the match. All of the boys won and one of the girls defeated her opponent quickly.
Finally, on Wednesday of this week we went to visit a Marabout in Madina. Marabouts are religious leaders in the community and the one we visited, Thierno Madu Tall, was one of the top Marabouts who oversees many Marabouts below him. We were entertained in his enormous sitting room, the same sitting room, he proudly told us, where he had just meet with the Israeli ambassador. We discussed almost everything under the sun: how many wives he had (two, but always was considering a third), his role in the community (he blesses all weddings and funerals and people come to him for financial advice or even to ask him if the mate they have chosen is right for them), his opinion on beating children (he believes that adult criminals were not beaten in their childhood, so the students under his care are beaten), and of course, his thoughts on talibes begging for their Marabouts (he said it was practical because the parents abandon the children in the Marabout’s care and the Marabout cannot take care of all of those children by himself, so they beg to re-pay their teachers; however, Thierno said he does not have talibes begging for him). It was a rare experience because he was not surrounded by his “posse” and was able to answer all questions honestly, even though he did have a very round-about way of avoiding the questions at times.
My birthday is next week, and happens to coincide with Senegal’s Independence Day celebrations. This Saturday we are going to a water management plant for environment class. The following week we will be going on our rural visits to stay with either NGOs or Peace Corps Volunteers out in the bush. In other words, my time is flying by really quickly! There are only three weeks or so left of class, five weeks until I go to Cape Verde, and two months until I come back to the U.S.

1 comment:

AnnaD said...

Your descriptions of your study abroad makes it sound more like an adventurous vacation instead of school studies. I sure wish I woulda done something like this when I was your age.