Monday, 11 October 2010

On top of it

I interrupt the hiatus in Tanzlines posts with some exciting news: after many years, my Wolof textbook has finally been published!

As many of you know, I studied abroad in Senegal for five months in 2003. It was a very challenging experience for me, perhaps because it was my first time living in a developing country. I got sick a few times. I lost lots of weight (including my beloved sophomore-year muscles). I got tired of the merguez sandwiches at the University Gaston-Berger cafeteria. And for large stretches of time, I was frustrated by life in the North of Senegal.

Although it was hard in many ways, it was also one of the most enriching experiences I've ever had - culturally, intellectually and socially.

For the most part, the intellectual stimulation did not come from the classroom. Because our beloved UGB was frequently on strike, I spent a lot of time conducting independent research on the Muriddiyah, a large and prosperous Muslim organization unique to Senegal. The Murids belong to a strain of Sufi Islam created by a charismatic Senegalese mystic over a century ago. They are extremely powerful in Senegalese society; Murids control many top government positions and most of the country's largest companies. To better understand why, I spent many weekends and festivals in Touba, the Murids' holy city.

Murids are predominantly Wolof and their faith is often closely intertwined with Wolof culture and language. To successfully work my way in to the community's most important men, I dedicated a large chunk of time to learning the Wolof language. Fortunately, I had the benefit of studying at UGB under Professor Pape Laye Dial, one of Senegal's leading Wolof scholars and a talented instructor. Within a few months, my Wolof was in fighting shape - good enough to meet with many senior businessmen and clerics, including Serigne Saliou Mbacke, the spiritual leader of the Murid brotherhood.

Before I left, Pape Laye asked for my support in translating "Gan Gi," an instructional pamphlet that he had written to teach Wolof to French speakers. "Gan Gi" was a useful guide, but I felt that English-speaking Western readers would need something more comprehensive to learn Wolof well. I checked extensively for Wolof guides online written in English, not only online, but in specialty bookstores. The answer was always the same: there weren't any Wolof textbooks in English.

I decided to fill that gap. Using Pape Laye's instructional method (specially tailored to teaching Wolof's unusual tense and pronoun structures), I started drafting a Wolof guide for English speakers. I focused on including helpful examples, correct linguistic terminology and dialogs designed specifically for Western readers. The end result, after several months of writing in 2005, was a comprehensive 196-page language guide. But 2005 was a busy year, and I left for England before I ever got the book published.

After many years, the project is finally complete: "Maa ngiy ci kawam!" has now been published and is available for purchase online. (The title, by the way, means "I'm on top of it!") I'm pleased to say that I've already received several requests from leading US universities requesting copies for their bookstore - so it looks like it will be a success!

There were many people who have helped make this project a success. Big thanks go to Pape Laye Dial (who is responsible for both my learning the language and the impetus behind the book), to the many people who edited early versions of the manuscript (you know who you are!), to Lee Cassanelli and the folks at the African Studies Center at Penn who encouraged my work as an undergraduate, to Tanya Pai who helped work out the publishing options, and to my talented brother, Calum Green who designed the cover, typeface and inside layout. Here it is:

I realize that most of you are probably not in the market for a Wolof textbook, but please share this link with others who might be interested. Although there are free online guides and Wolof books for francophones, "Maa ngiy ci kawam!" is the only commercial-quality English language guide of its kind. I hope it will fill the gap in instructional materials that our group of study-abroad students faced seven years ago.

You can buy the book at Lulu, my publisher:

If you are an educational institution looking to purchase larger quantities, please send me a message directly.

Also please note that I am not making any profit from this initiative; all proceeds will be paid to Pape Laye Dial to support his Wolof teaching, and to 501(c)(3) organizations supporting educational work in Senegal.

Thanks for your support... ba beneen yoon!


  1. This is really awesome. Also, your name sounds really great on the front of a textbook.