Archive for April, 2018

Learning to appreciate Africa – in a Dakar school

April 29, 2018

Nine and a half years, just after I had moved into my Dakar Yoff Ouest Foire apartment under pretty dramatic circumstances, I went out to explore my new neighbourhood. A few hundred metres from my street, slightly tucked away by the side of the street but otherwise easy to find was this restaurant.

restaurant Figo

Figo. It would soon become my second living room, with two important differences: this one had WiFi and served food.

Atouman Diagne and Fatoumata Bathily, the couple running the restaurant, were working in similar establishments in Italy when they met. They made plans. Plans to start something similar back home: a smart place in an area where there was a shortage of smart places – Yoff Ouest Foire was just such a neighbourhood: upwardly mobile residents at night, office workers during the day. In one word: a market.

Resto Figo opened its doors not very long before I had arrived and I rapidly became first a client, then a regular, then a friend and finally – as we joked frequently – part of the furniture.

restaurant Figo

This and previous pic: Martin Waalboer. The loveliest people in the world. Fatoumata, Atouman and in the middle their eldest son, Aziz, who’s quite a bit bigger now and has a few siblings…

Atouman and Fatoumata have ideas that go way beyond serving lunch, pizzas and dibi, a local speciality that consists of a pile of roast meat with mustard and spices. One of these offshoots is a primary school, called Arcobaléno (Rainbow), which serves kids from this upwardly mobile neighbourhood. I once spent a delightful few hours there making an ass of myself as I was getting the kids to sing…er…Jingle Bells. In English. (At the school’s request, may I add in my defence.)

But on a more serious note, there was something bothering Fatoumata as she went about setting up and running the school and working out the educational program. Where was Africa?

The children, she told me, at the Arcobaléno, and indeed elsewhere, were of the opinion that there was nothing of any value to find in African history or culture. This was genuinely shocking but at the same time understandable when you are, say, five or six and grow up in a household that will without any doubt serve up generous portions of that uniquely Senegalese delicacy known as thieboudieun (literally: rice and fish) but where the television will be tuned to France24 for the news, Youssou N’Dour’s TFM or the absolutely execrable Paris-based TRACE Africa for entertainment and to TV5 in the morning for an endless parade of hugely irritating (but that’s just me), mostly American, French overdubbed cartoons, something a few Burkinabè friends are trying to remedy. 

What to do? Enter these two.

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You know, there are, to be sure, loads and loads and loads of mass-produced soaps from Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Burkina Faso and there is of course the colossal Nigerian film industry, which travels quite well – literally, as you can be sure to come across a Nigerian film once you get on one of the region’s many intercity buses.

But switch on a television set in a city across this continent and the lack of African characters will strike you. Television is, increasingly, people’s principal source of info and entertainment and it has an absolute dearth of material reflecting life on the continent and especially directed at children. This is the gap that the producers of Kady & Djudju are trying to fill. The idea is Fatoumata’s; an entire team works on the realisation of the characters, the clips and the series.

This is for kids, who are not used to seeing characters on their little screens at home who look like them. This is why these two are so important.

The first series was broadcast on national television, RTS. The videos dealt with a lot of practical things: waste, recycling, keeping safe on the streets… The one that got tongues wagging dealt with a subject Senegal has been busy sweeping under the carpet for years: organised child begging.

For the producers, this series of practical issues are important but they are also an entry point. Next step: showcasing, highlighting and getting young children to appreciate the richness of their own continent, its people, its history, its heroes and heroines (like this one I published recently) achievements, stories and why not – natural beauty.

Well, that’s precisely what they are doing – in their own school…and this event, which happened just a stone’s throw away from my old apartment gave me the chance to talk to you about this important and extremely necessary work. Here’s hoping I can continue to be of use.

And Figo? Well, judging from a visit only seven months ago I’d say: looking better than ever. It’s got a proper roofed terrace now and a small stage where people perform at times. The thieb is still there, as are the pizzas, the dibi and of course the bissap, West Africa’s perfect answer to thirst.

So here’s to you Atou and Fatima – and hope to see you all again soon!

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