Journalism in Senegal by Harry Bradwell
Harry Bradwell, from Surrey in England, has now been in St Louis for two months. He's living on the Island and working at Radio Fréquence Teranga, one of two radio stations that currently offer journalism placements to our volunteers. Here he tells us a bit about what he gets up to from day to day...
"I started my journalism placement here in St Louis on Tuesday 10th January, which isn't very important at all, however, what is important is that it was the eve of Tabaski - an important celebration in Senegal where each family sacrifices a sheep. So within minutes of being left at the radio station, wondering what was to become of me for the next four months, I had a Dictaphone thrust into my hand and was being piled into a taxi with Malal, my supervisor and the only permanent journalist at FM Teranga and Lamine, sole technician and master of the mixing board. I would soon come to realize that Malal and Lamine, between them make the world go round!
Our destination was the giant temporary pre-Tabaski sheep market of St Louis to record interviews with the buyers, all of whom want to be seen to buy the biggest and best sheep (though they don't tell people that they sold their one bed to afford it), interviews with the sellers, who make their year's income in that one week of price-hikes, and even interviews with the sheep, blissfully unaware that within 24 hours they and all their brothers and sisters and cousins will be in a giant bowl on a comfortable bed of rice. Naturally, we made the journey back to the station with a sheep kicking about in the boot of the taxi, having been bought during a transaction that was my first journalistic recording.
Since that truly bizarre first day, eight weeks have passed and I've written and recorded 40-odd bulletins of international news, broadcast about four times a day; needless to say, the St Louisiane population is getting quite sick of the voice of that incomprehensible English person. In fact, any international news I talk about seems to want to come and hunt me down here and become national news:
I talk about the spread of bird flu in the world, bird flu comes to West Africa, I talk about the protests against the cartoons of Mohamed, a protest march starts outside my window at work, marches past my house and ends up at the French Consulate where the person addressing the rally to denounce the cartoons is none other than my boss, owner of FM Teranga and national celebrity, Golbert! Whenever I tell anyone I work at Teranga, it's invariably the same reaction, "Ah, avec Golbert!," quite often followed by "Il parle trop"; which is not all that inaccurate as his voice does seem to be heard on air 24 hours a day regardless of who is supposedly presenting a particular slot and somehow despite the fact that he spends all day sitting at the roadside outside the station, holding court in flat-cap, oversized sunglasses and a jacket draped over his shoulders.
My right bicep has had quite a workout at all the press conferences where I've been holding out a Dictaphone at arm's length, jostling for position with the other journalists, mine the only little white hand among the mass below the chin of whoever's speaking. In fact the exercise is really rather thorough here as every statement read out and every Q&A session is recorded in French, which is fine as I can listen to what's being said and take my mind off the fact that the lactic acid build-up in my muscles is causing the Dictaphone to wobble all over the place bashing into everyone else's, what's slightly more tiring is when the whole business has to be repeated every time in Wolof and it's just plain ridiculous when someone suggests Pulaar or Serrer just for good measure!
Still, I can't complain; Teranga, one of the few words of Wolof I can translate, means hospitality and welcome, and that's certainly what I've found here. At the station, I'm one of the family [which is why my Senegalese name, Assane Gaye Badiane Sidibaye Diagne, now has four surnames!] and every time the crowd of St Louis journalists flock to a speech or a press conference, the same friendly faces greet me, the token Toubab among their ranks.
I've no idea what other strange things will happen over the next two months, but I do know that when I leave I'll be pretty sad to go and I'll have had the best work experience anyone could ask for, but forget "work experience", I'll have had a better "Senegalese experience" than I could ever have dreamed of.