Abby Rochman walked right up to the Koranic
school’s director and gently – but firmly – asked if he
wouldn’t mind answering some questions on film. He
obliged, bien sur! Seemingly everywhere we went
Iris Feldman was asking about the political situation.
What did they think of their new president Macky
Sall? Did they feel implicated in the political process?
Tallulah Axinn’s angle on Senegalese life was fashion.
How were traditional fabric and style choices being
influenced by modernity? Larson Holt was preoccupied by transportation issues. He managed to find out
that the new administration was planning to emphasize the rebuilding of the dilapidated train network.
Alejandro Poler had current issues on his mind, so
he focused his line of questioning on urbanization
and migration. For Jaclyn Lee, the pressing issue was
food. I’m sure she was moved to think: how better
to connect with people than through food! So she
went through Senegal sampling its cuisine, and in the
process, Jaclyn documented the rich traditions of food
As for me, I was intrigued by the idea of Negritude
– the philosophical platform of African consciousness
and pride that Leopold Senghor, among others, had
long championed. What I wanted to know was how
that vision has evolved since his passing from the
scene. The questions that followed offered me a strong
sense of the confidence that Senegalese feel about
their heritage. And yet, there is an underlying unease
about the future. Senegal, of course, has changed
since its independence in 1960, but in some ways still
confronts the same major challenges.
I met Senghor at a UNESCO conference in Paris
many years ago. I asked him if, having relinquished
the presidency, if he was still confident of Senegal’s
place in the world. He thanked me gently for my
question and suggested that I ask his fellow citizens.
It’s taken a while, but I’ve gotten my chance. The
process is ongoing, of communication and dance, of
inquiry and of connecting with the people of Senegal.
Île de Gorée
Louise Wurzelbacher, Grade 11
It was on our first day, after a long and exhausting
plane ride, that we traveled to the famous Île de Gorée.
After taking a ferryboat to the island, we enjoyed our fabulous first meal in Senegal – the traditional fresh grilled
fish and rice, for most of us. During the meal, we were
serenaded by a modern-day griot (traditional Senegalese
troubadour) playing a traditional instrument called a kora.
After lunch we walked to the House of Slaves, where
we learned what happened to the thousands of Africans
who were held prisoner there before being shipped off
to the Americas. Some of them would try to escape this
horrible prison and jump into the water to swim to safety.
These attempts to escape usually failed, as there were
many sharks in the water that would tear them to bits.
Following this sobering history lesson, we wandered
the shady streets of the island and got our first taste of
Senegalese culture, represented by the bright and vivid
clothing and jewelry that the Senegalese wear every day.
Running slightly behind schedule, we rushed back to the
dock, fearful of missing the last ferry off the island. Our
trip could not have started on a better note.
Volunteering at Ecole Natangué
Clara Hancock, Grade 11
The four days we spent with the students at Ecole
Natangué were truly the highlight of our trip. The kids
always had huge smiles on their faces, and they were
never too shy to come to look at you or simply hold your
hand. Most of them were still learning to speak French,
so the easiest way to communicate with them was by
playing games, taking pictures, or using facial expressions
and gestures. They always asked for our names and never
seemed to forget them.
Helping the teachers in various classes also
gave us insight into the importance of education in Senegal. I loved the fact that all the
kids were eager to participate in class and so
enthusiastic about learning. Some of us were
lucky enough to teach a class, but we first had
to follow the Senegalese practice of creating a
very meticulous lesson plan.
During the time we spent at the school we
were able to establish friendships with many
of the children. One day I organized a mini
soccer game with some 5th grade girls. The
next day, one of them led me to an upstairs
classroom, where the girls I had taught soccer to the day before were dancing, eager to
teach me some Senegalese dance moves. This