At first when thinking about the topic of text I immediately thought of books. I thought of the text that I have access to: poetry, novels, store signs and street signs. But what I did not take into consideration was that there are different forms of text. But as I sat at the kitchen table of my host family’s home I realized that their form of text or expression was much different than my own. I can sit in my kitchen back home in the states and see written word on wall hangings, on the appliances or on the cookbooks that sit on the counter.
Meanwhile, my host home is filled with vibrant works of art that have reminded me that artwork can also be a form of text. To my right there are pieces of art that are African works of art. The colors are vibrant and the images abstract. There is very little written text in my host home. I have not seen any books in the shared living spaces instead I find music CDs on a shelf.
I seem to be getting the sense that this is where the western world and its idea of knowledge meets the African idea of knowledge. It is known that the United States heavily relies on written text and numbers to determine our standard of knowledge and based off of my experiences thus far, I would make the assumption that in Africa, or at least in Senegal, the value is put expression through art and music, a more physical, experience based idea of what is important in society. Senegal seems to be a hub for art that represents their culture whether it is in the fabric and clothes you find handmade from the market or the sculptures and paintings being sold on the street. Written text in languages that local to the area are extremely difficult to find, if at all.
I visited the bookstore called Quatre Vent in the same neighborhood where I have been staying. I was surprised by the modernity of this building and its contents at first glance. But as I entered the shop and began to peruse the isles I quickly realized why. Every piece of text was in French: the books, the toys, the educational material. The only local language written text I was able to find were children’s books that displayed Wolof titles or character names but the rest of the text was written in French more often than not by European authors and published somewhere in Europe.
I was baffled by these representations at first. There was very little representation of the local culture and the prices were high. I became frustrated at first, to think that this is what is available, yet it is most likely highly inaccessible for most people. But as I reflect on the experience I can see where the struggles begin. Most Senegalese people are living in a community where a language that is not their first language dominates the mainstream society. Yet there are pockets of native culture that can be seen, but the issue lies in what the rest of the world values. Senegalese from my experience value, family, hospitality, and culture which is not always able to be expressed through written word. I have seen the most beautiful and creative art here but unfortunately this will not help them when it comes time for children to learn in schools where the language of instruction is French.
Again, this is a time where western ideals meet or may even clash with Senegalese ideals. This experience can be disorienting for students and their families because, “through schooling, children acquire more western centric values such as structured time, progress, and individualism” (Sarr 2013) which can directly contrast to their home life. What seems to be necessary and a reasonable solution is culturally relevant education for the Senegalese students. However, how do educators and community members work around their limitations living in a world where the western ideals are so embedded? That is a question we must answer. The solution is there but the journey there will be challenging.