Soaking in the Beat of Senegal

Blog Entry – May 28, 2008

Na nga def? That means, “How’s it going?” in Wolof, a main language spoken in Senegal, where I just spent two weeks. It was probably the most amazing, surreal, and intense two weeks of my life, and it is hard to believe it is over. We stayed with a very famous Senegalese drummer named Thione Diop (pronounced “Chown Jyop”) in his house, just minutes away from the Atlantic Ocean. Thione and all his friends and family are the nicest, warmest people, making us feel very safe and welcome while fully immersing us into their culture.

We did a lot of intense drumming and dancing lessons, working with Thione and his friends, who are also famous performers in Senegal. While the drumming lessons were great (each of us had our own new djembes [traditional African drums] to practice with) and the dancing was fantastic (I had never seen dancers with such incredible moves and energy), many of my favorite memories came from the really simple moments when I truly felt present in another country: watching local boys practice wrestling on the beach…taking rides in these colorfully painted, rickety, sketchy buses called “Supers” (a back wheel fell off one as were driving to a concert in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night), eating the delicious food, and watching the sunset and moon rise and become full.

Cameron Hostetter drummingSenegal is a really beautiful place with a charm and magic all its own, and it was ceaselessly interesting to observe the people of Dakar go about their day-to-day interactions. While they maintain aspects of traditional culture, they have also let in a lot of influence from modern Western culture, creating a shifting and unpredictable struggle for cultural identity. I saw factory workers walking down roads alongside a man in a horsedrawn carriage. I saw beautiful women dressed in bright, full-length African outfits with matching head scarves walking next to beautiful women dressed like they were about to step into a nightclub in New York City. I saw goats standing on parked cars. And while there were great new paved roads and public transit and banks and hospitals, there was also extreme poverty and trash everywhere and suffocating air pollution…

I am most thankful that I was able to become a sponge, soaking in all the culture and the sights and sounds and smells and tastes. I gained new perspectives on my own life by interacting in theirs. For example, I was living with a much more relaxed sense of time, which lowers stress and allows for more spontaneity. Also, the way we were treated to feel so honored and welcome as their guests opened my eyes to how important the relationship between guests and hosts is in building strong communities.

So many amazing things happened there, and what I have written here is just a glimpse at what turned out to be the most incredible two-week journey I could have ever hoped for. I honestly cannot imagine having a better freshman year.

Cameron Hostetter, a sophomore from Fullerton, Calif., wrapped up his first year at Evergreen in Senegal with faculty member Terry Setter and 10 other students from Setter’s program, Awakening the Dreamer, Pursuing the Dream, co-taught with faculty member Cynthia Kennedy. The group stayed in an oceanfront village on the outskirts of Dakar, where they studied with Thione Diop, a master Senegalese drummer. Diop, who hails from a family of griots, the bards of West Africa, leads the high-energy drum ensemble Yeke Yeke, and frequently performs and teaches in the Puget Sound area.

Hostetter is back at Evergreen this fall, in Bob Leverich and Peter Impara’s Green Studio program, focusing on sustainable design and sustainable communities.

Photo of Cameron Hostetter by: Katherine B. Turner, photography intern