Tactics of the Talibe

Trip Start Sep 01, 2006
Trip End Dec 15, 2006

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Flag of Senegal  ,
Monday, November 20, 2006

I thought I should take advantage of the "free" time that I've been given to complete my research by filling in the gaps in my travel blogs and recording some of my favorite stories/reflections/memories from Senegal. While waiting in Saint Louis for my sept-places (7-seat taxi) to fill up, I was constantly bombarded by little boys known as Talibe in tattered and torn clothing who beg for money from sunrise to sunset (and sometimes longer). I wanted to make sure that I accurately described who the Talibe are and what they do, so I found this excellent description on the United World Mission's website, and it is as follows:

"In Senegal, boys from 5 to 18 years of age are sent to live with a Koranic teacher [known as a "marabout"], who teaches them to read Arabic script and memorize the Koran, the Muslim holy book. A good student with a good teacher should be able to recite the entire Koran at the age of 15. The teachers are supported by the donations that the boys are given as they beg on the street."

Even though the author of the article refers to the money given to the talibe as "donations", I still never feel very sure about where the money is going and what it's being used for. From my understanding, these boys are put out on the street every day just to get enough money for their marabout to buy fancy clothing, eat good meals, and entertain guests in a well-furnished home. According to the marabouts, this teaches discipline, persistence, humility, and loyalty. Whether the begging is teaching them to have these characteristics or not, I still usually feel bad for the talibe boys.

The times when I don't feel sad for the talibe are when they are harassing me for money for they assume any toubab on the street must be RICH. The talibe have several different tactics that they employ daily to try to get me to give them 100 cfa (less than a quarter).

1: The Direct Approach: The talibe will run up to you on the street, in a taxi, anywhere at all, and will demand that you give them 100 cfa. "Toubab, donne-moi cent francs" translates to "Toubab, give me 100 cfa".
2: The Silent Approach: This normally takes place when I'm in a taxi with the windows rolled down (which is always), and the talibe will sneak up to the car (although quickly) and stick their hand in front of your face. They assume that you know what they have their hand there for and that you obviously have money to spare since you're in a taxi, the preferred form of transportation for tourists and toubabs.
3: When all else fails..: The talibe can get pretty aggressive and angry if you refuse to give them money when they know you have it. Sometimes the talibe follow me to the ATM at the bank, wait for me to finish getting money out, and put out their hands as soon as I walk out. No, I'm not going to give you the twenty dollar bills that I just took out of the bank. Therefore, when they realize that I'm not going to be "donating" any money to their marabout's funds, they throw small stones, they yell loudly, or sometimes they even go as far as to hit or punch.

Talibe or not, boys will be boys.
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