Approximately two weeks of pre service training remain. Since my last post, I have been spending most of my time in Ker Madaro, living with my homestay family and focusing on learning Wolof.
As my Wolof skills have been improved, I have learned more about my homestay family. The father, Malick Seck, is a farmer who grows mangoes, watermelons, peanuts, cowpeas, and some millet. His focus, like many Senegalese farmers, seems to be on cash crops. Almost 60% of grain consumed in Senegal is imported from abroad. Although millet can grow quite well in the sandy, nutrient-poor soils of Senegal, many people who can afford it prefer to eat rice. Much of the rice comes from Thailand and elsewhere in Asia. Unfortunately, rice lacks the nutritional value that millet has.
I have also learned that my father is an imam at one of Ker Madaro’s several mosques. My father often comes home late at night from the mosque, but I hadn’t realized his prominent role until about a week ago. I found out in a round-about way, at a village soccer game, when I asked a Senegalese friend why my host sister, Aram, wasn’t at the match. He explained that Malick was an imam, and like many imams, was rather protective of his daughters and generally does not allow them to attend sports events.
Although I have not spoken with Malick as much as I have with other members of the family, I enjoy his presence. He has a lovely smile and laughs at jokes that I try to make in Wolof. Like most Senegalese Muslims, he seems very tolerant of other faiths and non-doctrinaire; I was actually quite surprised to hear that he doesn’t allow Aram to attend football matches.
My mother, Nogay Njay (wives don’t change their names in Senegal), spends most of her days selling mangoes to travelers along the highway. She has several close friends around her age who frequent our house in the evenings to chat with her and catch up on news.
My three siblings who live at home, Aram, Nogay, and Mamu, range in age from 20 to 33. Aram, the youngest, is unmarried and spends most days doing household work. She was living in Dakar until several months ago, where she cooked and sold snacks near the airport. Since returning to our village, she continues to sell ndambe (a cow pea sauce) to friends and neighbors, who come by in the mornings and evenings with baguettes on which she spreads the ndambe. Mamu, the brother, is a bus driver in Dakar but returns to Ker Madaro on the weekends to spend time with his wife, Issa, and their two young children, who also live in our compound. Nogay, the middle sister, lives next door with her husband and three children.
I also learned that Malick has two sons living and working in Italy, doing some sort of sales work. Because of high rates of unemployment at home (around 50% - not sure who is considered unemployed), many Senegalese migrate to Europe and elsewhere in Africa to find work. In Africa, the oil industries in Libya and Mauritania attract Senegalese migrants, but Ivory Coast and Gabon have also been historically important destinations. In Europe, France was traditionally a major destination for Senegalese workers, but once mandatory visas for Senegalese were imposed in the 1980s, people began to go increasingly to Spain and Italy. There are several hundred thousand foreign workers in Senegal also, from countries like Guinea, Lebanon, and Mali. Lebanese people began immigrating in the late 1800s, under French rule, and there are many ethnically Lebanese business people in Senegal today involved in the peanut trade and other sales. Many of them were born here and speak Senegalese languages, and I have heard that many have obtained Senegalese citizenship. The Malians I have met in Senegal were also involved in trade - selling Nescafe and baguettes.
During my time off in Ker Madaro, I’ve been playing a bit of football and also spectated at two matches between the team of Ker Madaro and the teams nearby villages. They were fairly big events, with several hundred people in attendance, taking buses or walking several miles to see the match. The crowd was mostly young men and boys, but there was also a small contingent of young women who were very dressed up and cheered on the teams by drumming on buckets and singing. Before the matches, I tried to ask people for the predictions as to who would win, but it seemed that people very reluctant to speculate – “Yalla rekka xam”, or God only knows, was the most common response. (In Senegal, many people seem to be superstitious about jinxing chances of success by being overly confident. Also, there is an aversion to counting people, for fear that if people are counted, they may die.)