Saint Louis, Wrestling and Fas Jom

I’ll start with what was probably the biggest wrestling match of the year. Yekini vs Balla Gaye. Yekini is from Joal (so of course Julia and I support him) and Aicha bought us sarongs with his picture on for Christmas 🙂 Balla Gaye is from Ziguinchor, which led to bets with SJ and Lottie (who Julia now owes 5 Flags – Senegalese beer). If that wasn’t clue enough, Yekini was defeated. After a ridiculous amount of hype, the match lasted about 2 seconds and Balla Gaye managed to floor him, or he fell, whatever. It was the first time he’d fallen in history, so there was huge uproar as you might imagine. Everyone was screaming and running around the streets banging drums. We live next to a Soce house (a type of ethnic group, like Wolof) and Balla Gaye is a Soce, so they were all ecstatic. Many Yekini supporters were in tears however. A few weeks later Yekini came home to Joal, where his name was painted all over the roads and walls of the town. When I heard the news that he had arrived, I ran out of the house with Mouhammed and Babo (not even thinking to take my sarong, which I could have waved in support, and leaving some uncooked rice – big faux pas I later discovered). I sent Aicha and Amadou texts to tell them we’d gone to join crowds of people gathered in the streets to watch him parading through, in a similar style to when Presidents Wade and Macky Sall came (though they didn’t take off their t-shirts and start dancing…) Amadou rang me to tell us to come straight home, before we’d even seen Yekini, but luckily he changed his mind, so we were able to stay and go to his house. Unfortunately my mood changed when we lost Babo. I turned around and he had just disappeared! This put Mouhamed in a really bad mood and we just couldn’t find Babo anyway. I wasn’t too worried initially because he’s a bright kid and knew his way home. But after several hours I started to get more concerned and rang Amadou to tell him, but he told me not to come home without Babo. We didn’t know where to start looking amongst the masses of people. I phoned my friend who drives a taxi, to see if he could take us around to look for him, but his car wasn’t with him. Eventually we went home without Babo. After another few hours, he turned up at the house, just when I was about to go and search for him again with Amadou (who pointed out that he could spot me easier in a crowd as I’d be the only white person there). Babo admitted that he had walked all the way to Fadiouth, the crazy boy. 

Feels like I haven’t written in ages and have loads to catch up on. The lycee students have been on strike. Finally, the teacher strike has completely ended (!!!!!) but yeah, the lycee students decided it was too late and gave up with school. This included them coming into our school and even primary schools and demanding for all the students to leave. We had to let them go, otherwise they’d become violent. It was so bizarre, one day a student just came into my class and said all politely ‘excuse me, can I talk to your students a moment please?’ I said, yes, of course and then he told them to leave immediately! Other students were really annoyed with those organising the strike, as they are having exams. The Bac has been postponed to either August or October and other exams will be in December. Some students who normally have to help their families farm in the rainy season won’t be able to this year due to exams, so it’s affecting everyone. Another day, a student I know from English Club came into my class and I was about to have a go at him, to say that my students were not leaving, when he said ‘no, no, I’m just here to see if you’ll come to English Club today!’ haha. Anyway, now that exam dates are confirmed the strikes are completely over and teaching is going on pretty much as normal. There are a lack of English teachers in the lycee so Amadou and others are doing over 20 hours a week, but Julia and I are too busy to take on any more classes now, plus we’ll be off travelling in around a month, then going home, which is insane. We had meetings in the CEM to discuss classes and good / bad students. Being a part of those made me feel like a real, respected member of staff, which was a nice if a little strange feeling, as I’m yet to go to university obviously. The German club held a carnival games day at the school which was a lot of fun, throwing tennis balls at cans, basketball shooting and winning prizes etc. They raised enough money to have a party, which I slept through instead of attending… Next Wednesday we’re going on a school History trip to Goree, which will be the third time Julia and I have been there but we’re looking forward to it nonetheless! The Batik classes we were doing with Samba are finished and now I have a nice orange table cloth and some red and orange napkins with baobabs and patterns drawn on them in wax, they turned out looking good.

Julia’s sister was here for two weeks last month. We made a banana chocolate cake and I invited my friend Awa over, cause she wanted to learn how to bake, and she brought along another friend of her’s called Fanta, who is eight months pregnant and married but somehow still in school (year 11). She invited us to the baby’s naming ceremony, which is coming up soon. I went to a wedding recently of a girl named Khady in the English Club from CEM III. She’s in year 10 and has never met her husband, who lives in Kaolack, where she has now moved to. Her parents say that she will finish school, but it’s actually illegal for her to be in school and be married at the same time, and she’ll have missed lessons and exams. It’s a bit upsetting really, though she looked beautiful at her wedding and I hope she will end up happy.

We had our first ‘Fas Jom’ girls club meeting yesterday, which I’m really happy about. This is the project we’ve always wanted and hope to continue expanding even when we’re back in the UK. Six girls came and we’re expecting more. We’re going to try and have a few meetings a week until we leave Joal and then they can continue with Peace Corps or other people we recruit to help. We started by teaching the girls to write their names. We’ll go on to teach reading, writing, French, maths, health and social issues, sewing and practical skills, music or drawing and whatever really just so it can be a place for them to learn and share their problems and a break to relax from doing housework. I plan to apply for sponsorship and do some fundraising for it when I can. So far, we have nearly 50 pounds from Julia’s mum doing a fundraising concert and have bought exercise books and pens for the girls.

We’ve done a bit more exploring of the Petit Cote finally and been to the Crocoparc with Marieme, Mouhamed and Babo, where we saw monkeys, crocodiles (surprisingly), huge turtles and some other animals. Marieme was a bit scared and clung to me the whole time, saying she wanted to go swimming. We took the kids to a pool the week after with Julia’s sister and taught them a bit of swimming, with goggles she brought over. We also discovered a really nice beach on the way to Fadiouth, with less crabs and dirt than the other one. Connie took us to her favourite place in Mbour, the hotel Ndali, which overlooks the beach and we had a lovely meal and swam in the sea. We later went to liquor brewery in Warang where we sampled strawberry, citron, chocolate and coffee and all sorts of liquors all brewed here from natural products etc. After that, I met the boys (Conor, Richard and Babs) in Mbour, as they’d come to visit Joal! We took them to Fadiouth and the school, Conor and Richard helped me teach a couple classes and everyone was impressed with their Wolof (and Conor’s Pulaar, which Aicha was like ‘Ciara, why can Conor speak better Pulaar than you when you live with a Pulaar family? Ho hum..)

We all went to Saint Louis together last Thursday for the Jazz Festival and even the girls from Ziguinshor managed to meet us there which was such a nice surprise, as it’s a trek across the other side of the country for them. It turned out that Babs had a friend who knew El Hadj Diouf the Senegalese football player, so we ended up having lunch at his house and hanging out with his brother, who got us into a club called Flamingo that had a pool and was apparently ‘full’. El Hadj Diouf’s bed was huge, red leather and round with built in speakers and a CD player. Bizarre. It turned out that all the Peace Corps volunteers were staying at the same hotel as us in Saint Louis, which was right on the beach, and we went to a bar with them. Conor wrote a sign outside the bar saying ‘Peace Corps and Project Trust Party – Techo Music 22h’. It was fun watching some of the Jazz bands and there was a pretty good American one with a singer who did some Blues too. Saint Louis itself seems a really nice place, I’d like to go back again maybe in Summer if we have time!

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