15 July 2007

Growing up in Dakar Part II

These are just a few pics of my childhood.

Budding Little Thing

The woman in red is my mum. The little girl running on the beach is my older sister. And the beachbabe in the woman's tummy, well, that's me. I must be about 5 months.

Some early morning in the 70s. Just popped out. This is the clinic room and the woman in yellow is my mum. She's got her Ugly Betty frames on, as you can see. I dig the color yellow already! The box on the side table was probably a gift from visitors. I know what it is just by looking at it. It's filled with petits-fours from the Marquise cake shop, my favourite French patisserie in Dakar. My mum had a mammary infection when I was born and when she tried to breast feed me I could only draw blood (already the little vampire!) I guess that's why I'm crying. I want cake.

Early Childhood

This shot was probably taken at Tahiti beach. The topless little girl on the far right is me, probably eating a frozen yogurt. I know I'm 4 in this picture because my baby brother has now taken my place in the woman in red's tummy. The toubab on the far left is my uncle.

Here's me getting my hair in rastas by the maid Marie-Helene. She's lovely and smells like the oil she uses to moisturise her hair. I'm actually in France here. As a toddler, I was sent to France to live with my grandma for 2 years. Something about my health not being very good. I had colics and wanted to play during the night (you little vampire you!) When I was in France the only black person I knew was my beloved Marie-Helene. My grandma said that when we returned to Senegal, I called every stranger Marie-Helene. Funny me. When I finally saw my mum at 3, I didn't know who the hell she was. Apparently that was stressful for her.


Dakar. Kindy visit. My dad orchestrated this shot so he could send it to my grandmother. I asked him to take a shot of me with my friends. All the guys in the photos were my buddies so I'm beaming (far right). The teacher was nice: she didn't hit. No one forced me to use my right hand. It was all good.

I remember this. My dad insisted on taking a shot of the other kids. The two toubab girls sitting on my left were very catty towards me and they never played with me because I looked Asian. The girl with the strapless dress is espcially catty. Anyway, I didn't want them in the photo. To punish them. But my dad didn't listen and insisted on this photo with me in the center. It's obvious from the murderous gaze that I'm sending in his direction that I'm not impressed. I'm clutching at my shirt from sheer frustration while the two evil princesses are lapping it up.

School in Dakar

Grade One, Institution Notre Dame. This is my school in Dakar. It spans grade 1 to 12. My class, as you can see from this school photo is huge. There are actually in the vicinity of 50 students. The smart kids get to sit in the front and the trouble makers are relegated to the back seats. This system privileges wealthy families because some kids who come from nearby villages don't have sufficient breakfast nor enough sleep to be able to concentrate and the more they are sent to the back, the more their confidence dwindles while they don't get enough support and attention from the teacher to improve. This ingenious school is run by nuns. But the nuns are kinder. Lay teachers hit and humiliate students so that their self-esteem gets a 'big boost' from a very young age. Once, a girl wet herself and was publically mocked in the class. We were strictly asked to laugh at her while she was made to stand in her wet clothes in a bucket. It was weird.
I'm one of the few (and only asian) in the class. I'm in the front row wearing a white cardigan and sporting ugly mocassins. Contrary to the other years where the fear of punishment and humiliation motivate me to excel, I'm not top of my class during grade one, because I can't see the blackboard (this was remedied in the next year when I began wearing glasses). In the end of year rewards ceremony, I receive a "Little Miss something" book as a prize for coming fifth in my class. My mum is not happy and tells me that I should have come first. I remember looking down at my ugly mocassins and feeling that I don't deserve the "Little Miss something" book. Reading the book at home only depresses me.

Also See:
Growing Up in Dakar Part III
Growing Up in Dakar


Mariana said...

I also went to this school, but it was a bit traumatic for me. I thought the nuns to be a bit scary.

What years did you attend? I was there from 1980-181.

(i thought it was a girl only school, but maybe i remember wrong)

Laura said...

Hi Mariana,

So nice to hear from someone with a similar experience. :)
I was being sarcastic when I wrote that it was an "ingenious" school.

The nuns who taught me (Soeur Paul Marie and Soeur Marie Renee) were not too bad compared to lay teachers but maybe it was because I always had good grades??

I was at Notre Dame during 1980 - 1983 (12eme jusqu'a la 9eme). My Grade 1 teacher used to hit kids with a steel rod!!

I was also in an all girls class. But I *think* in the high school section of Notre Dame (6eme - terminal) there may have been boys. I never attended high school there so I can't remember.

Mariana said...

What a coincidence. We were there at the same time. I was only for a year, in 1980-81. I had a nasty nun for a teacher, she also used to hit us. This one time i vomited in class and she wanted to humiliate me by making me clean the floor, and I said no so she punished me. Of course I tried to run away...lol.

How old are you? I'm 36. Maybe we went to the same classes. I don't remember the teachers's names but I had a couple of friends there.