Bonjour! ¸Ca va? It wasn’t easy getting the cedilla in the right place under the preceding “C,” but I tried. Hello! It is going well, and I am feeling fine. French and Wolof get blended here quite often, but I’m partial to Wolof, even though I stink at it. What’s so endearing is how eager the Senegalese people are to help you learn their native tongue. Mind you, there are many native languages spoken here in Senegal like Pulaar, Fulani, Mandike, Serer, Soninke, etc., but Wolof is most commonly spoken in the north. The street vendors, the taxicab drivers, the students, our host teachers and their families, the hotel clerks and housekeepers, the waiters, passersby, and even the cooks at Gaston University cafeteria all tried to help me master this crucial exchange in Wolof:
“Salaam aleekum. Na nga def?”(How are you?) they’d ask.
“Mangi fi rekk!” I’d answer, butchering the pronunciation again. And with infinite patience, he or she would smile broadly, pronounce it properly, and ask me again, so I could practice. They invite you into their culture and are an inclusive people by nature and custom.
“Jërë jëf,” I’d thank them.
“ñoo ko bokk,” you are welcome, they would rejoin.
This would never happen in France with the French, at least not in Paris, and I’m speaking from experience not hearsay. I hope it’s happening in the US when a newcomer is trying to learn English, but I’m not confident that it is across the board. The academic language in Senegal is French, but there is an initiative afoot to use Wolof for instruction in the primary grades, especially in the more rural areas, to hasten literacy. As language is the heart of any culture, I hope this initiative is successful and becomes widespread.
Tuesday was a day of Teranga, full of warm welcome and hospitality. Ibrahima had invited us to help co-teach his two classes that morning, both two hours long, and the students were so receptive. It has humbled me to see the commitment of Ibrahima and his fellow teachers of English, who come to teach even when there is a teacher strike, which unfortunately happens often. I will never whine about my class sizes again, at least not in the same way. He allows students who aren’t even in his class to come if they want to, so they too can learn English. We have so much to learn from our Senegalese counterparts. They are literally building their country, and they know education of the youth is the key to moving forward.
After reading a short article about teenage prostitution, students worked together to answer some questions that tested their reading comprehension and word attack skills. The directions and questions are written on the board, and the students copy them verbatim, which results in strong memory retention and excellent handwriting. The beautiful cursive in the students’ notebook astounded me!
The other half of the postcards from home were handed out, and this time I modeled on the board how to set up the format: Dear (Student’s Name), Our names are (their names, and we are in the 12th grade at Charles De Gaulle. They were then off to the races! Again, there was not enough time for them to finish, so we’ll continue on Thursday when this class meets again. That gives me time to buy more postcards from Senegal upon which Ibrahima’s students can write their replies. For now, they are crafting their responses in their notebooks. It was another fabulous and full day in the classroom!
At noon, after a photo session with the class, everyone breaks for lunch and classes resume at 3 or 4 pm. I just love this schedule! The Senegalese make time for family, and I admire that greatly. Kristin and I met Shiona and Rupa for lunch again, but this time we ventured to a new restaurant, La Kora, a little further down from our hotel. This was the first time Teranga was not extended to us, and I have to say that the owner of the restaurant was French, not Senegalese. The food was good, the atmosphere pleasant, but the proprietor cold, at least until a dead bird’s head fell from the roof overhanging the bar. Shiona saw it happen and was shocked, to say the least! Finally, the owner cracked a smile and spoke with us, but her “distance” was noticeable by comparison to the warmth extended by everyone else.
At 5pm, we visited Gaston Berger University, Aissatou’s, Ibrahima’s, and Malamine’s alma mater, and met with the English Department head and some of his students from the English Club for a short presentation and Q & A. Mr. Brown joined us too. And then we were treated to a tour by the students.
Gaston Berger University Saint-Louis, Senegal
It’s a green and beautiful campus, with lovely plantings and an open gathering space with tables and playing fields, basketball courts, and concession stands where students can meet to work on projects together or just hang out. It looks like many American universities, and the vibe of learning is strong.
The students who took us on the tour know they are fortunate to be enrolled here. Ousmane Keita (aka Keita-man) and Rafi were two of about five with whom I spoke at length. Admission is selective and dependent upon passing the Baccalaureate exam, which is extremely difficult. Since the government pays for their studies, it has become a problem because there are many students but not enough universities to accommodate them all and not enough money in the coffers to support them all in their pursuit of a degree.
They are committed to perfecting their English, and Keita-man told me that he takes every opportunity he can get to practice. He was a delight, and his English is very, very good! We saw the library, the gymnasium, the cafeteria, and the dorm rooms too. It’s an impressive school.
Dinner that night was at Ibrahima’s house, and his wife Oulaye had been preparing for us since Monday afternoon! Of course we were running late on Senegalese time, but when we arrived she and Ibrahima made us so welcome that it squeezes my heart to recall the good time we all had together. She made the most delicious couscous or theiri (sp?) from scratch, which is quite an involved and labor intensive process, and we ate it by hand in the traditional manner for the first time. It was magical, and I have a new appreciation for the sense of community engendered by eating this way. It’s important to remember that you only eat with your right hand, however! The left is reserved for other business. Sorry lefties!
Kristin and I had brought gifts for Ibrahima, Oulaye, and their two children, Nenefaty and Mohommed, who are so adorable and friendly, and Oulaye had had dresses made for us that were beautiful! The Teranga was overwhelming. It is one of my favorite memories of our time in Senegal. They live modestly, and they shared all that they have with us willingly and with warmth. What a beautiful family, inside and out!