Month: April 2013

Talibe – The Begging Kids

Being a Peace Corps volunteer in an urban site, I encounter begging children in the streets every time I walk outside. Senegal is unique among developing countries with the Talibe – village children studying in urban Koranic “boarding” schools and often sent out to the streets to beg. A pillar of Islam is the giving of alms, but besides a ton of Talibe children and the occasional handicapped adult, I really see no other begging in Kebemer. The history behind the Talibe is COMPLICATED, as well as the different types of Tailbe kids and Darra schools, but their presence in Senegal is deeply rooted in the culture. You can check this out for more info, or utliize your google skills to learn more about the fascinating, controversial topic. For this post, I’ll just share my experiences thus far.

When I first arrived in Senegal, I was unsure how to deal with the Talibe, and not much has changed in that regard. Senegalese people tend to ignore them, and I did that for a while. Once that strategy made me feel like a cement chain was pulling my heart down to my bowels, I began engaging them in conversation instead. Some of the kids don’t speak Wolof, though, and some of the little ones are too scared to respond. Not to mention it’s awkward to strike up a conversation with kids after denying them money. I once made the terrible mistake of buying breakfast for about 5 tiny boys on the street, and by the time i was handing it out, I was surrounded by 30 boys of all ages, pushing and yelling. One kid even got cut by my bread knife; it was a nightmare. Everyday, every mistake here is such a learning process. I’m still trying to figure out my role in interacting with the Talibe. Giving them money is a dilemma: do you give the boy change, contributing to the system in place but maybe saving him from a beating from the maribou? Do you give only food, when really he’d rather have a coin to buy candy or meet his daily quota to take back to the school? Or do you give nothing to avoid being singled out as the white woman in the city who always has money to be hit up for?

A month ago, I traveled to Saint Louis to help out with a soccer tournament for Talibe kids. We had different stations set up to teach the kids about hand washing, an organic bug repellent to fight malaria, PC’s favorite plant moringa, and the one I helped with – microgardening. We handed out prizes of soap, toothbrushes, “healthy” moringa beignets (until it became a dangerous riot for food). But the most enjoyable part for me was face, arm, chest painting. After mistakenly painting lions on a few boys, it was made known to me that everyone was really wanting Barcelona soccer emblems. How you confuse lion and a soccer patch is a legitimate question, but I’ve now got mad skill Barce, as well as Real. I put my foot down at Chelsea.

See that white foot? That's me painting faces! This is abnormal for the day, it was usually much more crowded around the bench. Mob-like even.

See that white foot? That’s me painting faces! This is abnormal for the day, it was usually much more crowded around the bench. Mob-like even. [photo cred Lama (BFP) via Hadiel Mohamed]

Finally, this blog is a Peace Corps initiative with information on some awesome projects that some passionate, inspirational volunteers are working on. Really, they are so cool. As for me, I’m following up a project with a Koranic school a PC volunteer before me set up. Yay for gardening! More info in a future post. This is too long.

Frankly, my dear

During training, my fellow volunteers and I sat through a few sessions entitled Vulnerability, Resiliency or some other emotional catchword. Well meaning staff members talked about developing strategies until I wanted to stuff my ears with rice. They passed out papers with sine functions graphs, subnoted with ThePeaceCorpsVolunteer’s predictable emotions at the various times in her service. Amused, I envisioned the process leading up to these graphs, hundreds of volunteers flipping through their journals, hunched down under their mosquito nets, stomachs cramping and sweating through their wrapskirts, plotting relative states of anger and depression from their entries. But that was before I installed at site.

Now if I were brave enough to revisit the angry scrawls through my notebook, I’m sure my graph would not so much undulate as jerk like a seismograph – quakes high up on the Richter scale at that. Nevertheless, I can’t deny the highs and lows of serving in the Peace Corps. Now, though, the lows are frequent and the highs far between. And as it happens, that’s what them graphs were predictin’: that I’d be in the pits right about now. Yet again, Peace Corps knows what it’s talking about.

How to explain what makes living here hard? It’s no one thing so much as the constant push, I think. The mocking and begging children as I walk through the streets, the daily guilt of balancing of time to self and time to Senegal, planning routes to destinations to avoid the manboys who won’t leave me alone (I would rather DIE than marry you), being ignored except when being called upon to Dance, monkey, dance!, and the exhaustion of denying someone my earrings for the sixteenth time that afternoon – all with a smile and a joke, of course…and Wolof is not helping me out. Damn pronouns.

This is the part in the post where I’m supposed to say how all the pain is worth it when I sit under the tree, watching the children play or look up at the stars as goats bleat harmoniously or teach my whole city of 17000 how to properly space tomato plants, and singlehandedly end malnutrition, malaria, and stop the Saharan desert’s expansion…ha.

But I won’t. Because it’s not. Today it’s not. And yesterday it wasn’t. And hopefully tomorrow it might be, but probably not. And instead I leave you with a quote by Elizabeth Lane from Christmas in Connecticut and urge you to cherish the tacos you eat today.

“I’m tired of being pushed around, told what to do, tired of writing your gol-darned articles, dancing to everybody else’s tune, tired of being told whom to marry! In short, I’m tired!”