Happy Tabaski! (on Saturday)
So today is Thanksgiving in the States and it feels a little bizarre not to be eating turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes and gravy (oh my gosh, I’m making myself really hungry!) with my American family and friends! The American volunteers at Projects Abroad have organized a Senegalese-style ‘Thanksgiving’ to be held this evening at one of our favorite Senegalese restaurants, La Linguere. Of course this dinner is open to everyone of every nationality, and I’ve heard we are going to be decorating the restaurant with Thanksgiving type decorations! Ha : ) As Americans, it will be cool to share a little bit of our culture while abroad with the Senegalese and other nationalities attending.
This Saturday is also Tabaski! And EVERYONE in Saint-Louis, and throughout Senegal is preparing! This holiday is a Muslim holiday (so it is celebrated world-wide). In Senegal school has been officially canceled since yesterday (Wednesday) and it will be out until next Wednesday. This allows families to travel to each other in order to be together for the holiday. So it has been officially cancelled since Wednesday, but unofficially canceled since Monday. And there’s a story behind this:
So I went to school Monday morning to have my French classes which are held at College Guillabert in the teacher’s lounge. We start at 8:00am and around 9:10, 9:15am some of the teachers walk in and my French teacher, Mr. Kande asks them what’s going on? “The students are on strike.” (literal translation from French). But how can the students be on strike I ask? Mr. Brown, the English teacher came over and joined our conversation. Mr. Kande (Kahn-day) and Mr. Brown discussed in Wolof what was going on, it seemed as if something my teacher had said had been confirmed. They explained to me that in Senegal, a couple years ago there was an educational reform set forth which has completely debilitated the system. From what I understand it restricted teachers from punishing students that act out in class. This piece of educational reform, in a country where rule enforcement in general is a difficult task, sort of just set the stage for student-run schools. I say this because Mr. Brown explained that literally what had happened to him that morning, was that one student came to his room and told him that he wasn’t having school. Mr. Brown responded that he, in fact was having class and that the student himself should get back to his class. This student responded that class was canceled because of Tabaski and then he told all of the students in Mr. Brown’s class to leave. The students complied. And this happened in every class! Some student coming to the door and instructing the teachers and the classes that class is canceled! I asked, but can’t they punish the student letting all of the kids out? But apparently there isn’t a system to deal with this type of behavior. Mr. Kande explained that when he was in school they would have days set up for misbehaved students to come and clean or do extra homework, but that doesn’t exist now. He also told me that these students that let the others out sometimes go to extremes to scare students who try to continue to stay in class. They will go outside and throw rocks at the windows. If the windows aren’t covered with a grill (not many are), then the glass will break, and if this has already happened then there is no glass left and the rocks come in the room. Otherwise with a grill on the window it makes a scary noise and the students get scared. I could NOT believe what I was hearing. This seemed crazy! But apparently here in Senegal there is always a ‘greve’ or strike. Either the students are striking (ie: cancelling class to get a longer vacation) or the teachers are striking (for real) because they are underpaid, overworked and they work in a system where the students make the decisions. But even with all of this mayhem, Mr. Kande, Mr. Brown and the other teachers still love what they do, even if it’s a crazy system. And of course we laugh about it, because even to these Senegalese teachers, who are familiar with the system, it is still a foreign concept and there is some humor in imagining students cancelling school to party.
I found the same situation at the next school that I went to, Lycee Ameth Fall. It’s an all girls’ school and we’re going to be doing a pen pal exchange with a Sister Cities program in St. Louis, MO. I was supposed to come and collect the letters on Monday, but when I arrived my teacher told me he had collected 7 letters as those were the only girls who came to school that morning since school had effectively been ‘canceled’ so the rest didn’t come. And as the break for Tabaski is a week long, it will be a week before I get the rest of the letters (and then that is if the students remember to bring them at that point!). This is a tiny glimpse of how things are never certain in Senegal and you have to always be prepared for change and be prepared to be flexible! Here in Senegal we say, “Insha’Allah,” which literally means “God willing.” I’m beginning to understand why we say this so much! Nothing can ever be totally certain to come to pass the way we imagine.
Coming up: What is Tabaski? & Meeting Rotary District 9100 District Governor
Also, some pictures from our dinner!
Juliette’s mom was here last week, visiting from the US, and she brought over gravy and cranberry sauce in cans. It was a nice little touch! Though I have to say, eating gravy from a can definitely does not compare to my Aunt Kathy’s!!
I am so thankful for so many things! Above all, my family and friends. Everyone who has been supporting me while I’ve been away. I appreciate all of the messages and emails : ) I am also so thankful for my country. I suppose it isn’t ironic that all three of these things/people happen to be what I miss the most.
I am also thankful for my Senegalese family. They have been so wonderful to me and completely taken care of me like a member of their family.
And I am thankful for the opportunity to experience Thanksgiving in Senegal.
Thanksgiving snapfish album: