Professor Hardin’s Research Trip to Senegal

Hardin in Senegal 2016

NOTE: To see the photos referred to in this post, go here.

Professor Hardin’s recent four-week research trip to Senegal was productive.  She interviewed twenty-two individuals in six municipalities about the history of the southeastern region of the country, particularly how people there cultivated cotton in the 1970s (see photos 407, 421 and 422).  Cotton production was remarkably profitable, but it required the use of strong pesticides. Interviewees discussed the ways they dealt with the toxic chemicals and why they found the work worthwhile at the time, but that now they would appreciate less dangerous and more lucrative economic opportunities.  Interviewees cultivated cotton and other crops with and for their families. Individuals of both noble and slave descent gained and lost with cotton production as the industry ebbed and flowed.

Professor Hardin also interviewed a bambaaɗo (a griot or traditional oral historian) about the nineteenth-century history of the region as well as a few traditional healers about their work. These men and women, including Professor Hardin’s interpreter, Aminata Kaba (see photos 456 and 464), continue to treat patients using plants and other means.  This research will inform Professor Hardin’s course on the history of African health and healing.

The timing of Professor Hardin’s trip was fortuitous. The National Archives of Senegal had been closed for the last two years for building renovations. A few days before she was scheduled to depart the country, however, the archives reopened in a new location in Dakar, and she was able to see a few documents (see photos 620-622).

From the hustle and bustle of the capital city to the pressing urgency to prepare fields for the coming rains in the countryside, Professor Hardin witnessed the range of Senegalese life. In the heat of late May and early June, young people were preparing for final exams despite their teachers’ strike. Teachers are asking the government to respect their contracts though the government has threatened to dismiss them. Teachers debated whether they should continue to go without their contracted salaries for the sake of the nation’s children or whether they should press the government to decrease the number of ministers making large sums. See this opinion piece published in Le Quotidien by Professor Hardin’s friend, Cheikh Kaling, who also holds a doctorate in history and trains some of Senegal’s history and geography teachers at the College of the Science and Technology of Education and Training  [Faculté des Sciences et Technologies de l’Education et de la Formation (FASTEF)] at the University of Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar:

http://www.lequotidien.sn/index.php/opinions-debats/des-menaces-illegitimes-sur-les-enseignants-a-l-heure-du-dialogue-national

While education remains a long-contested sector, so too is agriculture. In May the director of the Company for Development and Textile Fibers (Société de Développement et des Fibres Textiles or SODEFITEX) visited remote towns to drum up enthusiasm for the impending cotton campaign, as well as for the production of corn, millet, sunflowers, hibiscus, rice, and sesame. Such outreach is necessary given that agriculture has not paid much for over a decade, many farmers are deeply indebted financially, rains have not been regular, and labor is scarce.  Some tractors are currently being brought in, but some people are skeptical of the economic impact the technology will ultimately have.

Almost every family has someone living in Dakar and/or abroad who sends money back from as far away as Congo-Brazzaville, North Africa, Saudi Arabia, Europe, and the USA . Since the 1970s, remittances have been one of the largest sources of revenue for the area.  But migration is dangerous and people sometimes die trying to get to Europe. See this article on Tambacounda which is on the way to Vélingara:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-34060931

See also photo 404 from Professor Hardin’s host family’s home in Vélingara. It’s of a blackboard for the private tutorial of the eleven-year-old nephew.  It’s a dictation on “a stowaway” which teaches not only the French language but also the dangers of migration.

Traveling through Tambacounda to and from Vélingara in the Upper Casamance region of southeastern Senegal in late May, Professor Hardin saw fields being cleared by controlled burns. The remaining ash makes good fertilizer (see photos 410, 411, and 384). The burns were just in time too, since it rained in Vélingara for the first time for the season on the night of Friday May 27, 2016.

Vélingara is a town of over 25,000 people that feels like, in the words of someone born there, a “giant neighborhood.” Everyone knows everyone, people visit each other’s houses regularly and kids play in the streets.  The vast majority of buildings are one-story; there is one gas station, one bus station, one bank (along with several money transfer offices where people pickup remittances), one post office, one large market, a cotton gin factory, one tourist motel and now two paved roads.  Daily life centers around the market, the schools, the mosques, the bus station, and the health clinic. Common ailments for children are malaria and diarrhea while older adults suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes, glaucoma, and respiratory infections.

Hope springs eternal due to the recently paved road in town, dubbed the “road of Macky Sall” (the new president). The Compaganie Sahélienne d’Entreprises (CSE) which is paving the roads between Vélingara and other major cities is hiring some men locally, another cause for optimism.  From Vélingara, Professor Hardin took the paved road to Médina Gounass and Linkéring, and took a dirt road to Wassadou, to do interviews. Each trip took over an hour but on the way to Wassadou Professor Hardin was able to stop and take pictures of the industrial rice field and the anti-AIDS sign near the border with Guinea-Bissau (see photos 442, 444, and 426—on the road to Wassadou. Agence de Gestion des Routes or AGEROUTE: “Let’s open the roads for development, but bar the road to AIDS.”) Cross-border trade is long-standing and essential to the region’s economy, but prostitution at the major market towns increases the rates of STDs.  Despite these dangers, the state of health and health care in Senegal is better than in some of its neighboring countries.

Professor Hardin’s trip ended during the first week of Ramadan. Before it started, she saw on T.V. Arabic music videos and commercials celebrating the season. The day people began fasting in Senegal depended on whether they chose to start with people in Saudi Arabia or follow local clerics who decided based on how they saw the moon there. The daily schedule then changed with some people rising earlier than usual to drink water and eat a few dates before the sun rose at 7:00 AM; they would not eat or drink water until the sun set at 7:40 PM, at which point they would have their breakfast of coffee, a sandwich, and dates, followed by dinner at 9:30 PM, followed in turn by ataya, sugared gunpowder tea.  Of course these meals and the day was interspersed by prayers at 6:00 AM, 2:00 PM, 4:30 PM, 7:30 PM, and 9:00 PM.  Since people tended to go to bed late and get up early, those who could take a nap in the late afternoon did. Children, the elderly, the ill, and Professor Hardin, however, ate breakfast and lunch at regular hours.

In Senegal’s cities and towns, one hears the calls to prayer from mosques; the sounds of cows, donkeys, dogs and chickens; the honks of horns from trucks and cars; and most often people greeting one another. Salaam alaikum!

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