October 23, 2005: Headlines: COS - Senegal: The Santa Fe New Mexican: Senegal RPCV Steve Flance recalls Peace Corps days in Africa

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Senegal: Peace Corps Senegal : The Peace Corps in Senegal: October 23, 2005: Headlines: COS - Senegal: The Santa Fe New Mexican: Senegal RPCV Steve Flance recalls Peace Corps days in Africa

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Senegal RPCV Steve Flance recalls Peace Corps days in Africa

Senegal RPCV Steve Flance recalls Peace Corps days in Africa

"I loved Kaolack. It is a vibrant rural market center with sand streets, compounds of adobe and or tin-roofed huts or small houses and a huge outdoor bazaar offering everything from dried fish, meat, vegetables, weavings, jewelry, spices, homewares, clothing and other necessities brought to the market by traders on camel trains from Mauritania and overland from Upper Volta, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, Guinea and other West African countries."

Senegal RPCV Steve Flance recalls Peace Corps days in Africa

Oct 23, 2005 - The Santa Fe New Mexican
I once made my home in Africa.

It was the late 1960s, a period immediately following the Independence of many African nations from their French, British and Portuguese colonial masters, and many of us found ourselves stirred and motivated by President Kennedy's challenge: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

So in 1966, I found myself comfortably stuffed into a three-room house with a British Volunteer Overseas roommate, an African mutt I named Chebudjien (Fish and Rice), an outdoor kitchen and a two- holer outhouse in Kaolack, Senegal, about 300 kilometers from the capital of Dakar.

How the heck did I get there?

After almost a year of intermittent Peace Corps training in cross- cultural studies, French and Wolof (the national language of Senegal), which had led me to Dartmouth College, the 9th Ward of New Orleans (yes, two months after the devastation of Hurricane Betsy, we were living and working with African American families whose lives had been turned upside down by a blown levee) and the Ivory Coast, I arrived in my home-country Senegal, located on the "hump" of West Africa about 9,000 miles from Santa Fe.

My first African experience was actually stepping off a plane in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, (they call it the Cte d'Ivoire) and onto a bush train for an overnight trip by African coach to Boake, where I would spend a couple of months doing in-country training.

My colleagues and I were loaded onto a railcar with seats that we shared with African families traveling north with their children, personal goods wrapped in cloth, goats and other animals and what seemed like all their household belongings.

It was not long before the great Ivorian rainforest enveloped all of us and our little train.

Tall, thick forests, dense with humidity, plants, trees, monkeys, birds, mud, lots of flying and crawling bugs ... swallowed us, the deep green envelope to be broken only by the intermittent town or village with it's fields of cocoa, banana or manioc cleared out of the forest primeval.

We arrived in Boake in the dead of night and were greeted by the sound of drumming and lyrical singing to the tunes of the balaphone, an African version and most probably the precursor of the xylophone. Lionel Hampton would have loved it!

So here I finally was. And then, after two months practice teaching, weekend jaunts to local villages, more cross-cultural training and an amazing trip to Khorogo -- a market center with an overwhelming array of African carvings, masks and weavings -- I was off to Kaolack, Senegal (which translates literally as "dried up and withered from above"), my home for the next two years.

I loved Kaolack. It is a vibrant rural market center with sand streets, compounds of adobe and or tin-roofed huts or small houses and a huge outdoor bazaar offering everything from dried fish, meat, vegetables, weavings, jewelry, spices, homewares, clothing and other necessities brought to the market by traders on camel trains from Mauritania and overland from Upper Volta, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, Guinea and other West African countries.

It is a historic African market center located near the confluence of two major saltwater estuaries that form the Sine and Saloum rivers, from which this region of Senegal takes its name: the Sine-Saloum.

It is quite diverse culturally, hosting major populations of tribal groups from all over Senegal, Mali and other West African countries.

My days and nights in Sarandjougary, my quartier (neighborhood) in Kaolack, were full: teaching at the Lycee Gaston Berger in the mornings, working on a community development project in the afternoons in Kahone, a leper colony about six kilometers outside Kaolack, dinner and an evening drinking tea and telling lies around a charcoal fire with my Fulani neighbors in the evening.

The pattern was occasionally broken by a visit to the outdoor cinema to sit on a bench to watch a James Bond thriller, e.g. Dr. Non, or a Clint Eastwood western, e.g. L'Homme Sans Nomme, booing the villains and cheering the heroes with my enthusiastic and expressive Senegalese friends and neighbors.

Some evenings, after a dinner of rice, couscous and something (always a big surprise and guessing game), and perhaps tea, a Schweppes Tonic or a Mission de California Orange (orange soda), the sound of tam-tam's would waft through the quartier, calling the neighborhood to a street dance or neighborhood wrestling match (the Senegalese, superior athletes in many respects, are truly great Greco-Roman wrestlers).

Drawn to the music of the khalam, kora, balaphone and d'jembe and other drums, neighbors would gather in the sand streets or family courtyards to mingle, erupt in an explosion of rhythm and dance or to cheer their favorite wrestlers well into the wee morning hours.

Then we all would retire, I to the claustrophobia of my mosquito- netted bunk, for a deep tropical sleep and to awake the next morning to begin another day of teaching at the lycee, construction at the leper colony, a visit to the marketplace on my motorcycle and an evening with my famille in the compound next door.

For two years, I admired and was amazed by the enthusiasm for learning, the exuberance, the intelligence and the humanity of my students at the Lycee Gaston Berger, most of whom were from small villages in the outer regions of Senegal. Each semester I taught four classes of about 40 students per class or about 160 students per semester.

Over the two years I lived in Kaolack, I had the privilege to teach and work with over 600 Senegalese high-school students, many of whom are probably leaders of their communities and country today.

And there were the residents of Kahone, a courageous and hard- working village of lepers, at that time outcasts who had been assembled into regional leper colonies by the Senegalese government to rediscover community and the opportunity to raise families and establish normal lives.

I joined with them and a group of International Voluntary Service volunteers to build new homes, latrines and livestock facilities that became their village.

And there were my Fulani (Peul) neighbors: Racine Sow; "Granny" Sow; his wife, Khadi Diallo; their children, Aminata, Saphiato, Esteve Bundaio and many others. Their rich Fulani culture stretches across the Sahara from Sudan to Senegal.

They were my family, my anchors, my friends, my confidants for two long years.

So time passes, and although I have remained in contact with friends in Senegal, I have never returned to my home in Africa, not because I do not think frequently and longingly of my life in Kaolack, but because I have opined that it would never be the same, and I haven't wanted to risk tainting the magical memories of my life in Senegal as a Peace Corps volunteer.

And yet as the years pass and I long for my home in Africa, I am amazed at the

ever-growing impact that the Africa I knew has had on world culture and politics.

The drumming and music that caressed my young soul almost 40 years ago in the Quartier Sarandjougary is now the World Music of such renowned West African musicians as Youssef N'Dour, Musa Suso, Baba Maal and Ali Farka Toure.

Their music articulates the ancient, seductive sounds of Mali and Senegal that American artists such as Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder have sought out to establish their roots in the field chants, hymns and blues of Afro American culture in the United States.

The khalam, kora, d'jembe and balaphone, musical instruments with a millennium or more of history, have become the staples of African World Music, with artists from Africa spreading their resonance and joy throughout the world. And if you go to the Tesuque Flea Market or to the boutiques in Santa Fe and around the world, you will be able to enjoy the beauty of African art, textiles, masks, fetishes and musical instruments, often being sold by vendors from West Africa.

In Senegal, the children of Sarandjougary and other African neighborhoods are leading their teams to championships in World Cup Soccer.

Senegalese film writers and directors such as Ousmane Sembene have received honors throughout the world, and indeed, Monsieur Sembene's work was featured last year at the African Film Festival in Santa Fe.

Many American and European writers have embraced the depth and strength of the philosophy of African Negritude evoked in the poems and writings of Leopold Senghor, Senegal's first president, as an articulation of African culture and roots.

Alex Haley in his epic tale of African American history from its roots in the Gambia, about two hours from my home in Kaolack, to the African American communities of today is an excellent example.

And in world politics, Africa is emerging as a major catalyst and inspiration for world peace and justice through the leadership of Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu and Kofi Annan.

The transition from Aparthied-based, minority white government in South Africa and Rhodesia to democratic government of the black majority is one of the true monuments to peaceful revolution in the history of the world.

The Africa where I made my home in the 1960s was full of humanity, hope, personal character and talent that is being realized today.

While the African states of today were born of an anti-colonial struggle of the 1950s and 1960s, the pre- and post-independence leadership of statesmen such as the great poet and first president of Senegal, Leopold Sedar Sengor; Sekou Toure of Guinea; Kwame N'Krumah of Ghana; Julius Nyerere of Tanzania; Haile Selassie of Ethiopia; Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya and Nelson Mandela of South Africa has inspired African nations to launch themselves into world economics, culture and politics with a tremendous sense of nationhood, history and culture that has empowered and justified independent African nations claiming their rightful place in today's league of nations.

And let me not forget the leadership and contributions of Senegalese leaders like Khader Fall, my teaching colleague and friend in Kaolack, who went onto lead his country in the field of education as the minister of education for Senegal.

I made my home in an "emerging" Africa in the 1960s. Today, my Africa has evolved into a model of globalism, of cultural celebration, political leadership and peace for the entire world.

D'jiam at Diem (Go with God) mon Afrique ...

Santa Fe Realtor/land use consultant Steve Flance was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Republic of Senegal from 1966 to 1968. In the 1970s, he served in several positions at City Hall.

When this story was posted in December 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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