Let me rant just a little. The Senegalese school system often seems broken. Alright, I’m done.
What brought this rant about? It all started with a little involvement on my part in the studies of my 12 year old cousin. He told me his homework was hard that night.
“Mettina, Fanta! Mettina torop!” which literally translates as “it hurts, a lot!” a piece of vocab I hear all too often at the Poste where I work.
“Lutax?” I asked. “Why?”
He explained to me that tonight he has to memorize seven sentences in French about the ear, more than what you would find in a usual night.Taking a break from my journal writing, which everyone thinks is quite weird anyway, I spent the next fifteen minutes helping him memorize his paragraph, which to me seemed a bit technical for the equivalent of a fourth grader whose French I know to be mediocre at best. Taking advantage of the many “faux amis,” or cognates, in French, I decided to test Mohammed’s comprehension level, as his abilities of memorization were clearly stellar. But was he understanding what he was memorizing? Did he now know that the inside of the ear is “very fragile” and “one should avoid inserting sharp objects inside”?
I stopped him after a recitation and asked him if he knew what “fragile” meant. He unabashedly shook his head. That’s when I started to get a bit frustrated, or rather infuriated, at the state of the schools, as my friend who worked at Mohammed’s school had earlier told me that his was one of the better ones she had seen, and leagues ahead of the school in her village, just one kilometer down the road. I wanted to do something. I wanted to march into school and yell at the teacher, try to get her to understand how important comprehension was, not just rote memorization, march into the district office and make a complaint.
Of course, what effect is one lone toubab going to have in all of Senegal? Once my head settled a little, I contented myself with doing the one thing I could do at the moment: teaching Mohammed what the word fragile meant. This mini-lesson consisted of me picking up cups, spoons, and little tea cups, dropping the things that were not fragile and pretending to drop the ones that were, saying “Lii mooy fragile. Lii fragile-ul” or “This is fragile. This isn’t fragile.” Then I told him to go pick something fragile from the kitchen. Although I know it’s a fifty percent chance, he did pick a quite delicate glass bowl.
It’s not possible for me to change the Senegalese school system or teach Mohammed every French word using objects found around the house. But this window in the Senegalese schools made me incredibly grateful for the education I received. I had teachers who were, for the most part, driven, helpful and invested, something that seems hard to find in Senegalese schools. Then again, it’s hard for anyone when you have 40-70 kids in a class.
Right now, Senegal is my school. And while not everyone is as patient with the toubab as some, I have amazing individuals who teach me and point me in the right direction. All I can do is return the favor for little Mohammed.