Festivals and Life in Joal

There have been two major Muslim festivals recently. Firstly, the annual pilgrimage to Touba and secondly, the Gamou, celebration of the prophet Mouhamed’s birthday. We didn’t go to Touba, which I slightly regret, but due to many students missing school for the festival, I had a really fun class, doing lots of songs and games with those who stayed in Joal. We went to Thies for the Gamou last weekend and stayed with Aicha’s family. Julia and I got new boubous and borrowed Aicha’s headscarves to wear in the mosque, though we didn’t do a particularly good job of covering our hair. We met lots more of Aicha’s relatives that weren’t in Thies for Tabaski, girls our age who were studying in Dakar and members of English clubs there, so that was really nice. We helped with the food preparations and decided to miss out on watching the camels being slaughtered. On the night of the Gamou I stayed in the mosque until about four in the morning, before joining a load of other girls sleeping on mattresses on the floor of Aicha’s sister’s room. Julia managed to stay up until about 6am. There was a big screen up in the mosque and lots of people singing and clicking along, (as clapping isn’t allowed). In the same week, I also attended a mass in the church, slightly accidently, as I thought choir would be starting shortly after, but when I realized it wasn’t I slipped out early. It felt like I was doing the walk of shame after a night out, when I went to Aicha’s brother’s house the morning after the Gamou in the boubou and make-up I wore the night before, having only had a few hours’ sleep.

Over the last month, six Belgium girls have been in Joal for work experience, two of them taught in Aicha’s primary school where we have the art club (and now – an English club! Once a week with about thirty kids learning the basics). The girls came over for Julia’s birthday, along with some other teachers and friends. Aicha’s school is competing in a Genie en Herbes competition at the moment and we went to watch the first match in another primary school. Mouhamed is on the team and they won the first round, which led to hundreds of kids running round screaming with joy. They have another round today, but Julia and I are supervising a 3eme exam in the middle school, so we won’t be able to go.

Julia and I took Mouhamed and Babo out for a little day trip one Sunday to Fadiouth. We got a pirogue around the island and then went with them to the house of Leopold Sedar Senghor’s father, which Mouhamed was very excited to see. Marieme’s also been really cute recently. She keeps eating loads and then parading around with her belly out showing off how ‘fat’ she is. She also threw up on our bedroom floor but then had such a big grin on her face afterwards, we could only laugh about it.

When I got home today, there were loads of ‘Macky Sall for President’ posters on the table. Aicha held a political meeting at the house recently and they’ve been trying to set up a committee. Youssou N’dour is no longer allowed to run for president, however, Wade is. This caused an outbreak of riots in Thies, Kaolack, Dakar, Mbour and Podor, where some people have been killed. The British embassy have appointed me ‘warden’ for Joal, which is a bit of a laugh, as I’m receiving calls from residents in Saly asking for advice on the riots, etc. I just advised the man who rang me to stay in Saly and avoid Dakar, as that’s all I’ve been informed really. Luckily we’re very safe here in Joal.

Surprise, surprise, I have yet to start teaching at the lycee because the teachers are still striking. There was also a student strike because the students were so annoyed about the teachers striking… It was funny to see all of them marching past our house in their bright yellow uniforms. I turned up for a class in the old lycee building, where an English teacher had arranged to meet me, and after an hour of waiting, I went back home. I later discovered that he had been sleeping (though he told me he was in Dakar!) I went to the lycee this morning to observe one of Amadou’s lessons. When we arrived, there were no students in the classroom and he said ‘oh my goodness’ and looked so disappointed. It would have only been a fifteen minute lesson, due to a strike starting at 9am, so they obviously decided not to trek all the way there for such a short amount of time.

I asked for another English class at the middle school but they didn’t think it was a good idea because when I eventually start at the lycee I’ll have too much on. We’re doing IT classes now though, which is good, as we can help out there as much as we want or are able to. The technicians are all really friendly and welcoming. One of the guys invited me over for a millet couscous dinner, but I passed. I’m teaching some of the same students that I have for English and some from different year groups as well. So far we’ve done things like using a mouse, copying and pasting, changing the fonts and things on Word documents, researching on Google, etc. I’ve been trying to make them type with both hands and not just use one finger. It’s also an effort sometimes with power cuts turning off all the computers. It took about an hour and a half to set up email accounts with them today, but I’m hoping to get some correspondents that they can email from the UK in English or French. Let me know if anyone’s interested! We also plan for them to write pieces for the school website. The English club in the middle school has been a lot of fun so far. We did sketches on getting ready for a party, got them to write letters for potential pen-friends in the UK and held a slogan competition. The winner was Khady Mane with ‘to learn English is to love English’ (L.E.L.E.)

Some students in the middle school have been having what they call ‘crises’, where they become stiff as a board and start screaming hysterically until they are dragged out of the class by their peers into the Principal’s office. A few of the teachers seem to be superstitious and take it seriously, saying that the kids are being possessed by spirits, whereas others see it as them just trying to get out of their lessons. Either way, it is bizarre to watch and reminded me slightly of the mass hysteria in ‘The Crucible’. I managed to get a short film of one of the girls on my phone, which I’ll attempt to upload at some point. One of my students winked at me in class the other day and I had a go at him, trying to explain what he did to the others, I attempted to wink (which I can’t do!) and caused a lot of laughter. I then made him come up to the front and wink at the class, which embarrassed him greatly. I don’t think he’ll be doing that again anytime soon…

I’ve been going to a few French classes at the school and one of the teachers took me to the library and helped me pick out a grammar book, which was really helpful. I think I am improving, just need to sort out my verb tenses, etc. Aicha’s nephew said that he’d give me Pulaar lessons via Skype from Dakar if I teach him English. We’ve been pretty rubbish at learning Pulaar so far and need to make more of an effort.

Julia and I got the Mane twins to braid part of our hair a few weeks ago. Julia exclaimed that it was ‘exactly what she wanted!’ before taking it out about a day later. They looked alright, but definitely suit the Senegalese a lot better than us!

Gill, our desk officer from Project Trust, came to visit us last week, which was lovely. She watched some of our IT lessons and came over for dinner, filling us in about the volunteers in other countries and the ones who had come home from their projects. We may be getting some more Project Trust volunteers out here in Senegal, teaching in a Catholic school in Dakar. I can’t believe that I’m pretty much half way through my time here already! It’s gone ridiculously fast. I’m going to miss Senegal so much. I came home from school the other day to Amadou and the kids gathered around the laptop singing along to Islamic songs on Youtube and looking up ‘miracles of Allah’, such as a newborn baby saying ‘Allah’ and a lion roaring ‘Allah’.

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