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Journals from ACI Baobab Center - Senegal, Africa

2010-12-11 11/16/10 Trip to Rural Village, Sokone

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clockwise from the top left: the inn, on the pirogue, at the village

 Written 11/16/2010

Bonjour! 

This past weekend our group went on an amazing trip to the rural village Sokone in the delta region of Sine Saloum along with our Traditional African Civilization professor. In his course we’ve been studying the practices and characteristics of traditional rural villages; thus the goal of the trip was to spend time in a small village observing and interacting with locals. We traveled five hours southeast by van through the grassy countryside speckled with villages and large prehistoric-looking baobab trees. Although it was our second time leaving the city, transitioning from the metropolitan landscape to the countryside was still pretty startling. The city is a cacophony of sounds and experiences, while the countryside is vast and relatively calm. We thought to ourselves: this must be the reality for most of Senegal—which is true since apart from a few large cities, the majority of land is rural.

After our bus ride—that took longer due to traffic and long stretches of deteriorated, pot-holed roads—we made it to the sleepy village of Sokone. We laughed to ourselves and thought: we knew we were going to a rural village, but we had no idea it would be THIS far off the beaten path. For the next two days we stayed in a peaceful auberge, a small inn, run by a very kind man who fed us well with his endless supply of soda and delicious rabbit jerky. Between the girls, we stayed in two yurts surrounded by beautiful flowers, trees, and a small collection of livestock—the largest rooster I’ve ever seen, a cow, many baby goats, and a rumored-to-be duckling.

The inn was located on the banks of the delta, and that evening we had the opportunity to meet with several women who started an initiative to replant environmentally beneficial mangroves to encourage fish and other wildlife to repopulate the region. We waded through murky, ankle deep water to a patch of baby mangrove trees to learn how the system works. It was inspiring to learn that these women were changing the landscape and future of the village.

After we cleaned up and ate a lovely dinner, we walked into town to join the locals in their community dance. Around fifty community members came together to dance and play music, including a female griot, a member of the caste of musicians and oral historians. One by one, women pulled us up to dance the sabaar, a dance with unimaginably fast foot-work and hip movements. Fortunately after a couple months dancing at Senegalese night clubs and with family members, we were all a bit used to African dance movements, yet we couldn’t help but feel a bit silly imitating the beautiful and spirited women before us. We clapped as the griot sang beautiful songs in languages we could not understand and women briefly stepped into the center to dance. From time to time the children migrated onto the dance floor and impressed us all with their pint-sized sabaar moves. All in all, the evening was magical.

The next day we spent in another small village a ten-minute car ride from the inn. At the village we were welcomed with smiles and scores of energetic children. I always thought it was a cliché to see photos white people brought back from African villages of them surrounded by children, but this is very much the case! Mothers often have six to eight children, and when you think of how many mothers there are in a village and do the math, that makes for a large population of youngsters! Plus, they are also very curious of toubabs (white folks) and want to shower you with their undeniable affection.  

It was so amazing to spend time with the villagers learning how they cook, farm and just live. We were glad we came a couple months into our stay because we were able to interact and observe with the villagers already understanding several African customs. We were able to learn from them, but know enough Wolof to share about our culture and customs, even if it was as simple as patty-cake with the children.

After eating a delicious lunch and resting in the shade on mats drinking tea, we boarded a small pirogue and paddled through the mangroves to a small beach. There we took a dip and drank ice cold sodas, thanking our lucky stars for our amazing luck to be in such a great place!

The trip to Sokone was as magical as it was informative. When life brings me back to West Africa, I definitely want to live in the countryside!

Thanks for reading!

Jenna Johnson
 Psychology Major, Art & Francophone Studies Minor 

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