A short (well kind of long actually) update

Trip Start Sep 14, 2012
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Trip End Aug 16, 2013


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Flag of Senegal  , La Petite Côte,
Sunday, June 30, 2013

Hi everyone !

I'm really sorry that I haven’t been updating this blog more regularly. I’ve been so busy that writing became sidelined. Sorry about that! So, as promised, here’s an update of what I’ve been up to… 

Work

The school year has now finished! After 7 months of lesson planning, 2 hour slogs drilling the present continuous tense and using up countless red pens marking, my daily routine of cycling from school to school to school has come to an end. BOOOOO I could cry! The 6 day week usually consisted of teaching English, German and ICT at 4 schools. I would have two hours teaching beginners German at one school, then a quick scuttle over to the other end of Joal where the year 12s would challenge my English grammar knowledge (sorry kids, but what is the conditional perfect continuous tense when it’s at home?).

Around February time I took on the work that was to be the highlight of my week. I started to give reinforcements classes to a group of Year 13s. I came out of my classroom at the Kangam School to be trapped by two overgrown, nearly-men boys, one of them saying 'Miss, I need you.’ Thinking it was going to be yet another marriage proposal, I was ready to fob them off with excuses. However I gave them the benefit of the doubt and came to spend 8 hours a week giving extra lessons to a group of around 10 final year students. Their enthusiasm outweighs their ability at English but watching them improve has been such an inspiration, kids who are at school until 8pm every night revising, they are not only students but great friends, another of my Senegalese families, a melange of personalities and characters. We have our last lesson tomorrow as their exams start on Tuesday (please pray for them!). Today I dropped in on their revision and they asked me to pray for them. We stood in the classroom with our hands out and I prayed (in English) and then the students prayed in Wolof. Their sense of fraternity is so inspiring to me and I'm going to miss them all so much! 
 
Another success during the second semester was Bob Marley Day. The kids made a presentation of BM’s life whilst Amee and I made a quiz and a song dictation (I will never listen to No Woman No Cry the same again). The day was brilliant, we had over 40 students getting passionate about English through one of their idols, singing, dancing and wearing rasta hats (although I do suspect some of the passion was induced by weed…)

The end of the school year meant the onset of FOSCO, the school festival to celebrate no more lessons. These were long affairs with prize-giving to the best students, lines of dancing girls wearing next to nothing (well, skirts to the knee…) and drama sketches. I have never been prouder than the day our English Club performed at the Lycee FOSCO. Their showpiece was a sketch about pollution followed by a translation of the poem ‘Joal, Je me rappelle’ written by Leopold Sedar Senghor (first president of Senegal).

After the FOSCOs comes the ‘sorties’ i.e. school trips. When you think of school trips in the UK, you think vaguely educational, fun and SANDWICHES. Of course, Senegal isn’t the UK. My first trip was a visit to Goree Island with 200 excitable CEM students. Arriving at the school on time (so leaving two hours later), I couldn’t believe my eyes as hayuuuuge vats of rice, chicken and sauce were loaded onto the bus. In quick succession were the large sharing plates and bags of water. We spent a lovely day on the island followed by a trip to the Monument (see previous blog entry for review), full of rice and chicken of course!

Other sorties were more chilled out, taking place at the local beach with the older Lycee students and the latest with the Lycee staff. It has been so nice to relax with all these great people, though quite emotional at times!

The fourth sortie was definitely the best. Organised by my German class, the students informed me they wanted to go on a trip to ‘me faire plaisir’ (closest translation, to make me happy). With no help from teachers, they planned everything themselves: transport, food, payment. They printed out paper requests that they handed out to all of the teachers asking for financial support, one of the girls cooked all of the food, another brought the dessert of fruit salad and milk, the boys bought the chickens. The day itself was a wonderful day spent on the local beach; eating, playing catch, paddling in the sea, playing truth or dare (I didn’t partake!) and a great time had by all. Janet will be amazed to hear that I didn’t cry – though in my heart I thought I could sob! Particularly on the bus home as the kids started singing goodbye songs…

Another goodbye song that brought me close to tears was after I’d said goodbye to my year 7 English class. I told them I could remember our first lesson – teaching them the ABCD song, which they then gave a spontaneous rendition of. 

I wish I could begin to tell you how privileged I feel to have had the opportunity to teach these fantastic kids. Students who cycle 10km a day to learn, who stay at school until 8pm, the girls who go home to cook, clean and babysit whilst juggling their studies. I’m in awe of them and I’m going to miss their enthusiasm, smiles and pride. 

Travel

During the Easter holidays, I was the proud host of the Townsend family! We spent a lovely chilled weekend in Dakar followed by a week in Joal. I think I threw them in the deep end a bit- oops… They met EVERYONE, the family, the priest, the teachers. They ate from the communal bowl and we ate the chicks that I’d raised for their coming. They spoke Wolof, took a sept-place, plucked chickens, braved the beautiful beach with Wone children in tow, Luke and Mum even got boubous! On Easter Sunday we went to a beautiful service at church before scooting off to the Lompoul Desert (a tranquil night spent in a Mauritanian tent in the middle of nowhere) and Saint Louis, my favourite town in Senegal. The former capital of Senegal, the colonial buildings make its charm and we spent 4 days strolling the stunning streets.
The highlight of their visit would be the evening of my birthday. We were sat in the living room and in walked Amee, carrying a plate with 19 cupcakes and one big candle. My two families sang Happy Birthday to me in English, French and Wolof. I was so touched I thought I would cry (held it back again Janet!).

Amee and I travelled again to Saint Louis for the Jazz Festival that takes place annually in May. We met up with the Zig vols and even saw the Kaolack boys for all of an hour. The music was jazztacular. We enjoyed performances by the German Youth Jazz Band, Baaba Maal, a real life African choir, the Saint Louis University Chorale and other groups such as a Senegalese kora player, accompanied by an American rock ensemble. Unfortunately we had to leave the festival two days early due to an event we’d had in our diaries since November… The Poponguine Pilgrimage 2013. This manifestation is held annually in the town of Poponguine to celebrate Pentecost. Around 10,000 people make the pilgrimage in order to share in the mass there. We were part of a group that decide to WALK the pilgrimage, from Mbour (around 20km). So, Jesus Material trousers on, sun cream on, pilgrimage-issued-white t-shirts on, we marched, singing and banging empty water bottles the whole way. After arriving, we partook in a mass with all 10,000 that lasted until the early hours, caught little sleep on the gravel floor then back to church at 6am. But what a weekend of worship and community! It felt a little like Grapevine but hotter with unearthlier hours! (on a further note, the whole thing was televised and I’ve since had every other person in Joal say that they saw me dancing on television - great!)

This weekend I write having just returned from spending a week in Ziguinchor with Lena & Zoe. The Casamance region is definitely greener and more beautiful than the northern regions of Senegal, it was weird to see so many trees. The most direct route to Zig means traversing the Gambia, which means lots of immigration stops and having to cross the Gambia river – i.e. a pain in the bum. Gambia is not one of my favourite places; it has a restless feel to it that doesn’t compare to the laid-back lifestyle of Senegal. The journey, on a good day, takes around 12 hours and let’s not forget to mention that it’s always short Katty in the back middle seat of a sept-place for the whole journey! In Ziguinchor we enjoyed meeting Z&L’s lovely friends (making ataya until 2am…), Scottish Ceilidh Dancing with the English Club, spending a day at the beach in Cap Skirring and tossing and turning for one sleepless night due to a Diola Women’s Cult, who ‘sensed’ that something bad was going to happen at the school behind the girls’ house. The women spent the night chanting, singing and banging to ward off the bad spirits and any sleep I might have had otherwise. It was quite creepy, the way they sat around a huge tree with few lights making weird noises, but not surprising. Nothing surprises me in this country anymore!

Life in Joal

I continue to absolutely adore life in Joal. I can’t go anywhere without a huge smile etched across my face – everyone must think I’m loony. The Wolof, though not fluent, is definitely getting there and conversations are getting so much easier. The only worry is that I’m losing my French! The conversations are often and full, I feel like I know half of the 40,000 population of Joal and everywhere I go I see so many people that I know (or they know me and I just smile and wave!) Basketball is still great although the weather getting hotter makes it a bit of a sweat-fest. But really church is what I love in Joal. There is Charismatique on Mondays, the service that I find most like Ashwood in that it’s a lot more liberal than Sunday mass. We share bible verses, worship with hands raised and speak tongues. It’s a truly wonderful thing to share with my friends here. Amee and I have even shared some English worship songs with the group and we sang ‘Open the Eyes of My Heart’ at a concert!! We also go to overnight prayer services which leave us pretty whacked but are so powerful and pumped up you can’t miss them! Wednesdays and Thursdays evenings is choir practice –the people there are nuts, we generally have a chat and make fun of the conductor than do much singing… Saturday night we sing with the choir at mass and Sunday morning is mass in Wolof with the full congregation of Joal.

The saddest part is knowing that this life that I’ve grown to love is coming to an end. With only 7 weeks of my time left in Senegal I’m making the most of every last second. What’s planned? Amee and I have written a travel plan to rival all travel plans that involves going to the north of Senegal, then down to the south-east where there are rumoured to be mountains (600m!) and waterfalls! I’ll let you know how it goes…



Over & Out, Katie
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