Arriving in this country was surreal, leaving bitterly cold November London one morning arriving in hot and humid Senegal that evening. It being dark when we
arrived, I didn’t see much of the surrounding area other than the mob that was the taxi rank outside the airport. My 16 companions and I travelled to a beautiful
hostel overlooking the sea about an hour away from Dakar for a few days before travelling to our projects. After a security briefing from the British embassy,
mainly concerning the need to avoid being scammed by sellers offering us ‘Toubab’ (white person) prices everywhere- which is genuinely the only problem
I’ve had here, we spent the weekend exploring the town of Toubab Dialaw (yes, it’s called Toubab because it’s a popular destination for the western
backpacker) and swimming in the sea. On the morning of the 6th of November, my project partner Tess and I set off on our very bumpy ride three hours south
to the dusty and noisy village that has now become our home.
Ndianda is situated 15 minutes inland from the bustling fishing town of Joal Fadiouth, and an hour away from the nearest city, Mbour. The village has a population of around 2000 people and is surrounded on all sides by palm trees, couscous farms and peanut fields. One tarmac road runs
through the village, and my partner and I live, coincidently, in the only two story building. We have a room with two large windows and a high ceiling, that unfortunately is made of corrugated iron which is a pain when large birds decide to land on he roof during the night! There are no beds, just foam mattresses on the floor, but we don’t mind. We share a bathroom with 5 children, there is no shower and no flushing toilet but that isn’t uncommon at all here and there
are only certain hours of the day where we can get water out the tap. In the other rooms on our floor live a family of primary school teachers and their 5 children, the principal of the school we work in, and another two families who live together, one of which happens to be polygynous, (an aspect of Senegalese culture that has taken a little getting used to- the presence of men with up to four wives!) The three families on our floor have a combined total of 13 children. Below us lives the landlord’s family, who have another 6 children. As you can imagine, buying Christmas presents for all the children was not an easy or inexpensive feat this year!
Our normal day in Ndianda starts at 7 am, which is an early start for me, but not for the rest of the village, who have already been up for 2 hours. We get nd head down to school for lessons starting at 8 AM, where we usually help out teaching two lessons each morning. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but each lesson here is two hours long! I work in a French school system based middle school, there are four years of students, but there is a lot of diversity in the ages that I teach, my youngest pupil being 11 years old and my oldest being 19. The first lesson runs from 8AM to 10AM, and then
we have a 15 minute breakfast break, where Tess and I eat spicy sardine paste sandwiches for breakfast- I promise they taste a lot better than they sound! Then we have the next two classes, which are from 10AM to 12PM and then 12:30PM to 2:30 PM, however we don’t work all three classes in a day so we have a break. During this break we sit in the staff room and plan lessons, practise our Wolof, read or write in our diaries. We return home for lunch with the principal at 2:30PM which is usually the national dish, Thieboudienne (rice and fish stew) or Yassa (caramelised onions on rice), Mafe (peanut stew on rice) or Soupou Kanja (okra and palm oil stew on rice). In Senegal everybody eats on the floor out of a large dish, as families are so large and there are often guests so it makes more sense to eat this way. It is common for people to eat with their hands but more often than not Tess and I are given spoons. After eating with the principal, Tess and I are usually asked to ‘Kai Lech’ (‘Come eat’ in Wolof) by the other families on our floor so usually end up having a couple of lunches every day! We don’t want to seem rude declining their offer and it is a good opportunity to teach the families English in exchange for them teaching us Wolof or Pulaar. At 4PM, Tess and I take English club at the school for two hours every day, which is a lot of fun as we have complete freedom and control over what we teach to the kids, our lessons ranging from comprehension texts on Harry Potter to teaching family members through the British royal family.
During the evenings we usually go for a walk around the village, we have made good friends with the village chief and are currently teaching him Spanish, and there are many friendly faces that we
stop and stumble through a conversation with in Serer, Wolof or Pulaar. After our walk, we come home and play with the children on our floor before having dinner with one of the families or going across the road to a shack that serves the best Senegalese fast food. Our current favourite is ‘Fataya’ which is a deep fried wrap with chips, onions, mayonnaise and egg in it, not at all healthy
Since arriving in Senegal, I have been on many trips to explore the surrounding area and wider Senegal. Joal Fadiouth is a regular weekend destination, the fishing town being only a 15 minute taxi away and it being home to two other volunteers, Sam and Tom, there are beautiful beaches to explore there, as well as a huge fish market and a breathtaking Christian island made of shells named Fadiouth. Fadiouth is connected by bridge to another island housing a mixed Muslim-Christian cemetery, a rarity in Senegal, but a symbol of the peace and tolerance that exists between religions in the country. About once every few weeks we make sure to pass through Mbour, the nearest city as it is also where the nearest bank and supermarket are, as well as a KFC, a little bit of luxury!
We have also been on a weekend trip with Sam and Tom to Saly, a French holiday resort about an hour and a half north from where we live to explore the beach, and managed to find an AirBnB with all the home comforts that we were missing- a fridge, air con, pool, flushing toilet and a shower! Highlights of the trip included getting a pizza and bacon rolls- pork being completely unavailable in this country anywhere but Saly.
My project partner Tess knows a family of American expats that lives in Dakar, and they generously invited us to stay with them and explore the capital of Senegal. Their apartment was beautiful and was very weird to sleep in a bed that was off of the floor again, and we had the best weekend exploring the markets of Dakar with two other volunteers- Eimear and
Seona, visiting the Phare de Mamelles lighthouse, the huge African Renaissance Monument, the museum of black civilisation and having dinner at a Korean restaurant on the beach!
The most prominent difference between education in Senegal and education in the U.K is the sheer number of strikes and random days where the teachers just decide not to run the school. We never know how many days we will end up working each week, and some weeks we come into school and are told that due to vaccinations, tests or a national strike, we just
aren’t needed there. One such week we were notified on a Wednesday that we shouldn’t come into school until the next
Tuesday so we decided to take a spontaneous trip to The Gambia. Leaving on the Thursday morning, we took two ‘sept-places’ to the border between Senegal and the Gambia which took us 11 hours. ‘Sept-places’ are very rundown, wobbly converted 4 seater cars which now seat 7 people, they are the cheapest mode of transport and very exciting, especially when the majority of people in Senegal drive like madmen. We then took a ferry across the Gambia River to Banjul, the capital city. This ferry was one of the craziest experiences of my life, goats, street sellers, families, trucks, babies, cars and horse drawn carts all crammed into a ferry that was much too small for the number of people. After the noisy rampage that was disembarking the ferry we made our way down to Serrekunda, the area where we would be staying, amazed to be in a country that looked and felt exactly like Senegal- but everybody was speaking English?! We spent a lovely 4 days exploring the Gambia, finding a British supermarket that stocked lettuce branded with Tesco logos, and Dairy Milk chocolate! On the way home, after an even more hellish ferry ride, we stopped off in Kaolack, a village about 2 hours east of where we live, to spend a night with two other volunteers, and visit their project. This was the best decision we could have made as it split our 11 hour journey up a little and allowed us to see what life was like in a project that was very different to our own, in a community centre focusing on teaching young people IT and entrepreneurial skills.
Christmas was spent with all of the other volunteers in the country in Saly. Apologies to the neighbours and housekeeper of the house we rented for 16 of us for 10 days, I fear our new years fireworks and celebrations may have been very loud with the number of us there. On Christmas day, after a swim in the sea and a drink at a shack on the beach, we exchanged our Secret Santa gifts, and sat down for the best makeshift Christmas dinner ever. Turkey was substituted for chicken and beef, pigs in blankets for sausages and parsnips were non existent in the supermarket but thanks to the efforts of the amazing cooks among the volunteers (not me!) We managed to eat a relatively normal home cooked meal, complete with homemade mulled wine (spiced, heated up sangria) and homemade gingerbread cookies. New Years was equally as fun, after ringing in the bells in our house, and setting off fireworks we bought at the roadside- very
safe, we headed into Saly town centre to go to the weirdest and most lively club I’ve ever been to. I don’t think I’ll ever again experience a club that hires very short people as ‘entertainment’ and has cages around the club for them to perform in ?! Clubs in Senegal don’t properly open until around 2 AM so it was a very late start on the 1st of January. The next day we all celebrated the start of the New Year by visiting the beautiful Lagune de Somone and trying to surf on the pretty spectacular waves there- having never surfed before, I can’t say I did amazingly but it’s something to tick off the bucket list! Another thing ticked off the bucket list was jet skiing- half an hour on a very dodgy jet ski bought for a fiver, but it was great fun and I’m still alive!
After some very sad goodbyes to the volunteers, we travelled back to Ndianda, stopping to buy Christmas presents for all of the children in our house, to give to them on Kings Day, the 6th of January, as it’s the Spanish date for giving presents and Tess happens to live in Spain. Now that we’re back in our village and back at work, our new years resolution is to create a library in our school, as unfortunately we’ve noticed a distinct lack of books anywhere in our village and in surrounding villages. We are currently contacting charities and individuals in Dakar to see if we can collect some French and English children books.
Returning to the village after so much time away at Christmas was surreal. Our fears that everyone would have forgotten about us quickly disappeared when we stepped out of the rickety
taxi to all of the children we live with running to us with screens and hugs. We’ve become even closer to our neighbours and their families this year. It’s great to feel like we have three
Senegalese families and many Senegalese parents and siblings, but the manner in which the families like to display their affection towards us is by feeding us, so a new development this year
is the increase in the number of meals we get given each day. Currently, we get given three lunches and two dinners, and saying no is something they find a little insulting, if anybody would
like to come out to Senegal and help us eat all the food we get gifted you’re more than welcome! The defining feature of the past two months has certainly been the distinct lack of teaching that
Tess and I have done, except not by our own accord. Due to the Senegalese government’s inefficiency with salaries etc. the country was plagued with teacher strikes which lasted around 7
weeks. These strikes were a combination of no teachers at all coming into school, some teachers
coming into school and teachers coming in from 8AM to 9AM and then leaving to go home. All of this meant that until the end of February students at state schools in Senegal had very
inconsistent or no teaching at all this year. Despite this, Tess and I still ran our classes as best as we could, which was difficult and often times we were the only teachers in the school, teaching to
a class of 5 students instead of 70. Thankfully, with the end of February came an agreement between the teachers union and the government , followed by a return to school by teachers and
students who are now almost two months behind in their courses.
An interesting and very distracting event in January was the Senegalese local elections, a passionate topic for many. The main propaganda tactic for political parties was apparently to drive through villages at all hours of the day and night, every day and night, with a massive fleet of cars, trucks, motorbikes and the biggest speakers they could possibly find, blasting music as they went. My sleep suffered for the whole month of January, as these election events started four weeks before the elections. These elections caused heated debates in the staff room every morning and many teachers refused to show their face in school for many days after their party lost in the ballots. I shudder to think what the presidential elections would be like, if this was merely mayoral elections.
Just under two weeks after we returned from Christmas I celebrated my 18th birthday. Apart from being told very accusingly that I must find a husband and have children very soon or I will get ‘too old’ and that now that I am an adult I can break free from my non-religious parents and convert to Islam, it was a lovely day. After starting my first morning of being an adult off with a very dusty and hot 5k run, Tess and I spent the morning preparing for my ‘party’. We blew up coloured balloons which the kids went mental for, played music and danced all morning with the babies. Tess’ birthday presents to me included a kettle! Which is possibly the most useful gift anybody has ever given me, and was paired with some clothes pegs, a bottle of white wine and a packet of British Smarties all the way from the Gambia!! Aïcha, our 18 year old sister/best friend gave me a beautiful necklace for my birthday and her siblings gave me an origami tree. After a lunch of Thieboudienne I was surprised by Tom and Sam, other volunteers who only live around 15 minutes away but had yet to visit our village, believing their larger town to be fully superior. We spent the afternoon showing the boys around the village and then headed to Joal, the aforementioned larger town, to go to a bar to celebrate, the boys birthday presents to me being two well enjoyed bottles of supermarket sangria! We ended the night at a party in Joal at our friend Ricky’s house, Ricky speaks amazing English due to an exchange program with the American embassy and is always great fun to spend time with, especially when his friend has his adorable puppy round at his house!
Thanks to the strikes, we were told that our school would not be open at all on the days following my birthday, so Tess, Sam, Tom, fellow volunteer Jessie and I decided to head to Dakar for the weekend. Tess and I combined the trip with a visit to some ladies in the city who were willing to donate books to our library-in-progress. On Thursday, the day after my birthday we got into a sept place and headed to Dakar, stopping for a KFC on the way. We stayed in a beautiful Airbnb next to a surfing beach on the north side of Dakar. Friday brought a visit to Lac Rose, a naturally pink lake about an hour from the city. Despite numerous police stops followed by police bribes (oops!) due to the fact that we had squeezed 5 people into a 4 person taxi in order to save costs, it was a beautiful day. I would describe the colour as more of a rust than a pink but the extremely high salt content in it still makes it a very weird experience to swim in, it’s so easy to float and the water feels very uncomfortably thick! On the evening of the Friday, after returning very sunburnt and tired to the Airbnb, we got a phone call from some other volunteers who were experiencing some FOMO and were on their way to Dakar, which was 6 hours
away from their house. Before too long, Emily, Francesca, Rosie and Aimee joined us in Dakar and we had a belated birthday night out, lots of fun despite the heartbreaking city prices we were not used to. The following morning Tess and I spent the day picking up boxes of books from women in Dakar, two American women and an English woman who all have kids made for some very sore arms carrying around boxes and boxes of children books all day- very very grateful for how chock-a-block our library will be soon! Unfortunately, we had to say goodbye to Dakar and the other volunteers eventually, and we travelled back in a bumpy sept plus on Sunday after a morning of surfing on Dakar’s beautiful beaches.
With temperatures heating up in Senegal after Christmas, we’ve had our first experiences with the infamous ‘djinns’ that plague schools here. I write about this in a light hearted tone, but I assure you this is somewhat of a public health crisis among the Senegalese youth. Imagine teaching a class of around sixty teenagers, finally getting them to do an exercise or task, when one girl start starts to have a fit, arms flailing and head rolling back violently. She will then be carried from the class by around four boys and laid down in the staff room, and then the class will go back to work. These ‘djinns’ are believed to be evil spirits and the fits are said to be possessions of said
spirits. Nobody seems to doubt this cause of the attacks, but I believe they are a form of heatstroke as I find the whole possession thing a little hard to believe. It’s gotten so bad that I have turned up to school on one occasion in time for my 10AM class to be told that school has closed for the day due to ‘an outbreak of epilepsy’, as casually as if it was the common cold, this country never fails to amaze me.
By far my favourite day so far in Senegal was the 6th of February. For those of you who follow football, or happened to read the news on that date, you would know that Senegal won the final of the African Cup of Nations, which is possibly the biggest thing that has ever happened in Senegalese sport in recent history. From watching all of the heat matches, quarter finals and semi finals with baited breath and the occasional ‘wouldn’t it be cool if Senegal won AFCON the year that we were living there’, we actually made it to the final, and what a final it was! I’ve never felt a nervousness like the nervousness I felt watching the tiny TV that night surrounded by three different families. One of the mothers began to cry when it seemed like Egypt
was going to win, and the very very religious father cried like a baby when we actually did win. The entire village erupted, everyone ran outside down the streets screaming and shouting and throwing fire. There were motorbikes going down dirt tracks on one wheel and busses zooming past with twenty men on the roof. It was chaos, but it was an amazing feeling, we danced, sang, partied and feasted so well that night, made even more so due to the fact that it was our 5 year old neighbour’s birthday!
The rest of February came with a whole volunteer group trip back to what feels like our roots- Toubab Dialaw, the first town that we stayed in when we came to Senegal. Fifteen of us all packed into an Airbnb for a few days of football and sunbathing on the town’s beautiful beach, and although Toubab Dialaw is arguably one of the most needlessly difficult places to get to on public transport and caused much exasperation, it was a lovely weekend and so nice to have everyone in one place again. One person who was absent from our trip however was Tess as she was spending a week travelling the country with her family who had travelled here from Spain. They all came on a visit to the village where they saw first hand our amazingly terrible problem of so many meals, and met all of the children, highlights of the day included giving every member of her family Senegalese names and her brothers giving a truly heartwarming demonstration of ‘the Macarena’, when the children asked for a ‘Spanish song’.
In perfect coordination, while Tess’ family were out, my dad also flew out to visit me. We spent a lovely week off of school at the beach living with the absolute luxury of a bed off of the floor, a shower, a pool and air-con!! I brought my dad to the village where he was
given the Senegalese name ‘Babacar’, I think it suits him very well. We handed out little Scottish gifts to the families in our house, which may not have been the best idea as some of the ladies have started wearing the ‘Hey Jimmie’ hats very seriously and stylishly as berets. Of course, my dad and I did some typical Toubab activities together also, including paddle-boarding and a trip to Bandia nature reserve, which was essentially a s a f a r i p a r k a n d n o t v e r y adventurous, but at least I can say that I’ve seen Rhino’s, Giraffe’s and Crocodiles in Africa, albeit not in the true wild. Leaving my dad and the luxury of the beachside hotel was a sad moment, but I’m sure the next 5 months will fly by in no time.
After returning home from my beach week away, I was surprised to be introduced to our new neighbours- 20 pigeons and 5 chickens, the pets of the boys that live next door. I was almost scarred for life when I was brought one day to feed them and discovered that we were feeding them
leftovers from lunch- ‘thiebou-ginar’ which in Wolof translates to ‘rice and chicken’!
At school this month Tess and I, after many heavy bags and boxes, many taxi trips with aforementioned bags and boxes and many nights spent labelling books and making spreadsheets, have created our library. It still needs a little decoration and there are certainly more books to come as we now have a connection with the International School of Dakar who is donating us some more books, but I am very happy to say that it is being used! Our goal of getting the children in our school to get interested in something that Tess and I both love to do is looking achievable. As well as the library, the eldest classes that I teach have been writing letters to some students at my old school in Glasgow, and there is now 60 new friendships between Scottish and Senegalese students, hoping to improve French and English skills respectively (and
show the Senegalese students that Scotland is actually a nation that exists, none of them having heard of it before they met me). As for Tess and I, we have started a new activity this month
thanks to one of our students, we were invited to Karate club once to watch and have somehow landed ourselves monthly memberships to the village Karate club. The infamous club meets every
Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 17:30 to 22:00, yes thats right, four and a half hours of sport! There is also a lack of electricity in the dojo, so the majority of training is done outside
under street lamps which is great for me as the sensei cannot see me getting everything wrong all the time!
The third quarter (ish) of my time in Senegal began with my lovely mum coming out to visit me. We spent a week and a bit traveling all over the country and ticking many things off of my Senegal bucket list. Our trip began in Dakar, where, after a first night of watching surfers and a beautiful sunset in Almadies featuring the best Alfredo pasta of my life (because of this one pasta dish we returned here every night), we headed to Goree island, a ‘must do’ for anybody
visiting the country. The island is only a 20 minute ferry ride from the Plateau area of Dakar but it feels like a completely different country, warm pastel painted houses and narrow streets emanate Carribean island meets old Italian village vibes and there is stunning artwork on every street corner. The highlight of the island, however dark and unpleasant, is its significance in the history of the slave trade. It is home to the House of Slaves and the famous ‘door of no return’
which is a small but heartbreaking insight into slave experience in West Africa.
Day two in Dakar was more laid back, we headed to explore the towering Renaissance monument and the Phare des Mamelles
lighthouse before spending the afternoon at Plage des Mamelles beach, sunbathing in a treehouse! On day three we headed to Lac
Rose, which was incredible as always, before heading to the Lompoul Desert, around three hours outside of the capital, to sleep in
Bedouin style tents surrounded by sand dunes for the night. This was one of the most amazing experiences, the tents were huge and
actually had toilets inside of them! The scenery was beautiful, we rode camels and tried our hand at sand boarding, which went
disastrously for both of us. We were, however, very unprepared for the extreme low temperatures in the desert, so much so that mum was spotted wearing her puffer jacket! From the desert we headed to Saint Louis, the former capital of Senegal. Like Goree, this
is a place that feels like you’ve left the country altogether, or at least time travelled back to the colonial era, it is definitely the most French part of Senegal I have ever been to. After a long explore around the city, partly done on a horse and cart, we visited the Djoudj bird park which was fascinating, I know very little about birds but I can safely say I have never seen so many in one place! We also visited the Langue de Barbarie national park by boat which was beautiful.
On our way back south we stopped in arguably the most important city in Senegal for a large proportion of the population- Touba.
Everywhere in Senegal you can see the name of this city, painted on taxis, lorries, pirogues, houses and clothes and being used in the brand names ‘Café Touba’ and ‘Touba gas’, this is due to Touba being the ‘holy city’ of Senegal. Touba is essentially the Mecca of Senegal and muslims come from all over the world to visit the Grand Mosque. This volume of people passing through the city as well as its religious significance has created a very interesting place; team sports, cigarettes, alcohol and chewing gum are banned within the city, and there are no hotels, but there is also a huge amount of wealth there that is not seen in the rest of Senegal. The money that people visiting the mosque donate has allowed universities to be built, a huge Star Wars-esque new hospital created and many developments undertaken on what is already a stunningly beautiful mosque. After our tour guide gave us headscarves and skirts because ‘women do not wear trousers in Touba’ we got a tour of the mosque, it was definitely worth having to wear extra fabric in 45 degree heat-
the most interesting and architecturally amazing place I have visited in Senegal. After Touba, our trip finished in Saly, the well visited coastal tourist area, where we spent some time relaxing and taking a trip to my village.
On the last day of my mother’s trip here, I (probably selfishly) left her very early in the morning to head off on my Easter holiday trip with the rest of the volunteers here. Due to the slight roadblock of a minor conflict between the government and groups of terrorists fighting for independence in the south of the country, I decided to fly to Ziguinchor, a city in the south of Senegal which is home to the volunteers William and Joel. The flight was a whole 35 minutes long, and was definitely the most luxurious way I have ever travelled in this country. I spent around a week with the rest of the volunteers exploring the lush, green south of the country, less touristy with the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen we spent the week bodyboarding, walking, swimming and having bonfires on the beach. When the time came to come home, I made the finance-friendly decision to take the overnight ferry instead of a plane, hence still avoiding the dangerous land crossing. This 18 hour ferry cost me about £7 and was p r o b a b l y one o f t h e m o s t uncomfortable traveling experiences of my life, stuck in a single chair in a swelteringly warm boat in a borderline storm for a night and half a day, in stark contrast to the peaceful and comfortable 35 minute flight.
Easter this year was spent with the most interesting and welcoming family I have met in Senegal. One morning, my project partner Tess
was sitting in the school and a man she didn’t recognize walked in to the staff room to greet her, she greeted him in Wolof but to her surprise she received a ‘You alright mate ’ in a strong Birmingham accent in reply! This was Felix, a man who has now become a great friend of Tess and I. Felix was born in the village almost 40 years ago and grew up in and around Ndianda staying with family members in order to attend school as there was no school in the village at the time. When he was 19 Felix moved to Paris to study dentistry and then took up a post in Birmingham, where he married his wife Marie, who’s mother is originally from the village. They lived in Birmingham for 10 years before moving to the Seychelles, where they currently live. The family of Felix, Marie and their two children Mossane (10) and Maissa (6) came to Senegal last month for two weeks to celebrate Easter and to look at schools as they are considering moving back to Senegal next year. We spent the Saturday night, Sunday and Monday with the family, we attended midnight mass on the Saturday and Easter service on the Sunday at the beautiful European style church in the village (I spent the time wishing I hadn’t told so many of my students that I didn’t follow a religion) and then visited Felix’s family in the surrounding villages on the other days. We explored and learnt so much about
our village, such as the existence of two secret bars in the Christian neighborhood and met so many new families, the nosy side of me loved to see the inside of every new compound we visited. It was interesting to experience life in the village from a Christian perspective, an intriguing contrast to our experience of largely muslim families up until Easter, and we were shocked by the quantities of pork and alcohol consumed!
We extended the Easter celebrations as far as our muslim household, and shocked our local shop owner by buying 16 eggs in one go to boil and paint as an Easter tradition. All of the children in the house were very confused by the idea of painting boiled eggs but soon got into it and some masterpieces were created!
After spending time celebrating Easter, the next religious celebration was Korite, the Senegalese version of Eid. We spent Korite at our neighbours family’s house in the town of Joal, and despite a terrifying run in with a mouse on
our floor mattress one night, we had a lovely weekend. It was filled with countless games of Ludo, cards and chasing after chickens in the compound. We got given beautiful matching dresses to wear and spent the day of Korite eating
so much food, and when we were done, we helped the women cook more, a glorious cycle of cooking and eating. Other highlights of the weekend included taking 7 boys to the beach all aged under 15 in one taxi, 10 of us squeezed into a tiny car to save money, and attending the ‘freestyle rap concert’ of a member of our host family, which
started at 12am and ended at 4am, and was attended by every child in the family including a number of babies!
Of course, before Korite, came Ramadan. To the enjoyment and appreciation of the people around me, especially the children, I attempted to fast. Starting late as I didn’t return from my Easter holiday until the 8th of April I managed most of the remaining days of the fast, although I would probably say it was one of the most mentally challenging things I have ever done. April is the hottest month of the year in t he village and the temperature was creeping towards the low forties, I was teaching sometimes up to 6 hours a day, shouting and talking, and I couldn’t have a sip of water. The experience taught me so much about my mental strength (or often lack of) and allowed me to see, appreciate and respect the role of the Islamic faith in so many Senegalese families and their lifestyles. It was truly a beautiful time, seeing families and children as young as 10 focusing wholly on their faith and spirituality, although I admit am very glad to now not have to wake up at 5 am every morning to chug two bottles of water!
Possibly inspired by our visits to surrounding villages with Felix, we decided to explore more of the surrounding area last month. According to a slightly dodgy location tag on google maps, it looked like there was a sacred baobab tree that is apparently a tourist destination around a 7km walk from our village through the countryside. There was no road on this route, just very faint tracks and we had the great idea to attempt to undertake it one day, at midday in temperatures of the high thirties. We realized about half way that this was a stupid idea and ran out of water pretty quickly but after what turned out to be a 10km walk we made it to the baobab tree, which was huge, and possibly actually worth the death
defying walk. We went inside the tree with a local man and one of the thousands of bats that lived inside decided to pee on my head which was amazing! Later on that same day, we decided to continue our explorative streak and visit the reason why there are bizarrely so many Christians in our village and in the nearest town Joal, with volunteers Tom and Sam we went to go and see the original christian missionary site of Ngazobil. Apparently a prohibited area, it turned out that Tess and I taught the security guard’s daughter in school so we were allowed in for a snoop around and discovered a beautiful crumbling cemetery and a school for monks, as well as some existing missionary homes.
At school, our library is growing, and we’re running out of space on the shelves. English poetry was introduced by us to our oldest students, some of whom are now huge Maya Angelou fans, while others were left baffled by my shoddy French translation of Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’. We have also started a drama project with our second youngest year group, we are attempting ‘The Lion King’, which is so far not going amazingly due to our first lesson being learning the song ‘The Circle of Life’ which turns out to actually be mostly Swahili and not English, which was a little confusing for the students. I will update you on how our production turns out!
Another development this month has been starting to have weekly Serere lessons in order to understand more of the village inhabitants. Serere is a very difficult language to learn as an English speaker, due to the glottal sounds being genuinely impossible for me to recreate. Our teacher is a lovely Christian Serere expert/ fluent English speaker/ Primary school teacher named Samba Sarr, and my Serere has improved massively through our few weeks of lessons with him. Not a very transferrable language, Serere is only spoken in certain areas of Senegambia and has a total of 1.8 million speakers, it is however a dying language and Samba is helping in the movement to protect it and promote learning.
The first week of May ended with a trip to Thies with 11 other volunteers to a house for a weekend to celebrate a multitude of birthdays that all seemed to fall at the same time among us. After a month apart it was great to spend time all together as a group and explore a city that I had not spent a lot of time in. Some tragedies of the trip included Sam’s wallet getting stolen and then found again about 20 minutes later, and Steph falling into a very very deep construction hole, slapstick Mr Bean style, luckily she was unharmed but she will never ever live that down.
The extracurricular timetable of CEM Ndianda has fairly picked up its pace in the past two months due to the fast approaching end of the year and lycée entrance exams for the oldest pupils. In June, our school hosted a Portuguese weekend, where students from another CEM around a 3 hour drive away came to spend the night in Ndianda and celebrate the rarity that is Portuguese being
taught in place of Spanish in some senegalese schools.
Slightly put out by the fact that we were not allowed to organize something similar for English, Tess and I attended and had a fun day of dancing, pretending to know Portuguese and meeting other teachers which culminated in a mortified me being asked to perform a flute solo in front of all 1000 guests. The annual prize giving of the school also took place in June. Tess and I were asked to give out some of the prizes, and apart from Tess dropping a poor students prize on the floor as they approached the table, the day ran very smoothly. In contrast to the standard book token prizes of back home, students here got cash, schoolbags, tationary and enough jotters to last them until university! We also attended our first school fair
and ‘Xaware’, which is perhaps Senegal’s version of a school disco, just with louder music and a lot more drums. Thankfully, the main difference between the Xaware and a school disco is that in
Senegal everybody actually dances, there are people everywhere and injuries are frequent due to the sheer energy of the dances, coupled with, in our case, teachers riding their motorbikes
through the middle of dancing crowds!
All of this excitement at school however, was preceded with another two weeks of our least favorite part about Senegal- school strikes. With the middle of May came the news that the government had not withheld their side of their agreement with the teachers union, and that the teachers would strike again. We tried our hardest to continue to teach, but were not very successful.
During this time, we reached out to the private school of Ndianda to ask if there was any way that we could take a class there as we had found ourselves with a lot of free time. Alphonse, the English teacher there seemed very keen to give us his class for the week, and we took a lesson on English speaking countries. It was very bizarre teaching a class of only 10 students after spending 6 months teaching classes of 40-70, they were all so quiet!
Shortly after our trip to Thies, mentioned in my last email, after finding ourselves with another free long weekend due to school exams, Tess and I decided to do a little bit of project-hopping. As
there are 8 different projects in Senegal, we wanted to visit as many as we could, seeing our friends and taking advantage of a holiday with free accomodation. The weekend commenced with
a trip to Yene, where we stayed with volunteers Rosie and Aimee, and payed a visit to volunteers Fionn and Steph who live nearby. Steph cooked the most amazing dinner of ‘Senegalese spiced
bolognese’ which was outstanding, reminding me so much of home. Yene is a fishing village which is only around an hour from Dakar, and has volunteers that work in both the CEM and the
Lycée. Apart from being insanely jealous of the existence of sea breeze, Yene’s liveliness, long beaches and busy traffic of bright pirogues make it a lovely little town.
After leaving Yene, we began the long journey to the most rural project in Senegal, Eimear and Seona’s host-town of Thilmakha. Three sept-places, a bus, a two hour wait in a garage and a
horse and cart later we made it to their town/large village in the religious region of Touba. Thilmakha quickly became one of my favorite places in Senegal. Despite being so far away from
towns and cities, it is a bustling place, with the loveliest people and the arguably some of best petits pois baguettes. We played basketball with Seona and the all-boys basketball team and
watched the sun set over the most extravagant beautiful rural mosques.
The closest city to Thilmakha is Touba, which, as you may remember from an earlier email, is the religious capital of Senegal. Three Senegalese-American friends of us happened to be staying in Touba with their dad while we were in Thilmakha, for a period of ‘religious education’ away from Dakar. In Touba, music and team sports are banned, and it is truly too hot to do anything during the day, with temperatures normally around 45 degrees, so we decided to visit the boys and save them from their boredom. We had a beautiful tour around the Grand Mosque and the library of Cheikh Amadou Bamba by their father at sunset, and despite an awkward experience of the four of us not knowing how to pray in the female section when we were expected to, and had no boys to show us how, it was such a beautiful and interesting day. I definitely do feel very lucky that we were invited to stay the night in their home as its not easy to stay in Touba as a tourist, hotels are another non existent part of the city.
Not long after returning from our little weekend tour, I came down with hopefully the only health problem I will suffer from in Senegal, all thanks to a little girl I hugged 21 days earlier. My chin began to swell and looked as if I enjoyed weightlifting with my jaw. I got mumps. Despite being vaccinated against this ailment I spent a week unable to teach with a very sore face, at least my minor disfigurement gave all of the children in the house something to laugh at, from a distance.
After I had recovered from the mumps ordeal, and I was no longer contagious, Tess and I decided to do some more traveling during the strikes at school. Somewhere that was on my bucket list was to visit the Sine Saloum delta, so we decided to visit the barely inhabited island of Mar Lodj for a night. We stayed with a Spanish lady who runs a tiny airbnb in the middle of nowhere, we had the most relaxing two days with her, making friends with the other travelers staying there and exploring the beautiful island devoid of water or mains electricity.
Upon our return from Mar Lodj we were faced with the news that Senegal was in the middle of a crisis, in the larger cities, such as Dakar and Thies, ‘bandits’ had been murdering children and other members of society. Obviously, due to a few murders in only the major cities in the country, the next course of action was to call a nationwide curfew. Even living in a rural village, we were not exempt from the curfew, and the families in our house went as far as to ban me from going on runs in the broad daylight in case I was trapped and murdered by one of these ‘bandits’. Surprise surprise, the 10 day curfew came and went with no murders in the tiny village of Ndianda.
Another exciting event which occurred in May was the arrival of a member of the Project Trust team, Alex Page. Due to my lovely little mumps infection, I had to keep my distance, but the
morning’s visit was still a pleasant one. We gave Alex a tour of the village, helped translate in his meeting with our principal, and gave him a taste of our daily ordeal of three unavoidable lunches a
day. The good news to come from his visits is that our project in Ndianda will continue after this year, and that two new volunteers are scheduled to stay here next year, Tess and I are the first of
many, which makes us both so glad.
With the arrival of June came a holiday that Tess and I had been looking forward to since we arrived in Senegal- the infamous Saint Louis Jazz festival. All of the volunteers travelled to the beautiful and eclectic city of Saint Louis for the annual international jazz festival that is held in the UNESCO world-heritage-site city centre. After a long struggle and many stressful phone calls we finally found last minute accommodation for 10 of us, and had a whirlwind few days of midday jazz coffee shop performances and late night jazz clubs. The trip started off with a catastrophe- Tess’ phone being taken out of her backpack in the middle of a packed taxi garage; many fruitless trips to the police, a retrace of our footsteps and a few ‘find my iPhone’s’ later and she ended up having to purchase a cheap fake Samsung for the rest of her time in the country. After that tragedy of the first day however, the trip turned into one of the best holidays we had in Senegal. A highlight of the trip was certainly us stumbling upon ‘Electrafrique’, an afro-techno events business which hosted a night in an abandoned house in a fishing district of the city. Despite feeling slightly unnerved and surprised by the fact the crowd seemed to be made up of solely English speaking people (where did they all come from?), the night was amazing, it reminded us of home and was a refreshing, and slightly more young-person friendly night of non-jazz music.
The parents of the one of the families that we lived with, the Bousso family, have become like our second parents in Senegal, and unfortunately the mother has moved away to another job in a very
rural village around a 2 hour drive away from us. We decided to visit Madame Bousso in her new village, named Mbafaye, and we brought her 4 year old son with us. Apart from almost losing tiny
Cheikh a few times during this multi car journey, we had a brilliant day exploring the most rural and difficult to access village we have ever visited in Senegal. Speaking Serere, making Thiebou-yapp and drinking copious amounts of attaya with the village residents was a great way to spend a Sunday.
To celebrate/comiserate the first Project Trust volunteer leaving Senegal on the 25th of June, we had a big group meet up in Dakar. Jessie, our beloved solo Kaolack volunteer, flew home to start her Strathclyde University masters in July and we’re all missing her already. Despite being almost-broke travelers we decided to celebrate her last night by going out for some Lebanese food in Dakar’s plateau region. Probably due to Dakar’s high numbers of Lebanese residents, the food was insane and I wish my bank balance would allow me to eat there every night. The meal was followed by a Dakar club night, which was thankfully worth the city taxi prices, all in all it was such a fun send off for Jessie, who only narrowly made her flight the next day! Day two in Dakar was tearful goodbyes and a trip to an embassy worker’s house to pick up yet more books for our school library and an evening outing to an outdoor club night held under Dakar’s most famous monument- such a cool event, even with the few power cuts that occurred. On our third day in Dakar, Tess and I met up with Mr Diallo, the Portuguese teacher from our school, and he showed us
round the biggest university in Dakar- University Cheikh Anta Diop. With over 100,000 students, the university is situated in the centre of Dakar and is almost like a miniature city within
another city- sort of what I imagine the Vatican City to be like, if the Vatican City was a heavily muslim university (can you tell I’ve never visited Rome?). Visiting the university on a Sunday was so interesting, being able to fully experience the sheer volume of students attending and seeing multicolored clothes hanging from every window ledge, TV Ariel and tree branch on campus- Sunday is wash day. We got shown all of the departments and all of the beautiful artwork and murals on campus, paying special attention to the Portuguese department as that is where Mr Diallo spends half of his working week. After the university, Mr Diallo drove us to the Renaissance monument where we visited the museum inside and got to visit the top of the statue to see an unparalleled view of Dakar, much like being able to climb up the inside of the statue of Liberty (can you tell I’ve never been to New York either?). The Renaissance monument was followed by a lovely meal where we taught Mr Diallo his new favorite card game, a senegalese volunteer classic- Irish snap, the game got very competitive and he keeps challenging me for a rematch in the staff
room at breaktime.
After we finished our library project, we decided the next logical thing to do in the development of our middle school was to paint the exterior wall. After driving past and visiting many different schools in Senegal, we were becoming slightly depressed with how drab our school was in comparison, so we decided to change it. Two trips to the city to buy 5 cans of multicolored paint later, and a month of painting while being pestered by the villages curious population of children, we ended up with a mural that I’m pretty proud of. Complete with quotes in French and English, and a little selfish signature of both of our names right in the centre, its no Banksy, but its a lasting memory of Tess and I’s time at CEM Ndianda, and it certainly adds a little color to the school.
As the school year comes to a close, there are many changes taking place in our household. Due to the fact that our house is home to mostly teachers and their children, it is normal for families to leave and spend time with other members of their families for the holidays, but in the case of the Bousso family, they have moved out of the village completely due to their parents’ new jobs. We had a very very sad goodbye to our little sisters and brothers here, and the house now feels so quiet without them, but hopefully we will see them soon during Tabaski, the next religious holiday. The sadness both Tess and I felt at saying goodbye to the family was a taste of how hard it will be to leave Senegal completely, don’t be surprised if I stay here forever
A few days ago, our school hosted a goodbye ceremony for us. Forgetting to mention the fact that we weren’t actually leaving until the end of July, every student was surprised when we showed up at school the day later, asking us if we had missed our flights! The ceremony was beautiful, speeches new made in English by teachers who we had never spoken English to us before, and gifts of sarongs and beautiful fabric for new dresses were generously given to us. Of course, no senegalese function is complete without many fitting photo ops, so we were followed and filmed by a team of students the whole morning, and Tess and I ended the ceremony with a speech we prepared which was received with laughter due to our sections spoken in Serere, Wolof and Puul.