Our Wolof Research team is on to the third target city in our sociolinguistic research regarding Scripture needs in Wolof.

This city holds a special place in my heart because it was here that I lived for six weeks back in late 2014; it’s where a Muslim Wolof family took me in as one of their own and showed me a kind of hospitality that I’d never experienced; it’s where I was given the West African name that I’ve held onto as I’ve continued moving around; in many ways, it’s where I turned a corner in the ongoing cultural adjustment and started finding my place in this country. So returning here for the research brings me quite a wave of nostalgia.

Having done the research assistant training and supervised the field research in two other cities now, Bagne, Eva, and I are feeling more and more experienced and prepared for whatever new challenges await us in City #3.

In particular, we’re still riding the wave from the great group of research assistants with whom we worked down in City #2! The photo below was taken when we wrapped up there earlier this month. We held a mini celebration after the needed interviews had been successfully completed and they received their training diplomas.

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City #3, you’re next!

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Here I am leading a training session with the local research assistant recruits on the vision of SIL and the Wolof Research Project’s goals.

Above: Back by popular demand, Bagne and I once again perform the improv skit in Wolof, demonstrating how not to conduct an interview.

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Eva and I simulate the comprehension part of the research questionnaire, where the surveyor plays an audio recording of a passage from the Wolof translation of Exodus for the interviewee, followed by questions designed to test the comprehension of the Wolof used.

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One of my favorite places to be in this country: under a neem tree in bloom! As a small group of surveyor candidates practice using the questionnaire in pairs, I observe and take notes evaluating their performance. We had to evaluate the candidates throughout the training since we wouldn’t be able to hire all of them for the field research.

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Closing a day of training in prayer

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My teammates and I with the surveyor candidates at the conclusion of the three-day training

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Once the days of research were underway, we met with the surveyors each morning to go over the positive and negative experiences they had during the previous day’s interviews with the city’s Wolof-speakers. Together we found solutions to the problems encountered, encouraged each other, and made sure we were on target to reach the quota of interviews needed for this city. Above, Eva leads a morning session on the previous day’s highs and lows.

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After sending our research assistants back out into the field each morning, Bagne, Eva, and I would hit the growing pile of data, spending the rest of the day entering the data they’d collected.

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At the conclusion of the three days of field research, we met with the surveyors to collect their last batch of interview sheets and crunch the numbers to find out if the 224 needed interviews had been completed.

Our Wolof Research team has arrived in City #2.

Above, views from the apartment near the center of the city where Bagne, Eva, and I are staying for our 13-day research trip.

Each city in which we conduct research presents a unique context with its own challenges and treasures. City #1 happened to be where my teammates and I all live. City #2, on the other hand, is much less known territory. Situated in the south, this research location required our team to make a 13-hour road trip to get there.

I think it could also safely be said that this is the most linguistically diverse city in this West African country. We are all curious to see what kind of data we can collect here; 30 years ago, the Wolof language would have hardly ever been heard down here. And even ten years ago, many of the city’s dwellers would have refused to respond to a Wolof-speaker, because of resentment toward a certain political and cultural domination that the language represents.

However Wolofization (the spread of the Wolof language beyond the Wolof ethnic group/ geographic heartland) has reached even here to City #2. Wolof has at least risen to a level of equal importance with the city’s two other main trade languages.

In City #2 we’ve also found a treasure-trove of young church members who are dynamic, intelligent, and eager to learn new skills — especially skills that can serve the local church. We spent three days last week training 20 of them as candidates for our research assistants. 15 of them have been selected to conduct the same research done in City #1 here in their city.

And finally, an added bonus during the surveyor training was the brief but rich time of worship at the start each morning. You can get a taste of the fire of the young, multilingual church in City #2 by clicking here and using this password: tilene1. That one is in Wolof, and here is one in French; use this password: tilene2.

For the first time since arriving in West Africa a couple years ago, I’ve attempted to observe and share a Christian holiday with the Muslims among whom I live. At other holidays in the past, I’ve taken vacation time or was traveling. This year for Easter, I was with the Manganes and wanted to share the holiday with them — both in return for the Muslim holidays and feasting they’ve shared with me, and to have an opportunity to explain the meaning of this holiday for my faith.

There’s a typical Easter dish called ngallax that Catholics and Protestants here make and share with their neighbors. However I wasn’t feeling up to the challenge of making myself this West African dish that I’ve never helped prepare.

So, though not necessarily a typical Easter dish in the US (or anywhere else), chocolate chip cookies seemed like a feat I could manage.

And manage I did — with the indispensable help of four of my family members!

They had never made cookies before (most people here don’t have ovens and even those who do don’t necessarily bake a lot). It was a fun discovery for them. They ended up taking over and practically kicking me out of the process!

We then split up the cookies in single-serving bags, enough for all the extended family members who live in the neighborhood as well as a few other neighbors, for me to pass out. I went to the houses individually, saying in Wolof to my family members and neighbors, “It’s the Easter holiday and I wanted to share it with you.” They received the cookies with smiles, words of appreciation for the gesture, and thanks.

My observance of Easter, though small, gave me several opportunities with the Manganes to explain that we mark the three days because Jesus died on the Friday (making this a very sad day because it was because of our sins that He had to die) and then He rose again on the Sunday (making this a very joyous day).

As we baked cookies and as I passed out the bags, I was thinking of a Wolof song I learned last year. It’s a song celebrating Jesus’s resurrection and the glory of His victory over death through the cross. This song and its words, especially in the Wolof ethnic group context where over 99% of people don’t yet live in this hope, gives me fresh appreciation of this weekend’s observance of Easter. (For the audio of the song, click here and use this password: dekki1):

Bàmmeelam amul dara! Néew ba nekkatu fa.
Yeesu, Yeesu Boroom bi dekki na.
Moo daan dee. Moo daan dee.
Yeesu Krist rekk, moo daan dee!
Yeesu mooy seen yaakaar. Waratuleen ragal dee.
Yeesu dekki na. Man na la dekkil.
Moo la may dund. Moo la may dund.
Yeesu mooy maye dund ba fàww!
Yeesu mooy seen yaakaar. Ngir seen waa kër yépp.
Yeesu dekki na. Man na la dekkil.
Moo la may dund. Moo la may dund.
Yeesu mooy maye dund ba fàww!

(“His tomb is empty! The body is no longer there.
Jesus, Jesus the Lord rose from the dead.
He is the one who defeated death. He is the one who defeated death.
Jesus Christ alone, He is the one who defeated death!
Jesus is your hope. You no longer need to fear death.
Jesus rose from the dead. He can raise you from the dead.
He is the one who gives you life. He is the one who gives you life.
Jesus is the one who gives everlasting life.
Jesus is your hope, for your whole household.
Jesus rose from the dead. He can raise you from the dead.
He is the one who gives you life. He is the one who gives you life.
Jesus is the one who gives everlasting life!”)

And as Pastor A* reminded us in his sermon at church Easter Sunday, Jesus alone died and rose from the dead. All the other prophets have died and have stayed dead.

Jesus Christ alone, He is the one who defeated death!

Happy Easter from West Africa!

*This country is a sensitive location. To protect the identities of national Christians, I don’t include their full names.

One city down, three more to go.

Above, I present one of the research assistants with his certificate from the training my SIL Wolof Research Project team offered; and right, my teammate Eva and I with two other research assistants.

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Another assistant receives her certificate from Bagne, my team coordinator.

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The SIL Wolof Research Project team, along with our 11-member team of local assistants, at the end of the week of field research in City #1.

Last Friday, we gave the assistants their certificates from the research training they’d completed and celebrated together the end of the field research in their city. Over the week, the assistants had conducted 230 interviews with Wolof-speakers.

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And we managed to share a lot of laughs as they did so! (Above, my teammate Eva presents a certificate to one of the assistants.)

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But we’re back to work, processing City #1 data and preparing for field research in three more cities. We’re just getting started!

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We have the Wolof Research Project’s first official data in hand!

After spending weeks staring at and finalizing our research tools (above, several blank interview sheets), it’s exciting to have received this week our first batch of filled-out interview sheets. Each of these packets represents a local Wolof-speaker interviewed in City #1 by our group of 11 trained local research assistants. Their answers contain our data on the Wolof language — its comprehension, the attitudes people have towards it, its use in daily life, and its impact on religious life and spiritual experience.

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We meet with the assistants regularly throughout the week to debrief and provide them with their daily sets of interview sheets to fill out with Wolof-speakers. They are canvasing the city in such a way that the area is covered and that all the segments of our target population are covered; so each has been assigned to a zone of the city and to a religious group — Catholic, Protestant, or Muslim. We ask them what joys and challenges they encounter (my teammate Eva, above). We listen to their observations and remarks, which can further supplement the data they’re collecting.

It seems everyone has an opinion to share when it comes to the Wolof language, including our research assistants themselves. For an example of the kind of animated discussions that they have about the subject of our research, click here and use this password: assistants1.

Needless to say, we remind them of the need to stay as neutral and objective as possible while on the field collecting data!

Our stack of data to enter, process, and analyze will only grow larger from here on out. I think we’ll be going through lots of coffee before this research is over!

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The SIL Wolof Research Project has entered a new phase! After 14 months of working with my team coordinator Bagne and my teammate Eva to plan our sociolinguistic research — networking with key Wolof-speaking partners, meeting with urban church leaders, developing our research goals and questions, consulting the existing literature on wolofization and trade languages, developing our research methodology, creating our research tools (questionnaires, tests) — we are on the threshold of going out onto the field and collecting the data.

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The next step before having the data we need, though, is training those who will be collecting it for us. We’ve been recruiting among the local churches in the four cities that comprise our research scope. We started the training in City #1 with our first group of recruits last Friday.

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17 recruits showed up for the three-day research assistant training.

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On Day 1, recruits practice in pairs initiating an interview with a stranger, like they will do during the survey in their city.

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My teammate Eva looks on as a pair of recruits demonstrate how to approach an uncooperative interviewee.

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Our team’s coordinator Bagne gives background on the Wolof research project, as well as theory on interpersonal communication to prepare the recruits for conducting interviews.

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On Day 2, recruits study the research tools that Bagne, Eva, and I created for investigating the use of the Wolof language among urban-dwellers; they’ll be using them during the interviews: a comprehension test, a language attitude test, and a questionnaire on Wolof use and interest in a new translation project.

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Eva leads recruits in grading each other on their reading of the interview questions, on several criteria: clear, comprehensible, natural, and true to the written questions.

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On Day 3, Bagne and I hold a mock interview in Wolof to model for the recruits the interview from start to finish which they had just been reviewing.

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Lunch break on the third and final day of training

The research assistants are now out conducting interviews and collecting our data in City #1, so we’ll soon see how effective our training was!

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