The contents of this Web site are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Pulaar Movie Nights

I got a free 8-inch tablet during staging (Nexus tablets, 1000 of them, were donated by Google to the National Peace Corps Association, and my training group was one of the lucky ones that received them).  I finally found a use for it when a fellow PCV announced that she figured out how to put movies on it.  Since the tablet was free, I won’t be devastated if Senegal kills it like it kills most electronics.  Since it has an incredible battery life (around 10 hours) we can bring it out most nights, put it on an upturned 5-gallon water jug, and let the whole neighborhood gather around. So far, watching movies has been one of my favorite things I’ve done here. 

My family has an endless attention span (after all, most of their days are spent sitting staring into empty space – when they actually have a screen to stare at, they are enthralled).  They’re curious, asking questions of me or of each other when they don’t understand something.  I think that movie nights have taught my family about American culture, but they’ve also taught me a lot.  By seeing how everyone reacts to the movies, I can see ways that they and I are the same – or ways that we’re different. 

Here are movies watched, in order, with my family’s impressions and comments about each one.  Maybe y’all will find this as interesting as I do.

Planet Earth – entire series.  I decided to start with this because since it’s a high-quality nature documentary, language is unnecessary, only an appreciation for cute critters.  No one knew what to think of a kangaroo.
 “Is it a rabbit or a horse?” asked my brother Oussaman.
 “Umm…Kangaroo,” I responded. 
Kangado?!” (crazy person?!), he asked. 
“I think it’s a rabbit,” offered my other brother.
“Yes.  It is a rabbit,” Oussaman agreed.
Most other animals were determined to be some variation of rowandu ledde, dog of the forest (wolf, fox, dingo, coyote, jackal) puccu ledde, horse of the forest (antelope, zebra, deer, moose, buffalo) or lingu, fish (shark, seal, dolphin, whale, jellyfish, stingray).  I thought my family was really into Planet Earth, because everyone was attentive and engaged, but after we started watching other things I found they loved everything else even more.

How to Train Your Dragon – They didn’t believe me that Hiccup was a teenager, and instead believed that he was a small child, so the little unfolding romance was confusing.  Everyone wanted him to kill the dragon for the first half of the movie, but by the end agreed that riding on it would be a lot of fun.  I tried to make the point that if you’re nice to animals they’re nice to you, and that’s why I don’t hit my dog, but that message continues to fall on deaf ears.

Lion King – The songs were very popular, and everyone was hushed and sad when Mufasa died.  Favorite moment: during the animated song-and-dance sequence that is “I Just Can’t Wait to be King,” a neighbor turned to my sister and asked, “Is this real?”  My sister said, “I don’t know…ask Kadiatou.”  After the neighbor asked me and I said it wasn’t, she said, “I didn’t think it was real.  Animals can’t sing.”  Then she scoffed and walked away.

Titanic – Jack is a universal studmuffin.  The guy hitting the propeller as he falls off the boat at the end is universally funny to preteen boys.  Rose throwing the necklace overboard at the end instead of selling it is universally confusing. The naked painting scene, which I was sort of concerned about, was not awkward at all, possibly because everyone here sees dozens of boobs a day.  Everyone’s favorite scene was the 3rd-class party, with the fiddle music and the dancing.  Since showing this, kids in my compound have screamed, “Jack! Jack!” “Rose!  Rose!” to each other while one is hiding, as a sort of Marco Polo game, which I think is hilarious.   Most teen and adult women said this was their favorite movie.

Human Planet - Deserts – This was weird.  Everything in the show was familiar to me and my family – mud huts, drawing water from wells with a pulley, herding cows – but the narrator was far too serious, making it sound like all the people profiled were suffering for having the lifestyle they did.  I was happy they couldn’t understand the narrator and slightly embarrassed by what he was saying.  Life can be hard here, but it’s not nearly as hard as the show made it look (at least not here). 

Up – Everyone thought that Kevin the bird was hilarious, and I had to replay the scene where Russell climbs up Mr. Fredrickson’s face four times because it was so funny.  When people asked me if American dogs could really fly planes, I said yes (of course).  Most younger kids said this was their favorite movie.

Aladdin – This one completely failed.  Everyone hated it.  Usually, we watch movies over two days, since I feel bad keeping kids up past 9pm on a ‘school night’ (even though few kids in my village actually go to school).  I usually have to insist that it’s time for bed while everyone whines that they want to watch more.  With Aladdin, it was the kids’ idea to turn it off.  No one thought the genie was funny at all, and I couldn’t explain any of his jokes, since they feed so heavily from American pop culture.  I wasn't able to explain the concept of a wish-granting genie, either. They said that Jafar looked like Scar from the Lion King, which I found incredibly perceptive.  The best part of Aladdin was during the magic carpet ride, when a kid said, “Jack! I’m flying!” in a perfect Kate Winslet Titanic impression.

Selena – Also a very popular choice.  They thought Selena was beautiful, both as a child and a young woman, and they loved the song “Como la Fleur.”  In the couple days after showing this there was a marked increase in preteen girl dancing and singing around the compound.  Every girl between the ages of 8 and 15 said this was their favorite movie, which I’m really happy about, since that means they’ll probably be into musicals, and I am too.

Jurrasic Park- I hadn’t watched this in years and barely remembered it, so I didn’t know what I was getting into.  The beginning of the movie was very slow, focusing more on conversations than on dinosaur attacks, and the copy of the film I had was missing an audio track for some reason, so I wasn’t able to explain what was going on.  Although people were bored by the movie at first, once I told them the dinosaurs were going to “start snacking on people”, everyone wanted to wait for that and would not let me turn it off, so we watched this until 11pm.  Luckily (unluckily?) the next day was a teacher strike so no one had anything to get up early for.  A neighbor kid who’s around 5 got too scared during the T. rex rampage and started crying, and his mom and sister yelled at him to be quiet and made him walk home in the dark alone because they didn’t want to stop watching it.  Finally, by the end of the movie, I had them using the word “dinosaur,” but the first few times they saw dinosaurs, they insisted that the plant-eaters were niiwa ledde, elephants of the forest, and the carnivores were donkonteri mawndi, big lizards.  I said many times that it was only a movie and that though dinosaurs used to live everywhere (even in Senegal) all of them are dead now, but then I kept overhearing them comment to each other that animals in America were very bad and they didn’t want to go there.  More dinosaur films are necessary, I’d say.  Most males over the age of 8 said this was their favorite movie.


  1. What a great idea this is. There are many possibilities for your device. When I was. PCV we put on movies for the village but we didn't get the great feedback that you are achieving.

  2. Ha, this is amazing! I'm glad they don't share American contempt for foreign movies.