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Greetings from Babacar

Mba jàmm ngeen am (how are you all)?

My name is Babacar and I am a teacher, a brother, a husband and a Mbaye. I have used the combination of my name and any of the following latter elements as a conversation starter these past few days while traveling in Saint Louis and Thies for program scouting purposes.

Senegal is our boat and we are related as popular wisdom states. Despite the diversity of landscapes and ethnicities it is one; the country of Teranga (locally flavored hospitality) that welcomes you with smiles humor and warmth. It is a constant reminder of why I chose this job in the first place. I have always believed that to have people meet at the human level is the best way to foster peace (and any other useful thing, by the way)

I learned patience with the shopkeeper whom I found eating lunch. He insistently invited me to, at least, have a bite. I politely answered that I just had lunch and na ci jàmm bari (may there be a lot of peace). After I gave my full name for a money transfer and he joked that we were cousins, we decided that I could stay longer. We threw each other jokes and laughed whole-heartedly for a while.

If you are well behaved, you will find family wherever you go. I found countless family members along the way. At the market, when I was buying shrimp from my “sister” (because her brother’s name is Babacar), she said she would give the shrimp to her “nieces and nephews” (my kids) if I did not have enough money, but she worried that my nieces and nephews (her kids) would not have food if I did not pay enough. We kept negotiating the money side of things while she had people help me with some of the other things on my ‘to do’ list.

At the end of my time, I left with more family members and more friends, gained through every interaction that I had. I knew I could come back to them and have good time. I now have a family in the rural village I just scouted. The mother introduced me to the neighbors as her son from Dakar. I sat and drank minty Senegalese tea (aka ataya) with countless siblings and their friends. They offered sariche or a traveler’s gift when I said I had to leave the following day. I said I intended to bring people (Bridge Year participants and colleagues) with me in September and they promised to take good care of them. They are family and will welcome my friends and treat them well. This is teranga and all we know in Senegal.

This is the Senegal with pride and joy. This is the Senegal that I re-discovered after I left university to teach in a rural village I consider home. This is the same Senegal that one finds in the greener and multi- ethnic south of The Gambia, the Senegal of my childhood. This is the Senegal that I grew to know in my teaching years, where I learned about the beauty of traditions and the resilience of its men and women. This is the Senegal that will welcome you as family, as equals around the food bowl, with native and adopted members.

I will be your host, your instructor and your Onsite Director, and as such, together with my colleagues Angelica and Berta, I will help to facilitate your integration into Senegalese culture. It has been my pleasure, after years of teaching in the Senegalese school system and in a variety of other positions, to have led a sizable number of programs for Dragons. I am equally excited for this coming year with you, despite the fact that I have been working with the Bridge Year program for six years now!

We will use this yak board primarily for communication with families and friends during your nine months in Senegal. At this point, we are encouraging you to post introductions. Please tell us about yourself, your interests and the things you want us to know about you. If you have questions about Senegal and the program or anything else related to BYP, this is a good place to ask. You can also ask questions by emailing staff, but posting your questions here will provide answers for yourself and your peers.

Enjoy the rest of your summer, wherever you are, and you can expect to hear from us by email and phone in the near future.

Mba benneen yoon (until next time)

*NB italicized word are in Wolof, the language spoken by the majority of Senegalese
**The photo I’ve chosen to share is one of me holding a small child who is named after me in one of the villages we visit on the BYSenegal program.