The Sound of Silence
My day was amazing,……beyond amazing! I couldn’t wait to tell the events of the day.
I had been out taking pictures around Dakar. I had wanted to get some shots of the Talibe boys around Dakar to help me tell the story here. Often, when you point a lens at someone, you will find someone waving a finger at you whether it is them, or someone else you are photographing. The people here feel exploited… like every foreigner is here to take pictures of the “other side” of life and then return home and sell the photos to National Geographic for a big payout allowing them to retire and live happily ever after while the lives of the “shootee” continue the same. It happens I suppose, but that is not my goal. I just want to tell the story of Son of Africa. At any rate, for a few days I had been having difficulty raising my lens and taking the shot. It started to feel like I was stealing something from the people I was photographing. I came up with a plan; I would go to speak with a Marabout, explain my project here in Africa and be welcomed with opened arms… hmmmmmmm… sounded like a great idea at the time.
A few days earlier, my Senegalese friend, Argo, and I had been invited for dinner with a local family. Driving there, we noticed many Talibe boys in the area. I thought this would be the perfect place. Argo and I loaded up some supplie, rice, juice and soap, to help with the negotiations and, along with the daughter of the family, paid a visit to the “Daara”, the school of the Talibe.
The Daara was like I had imagined… x100. It was a small open area deep in the inner city of Dakar. There was one concrete structure that served as the Mosque and a rundown leaning shack with boards missing from the sides of the structure and noticeable gaps in between the weathered boards. The ground was all sand, inside and outside of the structure, except for a large mat that covered the area where the Marabout sat with a couple of his students in the center of the Daara. Pots and pans, clothes wagging on a line in the breeze, benches made of well used old wood, a large cast iron pot over a fire throwing off steam and bubbling with todays plate of the day and, as it seems everywhere here in Senegal, some goats nibbling away at a pile of trash just off to the side. Forty-five boys lived here and learned their religion from the Marabout. I couldn’t wait for the opportunity in front of me. Since I don’t know the language, Argo and the daughter did all the talking. It didn’t take long for me to know the negotiations weren’t going well, and after about 10 minutes and several finger waves in my direction and the word “toubab” (which means “white” in Wolof), we departed. I found out just what I mentioned earlier. The Marabout was not at all interested in participating in my plan. He said that several times in the past, the “white” had shown up to his Daara offering gifts and help for the Talibe that never panned out. I was just another one of them. We drove away, disappointed of course, and I couldn’t help but feel some anger(??) toward the Marabout. How could he judge me so quickly? The saying: “ask for forgiveness, not permission” entered my head… but we continued to drive on.
Later that evening, Argo and I received a call from the father of the family we had dined with. He asked if we could come to his home. 11pm?… yes… still early by Senegal standards. We jumped in the car and headed back across the city and back to the fathers home. Once there, we were led inside and seated in the living room. The father, mother, son and daughter were all there. After our visit to see the Talibe at the Daara earlier in the day, the daughter had returned home and told her father what had happened. Since the father sometimes supported the marabout, when he heard what had happened, he paid a visit to the Daara and explained that we were friends of the family and were sincere about our plans. The father apologized to us for what had happened, and soon after, the Marabout joined us. The talks were, again, all in Wolof, so I had to wait to find out exactly what was said. It was an apology from the Marabout, and an explanation, a lesson for us all and an offer to come back the following day to see, speak with and photograph the talibe. What a great ending to a day that had started out quite disappointing. I couldn’t wait! I was so appreciative for all the family had done for us.
The following day we headed back to the home of the Talibe and, as promised, were given full access to the Daara. “We” spoke with the Marabout, watched the Talibe learning and going about with their day. We were shown inside the concrete structure as the Talibe boys chanted out their readings and sat on small mats on the ground. We were shown inside where the boys slept. ( the blue door with the hanging heart) We watched as the boys filed out after their study time and disappeared in the alleys surrounding the Daara to go find their quota for the day of money and food. It was amazing to me, something that I had hoped I would be able to do one day and now, here I was. I still felt “off” about taking pictures, but I took them anyway and was pleased.
Later that night I was texting with my Mom back in Canada. Still so excited from the day, I was telling her all about it. I wish I would have saved the screen shots of our conversation. We were texting back and forth…..”How was your day? What did you do?” I started firing off one text after another telling her all about my day and how I had gone to the home of the Talibe, telling her how I got to be there and what I saw and the amazing picture I got and then… silence. My Mom wasn’t texting back to me. “Mom?”… “Mom?… are you still here?… why aren’t you talking to me?” The message comes back… “Are you safe?… I’m so worried about you Lori!”… “What?… why? It was amazing Mom!” She replies… “you are in the home of the Taliban… I’m afraid for you!”… “What????” I scroll up… and up… and up. Ohhh hahahahahaha… thank you once again auto correct for changing Talibe to Taliban. My reply… “I’m scared too!! I meant Talibe… home of the Talibe!!!”
I’ve given my mom a few grey hairs in her life, but I think I just trumped anything from the past! Sorry Mom… I’m still on track and haven’t slipped over the edge. Hope these pictures give you a bit of insight to the life of the TaliBE here in Senegal.