The Village

No, I’m not talking about the movie by M. Night Shyamalan – although that was a pretty fabulous movie.  After our PARRER meetings in Kolda, we changed our clothes and went to a village to see a daara (Koranic school) that our funds helped construct.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, one of the many contributing factors to the talibé problem in Senegal is the lack of modern daaras.  Wait, scratch that – there’s a lack of daaras.  Period.  I’ve seen many an “open-air” daara where the marabout and his talibés are sitting beneath trees or right on the side of busy roads in Dakar.  No building, and the kids sit in the dirt, breathe in the the terrible car exhaust, and have to deal with honking horns and the overall noise of a metropolis inhabited by 2.5 million people all the while trying to concentrate on memorizing and reciting the Koran in Arabic.  Not the greatest conditions for little kids who are trying to learn.

At any rate, many of the marabouts and imams that we work with in our efforts at PARRER always point to the lack of constructed, modern daaras that drive them to migrate from rural areas to Dakar with their talibés.  That in turn separates the children from their parents (obviously), drives up the number of children wandering out on the streets, and increases the chances of children becoming subject to drugs, pedophilia, beatings, illness, and a host of other things.  So last year we allocated some funds to go towards building daaras in a few select villages.  Those daaras would enable Koranic teachers and the students to stay in the village, the kids wouldn’t wander the streets begging for money, and most importantly, they’d be able to stay with their families.  So it’s a wonderful gift to the village and the children.

Because the majority of PARRER’s Executive Board and Imam Ousmane Samb were in the area, we wanted to go to the village outside of Kolda that has one of the daaras that was constructed with our funds.  Not only would we meet the families, the Koranic teacher, and the talibés, but Ousmane Samb would be able to dedicate the building.  That’s a pretty big deal.  We drove a good 10 or 15 minutes outside of Kolda on paved roads, and then we did another 5 or 7 minutes worth of off-roading in order to get back to the village.  It was totally out in the bush, but I thought it was a in a very beautiful area.  Here’s a picture of a mud hut that I took from the car as we were driving on the road.

A typical hut in a Senegalese village

A typical hut in a Senegalese village

When we finally pulled up to the village we were greeted by a semi-circle (located next to the daara) divided into two sections – the women and small children on the left and the men on the right – and a loud humming noise that I later identified as the voices of children coming from the daara.  They’d already placed a row of plastic chairs in front of the semi-circle (our places of honor), and they were obviously quite proud to have our delegation there.  The women were dressed in a beautiful array of brightly colored boubous and little toddlers peeked out at us from behind their mothers.  Greetings are very important in Senegal, so we personally greeted every member of the village.  Actually, they all arose from their chairs – or the ground – and came to greet us.  Most of the men didn’t shake our (the women’s) hands, but the young girls and mothers crowded around us with their faces all aglow with broad smiles, and they patted us on the back and clasped our hands warmly.

Then our local NGO partner introduced us in Pulaar, and then he asked one of the men to tell us about the experience they had as they were building the daara.  Then one of the mothers stood and said that she acted as treasurer of the funds and she explained how the members of the village had set up a sort of savings account to which they all contributed in order to make up the difference in costs that our funds didn’t cover.  Then she thanked us for our help and said how much it meant to her and all of the mothers to know that their children were safe, off of the streets, and able to learn the Koran in an environment more conducive to learning.  Then Imam Samb and the Executive Board members went into the daara to see the talibés – I was a little surprised to see that young girls were part of the group – and to eventually dedicate the school.  It was a very small building made of cinder block (with concrete plaster covering the blocks) and a corrugated tin roof.  The kids were very proud to have them there.  They had their long boards on which they write verses of the Koran in water-based ink, and some could recite without using it, but younger ones still used them.  They recited some verses as a group and then the Koranic teacher called up to young boys and had them recite other verses to him and Imam Samb.  The men would nod and say “Uh hum” periodically to show that the boys were reciting it correctly.


Don’t you just love the fabulous color palette made by their boubous?


The daara whose construction was partially funded by PARRER

The daara whose construction was partially funded by PARRER


The village elders and the talibés listening to Imam Ousmane Samb before he dedicated the daara


Reciting the Koran

A young talibé reciting verses from the Koran to his Koranic teacher and Imam Ousmane Samb

A young talibé reciting verses from the Koran to his Koranic teacher and Imam Ousmane Samb

While the dedication took place the mothers and small children gathered around the daara to listen – most of the little kids gathered around me and giggled softly, so I suspect another reason they came over was to get a better look at the toubab (me).  That’s when I took my all-time favorite picture of the Senegalese.  I’ve already shared it on this blog, but there’s just something about this little girl that tugs on my heartstrings a little bit.  So I’ll post it again 🙂

Senegalese Smiles

Senegalese Smiles

A mother brought her little girl to the daara entrance so she could see what was happening.  I thought she was pretty cute.

DSC_0017After the boys finished reciting and got the all-important approval of Imam Ousmane Samb, the imam said a prayer over the building and the Executive Board members, the imam, and the village elders all excited the daara.  The Koranic teacher continued his lesson, and the parents and younger children came and thanked all of us again for helping them build a daara and, essentially, helping them protect their children.

Then all of a sudden I felt a tiny pair of arms wrap around my legs.  It was my little friend giving me a hug.  Soon all of the kids 5 and under swarmed around me (but I noticed my friend made sure she was standing right next to me the whole time), so I gave my camera to Khady and asked her to take pictures of me with the kids.  They came in droves – some came up and touched my hair, others were content to stare at me, others smiled and laughed with me, and some hid behind their mothers.  When their mothers tried to get them to go towards me they started crying (again!), but there weren’t too many who were afraid of me.  They did pretty well for never having seen a white person before!


Everyone was speaking excitedly in Pulaar so I didn’t understand a word they were saying, but they were all trying to get my attention.  All of a sudden I saw a chubby baby boy coming at me through the air.  His mother kept saying, “American, American, American,” and wanted me to hold her son.  So I took him and he was fine as rain.  He didn’t cry at all, and he was such a chunk that I couldn’t resist giving him a few kisses on the head.  Well that made everyone start chattering, laughing, and clapping and the next thing I know about 5 other mothers where holding their babies out to me so I could hold them, too.  It was so fun!



I don’t know how this baby could stand being dressed and wrapped up as warmly as she was – it was 90 degrees out and very humid. I was dying and she’s decked out in winter clothes!

My boss signaled that we needed to go, so I pried myself away from the kids.  A couple of mothers wanted to get in a picture with me before I left.  One of the more elderly ladies grabbed me by the hand and started gesticulating wildly, chattering rapidly in Pulaar, all the while pulling me away from my boss and toward these two women.  When we got over to them the grandma lady smiled and pointed to one of the women who was probably 8 months pregnant.  Grandma Senegal pointed to her, then back at me, slapped me on the shoulders a few times, laughed and then pointed at the other lady’s belly.  By now many of the other women had gathered near us and they started laughing and clapping their hands.  I have no idea what Grandma Senegal said, but evidently it was pretty good.  She pointed to Khady and my camera, so I posed with the soon-to-be mother and another lady who’s baby I held.  After we were done Grandma Senegal pointed back to the mother’s belly and back at me and said, “American! American!” and then said something that sounded like baax na which is Wolof for “it’s good.”  Finally it dawned on me that she wanted a picture with me because it would be good for the baby.  So I smiled, pointed to myself and said in Wolof, “Bébé (baby), baax na.”  They all nodded and laughed.  The expectant mother still had her arm around my waist and she looked up at me and smiled, chuckled a bit, and then rested her head on my shoulder.  That made all of the other women clap.  I sure hope that baby is healthy and turns out to be a good kid, otherwise they might end up shaking their heads in disappointment and saying something to the effect of, “It’s all the American’s fault s/he turned out this way!!” 🙂


By this time everyone from my office was waiting for me to get into the car so we could get back to the hotel.  I really wish that we could have spent more time with those people.  While they were talking about us in Pulaar before the dedication and before I got to interact with the kids and the women, my eyes wandered around the village and the faces of those people.  Tears came to my eyes for a few seconds.  There they were stark poor, without the conveniences of the modern world – not even electricity and running water – yet they were happy and so pleased that they could have a school in their midst.  I could almost feel how relieved those mothers were to know that their children would be safe and protected and still be able to memorize the Koran – a very important part of their religious upbringing.

And then I got to thinking about how remote the village was.  In all reality, it was an obscure little place, far away from the major metropolises of the world, and some people would say that in the grand scheme of things it really doesn’t matter much.  Most of those people haven’t traveled even to Kolda, let alone Dakar.  Most of them have probably never even seen the ocean – which was just a couple of hours away.  Seeing Paris, London, New York, LA, Chicago is absolutely out of the question for them – those places are just an abstract “something” that people talk about (how many of them have even seen a picture of those cities??).  Most probably don’t even have much of an education, have never seen many of the contraptions that I (or the rest of us) see as an essential tool/part of my life, or even know what something as simple as snow is…  They are so cut off from the “rest of the world,” so seemingly insignificant.

The scripture in Psalms kept running through my mind, “What is man that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man that thou visitest him?”  I looked back over the little crowd gathered in front of me and I immediately loved every single one of them.  And in that moment I knew with great conviction that God knew who they were, that He knew them by name and as individuals.  I’d had similar experiences on my mission in southern France, but I’d never felt it in such a profound way before.  As I looked into their faces that thought kept coming over and over and over again – that God loved him/her and that He was infinitely concerned about their well-being, their joys, their worries, their families, and that He was watching over them.  It made my heart pound really hard and it felt like electricity or some other type of energy was coursing throughout my body.  I had to clasp my hands in my lap because they were shaking so much.  I looked back over the mud huts, the animal pens, the trees and saw that in many ways they are rich in their poverty.  Rich because they aren’t distracted by the unimportant things in life.  They are surrounded by the land and their families and they find joy in what matters most.  Oh, the things that they could teach the rest of us!!

Out of all the wonderful things that I have experienced since my arrival here, visiting that village has been the most rewarding.  I will probably never go there again, and I will probably never ever see those people again.  Our visit lasted a maximum of 30 minutes, but that little village will always be sacred to me.



This week Bamba, Madame Ndiaye, Madame Sy, Khady, and I are traveling to two cities in the southern region of Senegal.  We arrived in Tambacounda last night (462 km = 287 miles) after about 8 hours of traveling.  That included stopping to eat in Mbour for 30 or 45 minutes – but it was slow going due to poor roads full of potholes, following old semis, and one-lane highways.  The landscape didn’t change all that much until we got just outside of Tamba.  For the most part, the countryside was scattered with low-lying brush, tall, dried-out grasses, and baobab forests.  Some of the trees had leaves on them, others didn’t.  Small villages with mud or cement huts with grass roofs dotted the sides of the highway.  Sometimes the village consisted of several concessions (a compound marked off with a tall grass/straw fence that holds one family – houses for the husband, the wife/wives, the children, etc), other times they were just a hand full of solitary huts.  Herds of goats and cattle that look a lot like Brahmans – but probably aren’t – grazed all around, and sometimes they even caused “traffic jams” because they wandered all over the road.  Other than that, the only wildlife I saw were lots birds with really bright, beautiful plumage and two monkeys that darted across the road.

If you look at a satellite map of Senegal, you’ll notice that Tamba is right on the edge of the greener part of the country.  While this region is just as dusty as the northern part, a bigger variety of trees grow here, and there are more of them.  We’ll be traveling as far as Kolda in the Casamance before returning to Dakar.  We went in and east/southeasterly direction to come here, and when we return we’ll go through The Gambia, a long, skinny English-speaking country that surrounds the Gambia River.

My January trip around Senegal

My January trip around Senegal

Bigger cities like Fatick, Kaolack and so far Tamba aren’t quite as developed as Dakar.  In fact they reminded me of the higher end of the poorest Dakar neighborhoods.  My Wolof teacher at the University of Florida hails from Fatick.  Kaolack spreads out for what seems like forever (and you don’t realize it until you get out of town because the highway just brushes the outer corner of the city), and Tamba only has a few paved roads.  In the cities the nicer houses are mostly made of cinder block and have corrugated tin roofs. Others are made out of old scrap wood, car doors, random sticks, or any hodge-podge of materials that the families could salvage.  The roofs of those houses are made of a flat board covered in an array of warped wood (almost like large chunks of tree bark), tires, rocks, and anything that can keep the sun and rain out.

Last night I went out to eat with Bamba, Mamadou Wade, Madame Ndiaye and the chauffeur – we ended up going to a djibouterie (I think that’s how it’s spelled) which is a little tiny restaurant made out of the same scrounged up material as the houses that has slabs of raw mutton hanging from large iron hooks out in the open air.  When I saw that that was where we were going (and they were really excited about it because it was “real, authentic” food that you can’t get the same taste from in Dakar), my heart sunk a little.  Not only do I not like mutton because it makes me sick, but I’ve sworn many a time that I’d never eat meat from places like that.  Yeah, they’re all over Dakar and I’ve seen the flies and bugs that swarm and/or crawl all over that meat.  In fact, I’d just reminded myself yesterday morning while driving through Mbour that I’d never eat it.  And there I was, stuck because that was the only place they even considered eating.  And it was probably the only type of restaurant that was open at that hour.  So I was like, “Ooooohhh, no.  Heaven help me!”  And I started praying really hard that my stomach would be able to handle the food.  The guy cooked it on an open wood fire and brought it to our table on a piece of butcher paper (or it’s Senegalese equivalent) with dabs of dijon mustard on the sides.  Everyone dug in with their bare hands, and there was nothing else to do but join in.  We ate pretty much in the dark – there wasn’t much for electrical devices, just a small blue light and a tiny, tiny TV that the butcher/chef was watching as he waited for customers.  Much to my surprise, I liked the taste and as of today, my stomach hasn’t given me too many problems.  My digestive track isn’t exactly happy, but I haven’t spent all day in the bathroom.  That was good because I’ve been in meetings all day and that would not have been an option!

All that being said, our hotel is nice and has beautiful flowering bushes.  Enjoy the pictures that follow.  I’ll write more about our meetings here either tomorrow or in a couple of days when I have more time.  Tomorrow we head out to Kolda, a trip of 224 km (139 miles) that will take 3 or 4 hours due to poor roads.

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Sunrise, Sunset

I am convinced that God is a painter.

He’s the best painter in the universe.  He produces masterpieces every single day of the year.  But unlike the tableaux of the great masters this world has seen, His work is always displayed in free exhibits that are easily accessible to the general public.

Jacksonville, Florida – June 2012

Amazingly, He allows viewers to copy His oeuvres in oils, watercolors, sculpture and photography.  And the best part is that He doesn’t sue others for their counterfeit reproductions.

One of His greatest mediums is light.  To me, the science behind light is absolutely fascinating.  Everything that we see, even color, is based on it.  Light is an electromagnetic wave made up of 7 main wavelengths that vibrate, and every object (except those that are black and white) absorbs 6 out of those 7 wavelengths.  For example, tree leaves appear green because they absorb every wavelength except green.  The green wavelength reflects off of their surface which “produces” color and that reflection travels to our optic nerves.  Our brain takes that information and labels leaves as “green.”  White objects reflect all of the wavelengths and conversely, black objects absorb them.  White light is refracted when it travels through transparent optical elements such as glass – we commonly refer to them as prisms.  Most of the time we think that prisms have to be made of glass, but that’s not necessarily the case.  Water molecules can act as prisms, as well; that’s why after it rains we sometimes see rainbows in the sky.  They’re formed when enough water molecules are condensed together and positioned in such a way that they catch the sunlight as it breaks through the clouds.

This process is the main method by which God creates His paintings and the sky is His most commonly used canvas.

Utah Valley on the 4th of July – July 2008

Scientifically, sunrises and sunsets are created in a fashion similar to that of rainbows.  The gases and particles that make up Earth’s atmosphere act as prisms, and as the sun follows its 24 hour trajectory – or more accurately, as the earth rotates on its axis – light strikes those particles at varying angles.  The most spectacular refractions occur when those angles are acute, or in other words, at the beginning and the end of the day.  Sunrises transform the monotone periwinkle color that exists in the pre-dawn sky to light blues, grays, purples, pinks, and even some greens; soft oranges and yellows gradually take over the pallet as Earth turns closer to the sun.  When the sun is “directly overhead,” only one color refracts: blue.  Then, as Earth rotates farther away from sun the process reverses itself, vivid bold colors fire up the sky until finally, night shrouds the planet.

David at the Prado – Marseille, France November 2008

So what does this mini science lesson have to do with God’s artistry or anything else?  Well, kind of a lot…  First of all, He gives us at least two beautiful creations a day to contemplate.  Secondly, it acts as a metaphor for the blessings, joys, trials, and sacrifices that make up the totality of our lives.

Over the past several weeks, it has dawned on me – no pun intended – that our life experiences are exactly like the process I just described.  And no, I’m not talking about birth and death.  I’m talking about the decisions we make, the activities that we do and the events that turn into life-changing milestones.  A prospect shows up on the horizon and as we contemplate the various consequences it would have on our lives if we accept or reject it, our mind travels down several different paths.  To illustrate, let me use a personal example.  When I first started researching the Boren Fellowship, I envisioned the numerous possibilities that could potentially open up if I were to be awarded the funds.

Marseille, France from Notre Dame de la Gard – October 2008

Here’s a short list: going to Africa, finishing my PhD in a pertinent field and focus, working in Washington D.C. or an embassy somewhere in Africa or the French speaking world, getting a position in the State Department, eventually making it back to BYU to teach there, etc, etc, etc.  Heck, it may even be a round-about way to finally meeting the man that I’ll eventually marry and start a family with.  I can’t even begin to tell you how and in what way this one thing – winning the fellowship – will catapult me into the rest of my life.  It will literally put me at a crossroads comprised of several good, productive and satisfying options for me and my family.

We’ve all experienced something like this.  Going off to college, starting a new job, getting married, having children, moving to a new town, and the list goes on and on.  The options and opportunities these events and/or decisions could provide, seen at the beginning of the “day,” are like the various colors that appear in the sky during a sunrise.  They’re beautiful, exciting and at times, scary.  The only thing that we can see is the sky; the details of the earth or the things that are directly before us are obscured in darkness.  Yet the sky inspires us, takes our breath away and causes us to declare, It’s going to be a beautiful day.

As we take the first step on the journey and travel its path, the colors that we initially saw will disappear from sight until we see just one color: blue.  The sacrifice of working hard.  As the day progresses the details of what actually lay before us gradually appear.  Most of the time they’re the mundane things of everyday life.  Completely boring.  Exactly like what we did previous to this new journey.  Hard.  Stressful.  Annoying.  At times, depressing.  Just like the light of mid-day can be garish and uncomfortable at times, working for our goals requires grit and determination.

Mt. Timpanogos from Maesar Hill – Provo, Utah March 2006

Sometimes rainclouds develop and unleash torrential thunderstorms.  When that happens, sometimes the only thing that keeps us going is the memory of the beautiful light display of the sunrise.  Despite the times that they put life on hold, thunderstorms are essential because they replenish the earth and the earth provides the substance that we need in order to carry on.  They also give rise for moments where we pause, reflect, and regather our forces that we need as we strive to achieve our goals.  Sometimes those thunderstorms give rise floods of negativity and destruction.  But just like in real life, the water eventually dries up and people rebuild.  We shouldn’t necessarily read those events as signs to give up.

Montauban, France – March 2009

We also have to remember that despite the heat of the day, direct sunlight allows us to see the smiles of our friends and family members and the beautiful intricacies of the life and world around us.  It warms the body and soul.  It also lights the way before us and helps us see with clarity.  Storms and floods remind us of what is important in life and hopefully, they help us return to our roots and rally around our family as we get ready to continue forward.

Eventually the day and the journey come to a close.  Once again the color of the sky transforms.  Instead of the “mundane” blue of day, deep, bright yellows and oranges slowly burn down to patches of red like flames that retreat into logs and reveal fiery embers.  Bold pinks splash the sky like the splatters of a Jackson Pollack painting.  And finally rich, velvety blues and purples melt into the midnight blues and black of night.  Throughout this day-long process the sky didn’t physically change.  Neither did the light.  The position of Earth changed and adjusted the refracting process at various parts of the day.  Perspective colored the sky, just like it colors our outlook on life.  We realize that the boring blue that we saw in the afternoon only reflected one tiny portion of the total light spectrum.

Similarly, when we were in the thick of our trials or efforts to achieve a goal, we can only see that our patience is being tried, that this particular thing is really, really hard or we think that we’re not making any headway.  We forget that those periods are chunks of time taken out of context and that the picture is much larger than the here and now.  When we persevere and hang on until the end of the day, we’re reminded that light is made up of several colors, not one.  Hindsight is a refractive tool.  As we look at our journey and the satisfaction of having completed it, we will see that all of it was beautiful, even despite the bumps we experienced along the way.

Jacksonville, Florida – June 2012

If an individual were to watch an artist paint on a blank canvas, I guarantee that he or she would wonder more than once how the artist was going to transform seemingly unrelated shapes and colors into a completed painting.  But that individual should remember that the Artist saw the end product in His mind long before He began painting it.  He knows what He is doing.  He knows what brushes He needs to use, He knows what mediums will create the best effects, He knows how to mix the colors, He knows where to put the brushstrokes.  He sees the overall picture, He has the grand perspective.  Just trust Him and know that when all is finished, everything will be breathtaking.

Just like the sunset.

**Author’s note: All of these photographs are property of LarkPrints Photography.  Other than including my watermark, none of the photos were edited**