Meet Burkina

learning & sharing Burkina Faso


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Mes cours ce semestre

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In picture: Sidy teaching our Wolof class. In Wolof, he asked and I told him what my American dad’s name was. Turns out “Ray ma” means kill me. There are also some other interesting words on the board at this moment.

I thought I would share the classes that I’m taking this semester in Dakar. All the classes are taught in French by Senegalese professors. Most people have Friday classes but I’m lucky enough not to!

Country Analysis – 4 hours a week; M 9-11am, W 1-3pm

This class talks a lot about the history, geography, politics, and social culture in Senegal. We talk about the current events in the newspaper each class. We also write essays about our daily experiences and what we are learning.

Wolof – 8 hours a week; M 12-2pm, Tu 12-2pm; W 4-6pm; Th 9-11am

My favorite class and favorite professor! Sidy (pronounced C-D) is amazing. He is trained as a Peace Corps professor so his methodology is great. It’s impossible not to enjoy learning a language with him, no matter who you are.

French – 2 hours a week; Tu 9-11am

Half of the 12 students on our program are in this French class with me, and the other half take French on Fridays. I chose to be (and need to be) in the lower of the two levels of French. It’s nice learning French grammar in this class, but I probably learn more French just from the French instruction in all my other classes.

Education & Literacy – 3 hours a week; Tu 3-6pm

There are five tracks that students can take – this one, Public Health, Arts and Culture, Environment, and Economics and Alternative Economies. I chose the Education and Literacy track because it’s something I may be interested in for my career and I want to explore more. An even bigger reason than that is I love kids, (specifically little ones). For the second half of the semester I may want to be placed in a school, unless I can get an internship in something related to international politics or law or something.

International Development – 3 hours a week; W 9-12pm

This is my homework heaviest class. We mostly talk about different development theories and learn about the different states of development in various African countries.

Research Methods – 2 hours a week; Th 12-2pm

Waly, our coordinator here, teaches this class. He’s one of my favorite people I’ve ever met. In this class we talk about how Senegalese culture is, how our internship phase will look, and various other interesting topics. We haven’t talked too much about research methods yet but I’m sure that is coming. Waly is also in charge of placing us into an internship we’re interested in.

Learning Wolof: Am naa jëkër bu am doole, I have a husband who is strong. (An appropriate response when being hit on)

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Buses, boys, and bug bites

Don’t freak out, I’m totally fine… but I got hit by a bus this morning. Actually. I walked away with barely a scrape and it didn’t even scare me as much as it should have because I was in a state of disbelief the whole rest of the way to school. You can imagine it kind of like if one of your friends came up from behind you and gave you a hard shove, but you keep yourself from falling over by taking a few large steps. After the fact, the bus honked at me, and I interpreted the honk as meaning something like, “Oh hi, didn’t see you there. It’s just me.” And, in my defense, I wasn’t even walking in the road. I was crossing a driveway to pull into the gas station. Pedestrians don’t have as many rights here as they do in Ann Arbor. To be honest, being hit by a bus seems like the only appropriate ending to a crazy, bizarre, emotional weekend.

There are a few things that happened this weekend that I don’t feel comfortable sharing on this blog due to my broad/diverse readership, but I was definitely faced with some interesting dilemmas, especially yesterday, on Sunday. There’s a couple emotional things that happened yesterday that I can talk about, however.

To begin, I had an important, overdue, and really good conversation with my host brother. We talked about a lot of things. The conversation was prompted by my need to understand the rules about going out and what time I should return each night. Although I tried to explain that I didn’t mind having some rules, the final conclusion of the conversation was that I was an adult, free, and because I was an American, I’m not required to follow the cultural rules in Senegal. The thing is is I don’t mind following cultural guidelines. When in Rome, right? It’s interesting to live by new rules and try to understand another cultural perspective. But I guess I can still learn about the norms here and live by the ones I want to live by. I guess I’m taking the best from both worlds. I’m a lucky girl.

My brother also talked to me for a long time about the dating scene here. It was all very interesting. He told me some tips and tricks for having two girlfriends at once. He made it sound like it was not at all uncommon for guys to have multiple significant others at the same time. And, since at least one but I think two of my professors here have also talked about this, I think there’s truth behind it. Of course there are always exceptions to any generalization, and in this case I hope there are many guys who are exceptions, but it happens more here than in the U.S., I would say, and when it does people are less surprised.

Emotional in a different way was the amount of homework I had to do yesterday. I had two essays due at 9am this morning, written in French of course. Each needed to be between 2 and 4 pages typed. I worked on them just about all day. One was about religion, focusing on Christianity and Islam. The other was adopted from my blog post about what I am learning about meal time. After I finished them Yama read through them and corrected some things. He also had a lot to say about the content of the essays. I could rewrite the essay about meal time knowing what I know now from Yama, and it would be quite different. Of course, I’ll never stop learning. I could rewrite the same essay every week here on a given topic and there would always be more to add.

To give some other brief updates about this crazy weekend, some of which you might deem TMI and you may be justified…

First, I’m not constipated anymore. For about a week prior to this weekend I was having a lot of trouble, and I tried many things to fix the issue. I was drinking plenty of water, trying to eat as best as I could, and was even taking laxatives. Finally, after nothing worked, I drank some sort of home-made remedy from my friend Sadikh. I guess it wasn’t just for constipation but for regulating a healthy body in general, but it was exactly what I needed. I think it was a piece of aloe vera soaked in some water. I’ve used aloe vera topically before but never ingested it. Anyway, it was magical potion for me.

Second, I have so many bug bites. I don’t think I’ve had this much in forever, except maybe while camping as a child. They’re mostly on my legs but they’re everywhere. Admittedly I haven’t been wearing bug spray, but that’s because I never actually see whatever bugs these are that are getting me! I imagine I must be getting some while I’m asleep, but I have never seen a mosquito in my room. Some of them might be spider bites… I have seen spiders in my room. There’s one classroom at school that has a lot of mosquitos in it, but thankfully I’m only in that classroom one day a week. I guess I might start using bug spray on my legs even though I rarely see mosquitos. Somehow they still see me.

Third, today I bought a foot pumice during my lunch break! I was so excited to see one in the checkout line. I used it today after my shower and my feet are now back to an acceptable standard. (I also took another warm bucket shower, which makes my day every time.)

Lastly, I’ve been having really good conversations with several people. I’m beginning to truly know people, including specifically Yama and Haley. Haley is another American on my program, from Wisconsin. I’m so thankful for her. She’s one of the few people here that I think can know me on a deep level, largely because I can be my entire self only in the English language, and I don’t know what I would do without her. Her weird and crazy helps me get through my weird and crazy, and although some could call us unlikely friends, she’s one of the best.

Learning French: Je danse donc je suis, I dance therefore I am. (This is one African take on the more Western idea of “I think therefore I am.”)


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A Day in the Life

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In picture: My lunch today at school. The best school lunch I’ve ever had. Amazingly flavored boneless fish, French fries, brown onion sauce, a tomato slice and a piece of lettuce (quite a treat), and of course, bread. I didn’t eat that whole basket of bread, but my plate was licked clean.

Dakar, Senegal – Tuesday, February 3, 2015

7:45am  First alarm goes off.

7:54am  Second alarm; check to see if Wifi is working. If yes, quickly check Facebook and email for important messages. This morning, and yesterday, our power was out so I couldn’t.

8:02am  Get out of bed; get ready for the day. Put on pants, shirt, and sweatshirt. Mornings are chilly. Go potty, flush. Brush teeth while tank refills and flush again. I almost never can get the toilet paper down in one flush.

8:20am  Quickly eat breakfast – a baguette, a piece of cheese, and hot tea if there’s time. Take malaria pill. Today I left a little late because my mom had new mango jelly she wanted me to try, and Saliou wanted to play with me for a little bit.

8:28am  Head to school; walk quickly. Stop and have a quick chat with anyone you know, or “know” in many cases. Most days I run into my neighbor, Laye, and we hug and chat.

8:59am  Arrive to school.

9:04am  French class starts.

11:01am  French ends. We have a one hour break. Sometimes I will spend this time walking to the Toubab/white person store. It’s essentially a small grocery store. Today I finished up some homework and checked my email/Facebook instead.

11:59am  Wolof class starts. This is by far my favorite class.

2:00pm  Wolof class ends. We have another one hour break. Again, what I do varies. Some days I will buy ice cream and sit near the beach and eat it. Today I ordered and ate lunch at school with my friends. We drink ataaya (tea), after.

3:05pm  Education & Literacy class starts.

6:01pm  Done with school for the day; start walking home. Today I stopped at a fruit stand and bought clementines.

6:35pm  Arrive home; greet anyone at the house.

6:50pm  Drop bag off in room; change into comfier pants.

7:05pm  Socialize with family; test out new Wolof words; struggle with French; play with Saliou, the maid’s baby. Sometimes I go to our roof where Bas’s students are studying and work on homework. At some point the people in my house I’m hanging out with go to the mosque to pray, but I haven’t figured out exactly what time this is yet. At that point, I head to my room and do homework or go online.

8:33pm  Go downstairs to living room so I’m around when dinner is ready. Watch TV/talk if someone else is. Otherwise, write or study.

9:25pm  Eat dinner. It’s always with mama, but the other people around the table varies. My sister is often there, and two of my brothers are often there, but it’s never all of us at the same time. Always someone is out and about. Take vitamins.

9:35pm  Go upstairs; relax; write; homework; laptop; blog.

10:10pm  Shower, change clothes. Wash undergarments.

10:40pm  Walk to Yama’s house, drink ataaya; hang out with him and his friends. Sometimes I ask him for help with my homework. If I don’t go to Yama’s house I hang out with my friends from school, either at their homes or the bar.

12:20am  Yama walks me home; computer; pack my bag for school tomorrow. Fill my water bottles. I force myself to drink 2 liters, minimum, every day. Read my Bible, journal.

1:15am  Set alarm, bed time.

1:17am  Already sleeping.

Learning French: Il sent bon, He smells good. (What I want to say when many a Senegalese man passes.)


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Le temps est les gens

“Time is not money. Time is people.”

This was one of the first Senegalese phrases I heard upon arrival, from Waly, during orientation. Instantly I loved it. Over the past two weeks I’ve really been able to see the motto materialize. Every day I see a new instance of someone living out their belief that time is people.

One way that you can see this emphasis on people is through the cultural norm of greeting – every one, always. When you enter a house, yours or other, you greet everyone there. On the street, if you see someone you know, or “know”, you greet them. The exchange, once you’re fluent enough in Wolof, isn’t a simple, “Oh hi”. It’s an extended, long exchange of asking about another’s life and family. Even very young children will come and greet you, sometimes with words and always with a handshake.

My favorite part of all this greeting stuff is that if you see someone you know while walking somewhere, you stop and chat with them briefly, even if it means you’ll be a few minutes late. It’s not a big deal if you’re late to class if it was because you stopped and talked with someone. When I go places, I try to leave early so that I’m available to give people the time of day they deserve. However, even if I’m running late, c’est pas grave, I’ll stop and talk. People are the most important. Time is people.

This motto is lived out in several other ways. People are never in too much of a hurry to stop and help you, even with the smallest of things. When you leave someone’s house they’ll walk you to the door, sometimes a couple blocks, sometimes home. It’s not a safety thing, it’s cultural. If they don’t walk you out, you should think that something happened and they did not enjoy your visit. Waly also explained to us the acronym “W.A.I.T”, West African Internal Time. Have patience; just wait. People here wait very well.

You’re a person? They have time. I have time.

Learning Wolof: Question: Lu bees? Answer: Yaa bees. What’s new? You’re new. (Commonly the third or fourth line exchanged in a greeting.)


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Life today, in lists

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In picture: Me, hanging out at the neighborhood beach. I’ll be back here often.

To buy:

  • electrical converter/adapter (so far I’ve been borrowing a friend’s to charge things)
  • peanuts
  • post cards
  • 10 liter water jug
  • phone minutes

To ask:

  • what time, exactly, is each of the five daily prayers?
  • how do you spell the name of our maid? I can be told something five times, but until it’s in writing I might never remember

To do ASAP:

  • wash underwear (it’s forbidden to give your under garments to the maid for washing)
  • start 3-5 page focus paper on Senegalese cultural values
  • organize/take inventory of my cash, figure out what I’ve spent and how much I have left

Things I miss:

  • warm showers

Things I don’t miss:

  • doing laundry (the maid, every Tuesday, washes, hangs, irons and folds everything)
  • iPhone/texting all day
  • rushing
  • putting on makeup
  • the drink/smoke/bang party scene

Blog post ideas:

  • explanation of structure of Wolof language, as I understand it so far
  • a day in the life
  • my observations about the parallel but strikingly different social scenes
  • thinking critically about child labor
  • different ideas about time, Senegal vs. U.S.

New people:

  • Taylor & Andre (met them at the police station getting visas; Taylor works with an NGO, Andre was down to practice Wolof with me and incredibly sweet)
  • Noussa Gueyè
  • Mahdi (met at bar, young doctor from Tunisia)
  • Mustafa

Homework for this weekend:

  • finish newspaper article presentation preparation with Matthea
  • 1 page essay, in French, definitions of development
  • 2 page Wolof worksheet
  • 8 pages in French workbook
  • prepare country presentation – Sierra Leone, Ghana

Things I’ve learned:

  • “Dama xiff”, Wolof for “I’m hungry” isn’t something to throw around. The use of the pronoun “Dama” means whatever you’re feeling is serious. Practicing my Wolof, I casually said this on the porch. My neighbor immediately got up, and returned 20 minutes later with a (huge and delicious) sandwich. I really could have waited for dinner, and when dinner time came, there was no way I could admit to my mama that I had totally spoiled my appetite.
  • Believe it or not, I’ve lived below about a dozen goats/sheep/big-with-horns-but-I-don’t-know-what-they-are and had no idea until today. This morning I feed them with my brother Papa. They eat, among other things, cardboard box pieces soaked in water.
  • The maid’s son is named Saliou.
  • Senegalese clementines. Nothing compares.

Goals:

  • be better at living in the moment. I’ve had this really weird attitude about time lately that I can’t remember ever feeling. I am getting overwhelmed with how short my time here is. Every day I dread the end. I keep imagining it being entirely shorter than it actually is, and I stress myself out over saying goodbye when really it has just begun.
  • hold short conversation in Wolof by next week
  • find a pumice stone or something and get my feet in check
  • wake up earlier, enjoy the mornings

Learning French: le sable, sand (After the beach today it’s everywhere)


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Sharing a bowl has a whole new meaning here

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In picture:

I took this photo on Sunday at lunch time, sometime between 3:00 and 3:30pm. Two minutes before, 10 people were sitting around the table, as I mentioned in my previous blog post. Questions I didn’t even know I had were answered in class today, Tuesday. It helped me understand this photo more completely even though I hadn’t known I was missing information.

Before I talk about what I learned let me first give some context about the picture. I don’t remember what was in the pan, but it was something with rice, beef, and some sort of sauce and vegetables. With every meal we also eat a lot of bread. Each person has at least nine or so inches of a baguette. We never use utensils. This was the only day we ever have, and I haven’t figured out why we might have used spoons. The meal wasn’t more spoon requiring than any of our other meals. In fact, I found that my spoon didn’t make things easier at all – I missed using my hands. The only guess I can make is that we used spoons because there were so many people around the table and it was easier than having all our hands in the bowl at once. Lastly, when eating around a bowl like this, it’s only appropriate to eat the food just in front of you, in your part of the bowl. Even if the potato piece on the far side of the bowl looks especially appetizing you wouldn’t reach for it.

This is the view from just outside my bedroom door. I live on the second floor. Above this table, straight up – the sky. This is our open air room.

Here is the first question I had answered that I didn’t know I had:

Why, every meal, is mama ripping off pieces of meat and fish and throwing them into my section of the bowl?

I didn’t have this question because I thought I knew the answer. I figured it was because I was new to the game, and she wanted to make sure I ate the meat even if I was too timid to reach to the middle of the bowl and rip some off. I also thought that she was encouraging me to eat more meat, because admittedly I had been shy about taking it and sometimes even wary of eating too much of it. I would quietly say “Merci” and wait a little bit before until eating it because as soon as I did, I knew she would feel that she had to throw me another piece.

Today in Wolof class (my favorite class, a blog post will come eventually), the professor starting talking about meal time. He explained the role of mothers at the table. He said that during the meal, the mother is constantly surveying the bowl, making sure everybody has enough food in the part of the bowl in front of them. Sometimes, with especially good meals, my section will be cleaned out. Mama will push some more rice or noodles into my section so I can continue to eat. She’s also in charge of breaking off pieces of meat and fish for the children around the bowl, who aren’t necessarily supposed to do this for themselves. Now I understand. She is treating me like a child when she breaks off meat for me. I’m not offended. In Senegal, I am a child. I have a lot of learn yet.

In Wolof class today we also went around and told the class an embarrassing moment so far in Senegal. (I’m not sure I will share what I said on this blog. But I’m a pretty open person, so maybe.) One student said that her family told her that she says “Merci”, thank you, too much. She was thanking them for things that were simply expectations, cultural norms. (I also think that we over apologize and over thank in the U.S.) I thought about this in relation to meal time, and vowed not to say thank you every time mama passes me meat. She is simply doing her job as a good mama. I’m experiencing a lot of things at home but starving will never be one of them.

Why, every meal, do people just walk away from the table, leaving mom alone to clean up?

This is another question I thought I knew the answer to, but my answer was incomplete. Now I understand. At the end of the meal, when everyone has had their fill and left the table, mama can relax and just worry about feeding herself. Now she will eat until she is full, and while doing so, clean up the plate, organizing the leftovers into the middle and taking the rest of the meat off the bone. I’m assuming they save the leftovers but I’ve never seen what happens to the plate after it leaves the table. Sometimes after I’m full, I will stop eating but still stay at the table waiting for mama to be done too. Now I realize that it’s probably good that I leave, so I can be officially off her feeding radar.

That’s meal time! Of course, even within Dakar there are many differences between families and the way things run. But I think that many of the things in this post are generalizable to Senegalese culture. At the very least, they are my humble observations of mealtime in the Georges family.

Learning Wolof: Waxal ndànk ndànk, Speak slowly (This will become a useful phrase.)


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My first weekend au Sénégal

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In picture: Me and Yama at the zoo, visiting with our favorite animal: le lion.

This weekend in twelve sentences:

Jeudi, le 22

Today we took a boat to Gorée Island and it was breathtakingly beautiful. Since I have now seen the House of Slaves on Gorée island and have already seen the Elmina Castle in Ghana, I’ve stood in the exact place so many did who came to the Americas as slaves. The emotions are hard to describe.

Vendredi, le 23

We watched a compelling, interesting movie in class, largely about factors outside Africa that are responsible for the failures within. My favorite part of the day was throwing my lunch up; I felt instant relief and was back to feeling 100% by morning. I think it was the beef.

Samedi, le 24

Yama and I took the bus to the zoo today, and although I usually dislike zoos, I had the time of my life. Yama’s the kind of person you would have the time of your life with even if you were picking up trash on the highway. At night, after Yama, Sadikh, and Mohamed bought me some amazing gelato, we and several Toubabs (what the Senegalese call white foreigners, endearingly) in my program went to a bar/club and we drank expensive drinks and danced our hearts out.

Dimanche, le 25

Today I spent time with the children in my extended family, coloring and playing cards, and helping take Khadija’s braids out. We had 10 people around our lunch bowl instead of our usual three or four, even though the bowl remains the same size regardless of how many hands are sharing it. You feed whoever happens to be at the house when meal time arrives.

Learning French: C’est pas grave, Don’t worry about it.


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Open air rooms & English schools

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In picture: Cat and I, standing at the western-most point of the African continent. Our professor Waly says if we want to swim home, this is where we jump in.

I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling since I’ve been in Senegal. So much has happened already that it’s hard to know where to begin!

After a tour of Dakar today, and one class about African economics, I met my host family! I also am fully moved into my new room. My house is beautiful. I had no idea what to expect but this house certainly exceeded any expectations I could have had. Like seemed common in Ghana, the central room of the house is open air. The sky is the ceiling. My family is even better than the house! Although my host mother speaks mostly only Wolof, her son, who is probably in his late twenties or early thirties, speaks French and is learning English. His name is pronounced “Baas”, although I’m unsure of the real spelling. My favorite part of living here so far is that Baas runs a school on the roof of my house! I met the children he teaches today, who were so polite and wonderful. I would say there are about 15 students, with various ages and academic levels. Baas teaches them English, and he is excited to be able to ask me questions when he is unsure about something. I adore small children. I’ve dreamt of teaching English abroad for as long as I can remember. I love open air rooms and beautiful homes. I love living a few houses down from the Atlantic, with sprawling, beautiful beaches. I love Senegal. All of my favorite things are merging and I can’t stop smiling.

Learning Wolof: Suur na, I’m full (when your host mother insists you eat more)