A Night & A Morning in Kebemer

Jahshana Olivierre - Senegal


February 20, 2014

I often spend these seemingly endless nights tossing and turning, engulfed in an ill- setup but well intentioned mosquito net. I’m at war – combating a billion different species of bugs, trying to eat me alive, and even when I see the twenty or so casualties I’ve inflicted my efforts fall short. The bugs continue to terrorize me anyway.

When the night falls, dread accompanies it. Each night I prep myself for battle — not only the one with nature but also the battle with my thoughts.  Nights are my least favorite – I am stuck with “spirit provoking” thoughts and pain staking anticipation of the coming sunrise and what tomorrow will bring. My mind has become a product of my new environment or rather my environment has become a product of my mind. A paradoxical parallel universe – I rule both out.

Every element of my environment somehow manifests itself in paradoxes. This endless internal/external battle eventually puts me in a deep sleep.

6:54 am- My alarm goes off- and weary from last night’s battle – I press the snooze button. A sprinkling of sunshine eases its ways through my slightly cracked window. I hear little voices and a billion and one footsteps. I close my eyes.

In what feels like forever, My aunt Xadi Ba officially wakes me up with breakfast: a loaf of bread and hot water for tea (whoever said chivalry was dead obviously has not visited Senegal). Along with breakfast, she gives me a daily dose of chastisements in Wolof – I understand the gist of it and reply in broken Wolof “Jerrejef, Balma – Mangi dem Sangu apre dama Dem Ekole huit/neuf heures” In reality I have to be at work at 8 am but I tell her 9 am in an attempt to sort of reassure her. I look at the time – 7:45, I have about 15 minutes to shower, get ready, eat and be at school – typical.  I detangle myself from my mosquito net and then scoff down my breakfast.

Huit heures – I am up and out of the house, trudging through the sand and dodging donkey, horse, goat, lamb excrement every 5 or so steps – making my way to the school, Ecole Huit.  As soon as I arrive I feel like I am invading a secret society. Senegalese girls and boys dressed in boubous of rich vibrant prints run along to their classes most with a loaf of bread in their hands and siblings by their side.  Small cliques talk amongst themselves in extremely fast Wolof – laughing and carrying on.   Jealous – I wish I could understand and laugh along too. I walk to the far end of the school court yard – weary and overwhelmed yet excited. I head in the direction of the Headmaster’s office which in reality is just a desk in the corner of the school’s courtyard and greet him. After a few minutes of greeting, I hurry along to my designated class.

As I enter, the children all rise and greet me, “Bonjour Madame”  they sing harmoniously. The classroom is filled with about thirty four children who gather every morning from 8 am to 1 pm to learn math, science, Arabic, and French. Math and science are taught in French.

The classroom is a bit spacious. A tin roof covers the brick classroom. Inside it is filled with dilapidated one sided desks, a dusty chalkboard, and a worn out flag of Senegal hanging by wires. Natural sunlight, the only source of light in the classroom, shines through the squares of the blue rickety windows.

I usually start my English lesson around 12 pm, and it lasts for up to thirty  minutes. Before I have to teach, I spend three or four hours being a student.  I try to learn a thing or two in French but after a little of my trying to learn what the students are learning, It just becomes incomprehensible. I tune in and out of the lessons and pursue my favorite pastime: observing the students.  It’s interesting to see how certain personalities are universal. I could see myself in one student and my friends back home in a couple of other students.

When I’m in the classroom, time passes by in a way I’ve never experienced before– an eternal short segment is how I can describe a school day. Senegal offers more paradoxes:  short but long, long but short; it’s truly a weird feeling.  When 12pm hits, all eyes are on me, as I try to impart English to the students in a “fun and engaging way” This requires me to step far out of my comfort zone, something which, for the first couple of weeks, I had a hard time doing. I had to learn that students aren’t receptive to energy lacking, insecure teachers and will either lose respect for them or just tune them out. I received these negative responses early on, but in order to avoid this from happening again,   I muster up energy from every little place in my being to keep the kids engaged. My efforts so far have been effective.

I begin each lesson by reviewing past lessons, with students coming up one by one to participate. A lot of the time, it is the same couple of students participating. This is when I randomize and pick a student whom I’ve noticed doesn’t really participate in any class at all.

Teaching is definitely one of the most challenging duties you can  take on in life, especially when you and your student come from different worlds and speak different languages. Of course,  when something you teach sticks and is effective– that’s a great feeling. Another, great feeling about teaching is when roles reverse. My students teach me little things about myself and the world around me every single day. As hard as it gets, I wouldn’t trade this invaluable experience for anything.

When class is finished, I round up all my little cousins and accompany them home singing , talking and playing small games. When we arrive home,  I go to my court yard and the greeting begins. As I mentioned, the greetings are a very integral part of the Senegalese culture.  The greetings  contain rounds of Assalamu Alaykum, Ca Va? Ca Va Bien? Na nga def? Naka suba si? Ndekki nga? Wacc nga? Foo demoon? Since I live with a good amount of people the courtyard greetings can last a long time. After an energy consuming morning, all I want is lunch and my  bed. I relax for an hour until it is time to for all of us eat lunch,  around the bowl. This is what a typical night and morning in Kébémer  looks like for me!

 

Jahshana Olivierre