-The Talibes, no! It’s bad, real bad!
-How can parents send their children away like that? Is it because they have too many children, they don’t have the means to take care of all of them?
-Yes that’s right…
-And the Marabout gets everything?
-Everything! Have you seen the Talibes walking in the street? Their clothes are ripped, they don’t even have any shoes!
Here in Dakar if you buy clothes for a Talibe, they will take off these clothes and will sell them so they can get a bit of money. If they would keep these clothes, they know that upon their return to the ‘Daara’, the Marabout will take their new clothes and give it to his own children. So they prefer to sell them and thus keep the money. With the money they buy themselves food which they eat quickly before returning in the evening….
-But that’s crazy! That’s just so crazy! …. Do Senegalese support this…religious system?
-No. Most Senegalese don’t, but nobody does anything. You know, the Marabout have a lot of power. They are everywhere, they are a big part of politics. And this is religion we are talking about. Even if it is bad religion, it is still religion.
-Ah I see… Have you ever been to a Daara?
-Today… I saw…. It was such a small room. They told me that there are 50 of them sleeping in there. I still can’t believe it! How can 50..!? If one of them gets sick, everybody else catches the sickness as well. And there were so many flies…
-We treated their wounds, did a few band aids, we even talked to the four Marabout. Samba told me these Marabout are good men. I had this burning question upon my tongue (Are these Marabout like all others? Do they take all the money from the Talibes?), but I knew I couldn’t ask in front of them and when we left…. It was so hot, the burning sun and the tiredness filling my body made me forget.
-What do the Talibe do when they get older? How can they ever get a job? They can’t speak, they can’t read French…
-Exactly! Well most of them become Marabout as well; they create their own Daara…
-It’s like a vicious cycle!
-Yes, a vicious cycle it is…
Who are the Talibes?
A Talibe’s day is filled with begging in the street and learning verses from the Koran. Every Talibe lives in a Daara (housing/shelter) and belongs to one or several Marabout, who is their teacher and guardian until they are twenty years old.
In Senegal, there are thousands and thousands of Daara. Many families living in the villages send their children to bigger cities to become Talibes, seeing it as a good opportunity for their children to gain religious understanding. Additionally, many parents don’t have enough means to sustain all of their children.
Some are as young as two, three years old. The youngest I saw was four years old. Most of them never see their families again; from the day they become a Talibe, they are under the supervision of a Marabout. It is he who teaches them religious verses from the Koran and sends them out to beg in the streets to learn ‘humility’. The money a Talibe collects, goes into the hands of the Marabout- it is he who provides them with food and shelter. Most Talibes however, are not treated well; clothes, food, sleep, health and moral support is not properly taken care of.
If you live in Senegal, you know the Talibe. Every day, you cross them in the streets. It is only when you go into a Daara however, that you truly realize in what conditions these children are living.
Today was overwhelming:
Beads of sweat upon our skin, flies are everywhere and… it is so hard to keep a straight face when you walk into the slums. I didn’t want these people to read my face, I didn’t want them to see the feelings that were running inside me.
The slums are nothing compared to the ghetto I live in.
In the ghetto people don’t live in sheds built from a few thin metal sheets.
The Daara I visited is surrounded by a slum; these people live next to a huge rubbish heap and the airport itself and….
I am so lucky.
I am so lucky in this world.
It is so easy for me. I spend a few hours there, I talk to people, I try to understand their lives… But then, I can just walk away. And the thing that hurts me the most is that they can’t.
There are so many people living there. If I try to change something there, there will always be more and more people.
My friend Samba is helping the Talibes. I admire him and his team, because what must be really hard is walking in there and choosing only a group of children to help, all the time knowing that there are so many others as well!
I felt many things: tiredness, shock, uncertainty, but most of all I felt so powerless…
I wonder in what situation the Talibes will be in years to come?
I don’t think one can remove this system, but I have heard of organizations creating buildings for these children, teaching them math and French as well as the Koran, places where they can play and where they can eat well.
I hope that is the direction not only the Marabouts but also we as a society, will thrive to support.
Image courtesy: yveslebelge.skynetblogs.be