Prof. Tim Lake - All fifteen participants of our Fulbright-Hays Group Project Aboard have arrived in Senegal, West Africa. This is my first stay in this Francophone African country whose population is 95% Muslim, 3% Christian and “100% traditional religion.” Well, that’s what some people say at least. The point here, according to Waly, our orientation lecturer at the West African Research Center (WARC), is that religious synchronism is a reality for many Senegalese.
WARC is a place that assists researchers and international students with coordinating their projects in Senegal and surrounding areas. For the next few weeks, it will be my “home away from home.” But not all of my time will be spent at WARC, and that’s the point. I’ve already visited the Presidential place (their “White House”) and witnessed the changing of the guard.
I’ve seen so much public art here that I am getting a crook in my neck from staring up. I especially like the war memorial at La Place Du Tirailleur dedicated to the friendship between two soldiers – a Frenchman and a Senegalese. The memorial is also meant to commemorate the sacrifice the Senegalese made on behalf the French against Germany during both world wars.
“Art is the people’s Griot,” asserted Mrs. Germaine Anta Gaye. Mrs. Gaye is Senegal’s renowned female artist who has meet with Leopold Sedar Senghor, the country’s first president, and our former first lady Laura Bush. We were treated to a wonderful lecture by this esteemed artist and, now hold your breath, in her home and studio. What an honor it was to have such an intimate encounter with an artist whose work hangs in the World Bank.
I fancy myself somewhat of an art collector (more like admire) but when I asked the price of one of her mixed media pieces (glass and metal) I was told, rather gently, “Not for sale, only showings.” I am appreciative for the showing that I’ve received so far of Senegal and its people, history, and cultural productions. And there is some much more to experience and learn from.
In particular, I am looking forward to learning more about the religious life of the Senegalese. Professor Abdou Aziz Kebe, University Cheikh Anta Diop, will give a lecture on “Religions and Religious Tolerance in Senegal.” Here I hope to learn more about the role that faith plays in the life and culture of the people. Like most African people, spirituality matters in all things and it’s difficult to separate the sacred from the secular.
From religious diversity to art as history, I am finding Senegal to be an immensely curious and wonderfully provocative pedagogical experience.