Xale Yi (The Children)

In the past week it’s been crazy hot in Senegal, all over the country. Hot season is at its beginning! This past week we’ve endured consistent days of 110 degree heat. This change in the weather had me further develop this idea that kids really are just kids no matter their cultural background.


Let me first give you some fun examples. My siblings fight over the remote, laugh at each other for spilling things, yell at each other when someone is blocking the TV, sneak food while they are preparing meals, and they take pleasure in tormenting each other. My youngest sister is 9, and because of the heat, she’s begun taking long naps in the evening, and to wake her up for dinner, it takes 3 people: my mom, my namesake (my 12 year old sister), and my 18 year old sister. My mom yells at her from the kitchen “Ndaye Fatou, Ndaye Fatou, NDAYE FATOU!” When that doesn’t work, my namesake comes up to her and slaps her on the back, shakes her shoulder, and she also yells “NDAYE FATOU!” Obviously that doesn’t work either, so my other sister comes over and this time she slaps Fatou on the forehead, pokes her cheek, and pinches her arm, meanwhile she too yells “NDAYE FATOU!!! KAI REER (come eat dinner)!” Let’s be honest, both my sisters are laughing as they get to torment their younger sibling. I don’t know about you, but this sounds like my family back in The States.

Here’s another example. My 4 year old cousin is a little bit spoiled, like many other 4 year olds who have enjoyed being the center of attention. His favorite thing recently is picking up long rope or string and twisting/whipping it around. As you can tell, this causes much concern, because he could hit someone- *ahem* me- or hurt himself. His mom is currently pregnant, so her disciplining strategies have taken a back seat for the time being, but she sits there next to him and says “arrêt” which means “stop” in French. Of course, he doesn’t listen. After she says it he stops for 2 seconds, then picks it up again. And, of course, she responds the same way. Doesn’t this sound familiar too? Sounds like many other 4 year olds I’ve met in the US.

Keep in mind that my family makes enough to support the number of children they have. If we take a closer look to the other side of this spectrum we find something different, but also kind of the same.

Before I start this portion, you need some background. In Senegal, there’s no such thing as health insurance. If you have to see a doctor, you go to your local health clinic or hospital and pay for that visit only. To accommodate that, pharmacies sell everything over the counter, the question is, can the average citizen afford the meds they need in their lifetime? That’s a question I am not equipped to answer, but what I can tell you is that even with birth control available, very few have access or can afford it. So what does that mean? That means, those families who can’t afford contraceptives, end up having children that they can’t afford to keep.

In a culture with strong gender roles, I have to explain 2 different paths, one for boys and one for girls. I’ll start with girls. Before I do this, allow me explain some things. Many middle class and up families have maids. These are typically girls ranging from age 10 to early 20s. However, I have seen some families with younger maids, and some families with older maids. It’s common enough that I have seen them in both my host families, and know of many more. So families who can’t afford having children, but have girls, can send them out to be hired by a neighboring family who will pay, feed, and sometimes even house them. For example: My host family at site has a maid named Ngone. She’s 20, and every day she wakes up and does her morning cleaning routine, goes to school, helps cook and eat lunch, goes back to school, does her evening chores, helps cook and eat dinner, then she studies, and spends the night in our house. But not all stories are like hers, many times, these maids, especially from poorer homes don’t go to school, and instead they do housework all day. Sadly, as you may have deduced, that means many of these girls don’t have the opportunity to get educated.

On the other hand, boys take a completely different path. They get sent to live and learn from religious leaders called Daarus. While there, the Daaru can’t pay to feed all the boys, so they are sent out to beg. When the funds and food come in, the Daaru uses the money to feed and house the boys. They have certain times of begging and certain times of studying. They typically study straight out of the Quran, so unfortunately, in Senegal this means they learn arabic, which is a very different than the official language of French. This is assuming the Daaru truly does these activities. In many cases, these boys are sent out, asked to beg a certain amount, if they return without having that amount they might be punished. Along with being punished, the money they have collected goes into the pockets of the Daaru and does not get redistributed. When the boys are enrolled in this institution they are called “Talibe.” When they grow older many of them enter the agricultural field. So you can see where this might align for me.

How does the second part of this post relate to the first half? Truth is they too at the end of the are kids too and just want to play and be a kid! During training my family had a maid who was about 9, and when she was sent on errands, I would see her in the streets hopping back and forth on tires. Much of the morning when Talibe are supposed to be begging I see them swimming in the river, or playing soccer.

I’m not telling you this because I want to tug at your heart strings and get you to donate anything, but simply to explain that children across different cultures, at the end of the day, all have pure hearts, that want to have fun, laugh, and be loved. 

So what is Peace Corps’ involvement? In my region we kind of have 2 events during the course of the year, one for boys, and one for girls. For girls, Gem Sa Bopp is a girls empowerment camp where they discover new skills, hobbies, and trades they can take back to their villages, all while having fun with other girls, exploring what they are capable of, and learning that they too can be educated and successful. This camp, doesn’t target any specific girl, but we do receive many girls who have been discouraged from an education because of financial burdens. For boys, we throw an event called Talibe Soccer, where PCVs work with specific Daarus to join our station to station event. It’s a day for them to just be boys: play soccer, pound things, plant their own containers, etc. We do our best to extend practical agricultural techniques, so they can use them in their future. 2 weeks ago we finished our Talibe Soccer event, below you’ll find some pictures!

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Phew! That was a long post! FYI Gem Sa Bopp occurs in September so be on the lookout for a post about that!

For now, that’s it!



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