In my final lessons with each class at the school Mr Fall addressed the pupils and asked them to thank me for my efforts. Each time he began by telling the class that I had chosen to come to Senegal and could quite easily have spent my holiday somewhere else. Indeed, so why did I go to Senegal?
My motivation was to see somewhere else and do something different. I wanted a holiday in which I could interact with the locals at more than a superficial level. Having spent time in Ethiopia the year before I wanted to see more of Africa. Iím attracted to the contrasts of developing nations rather than the increasing homogeneity of more developed countries, in particular to see how and for whom the developing is taking place. And I wanted an opportunity to practise my French.
Since I went there to a do a voluntary job, rather than to sit on the beach, people asked me whether I thought it would do any good. Before going my standard response was to say that I didnít think my time there would do the slightest good at all, beyond bringing a bit of currency and returning with a greater awareness the region, its people and its problems. A couple of months after returning this is more or less how I feel about it now too.
While I was there though I went through a period when I desperately wanted to do what I could to help, particularly in the school where I was teaching. I was full of ideas of what improvements could be made and wanted to drive change through. This gradually gave way to disillusionment before leaving. On a couple of times I tried to give more of my time to help the kids with their English club only for them to fail to turn up for some reason and not let me know. I tried to donate a couple of dictionaries to the school so the keener kids would have access to them, but despite welcoming the idea no-one provided the help I need to follow it through. Difficult circumstances meant that the school wasnít providing all it could for the children, but I felt more could have been done with a bit of effort and imagination. I think this journey from unrealistic enthusiasm to disappointed realism was a common one to make, and it was probably rather arrogant on my part to hope that I could improve things in a month.
However, my overwhelming impressions from the trip were positive. It was a successful trip foremost because I enjoyed greatly spending time in Saint Louis and meeting the people I did. I also enjoyed the process of teaching more than Iíd expected to. Perhaps the most useful thing I did while I was there was spend time with Mr Fall, his English noticeably gained in confidence while I was there.
Those that had spent a slightly longer time in St Louis would sometimes refer to something as being ďa bit SenegaleseĒ. The intention was to indicate a certain disorganisation and lack of attention to detail, for example an engraving on a bracelet earned this description because the first two letters of someoneís name had been capitalised. However, it was a term that was not used without affection. As well as ascribing a lack of precision, it also suggested a great enthusiasm and charm. Itís these characteristics of the Senegalese, and their generously welcoming nature, that I will fondly remember.