Monday, May 23, 2011

Animist Islam

So after being here for 10 months now I have come across some bizarre practices in regards to Islam. Now statically speaking, Senegal is around 95% Muslim (with the remaining 5% percent divided between Animists and Catholics/Christians. Yet a self-described Muslim in Senegal is not your topical Muslim. Now I have had the opportunity to see Islamic cultures before in Turkey and Egypt and in contrasting that experience with my current observations in Senegal, a couple of queer and interesting paradoxes arise. They mainly resolve around unaccounted for Animism going on in Senegal. Even though less than 5% percent of the population identify with Animism, the actually percent of people practicing Animism and calling it Islam is probably around 90% (not an actual statistic but a complete and utterly inaccurate assumption).

For example is the tulkura. Now the tulkura comes in many forms and sized and can do many different things. Almost all the children you will notice will have a tulkura which is a generic one for protection called a gri gri. It’s made of leather and has either one or multiple pouches on it. Now in each pouch hold some sort of protection or power. There are many different methods to how you make it but regardless it comes from a marabout-religious teacher/head. The two common ways marabouts imbue these “pouches” with magical powers is either through writing Arabic scripture on a piece of paper and folding it into the pouch or writing Arabic scripture on a chalk board and then washing it off with water and then putting that water in a pouch (another way to protect someone is to do the same but instead of putting into a pouch a person is bathed with that water).

Now these tulkuras can protect you from ANYTHING. All the famous wrestlers in Senegal (called lamba) are covered in tulkuras that do everything from make the fast to the power to never fall down. Interesting to me is the grid lock of one magical tulkura that says a person cannot fall down and another wrestler’s tulkura that states that he can make someone fall down on his first punch. I’ve been explained by reliable sources* (that may or may not be relative), that the wrestler who’s tulkura is made from the more skilled marabout will win. I did not see any holes in this logic so I naturally assumed it as fact and moved on.

Another, though very expensive, tulkura is one that renders your skin impenetrable. You are in theory bullet proof. I’ve been told that after getting this tulkura the marabout will shoot you to prove its quality. I tried to explain that where I’m from, paying someone to shoot you may not be seen as the smartest thing that person has ever done. Yet they were resolved in the power of the tulkura (though to point out I’ve never met anyone had that one). Interesting also about that tulkura is that since it leaves your skin impenetrable, you need to take it off before going to the doctor’s to get a shot otherwise the needle will not be able to pierce your skin.
Another interesting bit about the tulkuras that makes sense is that one doesn’t show off or tell other people about their tulkuras. Because tulkuras give you special protection, first off you don’t want people to know you have that protection because then they use it against you (like with the impenetrable skin, people in my village gave me the example that you could poison them and they could receive the annadoudt because the needle could penetrate their skin-though I feel that if you went through the trouble of getting an impenetrable skin tulkura you obviously have enemies so it might be in your interest to get the full protection package). Also it can be seen as a sign of weakness. The fact that you need a tulkura means that you have a weakness otherwise you wouldn’t need it.

Another interesting bit of Islamic Animism is in regards to toothaches. While people in my village and in Senegal still use traditional medicine and see “witch doctors” or what Senegalese call “African doctors,” marabouts have become the new traditional doctors in many cases in my area of Senegal. A friend of mine in village, if you want to Facebook him his name is Samba Sy, is a practicing marabout. Though he hasn’t achieved the great level and skills required to imbue tulkuras, he employs other Animist-Islam practices to help people in his community. An interesting one that I recently witnessed was in regards to toothaches. It involves him taking a nail and touching the sour tooth with it (yeah I know that is far from sterile). After that he writes some Arabic scripture in the sand floor. Depending on where the tooth hurts he alters the scripture. It’s almost like he is tuning in a radio by placing the nail on the tooth and the patient indicating if it hurts more or less as he moves it around on the tooth. And somehow, not entirely sure, based on those readings he adjusts the scripture to the patient. Then based off the readings and diagnosis, he places the nail somewhere in the scripture and nails it into the ground. After that it is said that the next day their tooth will be healed. Not exactly sure what the premise is as in if the nail is suppose to collect all the bad spirits and then hammering it into the ground traps them or what but it was an interesting look at traditional Animist beliefs colliding with Islam.

It makes for an interesting observation into Islam in Senegal. At one point overwhelmingly Muslim and yet still strong lineage to their Animist past (and present for that matter). And that doesn’t even bring up the point of how a 95% Islamic country can have multiple different beer companies (la gazelle, Flag, Perforth, 33 Export, Castel, etc). Bakel alone, which is in theory one of the more conservative areas of Senegal bordering on the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, has upwards of 7-8 bars. It’s always an interesting experience when your sept plus driver is so conservative he’ll actually stop the vehicle to pray during prayer hours (not common but true story) only to see him that evening at a local watering hole.

Every day is interesting here in its own little way.

Love you all and thanks for not forgetting about me yet.

Peace and Love from Africa,

Monday, February 28, 2011

So I suck at this whole blogging thing......forgive me

So some may refer to an almost 4 month absence since my last blog post a pretty big failure. To them I can only say that balancing between keeping update on world events and updating everyone on my life struggles and successes in Senegal while living in an electricity-less is as difficult as it sounds. I applaud your penitence and understanding then if you still make the effort to read my blog.

So when I last left you all I was just a month or so in village, Guinaing, in the department of Bakel. Since then I haven’t really done much besides drink tea and get into deeply intense debates over who is a bean eater and why (I’ve recently taken the passive route to this debate and proudly proclaim myself a bean eater to my village’s humorous glee). I really wish I was joking about that but to be honest that makes up a lot of my time right now. Though that would be a very simplistic assessment of what I’m actually accomplishing. While some days I come home feeling underwhelmed with what I think I accomplished that day, after a reflecting process where I write down in an activity log what I did I realize that I met a new person or two and picked up a word here and there. Some days it might be something simple like the fact that I finally used the correct formal future tense in Pulaar even if we were only talking about why I didn’t have a wife or kids yet. That is usually the chief debate that I must defend myself and the rest of unmarried Americans my age every morning at the bread bakery. Almost like a doughnut/coffee shop back home in rural America, there is a group of 4-6 regulars whom sit, drink tea and chat about typical Pulaar topics (women, why I’m not married, how many wives I want, why I only want one, etc) and daily gossip. This group has really endeared themselves to me and have been a valuable resource acting as a sort of council of Pulaar masters that quiz me daily about the vocabulary words for harvesting millet to milking cows to what the skin inbetween your toes is called (yes they have a word for that but still not certain why they were adamant that I needed to know).
That’s probably where the similarities end though. Our village bread bakery (or fiirme in Pulaar) is a mud stove with a steel rough held up by a few branches from a nearby neem tree. The bread is AMAZING though! It’s millet bread, which I pick up around 6:45am fresh from the mud oven. The only negative or drawback to the whole operation is that if I want beans, fish mash or other fresh cooked spreads for my bread I need to wait till 8am. In the mean time I usually end the ends of the bread which is delicious by itself piping hot and also makes it easier to cut open for spread beans or fish mash in it (or at least that’s what I tell myself).
Besides that I’ve been brainstorming and searching out opportunities to put my skills and pent up ambition to good use. My first opportunity for this was holding a class/demonstration in my village’s woman’s garden about planting moringa trees in an intensive bed in your garden for high yielding leaf production. Simply put you plant moringa in a 10cm grid in a 5/1m to 7/1m bed. Why moringa? Moringa is considered the miracle tree of West Africa. It’s high in every vitamin you’d ever want or need. More importantly is that moringa will grow anywhere which is important in the volatile Sahel region in West Africa. The demonstration went fairly well with what I considered a reasonable crowd for the size of my village. I’m planning a follow up demonstration on how to preserve moringa leaves through processing them by drying them.

Additionally I’ve been working with the neighboring village of Samba Yiida, my road town (a town that is found on the road where my village transports produce and travels to and from Bakel and Tambacounda). Samba Yiida’s woman’s garden is interested in developing a woman’s garden. As of now they have a modest garden with a shabby fence and no well. In fact, they have to carry water up to 40meters away to water their garden which may not sound like much but watering a garden in the Sahel takes a lot of water meaning a lot of trips back and forth. I am currently working with USAID, my Peace Corps APCD (boss) and the village chief and president of the Samba Yiida’s woman’s group in getting the funds for a new and expanded fence, well and tools. I’m hoping to have the grant completed and approved within the next month and hopefully have the garden completed by the end of the hot season (mid of July). I’ll keep you all updated.

I have so many more updates but unfortunately I have to get back to village life. I promise next time I’m in town I’ll explain the cop costume photos on facebook (yes there was reasoning behind it) and other updates about WAIST (West African Invitational Softball Tournament), meetings and a little get away in Dakar and how things have changed in Bakel.

All your thoughts are greatly appreciated be it via email, facebook, phone call or letter.

Love and Peace from Bakel,

Sunday, October 31, 2010

From the Rolling Hills of Bakel

I have been in my village for about 2weeks now. Pulaar is coming along and i have enough now I can get my point across most of the time. Problem with Pulaars is though that they are so against critisism that when i do say something wrong they dont correct me. Kind of frustrating when you are trying to learn the language.

For the most part life is good. I feel a little timidated because though the last volunteer left early he was really well liked. Not sure where Ill fit in. At one point though I really want to be weary that I am not just everyones friend but also someone they respect. The last vol told me that they would not take him serious sometimes. .

Out of my first 6meals at my new home 3 have been cow stomach. This has raised a lot of questions. The first, where is the REST of the cow? For some reason we eat a lot of stomach but not once yet has my family te the actuall cow. 2nd, so there is some drama in the family. Which is great becaus otherwise I would die of boardum. So my dad, chief Jieng, has 3 wives. Two live with hm in his house in Gounoung and the third still lives in her village. The reason for this is that the 2 wies did ot qgre to him marrying the 3rd wife. So regardless he travels back and forth between homes. And everytime he returned we ate cow stomach. So there is two logical explanations: first, that he hates cow stomach and the wives are starting a munty through the food (i like this one because selfishly it is more drama filled and entertaining), and the second being that it is his favorite meal. Besides that I ate rice every day with veggies and say 3 times a week fish. Diet has been radically different then I am use to be I am use to it now.

Life Dilemma: I hate cockroaches and a couple live in my douche. Right now we have a partnership not to see each other much but like a sissy I always look before I go into my bathroom. This seems odd for someone in PC to hate cockroaches. Well I do. I am fine actually.

Been mostly working in the fields wih local farmers.That and asking as many questions as possible. Been checking out a 25 hectar irrigation project next to my village. It is really cool. The bad/good thing about it is that it is mostly Sandinka speakers from a nighboring village that work there. None speak Pulaar. Good because some, mostly the president of the project, speaks French. Gives me an excuse to brush up on my french. Now though my french is a bit rough so it would be nice if they spoke a little Pulaar. Helped clean out the irrigation canals. Was in muddy water up to my knees shovling mudd. Schistole here i come!

Amongst PCVs there is a friendly constest to see who will schistole first. One lives by a lake, the other a swamp and now after working with the irrigation project I am in the running. Not a contest I aim to win. It is fine though because it takes schistole a year or so to become active an to start showing symptoms and I get tested for everything under the sun every 6 months.

Other projects: started my garden and planted guava trees in a pepinear. Thinking about doing a math class at the local elementary school. The level of math at all ages is sad. The Senegalese education system outside of Dakar is pathetic to say the least. That and a lot of kids in rural communities go to Koran/Islamic school. Mixed feelings on them. On one side some of those kids probably would not have gone to school at all if it was not for Koran school and at least they receive some form of education develop educational skills. On the other hand they also take some kids out of the French (public) school system and do not provide them with basic math or other skills.

Right now I am in the 5 week challange. Basically it is to not go to your regional house for the first 5 weeks. I believe I am about 2 weeks in so it should be good. I have Erick, another vol; 6 k away and Phil, a vol in Bakel. So we will be hanging out a lot for the next few years.

That is all I got for now. If you want to call please feel free.


Wih Love from the rolling hills of Bakel,
Baba Ding Jieng (Oh yeah, that is my new Senegalese name)
Brian Bartle

Monday, October 18, 2010

Training "Gasyii"

So I've been long over due for a quick update. As of now I have finished my Pre Service Training. I am extremely glad for that to be over with. It wasn't bad but I really just want to start my actual service. That being said though at times PST seemed long in actuality it flew by. The most important aspect of the PST is the language training which I believe is one of the best training programs. I learned a lot of Pulaar du Nord (Pulaa Toro) in 2 months. Though at times I feel like I don't know the language at all I'll run into someone else and I can understand everything.

Right now I am in Tamba at the PC regional house. Basically meeting all the other regional volunteers and buying some things I'll need in Bakel. I head out to Bakel on Wednesday and then install into my site on Thursday. Then it is village life until December. In December I go back to Thies for In-service Training. My basic responsibility in the first 3 months is to just continue learning the language and get integrated into the community. That is a big reason why I install when I do. That gives me a couple of months to integrate into the community and learn the language before the next field crop season which isn't until the wet season in July.

Besides that all is well. Especially now that I'm in site I will be happily accepting care packages. I would enjoy anything but especially gatorade powder, protein bars/cliff bars and reading material. Though I'd accept anything.

My address is
Brian Bartle- Corps de la Paix
BP 320
Tambacounda, Senegal, West Africa

Besides that I hope to update everyone again after I've been at site for a bit. I'm not suppose to leave for 5 weeks. Not a requirement but just a recommendation/challenge.

Also no word on the mongoose but heard about Mauritanian black markets with everything you'd ever need. A good place to start. Until then I might get guinea hens or a camel. We'll see.

Peace and Love from Africa,

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Quick Update from Bakel

So I just got back to the Peace Corps regional house in Tamba from my volunteer site in a village just outside Bakel. It has a lot of really cool things to offer. On my journey (and from a hill in my village) I got to see the Malian and Maurtanian boarders. In fact in the dry season I can just swim across to Maurtania (then swim back because it is Maurtania). Addictionally I can just walk into Mali down the road where the river dries up. It is really pretty though. Like I said there is a hill and surrounding hills in the landscape. Maybe it is because I'm evlavation deprived back home in Michigan but I love my little mountains.

I will be living with the cheif of the village. Except for a couple of cerimonial things the cheif is more of a person of respect not of any actual power. That being said he is actually kind of poor in regards to the rest of the residents of the village. That is largely due to the fact that he has no family abroad sending him back remittances. There are a couple of real "Patron" families that have relatives working in France or what not. It is a interesting dynamic. Unfortantely that means the food is not always the best at my place. The good news is that in Senegalese culture it is prefectly fine to walk around town and get invited into dinner or lunch with another family.

Now the negative: It is hot. Not right now but supposidly it gets up to 120 degrees F. This will be interesting. So no one figure on visiting me from March to June as the dry hot season gets a little rough. That and it is a bit out there and a bit isolated. There will be three of us in close proximity to one another which will help a lot but getting to the next volunteer and the regional capital is a 4hrs bus ride. And that is Tamba. Which is fine and all except if I need or want to get to Dakar or the PC offices in Thies it is another 8hrs or so. I guess I can't complain too much as I have to cover the entire country to get there.

Besides that all is well. Meeting some of the other volunteers is a lot of fun. Spending the night in Tamba before heading out to Thies and then back to my homestay.

No word on the mongoose but was told that the volunteer before the current one serving there now had a pet monkey. Thus there is hope for a mongoose. That or I might be forced to switched to a monkey that eats peanuts and distracts the "toubob" screaming children (not all children though just the "toubob" yelling ones)