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Saturday, April 18, 2009
Posted by Tod Spedding at 12:20 AM
Friday, April 17, 2009
Sunday, April 12, 2009
I'm learning Wolof, and it has changed my relationship with the Senegalese working at ISD and down our street. I used to be the nice toubab American teacher who is often seen walking with his wife. Now I'm the nice toubab American teacher who is learning Wolof. I'm no longer anonymous.
Wolof is a language spoken widely in Senegal, Gambia and Mauritania. It is the native language of the Wolof people, about 40% of the population of Senegal. The Wolof Empire was a medieval West African state that ruled parts of Senegal and Gambia from about 1350 to 1890, dominating the history of north-central Senegal for the past 800 years. See Wolof for a map of the distribution of the Wolof people in Senegal.
In the States, I'd drive to work, and engage no one save the clerk at the 7-11 where I picked-up my morning coffee and lunch. Same in the afternoon. After leaving the school campus, I was generally anonymous, and would relax in the privacy of my own mind.
Not so here, and particularly not now. As an American friend, with a Senegalese husband, recently commented to Randi, I've blown it, implying that many will now want to engage me in Wolof. It will no longer be possible to go for a walk without greeting lots of new friends and language coaches.
It's true, and while it will obviously benefit my learning Wolof, there are certainly times when I'd pefer to roll up the windows and listen to the stereo.
* * *
I didn't expect the seasons to be so distinct and long-lasting.
We arrived during the rainy season, a period of very high humidity, hurricane-producing storm fronts, and heat. The sea was toasty-warm, and the air sweltering. We sweat profusely and guzzled liquids. A pre-frozen two-liter bottle of water was standard equipment on walks around town. Running out of water meant our walks were over, and time to flag a taxi.
The rainy season passed in late October to early November. The humidity lifted, replaced by five months of stiff offshore winds, cooling temperatures, and ocean upwelling, dropping the sea temperatures into the middle 60s, with temperatures at depth for diving into the 50s.
Now, reaching mid-April, we still have a sleeping bag on the bed, serving as a down comforter, and I only recently stopped wearing a pile jacket to work in the mornings.
While I've yet to experience the months of May and June, it appears that diving and ROVing are seasonal sports reserved for the fall and late spring. A class field trip to Ile de Madeleine has been pushed back to mid-May to allow for the seas to warm for swimming.
While I knew that the seas would cool, I didn't anticipate that the offshore winds driving upwelling would so dramatically influence the marine environment.
Dakar is known for its excellent surfing, and I can attest to the consistent swell running through the winter months, certainly not with the ferocity of northern California, but enough to curb our ROVing.
* * *
I've discovered a real fondness and respect for the Senegalese people, who are generally warm, gracious, and deeply spiritual. Materialism does not distract from their connection to God and to one another, the depth of which is humbling, though, like any individual or group, there are profound contradictions.
Randi and I have recently begun to discover how complex and layered society is here, as in our neighborhood of Sotrac Mermoz.
The residents are generally expats or relatively wealthy Senegalese, their large homes set behind walls or gates, protected by house guards, who congregate outside on the street. Vendors wander by selling everything from brooms to sunglasses to fish from styrofoam chests. House guards are served meals throughout the day via a system I've yet to figure out. A colleague at school explained that these meals can be prepared by woman who otherwise reside in unfinished concrete buildings, of which there are aplenty.
Early in the morning, residents' cars parked along the street are washed by groups of young men. Breakfast is served outside at tables along Ouakam, the main north-south road, from what are essentially mini-restaurants, Senegalese fast food. Fresh fruits and vegetables are sold from a half dozen produce stands. Artisans live and work in carport-size shops making and selling furniture, woven baskets and bookcases, drums and drum cases, metal work, and ceramics. Some sleep in their shops.
Young talibe boys practice writing verses from the Koran on wooden boards with their teacher, who also runs a boutique, a sort of kiosk which sells a wide variety of goods. Children of university professors in blue school uniforms gather at their bus stop. A block east of us there is a block-long row of rough shanty-style shelters vibrant with activity on weekends. It is unlikely that those children attend school.
Women roast, package and sell small bags of peanuts on almost every corner, 25 CFA a bag, the equivalent of about a nickel a bag.
All this life unfolds around us, everyone making their way, making it work, finding meaning.
* * *
Randi and I walked over to visit with an ISD colleague, Rebecca, who lives in a nearby middle-class Senegalese neighborhood. On the way out I stopped and consulted with my jangi cats (spelled phonetically), my Wolof teachers, a gathering of six house guards sitting together. I lean on them to check my pronunciation and word order. Here's this morning's lesson:
maangi am moose
I have a cat
maangi am moose bu tutti
I have a little cat
maangi am moose bu tutti ark bu m'bok
I have a little yellow cat
nungi dem keer cha-rit
we are going to a friend's house
It's like writing a primer for Kindergarteners. So it goes. The guys are humored by my cat sentences, which is the point.
Posted by Tod Spedding at 1:21 AM
I recently renewed contact with a childhood pal, then Bobby, now Bob. We swam together on a city team, the Hollywood Swim Association. Being a competitive swimmer required a great commitment of time and energy both for the kids and their families. We swam five days a week, throughout the year, thirty or more age-groupers packed into a 25 yard high school pool, five or so to a lane, doing endless laps, under the watchful eyes of our team coach.
Meets were held across south Florida on weekends, with preliminary rounds during the day, and final held run under bright lights in the evening. During these years, my mother's social life was centered largely around the old wooden bleachers outside the pool deck visiting with other swimmers' mums during the ninety minutes while the kids churned up and down the pool, hardly a spectator sport.
I suspect that the lives of many of those age-group swimmers were deeply affected by those hundreds of hours spent in and around pools. We swam, whether we felt like it or not, pressed to make efforts regardless of our moods, pushed by the coach, an authority figure, who we admired, respected, and occasionally resented.
The role of the athletic coach is an important one: an adult who expects us to go beyond ourselves, to make efforts which we would not otherwise make, to push ourselves despite our laziness and self-indulgence, particularly important during the tween and teen years. Coaches can do what parents cannot: get kids up off their butts, refocused, and back into the action. Whining is not an option.
I was reminded of the years I spent swimming, and the importance of athletics and coaching, while watching the ISD middle school soccer team play in a round robin tournament on Saturday.
Enter Filipa, a student in my sixth grade class. Filipa's from Portugal. She's sweet, assertive, a good student, insistent about her learning English. But don't cross her on the soccer field. She's tough, she'll knock you down, but then extend a hand to help you up. Filipa's focused, and passionate, a few would say too much so. Her coach shared that she was nominated captain by her teammates.
For Filipa and her middle school classmates, character is shaped by sport, through good coaching. What takes place on the field or in the pool -- making efforts, working on behalf of the group rather than oneself, developing skills through consistent practice, pushing through inertia -- becomes a toolkit for ones life.
I recall whining as an eight-year-old about not wanting to return to swim practice, probably a reflection of laziness, and the fear that I'd look stupid, unskilled, inadequate. My parents' response was clear: you're going to go anyway; since when do you think this is a democracy?
Were you involved in sport as a child? How has it influenced your adulthood?
Posted by Tod Spedding at 1:15 AM
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Randi ran across this expose of religious music associated with the Sufi Brotherhoods of Senegal. You'll find it on the VOA (Voice of America) website. Enjoy.
Posted by Tod Spedding at 3:41 AM
Friday, April 3, 2009
Photo1: the sixth grade, Ancient Egyptians all; photo2: Franzi (Germany), the glass-maker; photo3: Mariama (Sierra Leone), the musician; photo4: Filipa (Portugal), the noblewoman, representing the role of women in Ancient Egyptian culture; photo5: Damir (Belgium/England), Pharaoh Thutmose III, speaking of his military campaigns into the Levant; photo6: Charbel (Burkina Faso), the sun god Ra; photo7: Anthea (Australia), Queen Nefertiti; photo8: Emily (USA), painter.
You'll find many more images of the Living Museum on BOT, Gallery 3. Contact me if you'd like the username/password.
On Friday the sixth grade performed a Living Museum of Ancient Egypt, with students assuming the roles of historical figures, from the Pharaoh Ramses II, to the goddess Isis, and a variety of government officials and artisans, 24 in all.
The Living Museum is the culmination of about six weeks of independent research, with topics and roles selected by the students.
The project touched on a several big ideas: the need for students to have the opportunity to explore topics of their own interest; a performance view of understanding, which is practiced and demonstrated -- made visible (particularly powerful when the context is rich, and students become, or act as if they were in the role); the importance of project-based work, culminating with with a well-crafted project, both with respect form and content; and the opportunity to explore the meaning of good work.
The project marks a shift in our school year, being the final BIG project, akin to the completion of the science fair process at ISMonterey. We now settle a bit, and navigate quieter waters, past a series of Senegalese holidays and special events toward the close of the sixth grade year.
Posted by Tod Spedding at 1:25 PM