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Different direction leads teacher to Africa

In a country where 80 percent of the population is in agriculture, Haworth rides her scooter on a main road between towns during her visit to Guinea. The women on the left are carrying their bundles from the rice fields. Submitted Photo

BEMIDJI – When a professor of music education decided to do something different with her life, she went half-way around the world to an African nation with one goal in mind.

She was to teach the graduate music students at the Fine Arts Institute in Guinea.

What she found in this West African country, which declared its independence from France in 1958, is a people made up of 24 ethnic groups (primarily Mandinka, Fula and Susu) and languages.

The 10 million people in the Social Democratic Republic of Guinea fit within a country about the size of Oregon, the home of approximately 4 million. The Guinea infrastructure was demolished when the French left so there is no running water or electricity in the country.

“I applied for the Fulbright Scholar Program because I just needed something different,” Janice Haworth said.

“I thought that playing African drums would be different and it was. I was awarded a scholarship to teach at the Fine Arts Institute in Dubreka, a town about 35 miles from the capital of Conakry on the coast of the North Atlantic Ocean. I normally teach students how to be teachers but I did not know what I was going to teach there.”

The political situation was in turmoil when Haworth arrived and she had to wait four months until school started again. She lived in what could be loosely called a hotel and that was where her magical, musical, mystery tour began.

While waiting to begin teaching music appreciation or some such course at the institute, Haworth bought a drum, her beginning Djembe; an hour-glassed shaped drum that is classic for that part of Africa. It is a very loud and sophisticated drum with a goat skin drumming surface.

“The day after I bought my drum, I heard a knocking on my hotel room door,” said Haworth. “Your Djembe teacher is here. Moussa Sylla had been waiting since 7 a.m. at the hotel because he heard that an American woman bought a drum and needed a teacher.”

Sylla turned out to be the best friend, companion and teacher she could have wished for in her two years in Guinea, which began in the fall of 2010; a sabbatical from BSU and the Fulbright Scholarship covered the two-year span.

Haworth described Sylla’s openness and willingness to share his country, culture and best friends Abou and Aguibo as they traveled together throughout Guinea’s four distinct regions over the two-year span.

Haworth spoke about the abject poverty that the French left behind and a political system which takes from the top and leaves little to nothing for the bottom. French is the official language and is taught in school which is supposedly mandatory but the literacy rate is a mere 29 percent, including both males and females.

Haworth figured that she employed about 12 different people in various capacities during her stay in Guinea. For example, although she rode a scooter to different places, the maintenance and gas were supplied by two of her “employees,” so she never had to “gas-up.”

“I also had no kitchen,” Haworth said. “Everything was done outside except sleeping. Every morning I would send some drummers out to buy some food: hard boiled eggs and French bread. I probably fed at least eight people each morning for breakfast. Lunch I ate by myself and dinner was again with at least six to eight people.”

The young men would go to town and buy dinner and bring back rice and a sauce in a baggie for all to share. There was no furniture in the five-bedroom house that Haworth enjoyed as a faculty member. There was no table so they basically sat on the ground on their heels and ate with the plates and spoons that she provided. It was a terrible way to have to live Haworth opined.

Although an Islamic country with 85 percent of the population either Sufi or Sunni Muslims, Haworth was able to find a church home in her little town of Dubreka that was Evangelical Christian.

“The church was probably about the size of my office at BSU and crowded but I was able to find a seat on a bench in the back,” said Haworth. “A little girl came up to me and held up her arms so I picked her up and put her on my lap.”

From that time on, a little child sat on her lap every Sunday until she left her church family.

When Haworth began to take pictures of her life in Guinea, she sent them over the internet to her parents in Florida. Alvin and Betty Haworth would print them and send them back to Africa with a visiting missionary.

Haworth started to take pictures of each family group within her congregation and found a place in town to print them. She gave the pictures to the president of the church to hand-out the next Sunday.

“He was going through the pictures and there were tears running down his face,” said Haworth. “He had never seen anything like this; a picture of a family group. The reason why I am telling you this story is because of four teenage boys who each received a copy of their picture. They were blown away that you could have multiple copies of the same picture.”

On her last Sunday in Guinea, her church family gave her a dress and head covering to wear, she was called forth and the elders put their hands on her head and gave her a farewell blessing.

Haworth will be sharing her experiences in Africa with community groups and faculty in the coming months. Haworth always asked permission to take her pictures which now number in the thousands.