The following is a guest post from AUA Mosaic Scholarship recipient Alisa Hamilton. She is currently volunteering with Tostan in Senegal. To find an amazing opportunity like this one, search the AUA Directory of Recommended Organizations© today!
A year ago, I studied for a semester in Dakar and have now returned to volunteer. Anta, one of my host sisters from my semester abroad, recently had her twelfth birthday. I took her out for ice cream to celebrate at a restaurant/bakery called La Glace Moderne. Anta had strawberry, and I had chocolate. We had both just eaten mafé for lunch - mafé is one of my favorite Senegalese dishes made with white rice, cooked vegetables, and beef with a rich peanut sauce – so neither of us had much room for ice cream, but we ate it anyway of course!
Anta and I took this video while swinging on the swing set behind the restaurant. I love how she decided to film the paintings on the walls of Disney characters – Snow White, Jasmine, Bambi, and Dora the Explorer. She filmed what she is used to seeing on television. Although these days, I think she watches more MTV than the Disney Channel, especially with her older sisters who are 15 and 20 years old.
Inside the restaurant, we interviewed each other with the video camera AUA provided me to record my experiences in Senegal. Anta asked me my name, what I do for work, and the names of my family members. I asked her name, the names of her family members, her favorite color, what she likes to do outside of school, and what she wants to do when she grows up. It made the feminist in me a little sad that her favorite color is pink and that outside of school, she likes to watch TV and talk to her friends on the phone. Anta doesn’t have a cell phone, and I’ve never seen her talk to her friends on the house phone. Maybe she sees herself as someone who would talk to her friends on the phone if she had one. She does have a Facebook account, though, which I made for her on my laptop at the same restaurant when I was here last year. She was disappointed that I didn’t bring my computer with me this time.
Anta’s responses to my questions reminded me of an article, “How to Talk to Little Girls,” by Lisa Bloom that I read recently and made me feel guilty for giving her a hairbrush and body lotion as birthday presents. The article talks about how our first reaction when we see little girls is to tell them how cute they are, which conditions them at a young age to be very conscious of their appearance. Looking good is incredibly important to women in Senegal. The Wolof word for “dressing well” is sañse, and what you wear is a way to display economic status and social standing (check out Debra Heath’s article, “Fashion, Anti-fashion, and Heteroglossia in Urban Senegal”).
Instead of remarking on a young girl’s cute-ness, Lisa Bloom suggests asking about her favorite book or favorite subject in school. I did ask Anta about her favorite school subject in the ice cream shop. She responded History because it tells us about our past and where we are coming from, “which is very important.” She’s so right! In the future, I’m going to make a point not to give my host sisters beauty products as gifts, even though I know they like and use perfume and lip gloss. I once gave Anta a sketch book and crayons because I noticed how much she enjoyed drawing in my notebook. Next time, I’m going to try and find something History-related.
Anta wants to go to a university in the United States. I want to help her achieve this goal as much as I can and for the right reasons, those being a quality education and more professional opportunities in the future (not so she can live in a trendy apartment and buy flashy clothes like the ones she sees on MTV). My host sisters have summer vacation right now, but when the school year comes along, I’d like to help tutor them in Math and English (I hate History, I must admit, and am not sure how well I’d do with Biology in the French language). In the meantime, we’re going out for ice cream!
Ba beneen yoon (see you next time)!