Meet Burkina

learning & sharing Burkina Faso


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Spring Break in Saly, Senegal

I spent Spring Break with 3 other American girls – Katherine from Virginia, Tori from Chicago, and Haley from Wisconsin. It was the perfect group to spend a week with…

Saturday, March 14

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Pool at the house we stayed in

Left Dakar and arrived in Saly, Senegal. I was in awe about how gorgeous of a house we were staying at for not too expensive. We had two large bedrooms and bathrooms. (Most importantly, running hot water! Easily one of the best parts of the trip.) We also had a beautiful pool, access to a kitchen for cooking, and an open roof which could have facilitated stargazing but the night we hung out up there wasn’t clear. We met our parents de Saly, a middle aged couple from France who were just old enough to be retired if they wanted to but they were seeking employment. They owned the house and while we were there they mostly left us alone, engaging with us only when they were serving us breakfast, offering us wine, or trying to drive us somewhere they thought we should see. They were amazing. We ate lunch with parents de Saly at a small local joint. For dinner Haley and I split a pizza, my first pizza in Senegal. It did not disappoint. At night, in my journal, I wrote a letter to my Mom (my U.S. mother – yes, complicated now that I have at least three) about how I knew she would love Saly. I gave some compelling reasons why her and Dad should live here.

Sunday, March 15

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Free boat ride on the Rasta Rocket after drinks at Chez Rasta

Our first full day started off with the breakfast of a king, prepared by Mom Saly. It included baguettes of course (but homemade and delicious), jellies, fruit salad with pineapple, apple and grapefruit, some millet yogurt stuff that only I loved, tea, coffee, and juice. Each day she added something new to the breakfast, things like sweet apple bake, milk, whole fruits, Nutella, pancakes. Then we headed to the beach. Mostly we sat just north of Obama Beach, so that we had a more private experience. When we came home parents wanted to take us to the lagoon so we went. Mom used, and taught us, a wonderful line: “Gratuit ou rien”, free or nothing. It was a good line to use with pesky sellers, and it finally got us a free boat ride to Chez Rasta. Chez Rasta was a big but not busy restaurant on the beach decorated (intensely) with all things Rastafarian. Everything was red, green, or yellow, except the blue part of the Brazilian flag painted on our table. Parents ended up paying for our beer (and Tori’s soda), and the bartender gave us free rum. I bought bracelets, parents provided great entertainment, and we made friends with the staff. For dinner after we were home us 4 girls got Asian takeout – a few dollars and very worth it.

Monday, March 16

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A male chief giraffe and several females

Today we went to the Bandia Reserve! I experienced my first ever African safari, and it was as good as or better than you’re imagining. The only thing that could have made it better is if I could have seen lions, but if I were to see lions I might not have seen some of the other animals, which would have been in the pit of Lion’s tummy. We saw all sorts of animals, most of them I can’t even name because there were so many and the tour was in French. Gazelles, hyenas, rhinos, monkeys, birds, crocodiles, zebras, giraffes. There were several different kinds of mammals sort of like gazelles but much bigger and with horns and different patterns on them. The bird life really fascinated me! They were gorgeous. After, we went grocery shopping, ate spaghetti, and had wine and cheese with parents (my first wine and cheese experience with French people). Haley and I shared chickpeas for dinner, surprisingly delicious, and then we all played cards – Rummy – before going to bed. Tori won by a lot.

Tuesday, March 17

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Enjoying a Senegalese beer, Flag, at Chez Rasta

Today the 4 of us took a clando (refer to previous post) to the lagoon and spent more time at Chez Rasta. We got a boat tour of the lagoon and the guide let us off and let us explore by foot. I saw a lot of small aquatic wildlife which was cool. We also spent time on the beach and gathered shells. For dinner we had macaroni and cheese, except Haley who has to be careful with dairy. She had more Asian food. Katherine and Haley and I spent time on the roof. I still can’t get over that house. Beautiful without being excessive.

Wednesday, March 18

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Just a small selection of the hundreds of fish we watched get caught on the beach

Beach day! On the beach we spent awhile talking to four women vendors. At first they were trying to sell us stuff, but their selling mentality broke down just about when I told one of them “Begg naa sa dome”, I want your baby. She untied her son from her back and willingly handed him over, joking about how he was definitely for sale. The women gave us several bracelets as gifts, put some cute braids in our hair, and shared a little bit about their lives. In Senegal I meet and talk with men all the time, but rarely women. It was refreshing. We also got to witness a bunch of men pulling in a huge net with hundreds of fish. For lunch I split an amazing salad with fresh fruit, shrimp, and calamari. Once home, in the evening, Haley and I gathered the courage to go talk to the pool boy at his room. We called him Pool Boy but he also cleans and does landscaping. The garage is divided in half with a wall – on the left is the car, on the right is Pool Boy’s bedroom. He sleeps there every night, and cooks for himself in his room on a little gas cooker. His name is Etienne. All week I had been curious to talk to him but because he was working, it wasn’t necessarily okay for him to engage with us guests. All week I would make eye contact with him and he would smile. He was very easy to talk to, a gentle speaker and patient with our bad French/Wolof. Best part: he is a Christian! I haven’t met very many Christians here, and only just older women. After that, we girls ended up staying up until 5am talking about very controversial subjects. We were already physically drained, but then we had drained ourselves mentally too.

Thursday, March 19

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Disclaimer: photo taken the day before; a large fish market in Mbour, Senegal. We paid a guy to give us a tour/be our body guards as the area can be a little crazy at times.

As always we started with Mom’s breakfast. Then we spent the day at the pool at home. I read more of my book I had been reading all week, Flowers for Algernon. We packed our bags and straightened up our rooms. We said goodbye to them, and then parents, and then Etienne. We took a clando, and then a super cheap taxi (read below), back to Dakar. By the time I was back in Dakar I was ready to be. Spring Break had lasted long enough to be long enough, and short enough to have only fond memories and intact friendships.

Learning Wolof: Liggey you nday, English translation does not exist. This is one of the many main Senegalese cultural values. It basically means that the success of a man is thanks to the work of his mother. I can’t disagree! Thanks Mom, (and Dad), for all you’ve done for me.

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I believe He’s watching out as I travel around Senegal

I’m truly overwhelmed.

I keep saying “best meal so far in Senegal”, “nicest person so far in Senegal”, “coolest thing so far in Senegal”, “best day so far in Senegal”, “best week so far in Senegal”. I’m not sure if things truly keep getting better or if it’s just the case that everything is so awesome all the time that everything feels like “the best”, “ever”.

This past week was Spring Break for me, and the week between the two halves of my time abroad, the first half being the classroom phase and the second half being my internship/research phase. It’ll be hard to write a blog post summarizing the week, but I’ll do my best. Sometimes when I have a lot to write about, my tactic is starting at the present and writing about the events in reverse chronological order. This post will be something like that, as I am writing about the trip home from Spring Break, and a rundown of my six days of vacation will come later.

clando: an informal taxi, an unmarked car with a random driver; part of the Senegalese informal sector; not exactly illegal; less expensive, just as safe. My theory is that “clando” comes from the word “clandestine”. (For readers who aren’t great with vocabulary, clandestine is an English word meaning secretive.) However, my other English speaking friends here did not make that assumption and perhaps that’s not the case. (I strongly believe it is).

A week ago my friends and I left Dakar to head to Saly for Spring Break. Saly is a small city south of Dakar on the coast known for its beauty and tourist opportunities. Our plan to get there was this: take a taxi from the mosque in Mermoz to the lot with the sept-places, pronounced “set-PLAAS”, which translates as “seven seats”; take a sept-places from Dakar to Mbour; take a clando from Mbour to the house we were renting in Saly.

It was, as always, easy to hail a taxi in Mermoz where we live. “Hailing a taxi” is an overstatement anyway because when you’re a Toubab (white) walking along the street here, the taxis all hail you (honk, slow down, honk again, stop, honk) and you acknowledge them if there’s mutual desire. We bargained with the driver for the price to the lot with the sept-places, a ten to thirty minute drive. While in the taxi, the driver tried to convince us to let him drive us all the way to Saly, a roughly two hour drive. We insisted that we weren’t interested because the sept-places were so much cheaper. So the bargaining began.

Because locals had told us to expect a price just around 25,000 FCFA, we were happy when we successfully bargained with the taxi driver for a price of 15,000 CFCA ($25). This split between four people wasn’t going to be that much more expensive than paying for the taxi, the sept-places, and the clando. Futhermore, staying in the taxi and not getting out until we were at our vacation home was going to be so much less stressful, albeit not as exciting. So we did it. Although we had some difficulties in Saly finding the exact house, where street names and addresses exist only in theory, all went very well.

Now fast forward a week to this afternoon. Our amazing vacation has ended and our bags are packed. We say good bye to the two people who had become our Salian parents, and the pool boy. We walk towards the busy road where a clando will hail us and we will accept. (Taxis don’t exist in small cities and villages.) We plan to take a clando, then a sept-places, and then a taxi – the reverse of our first plan out of Dakar. However, it was as if God was telling us that we weren’t meant to ride in a sept-places, that we weren’t ready; our plan failed again.

After getting in the clando, it turns out that our driver was on his way to meet a friend. He called him to let him know he was going to be late because he had “clients” he had to take to Mbour, a little bit of a drive. When he has the opportunity to make a couple thousand francs he will. Again, we never made it to the sept-places lot. After only a couple kilometers he flashed his lights and pulled his car off the road. It’s not abnormal for a driver to pull off and buy water or fruit or sandals or anything really. But this time there wasn’t anything to buy. It turns out that he signaled for a taxi to stop. Generally taxis don’t exist in small cities like Saly, but this taxi had just come from Dakar and was dropping a man off.

Our clando driver said “Get out” and we said no, take us to the lot with the sept-places because that’s what we’re paying you to do and who is this random taxi driver eyeing us and we don’t want to take a taxi because they’re expensive and even though we are white we are ready for the adventure of the sept-places. The taxi driver came over to our window and said “Dakar? 20,000.” We told him that we were planning to take the sept-places which was much cheaper. Then he said, “Okay, 1,500.” Time stood still. I looked back at Katherine and Tori and Haley in the back seat with the most confused expression. Katherine told him that we didn’t understand what he said, and he repeated himself. “1,500.” I told the girls, no way. Even if he actually means he wants to do it for 1,500, that’s just too good to be true. We aren’t looking to get trafficked.

Then I understood. The taxi was a Dakar taxi, and the driver lived in Dakar. He had taken a man to Saly. Now he was headed back to Dakar. Taxis don’t belong in Saly and he probably wouldn’t be able to get good business because clandos can drive people around Saly for cheap. Not to mention he probably wanted to get back to Dakar to pray and eat. Our clando driver saw an easy way out of driving us all the way to Mbour (because he wanted to go hang out with his friends), and he thought he could help a Dakar taxi driver make 20,000, or at least something, off Toubabs headed home. The taxi driver knew he probably wouldn’t be able to find Senegalese people to drive to Dakar, because they would most certainly take a sept-places, or even a Tata or another big, cheap bus. But today we Toubabs were Senegalese too, and after insisting that a sept-places was just fine for us, the taxi driver decided to give us a sept-places rate if we would just get in his car and go. It wasn’t too good to be true – the taxi driver was happy with the situation too. Because there were four of us, his car would be at max capacity for his trip back to Dakar, and he would charge a rate slightly higher than he would normally be able to charge – 1,500 per head.

It worked out perfectly for all parties involved. He was charging us each 1,500 FCFA ($2.50) to drive us right to the door of our homes in Mermoz. Considering the length of the drive this was an insanely good deal. He even convinced us to pay to take the toll road which got us, and him too, home in record time. We trusted him more than the average man because he was quite old and wearing a traditional Muslim gown, (regardless if this increased trust is merited or not). He stopped just once to buy raw meat but he put it in the trunk. He was mostly silent, and spoke to me only when he wanted to tell me something interesting about what we were driving past. We tipped him well (in a country where tipping doesn’t really exist), and he gave us his phone number if we wanted to call him in the future. “What’s your name?”, Haley asked. “Saliou”, he said. “How do you spell that?”, Haley replied, fingers ready to type it into her phone. “T-A-X-I”, he said with a smile.

Where travel was likely going to be the most stressful part of my day I actually loved it. Also, I officially love clandos, even though the idea was mysterious and questionable before. In a country where unemployment, idleness, and money insecurity abounds, things like clandos put men to work and money in pockets. I’ve decided that although things seem unorganized and crazy in Senegal, systems exist here just as much as systems exist in the United States. Where formal systems are lacking, informal systems take root. Sometimes the systems in Senegal are less efficient than the ones in the U.S. Other times the systems in Senegal are notably more efficient, and more exciting too.

Learning Wolof, but Arabic first: InchAllah, God willing. (It’s appropriate to use this phrase after any sort of plan, and people use it several times a day. For example, “See you tomorrow, inchallah.” “I’m taking a sept-places, inchallah, (and it turns out God wasn’t willing).” “I’ll post tomorrow about my Spring Break, inchallah.”)


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Internship placement!

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In picture: Me and Yama’s hut on the beach! Perfectly peaceful day. 

It’s been awhile since I’ve updated my blog, mostly because this week was our last week of classes and really busy! I have my final exam in Wolof yesterday, a 15 minute oral exam with Sidy. It wasn’t easy but I think I did okay. Wolof will be the one class I miss dearly. Yama just registered to start English classes and I’ve agreed to help him – maybe we can do some lesson trading, Wolof for English.

I have an essay due tomorrow on consumption patterns in Senegal. After that I’m officially done with the first half of the program, the classroom stage. Then I will have a week of Spring Break and then my internship begins.

I have been officially placed for my internship! I will be working for L’Observateur National des Lieux de Privation de Liberté, which translated is The National Observer of Places of Deprivation of Liberty. My boss is a judge and seems really cool. I’ve met him only once during my interview, but he seems like someone I will be able to easily talk to and learn a lot from. This was the internship I was fortunate enough to get after Waly sought out something for me in the Criminal Justice field. Specifically I told him I was interested in prisons. Of course it’s not easy to get an internship in a prison, nor would it necessarily be a safe and comfortable place to work (although I think I would feel fine), but through this internship I believe I will be at least visiting prisons. I can’t wait.

I don’t have a super clear idea of what the organization does, (or if the word organization is even appropriate), but I’ll tell you what I understand about it so far.

The mission statement, roughly translated, says that the National Observer aims to monitor the conditions and care of people who are deprived of freedom in order to ensure respect for human rights and the prevention of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Sites that the National Observer may guide include prisons, health institutions where treatment is given without patient consent, local police custody, customs retention, court cellars, juvenile delinquency centers and disciplinary centers for military personnel. All of these sites sound interesting to me and I would be excited to visit and/or analyze any of them. After observation, the organization, among other things, makes recommendations to the government for change. The organization has a website, although it is in French, if you want to check it out. The website is onlpl.sn and even if you don’t speak French, the graphics on the first page are interesting.

Because the office building I will work at is in Dakar I will not be moving to a village. I will also be staying with my same host family. Although I was really excited to experience village life it’s also exciting to stay in Dakar. The internship experience may turn out to be important for my future career or career ideas.

Other than my internship, not much else is new. Yesterday we visited a hard candy factory. It was really interesting! It’s the number one hard candy brand in Senegal and everyone is familiar with it. We were able to talk to the manager and also the owner, both of whom were very willing to answer our many questions about having a business in Senegal, and the Senegalese economy and market at large. We also all brought home two or three big bags of candy. I got a bag of mint flavored and a bag of anise flavored, neither of which I love but I’ve been having fun giving handfuls out to my family and friends and random children on the street (kids accepting candy from strangers, oops?).

One of my favorite days so far in Senegal was this past Sunday. I spent the day with Yama at the beach, his favorite one. I already forgot the name of it but will ask him. We took a taxi there around noon. The beach wasn’t busy at all because it’s not beach season here for Senegalese – still too cold, (mid to high 70s and sunny sounds like perfect beach weather to me). We got our own private hut and paid a guy to watch it for us so we could walk around without our stuff. We had an amazing meal with a whole half of a chicken, French fries, and grilled seasoned vegetables. Yama had fruit salad for desert, and I drank a caprihna which was so yummy. Yama also brought his gas cooker and ataaya ingredients so we slowly drank tea on the beach – there’s nothing better. I bought some bracelets from a beach vendor woman, the most peaceful shopping experience I’ve had here. The whole day was just perfect honestly.

I’m leaving for Spring Break on Saturday! We are visiting one of Waly’s favorite vacation destinations, Saly Portudal. I’m sure you will hear all about it soon.

Learning Wolof: Am na jafe jafe, I have problems. (Interestingly, in Wolof, if you double a verb it becomes a noun. For example, jafe means “to be difficult”. Therefore, jafe jafe means “difficulty”.)


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Empty Wallets, Full Hearts

Once a week I write and turn in an essay about my experiences here. Sometimes the essay topics are chosen for us, sometimes they just must relate to Senegal geography/history/culture, and sometimes they must be a personal reflection. I turn them in in French, but first I write in English in order to organize my thoughts and lay out a map. When I go to translate it into French, some of the sentences’ meanings change a little because of my limited French vocabulary or the non-existence of certain words. Also, when I write the first draft in English, I often choose my words based on what I know I can easily translate into French. Here is the most recent essay I wrote. It needed to be a personal reflection essay, but it’s always good when the essay relates to development which is the focus of the MSID program. The essay is the expansion of a journal entry I wrote near the beginning of my life in Dakar, but since that day I’ve been thinking about the topic a lot and forming an opinion. Here it is.


Empty wallets, full hearts

Since being in Senegal, my ideas and perceptions of many things have changed. My ideas about religion are being challenged, my ideas about myself are being challenged, and my ideas about poverty are being challenged greatly. “Poverty” is one of the first words the typical westerner thinks of when they think about Africa, and “development” is the most commonly proposed solution. Indeed, almost all development scholars include “reduction of poverty” in their definition of development. Since being here I find myself asking questions like, “What is poverty? Why is it an important topic?”

Some friends in the United States, upon hearing that I have a maid at my house here in Senegal, assume my family is rich. I’m not here to talk about my family’s income because truly I don’t know, but consider this scenario: if family A lives on $10 a day and woman B’s family lives on $1 a day, woman B might be willing to work for a wage well within the budget of a $10 a day family. Having a maid doesn’t mean you’re rich, but it means you’re wealthy when compared to someone else in your city. Maybe a family can’t afford a computer but they can afford a maid. Perhaps culturally maids are a higher priority when a family considers what they want to spend their money on.

Now yes, I know that I am in fact living in a relatively wealthy neighborhood in Dakar. But that’s just the thing: this neighborhood is relatively wealthy. Mermoz is wealthy when compared to other neighborhoods in Dakar, and Dakar is wealthy relative to other cities in Senegal. I would argue that relative wealth, and relative poverty, are the only values that are even relevant in a society. Absolute poverty, often expressed in American dollars as people living on less than $1.25 a day, seems almost entirely irrelevant to me. Although it might shed light on how Senegal as a nation compares to other nations in the world economically, it does nothing to talk about an individual’s daily life.

But even if relative poverty values are more relevant than absolute poverty values, I still find myself asking “What is poverty?” I think the more important questions to ask other than “Are these people poor?” are questions like: can they see a doctor if they want to? Can they go to school if they want to? Are they happy? If the answers to questions like these are “yes”, what does it matter how much money is in their bank account?

I’m not suggesting that the discussion of reducing poverty be taken off the table altogether. Surely reducing poverty will probably lend itself to giving people more access to medical treatment, schools, and happiness. However, what if putting more money in someone’s pocket doesn’t lend itself to better access or health? Maybe the infrastructure or the trained doctors aren’t there. What if more money in someone’s pocket doesn’t mean more access to education, if there isn’t a school within walking distance or the teachers are always on strike because of government corruption? What if money is in fact the root of all evil, and that simply more money won’t lead to more happiness? Have we ever seen that casual line between money and happiness proved?

I’m suggesting instead that we stop worrying so much about economic development, particularly on the individual level. Instead, we should ask questions about how many doctors there are, and how accessible clinics are. Are there adequate schools and supplies and are teachers treated well? Are people happy, do they feel empowered, are they free?

I think we are living in an interesting time in history, a time where there are the greatest wealth disparities in the world but the greatest awareness of what exists for the other half. With today’s media, Americans are aware, or at least think they are aware, of the poverty in Africa. Africans are aware of the wealth in the United States, even if the view gets skewed as it travels through the technology waves. But I think that it’s important to critically think about what poverty is so that when we as a world try to fight it, we build up healthier, smarter, and happier people, not bank accounts. Yes, I am living here comfortably. I think anyone could. But my family’s income and whether or not we have a maid does not define poverty. My family in Dakar is wealthy because we can see a doctor when we need to, go to school when we want to, and smile because we’re happy.


Learning French: passer la nuit à la belle étoile, to spend the night under the stars. (I wish.)


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It’s-almost-March updates!

As an update, things are going really well. Yesterday I did pretty well with talking to my mom after school and even said some complete Wolof sentences at dinner. I took a bucket shower by filling a pail with cold water from the shower head. It was refreshing and reminiscent of Ghana. My mom was confused why I would use a bucket when we have a shower head, if both were going to be the same cold water anyway. I explained to her that with the shower head, it’s much more uncomfortable because the freezing water is hitting you everywhere and you have no control over it or a way to escape it. The bucket method is honestly much more peaceful, gently splashing water where you need it. My mom was cracking up and went to tell the rest of the family how silly I was, but I think she understood.

I have a new brother! I guess he was visiting other family in a village for a month or so, but he’s back now. He lives in the bedroom that has always confused me a little – perfectly nice and set up, but used only to store our clean laundry. My first conversation with him was funny. He walked into the living room and asked me how I was. This is normal. Every day someone I don’t recognize comes into the house and talks with me, usually several people a day. Then he said, “So what’s your name?” and I told him and asked him his. Lam, pronounced like Laahm, not like the animal. I ask if he was Papa’s friend. Papa is one of my brothers and a lot of people come into the house looking for him. No, Lam said, I’m your brother. He’s the nephew of my Mom, so it’s actually not really the exact relationship, but honestly I’m not sure if any of my brothers are actually my mother’s children. It doesn’t have to be that way here. Lam is super nice so far, and speaks some English which is fun. Still I speak to him in French/Wolof.

Yesterday morning on my way to school I was running a little late. I hate making myself rush because then my fast walking causes me to sweat and then I feel gross for a few hours. Also, I don’t like being that one rushed Toubab in a sea of Senegalese who are walking with peace, at one with themselves and the situation, regardless of what time it is. So, despite being late, I tried to stay cool and calm, knowing I’d only be five minutes late and no one would mind. Previously lost in my thoughts, I saw ahead of me a man on a moto who was stopped on the side of the road and looking back at me. Yama! I walked up to him, so happy to see a familiar face, and one that I love at that. We talked a little bit before he said, “Well get on.” Oh my goodness. Of course I wasn’t going to refuse but I was nervous! Yama is definitely not more cautious than the average Senegalese driver. Most of them are a little bit crazy. And as I was getting on I had told him I don’t really do this ever, so I was worried he would try to make it extra exciting for me. Instantly, I felt amazing riding it. It wasn’t really scary at all, and I didn’t even have to hold on to him in order to feel safe even though of course I held on to him anyway. I could have stayed on that bike all day, the warm air in my hair and cuddling up with Yams. And I wasn’t late! I could slowly eat my baguette and cheese breakfast before class. My arm smelled like Yama for the rest of the day which was distracting.

I have a couple random things I keep wanting to talk about but never have. The first thing is peanuts. Just under half of cultivated land is used for peanut production. While driving to Toubacouta, we drove past a literal mountain. Of peanuts. We were far away from it and sadly I don’t have a picture for you right now, but it was crazy. At first we didn’t even believe Waly because there’s no way you could have a mound that big of peanuts. But no, it was true. I don’t exactly know the facts about the history of peanuts in the area, but the assumed history that I treat as fact that I believe I heard from a reliable source is that during colonialism, the French created the Senegalese economy to be focused around peanuts for export. Although Senegal is independent now, the infrastructure and skill set was here to continue growing them. The peanuts here are absolutely amazing! And very cheap. You can get a bag of them for 50 FCFA, ten cents. They sell them in several different varieties, including fresh unsalted, cooked and salted without shell, cooked and salted with the papery brown shell (think Spanish peanuts), or totally in the shell. You can also buy what we call sugar nuts! They’re peanuts cooked in sugar, coated heavily. I prefer the salty peanuts because as it is my diet is full of sugar, but they’re good. I’ll surely bring peanuts back as gifts. There’s also a good number of cashew trees, and I tried an unripe one off the tree which wasn’t delicious. After they’re done and salted though, Senegal has cashews that are to die for.

The other random thing I’ve wanted to talk about but haven’t is airplanes! My house in Mermoz, Dakar is very close to the airport. And actually, on the ground I don’t feel that close to the airport but I must be because the airplanes that fly over are freakily low. I remember the first one I saw after getting here and it scared me, that’s how low it was. They’re extremely loud, so much so that during school if a plane flies over the professor has to stop talking, (although it seems that people that live here usually raise their voice and power through the conversation without pausing). I’m having a hard time estimating how many planes fly over a day because it seems to vary a lot, some days having only a couple and other days seeming to have a dozen. It probably is like that. When the sun is in the perfect spot and the plane flies over, the whole city goes dark for a second. Once I was in my bedroom and I thought the power went out.  It’s pretty bizarre. I guess in the United States people that live close to airports might experience this same thing. The last thing about airplanes is that I think there is some sort of U.S. military base or something in Dakar too. The most obnoxious planes that fly over are U.S. fighter jets (don’t quote me, I don’t know what they’re called). It makes me sort of annoyed that we, Americans, are flying these obnoxious planes over Dakar. One more reason why Senegalese people have a reason to dislike the U.S. even though they don’t.

I’ve been debating talking about this on my blog, mostly because I don’t want people to worry about me when worry isn’t necessary. But two of my friends and I almost got robbed! It was one of the scariest things to ever happen to me. We were walking in an area that is known for this sort of activity, generally at night. I don’t usually walk down this stretch of road along the beach, but I was going with my friend Cat to buy something she wanted. Coming from school, we had our backpacks, and this made us more of a target. I can perfectly recall the whole thing like a video, but it’s not as easy to explain in written words. Basically us three were walking on the sidewalk, on the side of the road across from the beach which is the safer side. A scrawny, wild-eyed guy came running across the street towards us and motioned with his arms that we three girls clump together. At this time, another white guy was walking towards us girls. The aggressor tried to rally him up too but the white guy knew what was going on and quickly walked away from the scene. I knew instantly what was going on too. The whole thing was playing out exactly how I was warned: the aggressor will put you and your friends together, take out a knife, and demand your things/money. You must give it to him. Luckily I never actually saw the knife that I’m sure the guy had because Cat screamed when he touched her, and two guards that were on security for one of the buildings down the street came to see what was up. A truck in the street had also stopped, knowing what was going on. The combination of Cat’s scream, the guards yelling something at the guy, and the truck stopping in the road scared the aggressor away. He ran across the street and over the beach mound where they’re known to hide. In the situation, my first response was to stay calm; I wasn’t even close to screaming. But I fully believe Cat’s scream saved me, (and by me I mean my laptop, phone, camera, school stuff, agenda, and journal, which is basically my life). I learned several things from this scenario and have changed my frame of mind slightly because of it. All is well. We haven’t reported the event to the Embassy yet but we intend to.

As a last little update, my search for an internship is underway! Right now I have two roads I could go down. The one road is that I will stay in Dakar with my current host family and work for an organization dealing with prisoners, in some capacity. Exactly what I would be doing is unknown at this time, but I have a meeting on Tuesday to talk about what the internship would look like. The other road is that I could live in a village, and either work for an NGO or in a school. Ideally I would take the prison internship but still get the experience of living in a village, but I can’t get everything I want. It’s also not for sure that the prison organization has a job for me, but if they did it would be a really hard decision for me. As of now, I’m thinking that if the prison organization offers me what seems like a great internship, I’ll take it. If God wants me in the village, he can close the door of opportunity to work with the prison, because honestly it’d be a miracle anyway if I actually got the job. I had a “mini-interview” this past Tuesday with a really professional guy who works with the prison system, but he wanted me to talk to someone else. I’ll keep you all posted. It’s all in God’s hands, but you can pray that I would have peace with how the whole decision making process goes!

The weather today and yesterday is “dust”. Literally. I asked Yama what was wrong with the sky and the air, and he said no, it’s just the weather – dust. I insisted that dust wasn’t a weather type, but I guess it sort of is. I’ve been sitting at a bar blogging and my notebook is covered in dust already, and so are my laptop keys. It’s very interesting. In general, school work bogs me down and I couldn’t find anyone to go to the beach with me today on my day off, but life is still so good. Half the days I’m smiling, and the other half I’m on Cloud Nine.

Learning French: Il n’y a pas d’autre Dieu qu’Allah et Muhammad est son prophète. There is no other God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet. (It’s been interesting learning about Islam and sharing my thoughts about the similarities and differences between it and Christianity. I’m thankful for being totally free to express my beliefs and for the openness of people here to discuss religion with me. I didn’t know before I came, but you can even read on Wikipedia that Senegal is known for its religious tolerance.)


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Aventures à Toubacouta

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In picture: Crashing a birthday party in Toubacouta. We danced in the center: wonderful entertainment. Photo Credit: Alia Jeraj

I spent a long weekend in Toubacouta, a village several hours south of Dakar, and it was definitely the most interesting weekend of my entire life, in a good way. I have 14 journal pages which describe my experiences in decent detail, but most of the things were truly unexplainable. This post won’t go into as much detail as my journal notes did, but if you want to hear more about anything mentioned in this post contact me. I would love to talk more about it all.

On Friday morning we visited a small health post. My favorite part was the maternity ward; we got two see two fresh babies. We also visited two schools, one which was a public French-style school, and one that was a Coranic school, where instruction is in Arabic and the children work towards memorizing the Quran. This experience made me really want to live in a village and work in a school for my internship. The children are beyond disciplined and don’t exhaust me in the same way American children do. After lunch we visited a women’s group which takes out microfinance loans (with saddening 20% interest rates). They use the loan money to invest in products to resell. The day was so interesting, but it would only get more interesting from here.

After diner our group had a private show from a professional dance team outdoors at our hotel. (You can’t imagine a typical hotel. Instead, imagine several small huts scattered around between some trees. We ate under a pavilion next to a pool that seemed absolutely never used.) The dancers danced next to the pool and the dozen of us students sat in a line of chairs to watch. I was, by far, the most entertained that I’ve ever been by watching a performance. It was amazing! The dancers were so energetic and talented and beautiful. There was a guy on stilts and in a costume, a man covered in leaves, several men and a woman who ate fire and rubbed fire on themselves. After the dance, the dancers taught us some moves and danced with us. It was a blast. I was so amped up, my blood throbbing inside me. This intense emotion though suddenly fed anxiety instead of excitement.

After the performance, Alia and Hannah and I walked back to Hut 14. When we walked in the door, Alia calmly asked, “What are these bugs doing on my bed?” Just a moment later, I screamed. Then we all did. In our room there were hundreds of bugs. Earwigs. Google image search earwigs and you will see the exact bug that was there, pinchers and all. They were covering the ceiling, all over our mosquito nets, our beds, our pillows. There was probably twenty in my backpack, ten on just a single skirt I had sitting out. Computer, toothbrush, they were everywhere. I ran out calling for Waly. Soon after, Waly, the hotel manager, and a couple other hotel workers were over. They were pretty surprised too, but started getting to work cleaning out the hut. There was no other room for us to take.

After spending close to two hours cleaning, the room looked pretty nice. However, after just five or so minutes, the bugs were back. They were crawling in as quickly as ever, and by the time I was ready to crawl in bed, (it was quite late now), there were several more on the side of my mattress. Honestly, I probably would have been fine going to sleep, even with a few around my bed, but I just kept imagining the worst likely: waking up in the middle of the night and having them everywhere again. All over my mosquito net, falling from the ceiling crack where they were entering still, a parade. Even in the morning, how would be leave our beds? It wasn’t going to work.

Eventually, after seeing that there wasn’t going to be a way to rid Hut 14 of the infestation, Waly (bless his heart) offered us his room. His hut was smaller, but after another thirty or so minutes, we finally had it set up to sleep us three. I’m not sure where Waly slept, but I know it wasn’t in our hut. Not even he was going to put up with those bugs. After all this, Alia and I went to buy some beer for us three. Even though the kitchen was closed, the manager agreed to unlock it and get some. We tipped him well.

We drank our beer slowly and journaled about our crazy day. We let our heart rates settle and our mind formulate coherent thoughts and reflections on the day. Finally we were exhausted, and I’ve never slept better.

That was Friday. Saturday was probably just as exciting, though thankfully ended a little differently. We started the morning by taking a little wooden boat through the mangroves. Let me tell you, I was in utter bliss. For a couple hours I had not a single care in the world. I could have stayed there for days, if not forever. Some of the other students on the boat requested that I stop dragging my feet in the water, but the water was warm and beautiful and I just had to. We were going slowly enough, and there were several strong men on the boat, so it was safe Mom, (and I know if you had been there we would be doing that exact thing together). Later we visited a community radio and a community garden. The community garden was almost as beautiful as the mangroves. The garden itself was organized, healthy, and serene. In fact, I haven’t felt I was in a more perfectly peaceful place since being in Senegal. They were growing all sorts of things there, and it was extremely expansive with a couple large wells. We ate mini tomatoes off the plant, and there were also onions and cabbage and several things I didn’t ask to have identified. Even more beautiful than the physical garden was the community behind it. I’m decently knowledgeable about how the community garden works there, who is in charge of what and how it works, so if you’re interested in hearing more I can tell you.

That night we attended a Senegalese traditional wrestling event. I honestly won’t even try to explain this one. Even pictures couldn’t come close to capturing the experience which was unlike anything that exists in the United States. Combine a steady drum beat and loud singers and hundreds of spectators in a circle among some trees and tall strong Senegalese wrestlers fighting wearing next to nothing and everyone dancing and drama breaking out and prize money and… it was a lot.

The day ended as peacefully as it began. The whole time in Toubacouta we had four Senegalese male students attend the events with us. Some of us students requested that these guys help us find a perfect place to stargaze. They walked us to a cement dock in the middle of nowhere. I’m one hundred percent positive that it was the most beautiful starry sky I’ve ever seen. In a small African village, without much light, without much pollution, without much noise at all, and during the season without many mosquitos… it was perfect. If I spend my first forever in the mangroves I’ll spend my second forever under that sky.

Those were the highlights of the trip. Of course I could mention more monkey interaction and eating ice cream and having deep conversations and playing with babies. But this weekend was only a day ago, and already today I’ve already experienced more things worthy of a blog update. Life for me here never stops and it never slows down, (the biggest irony with the Senegalese slow pace of life). On the contrary, each day it gets more interesting. The learning never ends.

Learning Wolof: kepp coye, earwig (literally translates as ‘penis pincher’… yes.)


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A Weekend Away

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In picture: Tori dancing in Sokone. The women would come over to the group of Toubabs and select someone to dance. Tori was selected most frequently, which seems only fitting anyway since she won our group dance competition. Tori, however, was not amused.

I’m spending the weekend with my classmates in Toubacouta! I just arrived today, Thursday, and will be here until Sunday night. We have a lot planned and I’m sure you will hear more about it! It’s already been an amazing trip. The MSID program is truly incredible. Toubacouta is a somewhat touristy but village type place several hours south of Dakar. I’m excited to get off my beaten path for a while.

So many hilarious things have happened the past couple days. Many of them are probably “you had to be there” moments, but I’ll try to explain them anyway.

One of the funny things happened a few days ago. Yama was looking at one of my pictures on Facebook and said something about me being better in the U.S. At first I was confused about what he was saying… but then I said, yeah, my hair and skin is not as nice in Dakar. I can’t take normal showers, I sweat a lot, I’m dirtier much quicker. Then he said, in reference to his physical self, “Yama n’est pas comme sa”, which means ‘Yama is not like this.’ Basically he was saying that in the U.S. he would be even better. It was funny to think about.

Okay, so this story is hilarious! In our Country Analysis class, each day someone presents an article from the newspaper. Yesterday Cat was presenting her article to the class, (and mostly to the professor). When she was finished, to conclude, she looked the professor in the eye and said, “…et…je t’aime.” Oh my goodness. As soon as what she said registered, the entire class started laughing. The professor did too, because what else was he going to do. I didn’t stop laughing for about twenty minutes; for some reason it was extra funny for me. For those of you who don’t know French… after Cat finished talking, she looked the professor in the eye and said, “…and…. I love you.” I can’t even think about it without laughing. She meant to say ‘je l’aime’, to say that she loved the article. But professing her love to our old Senegalese teacher was so much better.

Today, so many other funny things happened. The stars of the show today were Tori and Waly. Waly because Waly usually is, with his casually dramatic humor and big smile that shows how amused he is at himself, or us. Tori was just crazy all day. Her peak moment was when Waly told the bus driver to stop and told us to look right, at the “monkey wedding”. There was probably 150 or 200 baboons in the field next to us! Tori freaked out. Monkeys were basically the reason she chose Senegal. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a monkey in the wild, and I’ve certainly never seen that many monkeys at one time. It was insane.

We visited Sokone, another small town, and ate lunch at the mayor’s house. Then the people in the village came over and we all had a dance party. It was interesting to say the least. As soon as I have better wifi I will add a picture to this blog post.

Learning Wolof: nana, mint leaves. (They’re used in ataaya, and the other night I ran out to buy some for my brother. I did the entire transaction in Wolof. I was proud of myself, and the two boys working were very amused.)


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five haikus for you

Each haiku is related to my day, another great one.


not proud of myself

for using the ATM

I learned it’s simple


walking in the dirt

clean feet rare and exciting

ha. TBT grass


most risqué thing here

stickers of half naked men

found in gum wrappers


All Time Hits station

playing Lollipop right now

oh hi middle school


ten cent clementines

stands close during prayer time

they have changed my life


Learning French: Si j’avais de l’argent, j’acheterais une île. If I had the money I would buy an island. (I’m trying to get comfortable using the conditional present tense in conversation.)


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Thoughts on a Thursday afternoon

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In picture: Feven with a 6-suction cup tentacle, and Katherine and Hannah, during lunch today at a Spanish restaurant.

Today has been one of the best days since being in Dakar.

First, I finally bought an adapter so I no longer need to rely on my Toubab friends to charge my laptop. I bought it from a vendor on the side of the road. I asked “Ñaata?” which is Wolof for “How much?” The guy said 600 francs. Then Hannah, my American friend who also needed an adapter, used her bargaining skills and offered 500 francs. He immediately agreed. Hannah and I both got one for 500 francs. But do you know the best part about that? That translates as $1 USD. Literally one dollar. Insanity. In the U.S. an adapter like this would be so expensive! Oh, actually there’s even a better part: it works.

Before that, a few other Americans and I went out for lunch at a Spanish restaurant. It was so much fun. After taking about 15 minutes to decide on our order, we placed it. Then the waitress came back and told us she had a better idea for us: tapas style, bring us several small plates of food to share. In general I don’t like eating tapas style, but we went with her suggestion and it was perfect. She selected for us six dishes and she brought them out like courses. First we had bread (of course) with olive oil, garlic, and tomato on it. The other courses will be almost impossible for me to describe but I’ll try. Next we had these breaded fritter things that have a filling comparable to a crab Rangoon without the crab flavor, but kind of with mashed potatoes in there too. Third we had some lightly fried fish fries with lime. Fourth we had some amazing shrimp, and a lot of it. Fifth we had some octopus/squid (is there a difference?) type stuff! It had weird tentacles and it was obvious that the animal was very large. It was served over potato slices. Just when we thought it couldn’t get better, she brought out these sandwich type things. The bottom piece of bread was similar to the first course. The top piece of bread was what you could get if you crossed mashed potatoes and fresh bread. It sounds weird when I describe it, but every single thing was delicious. In total we each paid equivalent to $6. Expensive for lunch here, but beyond worth it. Plus we all were happy and giggly and the restaurant was outdoors and decorated beautifully. I could go on but I won’t.

It’s only three in the afternoon. I had Wolof class this morning, but my other class today got moved to tomorrow. The rest of the afternoon I plan to study because I have a lot due next week. I’m not sure what I’ll do tonight but hopefully something fun since Friday is my catch-up-on-sleep day, (no class, but my family members are at work).

I have to start my homework, but it’s only stuff that I’m excited to learn about. It’s 73 degrees and sunny and the birds are singing. My hands smell like clementines, my tummy is full, and my heart is happy.

Learning Wolof: Am na xorom, he/she is salty (Used when you want to say someone is interesting)