November 14, 2011
One of my main projects with-in the Sukuta community is developing a sustainable scholarship program. There is no doubt there is an incredible need to support education with-in the community. Often public school fees are more than a parent’s monthly salary. When the choice is between eating food and paying school fees education will take a back seat. This reality pulls the plug on the future of many bright and hopeful children.
Knowing these cases are out there is one thing. The trick is finding them (needed vs greedy) and sometimes then of course sometimes they find you. On Saturday, I had such an experience.
A Wolof woman came to our compound sometime after lunch. She and her son had left Bakau (an hour away by transport) early in the morning and came to wander the streets of Sukuta after hearing a rumour there was an opportunity for scholarship; 3 hours later she and her son were directed to our compound.
She came prepared – official invoices, report cards and the like. Her son was 2nd, 3rd or 4th in the class (typically 40-50 students) for every subject. The Father was out of the picture and even when he was around she didn’t see the school fees as a priority. She had been trying since the summer to get her son back into school.
Speechless, it is hard not to do what you can.
Last night we held a meeting for all students and parents outlining expectations, the vision and the importance of taking the scholarship opportunity seriously as to allow it to move forward. At this time I have over 30 names of students both young and old looking to improve their education and the list is continuing to grow. At this time two thirds of them are already covered for the remainder (thanks to many of you and your support) and we are working to manage the remainder. It is exciting to think of the possible impact not only for the students but for the whole community.
A couple days back I was ask for a contribution to buy some meat. With the arrival of Tobaski there is a lot of slaughtering happening right now so I guess meat is cheaper and being I live on the verge of vegetarian while here I decided to go in for it. When I got home last night there was a very big pot with a very big fire under just outside my door.
Taking any attempt to practice my Fula I asked.
“Hida defeh, ko Hondun ni?” (lit – You are cooking, what’s this?)
“Hoore nagge” was the reply.
With some effort I pieced it together - Lets see…in the village I had learned ‘nagge’ is cow now the question was what was ‘hoore’ – oh yes ‘head’. Hmmm.
Needless to say lunch today was adventurous.
For all my visits to predominately Muslim nations I had yet to experience a Tobaski and this I blessed to experience my first. Here are a few observations from the outsider’s view point:
As explained to me, Tobaski is the celebration of God providing a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead of sacrificing Ishmael his son (the teaching in the Kor’an differs from the original Hebrew/Jewish scriptures where it is Isaac Rachel’s son). There is a special prayer and then sacrificing of a male animal whose meat is to be eaten and shared in the following three days. It is said to bring blessing to the family.
The concept of atonement or forgiveness was surprisingly not a theme I encountered. From what I understood, this is viewed more as a task to do among many by which you receive blessing and can continue to work towards favour during the Day of Judgment. Again this is a central theme in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Tobaski is not unlike Christmas in feel on the days leading up to the feast. Markets were packed and traffic was a nightmare as people (mainly woman) bought new dresses, shoes and hair for the event* –. The men are primarily charged with purchasing a ram. I can be a great cause of grief and embracement if a family unable (particularly if you have had in the past).
The days of Tobaski are spent visiting, from a social perspective the days are about spending time together, there is little else on the agenda. From this perspective it is easy to see why it is such a valued holiday, particularly in this culture. Where ever possible people will travel to their home’s to visit their home villages.
I can not explain much about the prayers or slaughtering in the morning as not being a Muslim I was only able to attend informal festivities that followed. The day again like Christmas is spent with family and friends sitting around eating copious quantities of meat. From afternoon to evening I ate 6-7 courses with meat, a sharp contrast to my typical diet here.
Couple of other notes was the sharp debate over the correct day of Tobaski. In the past Mecca would pray and then the following day the remainder of the world would follow. A modern movement has spawned to synchronize the dates, however, it met sharp conflict and it was easy to see where one allegiance stood (dead ram, live ram). For me it was an interesting window into the religious thought of the faith.
All said I was glad to experience it first hand.
* the hot item was the real human hair for braiding. I saw one box said to be selling for equivalent of over $200US
When China met Africa
There is a lot of discuss with China’s recent interest in Africa. The Gambia is no exception. In a lot of ways the relationship it a natural fit, China has money, Africa doesn’t, Africa has resources, China is looking for resources. Granted there are some concerns. Both China and Africa and are cultures driven of by prestige and status, they understand how to scratch each other back.
From extravagant birthday parties to building fancy parliament buildings, from many perspectives it resembles crafty bait and switch operation. With-in the boarders of this small country, mahogany is quickly becoming extinct. In my short time hear I walked past many lots of the precious wood being packed into containers. The promise of quick easy money and few rules or regulation seem to keep the locals and traders all smiles, as a passed such a lot yesterday with a man handing out money like it grew on trees.
When departing from Canada, a close friend had handed a documentary on this very topic. “When China Met Africa”. The documentary focuses on the country of Zambia, its copper fields, road building and farming operations.
So I invited a number of my friends both local and international over and we had a movie night. Naturally, we started watching “Cool Runnings” (which turned out to be a good pick) and later the documentary which I highly recommend.
Following the documentary, we went on to have a 30 minute discussion about what we saw. Some of the main points of discussion included effective communication, proper planning and respect in understanding one another. Some shared stories of personal experiences that resembled some of the scenes with-in the movie.
At the end of the night we spend time in both Muslim and Christian prayers. In all things feel people left somehow enlightened, somehow encouraged and somehow challenged.