Back to School

The call to prayer sounds. 5:18am. Chamin’s adoptive mother gets up slowly, eyes heavy with sleep, and rolls out of bed. She washes her feet, arms, hands, and head, then comes back next to the bamboo bed where Chamin is still fast asleep, body contorted in a way that looks to be the most uncomfortable position, sheet tangled between her legs. Her mother Maymouna precedes to pray, kneeling on the plastic mat laid on the ground next to her bed. After praying, she returns to the bed, nudging Chamin a roughly, repeating her name loudly. Chamin rolls over, sheets twisting even more, not waking up. A few hours later, Maymouna awaken again to start the day. She retreats inside to begin sweeping the house, vigorously shaking Chamin to wake her up. Chamin grumbles and rolls over. Her mother Maymouna gives up after a while and goes inside to begin sweeping. Chamin sleeps on, pulling the sheet over her as it has finally begun to get chilly in the morning hours. Finally her father smacks her, waking her up. She rolls clumsily out of her mosquito net, washes her face and gets her bread and coffee.

Chamin and her crazy ways.  Her mother teases her, calling her 'not well', but I love that bright spark in her eye

Chamin and her crazy ways. Her mother teases her, calling her ‘not well’, but I love that bright spark in her eye

Chamin, or Farmata as she’s sometimes called, is a lively child. She never seems to stop moving, fidgeting, and playing. She cannot sit still. She is eager to please, but sometimes at the expense of irritating those around her. She wants to be accepted so much by her mother, yet her mother never seems to be satisfied. She receives only scoldings when she has done wrong. When successfully completing tasks, she is dismissed.

Chamin, showing off her new bracelets

Chamin, showing off her new bracelets

After bathing, she puts on her nicest clean school outfit, today her new blue complet (top with matching skirt) with the beautiful pink embroidery, and grabs her tiny backpack, running off to join her friends she just saw pass the doorway of the house on their way to school, her mother yelling something incomprehensible about not lagging so everyone can have snack together as she leaves.

Kids, my sister Ramata Moussa in the pink, arriving at school in the morning

Kids, my sister Ramata Moussa in the pink, arriving at school in the morning

At school, kids filter in, running and playing, coffee fresh in their system, the sugar running high in their bloodstreams. They get into their classrooms, boys crawling over desks, girls squealing, someone throws a notebook. Someone pulls Chamin’s hair extensions. She screams crazily and slaps Moussa Sy, who kicks her. Mornings are chaos. Mr. Ndongo, with his quiet, calm personality, somehow achieves control of the class. They agree to sit two to a desk, after a bit of fighting over who gets to sit with who. They all settle in and he mimes to them to all in unison, “Bonjour Mouseiller Ndongo.” He proceeds to begin the class. There are many days, however, when the teachers simply do not show up to school. Luckily the teachers in Mbolo Aly Sidy are usually dutiful to their students, even though their family and relatives are all very far away in other villages except one, Mr. Ba. Chamin gets out her two notebooks, little flappy stacks of paper that they are, 200 pages with a shiny paper backing, attached by two staples. This notebook will last her for all of 2 months, and that’s only because Chamin takes the best care of her school supplies because she only has one set of everything. She knows her mother will not buy her new ones if she ruins these. The covers fall off first, then the staples fail and the pages all come unhinged, flying astray in her backpack that doesn’t actually have a zipper anymore. It won’t be long until the pages are then taken into the dry empty Fouta desert by the strong winds.

The kids, blurry with chaos of the classroom, have been left unattended now for the last 30 minutes.  Why?  Who knows...

The kids, blurry with chaos of the classroom, have been left unattended now for the last 30 minutes. Why? Who knows…

Miriame Dia (pronounced ‘Jah’) asks Chamin to lend her a pen. Of course, everyone only has one pen, if any, and Chamin is using hers to copy, in her neatest handwriting, exactly what Mr. Ndongo is writing on the board, repeating what he says in unison with the rest, though not fully comprehending the meaning of each individual sound. She does her best to sound everything out exactly like her teacher, so when it comes time to speak, she will speak like him, like a professional. “Miriame, I’m using it,” she replies hastily between repetitions of “Como t’appelle tu?” Miriame replies, “Just real quick, I need it!” Chamin gives it to her, watching as her teacher writes more on the board. She hopes he won’t erase it before she gets the pen back. She tries to memorize it as she repeats it back, but the sounds have no meaning to her without the idea of context. She, now very distracted, looks back repeatedly at Miriame, who is now doodling on the edges of her paper, having not written a single thing resembling a word on it. Chamin hisses to get her attention, but the hiss gets Mr. Ndongo’s attention and smacks the desk hard with his stick (more of a branch than a stick) and exclaims in a commanding voice to Chamin, “What is it, Farmata?” She shrinks at his serious, yet icy gaze. “Nothing,” she says, and proceeds to look forward for the rest of the class, knowing the consequences if she doesn’t. Mr. Ndongo, although patient and calm, is not beyond hitting children for misbehaving. Hitting children is common practice in school, and Chamin has been hit before. Many times. She gets very easily distracted, her need to please everyone around her means that she often gets herself involved in conversations across the classroom, to the dismay of Mr. Ndongo.

Front blackboard of the classroom.  Light filters in from the window illuminating the room as there are no lights

Front blackboard of the classroom. Light filters in from the window illuminating the room as there are no lights

Finally, around 10am children start to filter out of Mr. Ba’s classroom next door, which creates distraction in Chamin’s class, and kids start getting up even though Mr. Ndongo is still talking. He slaps a desk to get everyone’s attention but a few kids have already run out the door. Giving up, he lets the class go for break. Chamin bolts out of her seat, forgetting both of her notebooks, one falling to the floor from the jolt of the desk. Before reaching the doorway she squeals and returns to pick them up, Adima Ow kicks it towards her and it flies past. She aims to smack him but he evades it and runs out the door. She stuffs the notebooks into her backpack, secures the strings that hold it together in the absence of the zipper, and sprints out the door, her friends already at the front gate of the school.

The school, as seen from Mr. Ndongo's doorway.  Newly seeded Moringa tree plots near the front stoop

The school, as seen from Mr. Ndongo’s doorway. Newly seeded Moringa tree plots near the front stoop

In her hurry, she realizes Miriame still has her pen. She will get it when school is back in session soon. She returns to the house for gossi, a porridge with the consistency of tapioca pudding made of sorghum, corn, and rice flour, with homemade yogurt and sugar added. She eats hurriedly, then runs back out with her older sister Ramata Moussa.

View from the front gate of the school.  There are 4 classrooms; 4 teachers.

View from the front gate of the school. There are 4 classrooms; 4 teachers.  Behind the rooms on the left is a large open space that is used for PE activities and organized games.

Back at school, Miriame has lost the pen. Now Chamin has none. She has difficulty paying attention the rest of the day as she has nothing with which to write with. Playing footsies with her friend Djeyneba next to her, she gets another loud rap on her table from Mr. Ndongo. It could be days or weeks before she is lucky enough to find a pen laying around on the ground.

Around 1pm, the kids all scramble out of the classrooms to head home for lunch, which usually happens around 2:30 or 3pm, after which some days they head back to school to continue for the afternoons.  On the days they do not have afternoon class, the kids all go to the Chierno (teacher)’s house to study the Koraan.  Some boys don’t even begin primary school until many years later because they spend their early years studying the Koraan.  Some study until their 20’s before beginning school.  These boys usually are entered into middle school after passing a basic test.  It is not unusual to be 26 years old in your second year of middle school, and you are likely to have a good sized group of friends the same age.

Mr. Ndongo's stands in the doorway of his classroom, Mr. Ba's classroom on the right.

Mr. Ndongo’s stands in the doorway of his classroom, Mr. Ba’s classroom on the right.

RED BLUFF, CA.

Your generous school supply drive will provide supplies to not only the children of this elementary school, but also to Mbolo Aly Sidy students who study in the middle school in Mbolo Birane (they walk the 1.5k through the ‘woods’ and through the thorns to the other village every morning and sometimes twice a day, even on the hottest and windiest of days.  Supplies will also be provided to the high school students of Mbolo Aly Sidy who have to take public transportation (see previous blog post about Transportation in Senegal) every morning all the way to Galoya, 6k away, paying 25 cents each way (hey, that adds up!)  School in Senegal is not provided free by the government.  Every student has to pay every year to attend school.  Inscription fees vary between schools, some including vests/shirts for uniforms.  Fees can be up to $17 in some public schools, which is an extreme amount of money for families living off what they grow, unable to sell much of their production.  Your donations will be heartily accepted and last much longer than the cheaply made school products children here are able to purchase.

I cannot thank you all enough.  The community of Red Bluff has done something that has reached across the ocean and will touch the lives and education of so many here in Mbolo Aly Sidy.  Your generosity cannot be repaid.

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