By Andrew ‘Andre’ Updyke
We all know the expression “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”, well in Senegal the Bouye fruit doesn’t fall that far from the Baobab tree, a deep rooted tree at that. I believe kids are a magnification of the culture of a place. Kids are what people place all their pride in, they are the future of the people that raise them. So the way they are brought up can show what is really important in that household or culture. For example, if you walk into a house and the kids are sitting on their iPads not even acknowledging your existence you can get a pretty good idea of what goes on in that household.
In Senegalese culture respect is taught first and is constantly reinforced to the kids. Respecting your elders and learning from them is just as important or maybe even more important than learning in school in Senegal. They tell their kids to sit with the people who have been through everything, so they may understand and learn from those experiences as well. It’s not only elders that are tasked with teaching the kids, but their brothers and sisters as well. Throughout our travels when we’ve been driving in the morning there have been kids walking all sorts of distances to school. But the people who are walking with the smallest kids are not their parents, but their siblings, some only a few years older than the ones they are looking out for. This means those kids looking out for their younger siblings understand the power of responsibility, and if anything happens to them it’s on them.
In Senegal, it is also clear that they set their kids up for success. Not in the Western way that we think about with expensive private schools or getting the best tutor possible, but with teaching them the things they need for success in the Senegalese villages, like problem solving skills and respect. For instance, every morning the kids are the ones that rekindle the fire in the morning. This means that there are toddlers gathered around embers at 7 in the morning, something most of our parents would have a heart attack if they saw. For the most part they leave their kids alone, letting them make the mistakes that we tell our kids not to make. This means that at a young age they understand the consequences of their actions and how they can affect others as well.
I feel like I’ve been seeing kids playing with nothing here for the first time in forever. Today, I watched kids play with dirt and a bottle cap for about 30 minutes. While we were on our tour of Niognani and Badi villages, a little girl walked with us and was entertained by the empty perfume bottle she carried with her. It was amazing to see these kids, unaware of the challenges their parents have faced and ones they will face in the changing world. Instead, they enjoy the smallest things in life. That appreciation of the small things is something that they will have to keep with them for the rest of their life. Because while they are oblivious now, their life will get harder, just as the rest of the kids in the world, but they will still be able to find those small things and see joy.