This is purely an experience based blog post, but I have to tell you about the program that my school put on this past week. In the health world, you may have heard of the very popular “Zumba” exercise. If you haven’t, it is an exercise class to very upbeat music where you are instructed to perform many exercises masked in the form of dancing. It is all choreographed and a heck of a good time. HOWEVER, this post is not about a popular exercise trend, this is about a different kind of Zumba.
Going into the next school term which begins this upcoming month, my school had a big end of the year program to get parents and children alike at the school. There is an unfortunate disconnect within the education system and the lives of parents and students. In my particular village, education is still not the top priority and is associated with Westernization, which is not always a positive term in the eyes of strong culture. So, the teachers periodically throw these kinds of programs to have the community be aware and active in what the school is up to. Just getting parents to the school, in general, is a positive goal.
Moving along, though. Although I live in a Sarahule Community, we brought in a Wolof tradition. The Zumba Program highlighted the “Zumba”, a man dressed in all fur with his face painted like some form of animal. In Mandinka culture, they also have something similar called a Konkoran. These men appear at many cultural functions such as circumcisions, weddings, Muslim holidays and the like. The Konoran wears bright red outfits and carries around machetes, dances, and scares little children while collecting money. The Zumba displayed a show of eating fire, swallowing razors, dancing and also collecting donations.
Living in a Sarahule village ‘protects’ me from running into these guys too often. We don’t have these kinds of traditional figures running around. I once ran into a Konkoran in the market in Basse while I was shopping, and, although they are harmless men, I ran away so quickly! They are usually followed by musicians playing drums and a crowd of dancing people. In fact, I was so scared, I impulse bought a load of fabric so I could get out of there fast…it wasn’t my favorite fabric. After that day, I noted that it is always wise to have small bills of 5 or 10 dalasi on hand at all times for situations like this. If the Konkoran chooses you, just hand over the money and you can hand be on your way!
It is very difficult to describe the program in a way that does it justice, but it went something like this. Around five, my new site mate and I (YES, I have a site mate on a short four miles away!) went over to the school. They had built a whole stage area for the performance. Of course, we waited around a little while, because we are on Gambia time. All of girls wanted to have a pre-program photo shoot. We even had matching outfits or “asobies” for the event.
The drumming began and we all waited in anticipation for the start. Then, out of the side of the dance area, he emerged with batons of fire. The screams from everyone were ear piercing, and some kids even started crying! I, myself, was initially feeling a little unsure…so was the little girl next to me apparently…
The show did not disappoint! This man could dance. Like, seriously dance. I have never seen so much hip shaking and booty twerking by a grown man in a furry suit in my life. He was incredible! Then, of course, we weren’t allowed to just watch. We are never allowed to just watch. Soon, Fatou, my teacher friend from the last post, was dragging us down into the front and center with all of the sassy teens. It was obvious that we were about to dance, and we had absolutely no choice about it. You know what, though? When I’m dancing with friends like Fatou, I love it! Also, seeing all of the teachers dancing was priceless. They are good! But, am I really that surprised?
So, we danced and 5 dalasi bills were flying all over. The more you paid, the crazier it got. Soon, the Zumba was bringing out one of the large mortar and pestles that are used to pound coos. He proceeded to lay underneath it while people took turns pounding leaves! Talk about a whole new level of ab exercise.
Although, I can’t load the video as proof, Caitlin and I took a turn at it as well. The performance didn’t end there, however. Next, he was taking razors and eating them! The girls just lost it at that point. “HOW IS HE DOING THAT?!”
Eventually, night time came and everything began to wrap up. You know what that means? Yet another…PHOTO SHOOT!
The whole experience was a blast. I am thankful for these moments that take me out of my comfort zone and into a culture that seems so familiar and yet still so new. I am also so thankful to be able to share these experiences with a new site-mate and friend! I swear, every day is something new and interesting.