28 November 2008

The Credit Crunch Hits (Rented) Home

Today I visited my bank in Edinburgh, with an eye towards getting a credit card through them. I don't intend to spend a lot of money, but I'd like to have the added insurance that credit cards offer over cash or debit cards (in light of travel company XL's recent demise), and want to avoid the extra commissions for using an American credit card in the UK.

Unfortunately my quest ended in failure. The customer service agent informed me that, since I carry no debt or mortgage (HA!), and spend very little of my savings, my credit rating is too low. So unless I spend more of my money, I cannot be trusted with a credit card -- even one with a credit limit linked to my account balance, which I suggested. In addition, my Peace Corps service kept me off the financial radar for two years, curtailing my opportunities to establish my profligate bona fides. This proves the old adage, No good deed goes unpunished.

A few weeks ago I read an article in the Economist stating that many African countries, due to their relative detachment from world financial markets, should not be as adversely affected by the international financial crisis. [In general, the article is cautiously optimistic about Africa's current prospects.] At the time I mused that I was analogous to these countries as I have not been caught up in the global financial tumult given my lack of investment (or liability).

Alas, I was incorrect in this assumption. As banks have belatedly moved to tighten their lending and credit provision strategies, I remain out of the UK financial loop, at least for the next six months.

18 September 2008

That Kind of Guy?

I had a hectic three week visit to the U.S. in August., my first trip home in three years. I got to see my parents and sister and also caught up with lots of friends. While en route through London I even saw some South African friends I hadn't seen since 1991.

Given that the flight was on a stingy American carrier, I had to plan ahead. “Economy Plus” (I found no lower seating class) passengers could purchase cans of beer and so forth for $6. Having learnt my lesson on an Italian holiday (when I had to surrender toiletries), I presented the security screener with a sandwich bag of toothpaste and 5 cl bottles of vodka. Then all I had to do was furtively open them on the plane (it's even illegal to drink your duty free on the flight) and request extra orange juice.

After a few fun days in DC that included meeting beautiful babies (a demographic I greatly miss from my days in The Gambia) and a board games reunion (including stalwarts Illuminati and Citadels, and new games PowerGrid, Bohnanza and Puerto Rico) I took some Chinatown buses to Philadelphia and NYC. Like Gambian gelegeles, these buses seemed to stop anywhere to pick up and drop off passengers, who were usually standing under trees (in industrial/commercial parks, though). In NYC I had a mini-Gambian reunion and in Haji and Mai's new neighbourhood I got to speak Wolof, drink wonjo (sorrel leaf) and bui (baobab) juice and eat benichin rice with oil running down to my elbow!

In Pittsburgh I visited the Mattress Factory, which had a lot of interesting exhibits including some fun confusing dark spaces with visual tricks. Also while in the Northside my hope of one day owning a home was restored (my friend has a nice little $40,000 rowhouse) and I confounded a waitress by asking if the orange juice was “bottomless” (and was surprised to learn that they did indeed have “free refills”).

America remains as safety and litigation conscious as ever. In Pittsburgh a sign warned against leaving corn husks on the ground lest someone slip on them. In Tacoma, WA, I was admonished to point my lightly carbonated juice bottle “away from face and people, especially when opening.” It made me nostalgic for days of children climbing 50 feet with a machete to collect coconuts, riding bareback while balancing scythes on their heads, and having adults shout at them “Dinaa la door benga buga dee!” (I will beat you until you want to die.)

Back in DC I took in Treasures 2008 at the National Museum of African Art, with most of the ivory figures from the Congo basin and Nigeria. I also visited the decidedly more crowded exhibit of Afghan art at the National Gallery. Perhaps more people would've been at Treasures if we'd intervened in or bombed parties to the conflict in DRC (5.4 million dead over the past decade).

Seattle - Tacoma

Here we enjoyed some nice hot weather and geared up for friend Sean's (nee Xiao) wedding, which was of a decidedly relaxed nature. To wit:

“What if we don't get the dress for the second flower girl?”

“Oh, we'll just tell her she's not in the wedding.” (The dress arrived on time.)

I also had a rude reintroduction to driving (by proxy – the DC DMV wouldn't renew my license). We stayed at a hotel further from town, only to spend the savings on petrol, while missing at least half the turns and on-ramps we should have taken. This theme reached its nadir when we made an interminably slow 5 hour journey to Vancouver (again, traffic and routes colluded against us), spent 1½ hours there (it's pretty), and drove back. It was my highest ratio of journey time to destination stay since my star-crossed boat ride to Timbuktu. At least the en route dim sum and tea beat seven days of rice & fish and river water.

I was reunited with Fatou Jallow in Tacoma, which is not highly regarded in Seattle. We visited the “bridge of glass” (actually a bridge with some glass features above it), the Park Way (one of two Tacoma bars on Esquire's list of America's top 50 bars) and met with a bumper sticker saying “I pray. Get use [sic] to it.”

In Fatou's cute little African coffee table book of I came across a woefully mis-captioned picture:

“Senegalese street vendors sell fruit in front of striking ocher-painted buildings.”

At most these men were holding down the fort while the female vendor was off attending to another task. They are probably just chewing the fat.

In Seattle we went on an interesting tour of the underground – I had not realised that the city was built on top of old structures and streets that were not sufficiently above the flood/tide plane/plain. I also led Vic and Adam on what Adam described as a “rattan death march”, as is my wont when visiting new cities.

The wedding was a nice outdoor affair, although outboard motors obscured the vows. The ring bearer was a little discombobulated, the legacy perhaps of being lifted through a chandelier by his new uncle (though X had the scar to show for it).

I've forgotten the lovely couple's song, but the DJ made some curious selections during the sit-down portion of the reception. These included “White Flag” (about unrequited love) and “Hotel California” (as one of our friends at the high school table noted, “You can check in any time you like, but you can never leave.”). We had a fun time dancing (aside from Xiao's dad, Ning's mum and a random couple we were the only ones on the floor) until I had to catch my flight east to begin my journey back to Edinburgh.

24 May 2008

A little break in Italy; Gambian political update

Judy: I love merenda.
Chris: Who's that, the wife?
Judy: No, tea [i.e. teatime].

With that, Judy set about scraping off the burnt edges of the bruschetta she was making in the event that some German neighbours did turn up that evening for some wine and snacks, before we went for some pizza.

So of course Judy decided that the Germans weren't coming, and I proceeded to devour most of the bruschetta. As Judy and a builder were busy debating where best to build a stone support post for a patio roof, I heard the German family approaching. Thankfully they brought some snacks (and wine!) to supplement the remnants of the dish we had prepared. So in spite of it all we had a nice chat, then made our way to the pizzeria some 90 minutes after our reservation (Judy had to hold off on locking the back door until the Germans had turned the corner).

On the whole my visit to Tuscany was great fun. I got stuck rereading some Adrian Mole books, so my goal of finally finishing Negro With A Hat was set back a bit. It was low-key and I got to see my cousins and their families briefly too. Look for the pictures to be uploaded in August.

Speaking of my camera, while visiting my cousin Lucy's B&B A Mezza Costa I saw a display of her friend's art. They were collages of painted "found objects." One of these, from 2005, featured, among other artifacts or bits of rubbish, was my camera! Perhaps a further hint that I should move into the digital era! Still, I like the fact that I will be surprised by and reminded of past activities once my film (36 exposures, not 24, it turns out) is finally finished. It was begun in October 2007.

In Gambian news, which I occasionally chronicle, President Jammeh last week announced that the time has come for homosexuals to quit The Gambia. Jammeh plans stronger restrictions on homosexuality than those softies in Iran. I may give this silliness some thought at a later date.

08 May 2008

On Harmeny

After Saturday, I am motivated to write a little about the school I work at. That day, two of our boys participated in a 2.5km run on the Meadows in Edinburgh, so I decided to head over there with my nephew and a friend of mine. In addition to the two chaperones (who jogged with the boys), I expected a few people from Harmeny to drop by. So I was quite impressed to meet a dozen of my colleagues (including some who do not work directly with students) and some of their families. That day I felt very proud to be working at Harmeny School.

Besides the challenges and rewards of working with our students, I am also lucky that there is a good rapport between school employees, whether they are in administration, education or care (i.e. working in the cottages). It is a fun atmosphere, although I fear I will need some reeducation before I return to an American work setting, as it tends to be a bit more conservative in the U.S.

Here are some examples of the children's work and activities. I was lucky enough to attend the Burns Supper/Lunch (I am in the distance at the end of the table), and to see the creation of A Fight For Inner Peace.

22 April 2008

More on talibes begging for their madrassas

My friend Maimuna sent me an Associated Press article on young Muslim boys from Guinea-Bissau sent away to study with marabouts/serignes/ustas (Koranic teachers) in Senegal. The students/talibes support their schools/madrassas by begging:

It's big business in Senegal. In the capital of Dakar alone, at least 7,600 child beggars work the streets, according to a study released in February by the ILO, the United Nations Children's Fund and the World Bank. The children collect an average of 300 African francs a day, just 72 cents, reaping their keepers $2 million a year.

Most of the boys — 90 percent, the study found — are sent out to beg under the cover of Islam, placing the problem at the complicated intersection of greed and tradition. For among the cruelest facts of Coli's life is that he was not stolen from his family. He was brought to Dakar with their blessing to learn Islam's holy book.

This made me think anew about my friend Bubacarr's little dara/Koranic school in Thies, Senegal, many hours from Njau, Gambia.

At Bubacarr's dara/madrassa the begging is done in lieu of farming, which young students often carry out as payment to teachers in rural areas. Since Thies is a big city, there is no farmland so relying on alms (one of Islam's five pillars) is the avenue pursued to support the school (and everyone's feeding).

While I am still dubious about the overall merits of the boarding dara/madrassa system (far from home, more time spent begging than studying), Bubacarr's did have a few saving graces. These are that the talibes are all from Njau, so they and their families know Bubacarr well, and see him whenever he returns to visit the village. Also, although difficult, life at the school did not seem too harsh (although some of this may have been due to my visit) -- everyone ate fairly well (as well as or perhaps better than they do in Njau) and the kids had spare money that they could spend on icees (frozen sugar-baobab/hibiscus drinks). But it's probably one of the better ones.

Of course, most of these boys had the decision to travel to Bubacarr's dara foisted upon them by their parents. I would have preferred they went to Njau's government school, but people value religious knowledge and can't always see the benefit of western education. And I'm sure the boys missed their families.

Regarding the article's thrust on child labour, I am again unsure exactly how to think of this. As the author mentions, some returned boys began working in their home villages. Rescuing them from their serignes/marabouts certainly won't spare these children from contributing their labour to their families' livelihood.

01 April 2008

On dustbins and malaria

While in Hull visiting a friend from primary school, I came across a couple of strange things. First off, while taking in a cooking programme before heading out that morning, I listened to one guest speak about Malaria Awareness Week. So I thought we'd perhaps hear about the estimated 1 million people who die annually from malaria, and the relatively low cost of increasing prevention in regions where malaria is endemic.

Instead, I learned that some 2000 British travellers catch malaria overseas, and Brits thus need to learn more about the disease. Perhaps this is an angle to get Britons concerned about malaria worldwide, but I am a bit cynical, as no mention was made of non-British sufferers of malaria.

Upon heading out, we came upon a special van equipped with hoses and powerful sprays. For a couple of pounds a go, you could have your plastic rubbish bin washed. This seemed a bit useless since, well, it's a receptacle that stores filth and will keep getting dirty, and it's rarely hot enough here to worsen and spread the odour of the rubbish.

24 February 2008

An enjoyable weekend

First off, it seems that in Edinburgh female drivers have a good reputation. A couple of weeks ago, I saw a car for sale. Among the virtues listed was that it has had "1 Lady Owner." Recently I also saw a driving school company that is simply named Female Driving Instructor. While on the subject of cars, one of my colleagues takes the bus to work as if she moved her car her (unzoned) spot would be taken. So she owns a car but feels she cannot drive it lest she lose the parking spot. Absurd.

Since I've gotten to Scotland, I've been on the lookout for some Wolof speakers so that I can brush up my language skills. I hadn't much luck (the language I most often randomly recognize is Twi, from Ghana), although I am teaching somebody some Wolof for use in their research work in Senegal. [My roommate recently remembered that he has a Gambian coworker, so I shall see if we can meet up for conversation.] So I was pleased when I happened upon a brochure for the World Sufi Festival in Glasgow, which would feature a Senegalese booth. As I've mentioned before a lot of Senegalese are followers of the Mouride sect of Islam, although I discovered that religious fervour did not figure prominently in the "Senegalese Market."

After a relaxing Friday afternoon watching Brokeback Mountain (which I thought was excelllent) and meeting up with some people at a pub, I left early Saturday morning for Glasgow. I spent the morning walking around the city (a nice place, I thought), and visited the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. It's an amalgamation of an art gallery (with Scottish, Italian and French art, plus a few masks in a theme on costume), Scottish history sections (I learned that the Scots did not wear kilts into battle, so I'm a little disappointed in my primary source of Scottish history - Braveheart) and a natural history museum, but quite nice all the same. Their signature piece seems to be a painting by Salvador Dali, called Christ of St John of the Cross, the purchase of which caused consternation.

At the Senegalese booth at the World Sufi Festival (other events at the conference centre included the Model Railroad Show and Cyprus Property Show) I did indeed meet several Wolof speakers and got some good practice in. In fact, one of them had sent a brief response to my Gumtree posting for a Wolof conversation partner, then never wrote again (apparently Amadou went on holiday to Ukraine), so he remembered me. There was a nice little dance and drumming session (it always seems to be white guys who are on the djembes), and a couple of them sang some familiar chants from the Baye Fall, itinerant Mourides who roam the Senegambian countryside singing for alms. There were plenty of other interesting booths, plus some nice Pakistani singing performances. There were a couple of real estate booths -- I could have bought into some condominium in Beirut ("by Ivana Trump" - I didn't know this was a big selling point) or perhaps gotten a bargain on a place in Lahore.

My weekend wrapped up with my second Sunday playing pick-up football in the Meadows. It was quite fun, although rather cold and I had an abysmal second stint in goal. It's nice to get the exercise, though, and hopefully we'll go for post-match pints next time. People are strange here in that when an activity ends here, they just up and leave.

Unfortunate African news headlines and associated thoughts

I get news briefs on Gambia and Ghana sent to my email, which helps explain why I have been writing more about President Jammeh recently. Of course, some of the recent news focuses on Bush's African tour, which included Ghana as one of the stops.

In case anyone is inclined to think of Africa as a diverse continent with many different experiences, and levels of political and economic development, Reuters, via the Herald Sun (Australia), puts things to right: George Bush tours disease and poverty stricken Africa.

Here's a headline from an article about some Worcestershire residents going to Gambia: We’re off to a country where children have to use melons as footballs. Now I never saw this (and the waste would not be looked kindly on), although I'm sorry to say that our kids made short work of footballs - perhaps because on one end they got shot into the brush, and behind the other goal line lurked the toilets with broken corrugated iron doors with sharp bits curling out. So I never bothered buying a football while I was in Njau.

Bush wrapped up his tour with a short stop in Liberia, a country that the U.S. and Americans should have a lot more interest in, given the shared history and involvement (although this obviously looms larger for Liberia, the smaller party) over the centuries. He's done fairly right by Liberia in recent years, including calling for Charles Taylor to step down and pressing for his subsequent extradition to The Hague.

During a brief speech, Bush made a telling observation: “It’s easier to tear a country down than it is to rebuild a country.” He was of course offering encouragement to Liberians, but may have also been in a reflective mood, as even on this legacy burnishing trip Iraq looms large.

Lastly, Nicholas Kristof does well to note that Kenya's coddled rulers belong to the Musharraf class of American allies -- dictators who we variously classify as democrats, stewards of eventual democracies, or guarantors of stability in volatile regions. Kristof doesn't bother mentioning any other members of the African Musharrafs he describes, but several would qualify to varying degrees. Among them are Blaise Campaore in Burkina Faso, Eyadema in Togo, Museveni in Uganda, Idriss Deby in Chad (where the French just turned back Sudan-backed rebels), and Paul Kagame in Rwanda (which merited a visit from Bush).

Absent from the above list is the deservedly maligned Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. He profits from the double standard, however, and can point to this and the fact that white Zimbabweans are a visible component of his victims, which seems to have drawn Britain and America's ire on him in particular. After all, Mugabe oversaw a pogrom in Matebeleland in the 1980s, but this went largely unremarked on. It's difficult to expect success rallying African opposition to Mugabe, as they see this selective denunciation.

[See also this Washington Post article with African commentary on the relative importance of democratization and stability/counter-terrorism to Bush's foreign policy.]

11 February 2008

The African Cup of Nations

For the last couple of weeks I've been watching the Cup of Nations in Ghana. Living with Ghanaian friends, I am in a fairly partisan crowd ("The Egyptians are cheats and thieves") but we usually give credit where it is due, and begrudgingly acknowledged that Ghana didn't look good. Still, there was lots of good offensive play in the tournament as a whole.

Here are a few observations from the tournament:

1) I was excited to see my friend and former drumming teacher Francis performing in the opening ceremonies. I looked but didn't find him during the post-final awards ceremony, perhaps because the victorious Egyptians had taken over the drums.

2) Ghana's Black Stars were to be put up in some nice digs - the Golden Tulip or a similar high class hotel. With demand for tournament accommodation rising, though, the hotel found higher-paying customers and the Black Stars were left without rooms.

3) During the tournament, the Confederation Africaine de Football (CAF) selected Didier Drogba of Cote d'Ivoire as the African Player of the Year, and summoned him to neighbouring Togo to collect his award. It was a strange decision, since all the players, many CAF officials, and international media were already in Ghana. Given that Cote d'Ivoire's base was in Takoradi, an eight hour journey from Lome, Drogba hoped to send someone to pick up the award on his behalf. CAF promptly announced that Drogba could not have the Ballon d'Or trophy, and Drogba said he had no interest in future CAF awards.

4) In the Cameroon-Ghana semifinal, a bizarre event took place in the match's dying minutes. With Cameroon up 1-0, the medics came onto the field to attend to an injured Indomitable Lion. While they were doing so, another Cameroon player ran over and shoved one of the medics to the ground, earning a red card (and missing the final). Nobody really knows why Andre Bikey lashed out, including his victim.

5) I like the tournament ball.

6) Finally, the closing ceremonies of the tournament (after Egypt's 1-0 win over Cameroon) featured some unfortunate medal errors. First, the ribbons on the medals were broken so the first few fell to the ground after they were put around the Cameroonians' necks. They handed out the rest. When the Egyptians came, CAF turned out to be one medal short, so the coach gave his to the goalie.

06 February 2008

Wolof proverbs in international football

While watching the first half of the England-Switzerland friendly, I listened as the match announcers discussed England's attacking tendencies. They found fault with the fact that the English side seemed loathe to pass the ball back towards midfield and defence when in possession. Compared to international football norm, the English side is too impatient. An announcer remarked, "Slowly slowly gets the monkey."

A popular Wolof proverb (also available in other Senegambian languages) is Ndanka ndanka mooy japa golo chi nyaay bi - Slowly slowly it catches the monkey in the bush.

Switzerland has just equalised, so the monkey may get away regardless of England's approach.

01 February 2008

Reference recalcitrance

I just finished my fourth week of work, and am enjoying it a lot so far. Although I have obviously been accepted for the classroom assistant post, my school wishes to have a pair of references to burnish my personnel file.

So, since school reopened on January 7, they have been in touch with my old headmaster from Njau (currently in Slough, working at a "car supermarket"), and my former boss at a research institute in DC. The former came through with a general form from my school, but has yet to send in a short handwritten letter supporting my appointment. Master did once fax over an old letter, which spliced together two different recommendations that were composed in the past - a general one, and another for a UK grad school application. As for the DC-based reference, she assured me that her reference was submitted, but nothing has come. I hold out hope that Master will send off his handwritten note soon.

Given the abject failure of my DC reference, I have turned to a second Gambian supervisor - which may be putting too many eggs in one basket. Still my old boss with Peace Corps says she will respond to a reference request from my school. She only got the email a week ago, so I will give her some time.

Public Transport a la Afrique Occidentale

Yesterday, as I was returning home from a band's album launch (replete with free cupcakes) I let a couple of old women enter the bus before me. I thought this is reasonable move, but received a light shove in the back for my efforts. I turned around to discover a miffed old man who seemed in a hurry to get on the bus.

This desire to get on the bus first (though not the surliness) reminded me of getting transport in West African cities. When a gelegele/tro-tro or share taxi pulls up, there is much jostling and pushing to get in the vehicle first (one also has to be mindful of pickpockets while battling for a place). This is by and large a good-natured competition, though.

Still, it was a bit ridiculous that this elderly man was getting angry about entering the bus, when there were ample seats available. But it wasn't something for me to get agitated about, and I could only chuckle at what people take seriously here.

23 January 2008

The good things that happened today

On balance today was another good day. I decided to make a list of some of the good moments here.

My buses to work arrived in good time, and I have been enjoying a new book on the way -- The Foreign Correspondent.

The morning session went well, with a little reading and reasonably calm conversation.

The first part of session two went great, as I attended a formal introduction to the school's outdoor programme. We went on a tour of the grounds (the 30 acres are framed by woods and streams that form natural boundaries) and took a ride on the 'flying fox' -- the zipline/foofie slide. I have already helped with a few class and individual outdoor education settings, and it was nice to get out and see everything in a leisurely manner.

We had a long conversation with one of our students, which has helped me better understand what has been making him sad.

In the afternoon we did some cooking and baked little spanikopita (spinach with feta) pastries. Then we made some displays for tomorrow's Burns Day, which celebrates the poet Robert Burns (who wrote Auld Lang Syne). I am gradually learning more Scottish history and culture! Tomorrow should be a hectic day as there will be 17 people (students, teachers, guests) in the classroom for lunch.

16 January 2008

One more Jammeh jubliee

As some of you may have read or seen, Gambia's President Jammeh announced last year that he could cure AIDS, asthma and a few other ailments, through traditional remedies and judicious application of the Koran. This "breakthrough" first came to my awareness while I was visiting Kaur. Hanging out with a friend's coworker, we lay on his bed as we saw the president pour black liquid from a used water bottle (coveted in Gambia) onto patients' stomachs, which he then rubbed in (he wore gloves to maintain sanitary conditions).

The following is The Daily Observer's reflection on this success:

Thursday, 17th January which is the eve of Yawmal Sahura, makes one year since His Excellency the President of the Republic of The Gambia, Alhaji Dr Yahya Jammeh, introduced the treatment of HIV/AIDS in The Gambia.

Since then, over 30 patients have been treated and discharged, with the Aids virus no longer detected in their blood stream. In addition to this remarkable achievement, President Jammeh has cured over 1000 people suffering from asthma and hundred of people with hypertension, infertility in his programme.

More details on the health status of the discharged patients and President Jammeh's treatment programme can be watched in the documentary series 'The Breakthrough' - Part Three, coming soon on GRTS.'The Breakthrouh - Part One and Part Two can be watched on Tuesday, 15th January 2008 at 8:00pm and 10:00pm respectively.

Meanwhile, the celebrations marking the 1st anniversary of President Jammeh's breakthrough will take place on Thursday, 17th January 2008, at the July 22nd Square in Banjul. The programme is scheduled to begin at 8:30am.

08 January 2008

Jammeh's latest impromptu holiday

President Jammeh of Gambia has long been fond of holidays. He has declared several to mark election victories, the successful hosting of an AU conference, and other occasions. The most recent is the ngente/coolio/naming ceremony, or outdooring ceremony, of his baby son Mohamed. So the entire business of government was shut down for the day.

Foroyaa, an opposition newspaper that has not been shut down yet, reports at length on this absurdity, and makes the connection between Jammeh's behaviour and that of the late Turkmenbashi of Turkmenistan, and such luminaries as Idi Amin Dada (Uganda) and Jean Bedel Bokassa (CAR):

Apart from the millions of Dalasi no doubt spent on the occasion, we can also imagine the great loss suffered by both the public and the private sector for being forced to take an unplanned public holiday as well as the mobilization of government resources, including the engagement of the Gambia Radio and Television Services for the whole day to broadcast messages and commentary in support of President Jammeh and Baby Mohamed, as if it is a private institution owned and financed by him alone.

Foroyaa also impressed me by noting the gender imbalance in Jammeh's celebration and holiday decisions:

Another interesting aspect of this unprecedented naming ceremony was the gender dimension. While this is not the first time that President Jammeh is having a child, but one would tend to ask why this naming ceremony is more lavish and elaborate than the naming ceremony of Mariam, his first child. Of course, the only sensible conclusion is that he values a boy child more than he values a girl child. This is indeed a big challenge to the gender activists to find out from him why he chose to so blatantly manifest his gender bias in favour of the boy child.

I feel sorry for newspapers such as Foroyaa. Although they are widely available in the Kombo (capital) area, they are only distributed upcountry by readers who decide to bring them for friends to look at. As for the radio, that is dominated by the government broadcaster, so I'm sure much was made of Baby Mohamed's birth. And one can only wonder, in a very poor country, how much money was spent on this celebration.

03 January 2008

Like the Pope passing away...

Last week the leader of the Mouride brotherhood in Senegal passed away. About half of Senegal's population belongs to this Muslim brotherhood, with a lot of followers in Gambia too, and even Mauritania.

While in The Gambia, I was fortunate to travel with some Njau residents on the Magal, the annual Mouride pilgrimage to Touba.

In addition to large-scale involvement in Senegalese agriculture, a lot of Mourides travel overseas for work, both to support their families and their imams/serignes and the brotherhood.

Here is a picture Jon took of some pictures of serignes (religious leaders and teachers) who are widely venerated in Senegal and Gambia. I've also seen bumper stickers that say "I [heart] Serigne Omar Jobe" and others.