ShowsBefore You GoBulletin BoardContactAboutSearch
Show and Features |
Culture Watch | Question of the Week | Letters of the Week |
Traveler's Aid | Library | Host's View

The Drums of Senegal

Laura Jackson lives in New York City where she studies African drumming. She sent us this postcard from Senegal, West Africa, where she recently spent two weeks on an African drumming and dance tour.

The Drums of Senegal
by Laura Jackson

Real Audio Listen with RealAudio          help Need audio help?

Dear Rudy,

What you're hearing is my drum teacher, Samba, leading one of our daily drum lessons.

One day after class, Samba invited me and a fellow student to visit his village. We arrived flushed from the heat and coated with dust and sand from the road. We were escorted to his family compound. It was a square concrete structure surrounding a sandy, open-air courtyard where the cooking and washing and living all take place. In the far corner was the goat pen.

Samba invited us to relax on his mother's bed, a cloth-covered piece of foam on the floor. In broken English and pointing at his watch, Samba informed us that he was leaving and would be back at five. I felt a shock wave hit me. Here we were, two Americans, in an African village whose name I still can't pronounce, surrounded by strangers, tormented by flies and unable to speak either French or Wolof, the indigenous language.

Five o'clock came. No Samba. Six...no Samba. Seven...still no Samba. I slipped out of the compound onto the sandy village street hoping to find him. Instead, I found the children, dozens of them, local kids as curious about me as I was about them. I told them I was Ramatoulaye...the Senegalese name I had been given by one of Samba's drummers.

"No tu do?" I asked the children in Wolof. "What is your name?"

I heard Lamine, Nege, Fatou, Babacar, Maimouna and eventually a little six-year old girl said "Ramatoulaye" and the thrill of meeting another Ramatoulaye seized me. I jumped for joy and all the children jumped with me. I jumped and clapped and the children jumped and clapped and before I knew it, I was the Pied Piper clapping and leaping barefoot down the sandy streets with all the village children following in rhythm. Then I turned around, held up three fingers and silenced them. They waited for me to speak, nearly a hundred children. I said a name. They shouted it back. I said another name. Again, they shouted it back. And then a third. I said the three names in succession and they repeated in succession until we were chanting and clapping and jumping with pure joy.

The frenzy went on and on and just as I, Ramatoulaye, or Laura, or whoever I was, thought, "What next?" a hand grabbed my arm. It was Samba's brother, Gora. Samba had returned. It was time to go back.

All I can say is "Thank you, Samba, for being so late." It allowed me to see, up close, the magic that can be sparked in the hearts of the children of your village by something as simple as a name.

From Senegal, Rudy, this is Laura Jackson.


American Public Media
American Public Media Home | Search | How to Listen
©2004 American Public Media |
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy