Before Megan Fettig joined Dragons as an administrator, she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in a small rural community in southern Senegal from 2000-2002. Here’s a series of black and white photographs she took while living in the community that, over the past 14 years, has welcomed, taught, and cared for over a hundred Dragons students. Her artist’s statement is included with the gallery.
This series of work has been exhibited at the Alliance Frances in Accra, Ghana, the National Museum of Ghana in Accra, Ghana, and PII Gallery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. One of the photos in the series was awarded a second place prize in a juried exhibition at the University of Alaska. Please enjoy this digital version of her gallery!
Manthiankani: A Photographic Tale of Life in a Senegalese Village
Photos & words by Megan E. Fettig
The roosters crow, there is a consistent pounding of mortar against pestle as the women prepare the morning meal. My neighbors awaken, a baby wails, the men chat across the way in the Chief’s compound. A hot and unforgiving sun creeps above the proud palm trees on the eastern horizon and I rise from my spot of slumber under a growing mango tree. I wander out into the day, to greet each member of my family; my host mother, father, my grandma, my dad’s second wife, my teen-aged brother. My two year old sister spots me and runs in my direction on wobbly legs grinning to greet me as she jumps into my open arms. I greet the Chief and the women whose pounding stirred me out of sleep and then the children who somehow over the weeks turned into months turned into years, became mine. And I decide that the sun is just right, that my adopted family looks so perfectly beautiful in this rising light, that I must hold my clunky old Olympus passed down to me from my own father in a far away land. I hear the familiar click as each frame of film is exposed and the story of my relationship with Senegal unwinds. A story of connection, of beauty, and of how strangers took me into their homes and their hearts, how I became theirs and they, mine.
This is a story that was born of a dream. A tale of my experience living, crying, sweating, laughing, and growing in a small village called Mancankani (pronounced maan-chan-kan-ee) in the southern region of Senegal, West Africa where I spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
I arrived in Senegal in April of 2000 after having spent a decade yearning to experience life in an African village. I longed to witness something pure, some quintessential elemental way of living that I had not experienced among the materialistic tendencies and the spiritual inadequacies of life in America. I wanted to walk barefoot, to feel deeply connected with people, the cycles of the moon, and the nuances of each season. I wanted to live the naive and romantic ideal of an African life. I wanted to move to the rhythms of an African drum, carry babies on my back, dance in the first falling drops of the rainy season.
Little did I know that I would indeed experience all those things and more. I neglected to imagine the frustration of trying to communicate with people of a different language and culture. My daydreams didn’t include feelings of intense isolation nor the hours and hours of anguished boredom with sweat running rivers down my stomach. Slowly, towards the end of two years, the frustrations eased, the isolation somehow transformed into connection, my expressions learned to lean towards laughter. The strangers I lived amongst evolved into neighbors, friends, and family. Their lives revealed wealth to me, perhaps not the type of wealth we try to cultivate in the West; this wealth is more subtle, it dwells closer to the earth, it’s gem is the sparkle of an African sky on any given night, it’s heart is in family, in simply living close to each other.
My hope is that these photographs build a bridge from one human family to another. View them and set aside the traditional misconceptions of Africa; the idea that only poverty, illness and war stricken lives reside there. Experience the mornings when I picked up my camera as the sun rose over the distant palm trees, now two decades ago. See beauty in the face of simplicity so you can know a people who possess the traits of easy laughter, immense hospitality, and an openness to inviting a stranger into their home and calling her their daughter.
In 2005, Megan Fettig co-created and guided Dragons first program on the African continent bringing students to her Peace Corps village in Senegal. The holistic, community centered, and off-the-beaten-path style of Dragons programs captured Megan’s heart and in the past dozen years, she has continued her involvement with Dragons in several capacities including Instructor, West Africa Program Director, Marketing Director, and most recently, Co-Director of Adult Programs.