Meet Burkina

learning & sharing Burkina Faso


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First day of my internship – finally!

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In picture: Jibi, right before we both got drenched by a huge wave. We had gone to watch the sunset. It was my first Senegalese sunset. Thankfully Jibi is a gentleman so he let me wear his sweater while he froze in his tank.

C’est la vie, Yama often reminds me. That’s life. I’ve been remembering this as I face all sorts of interesting issues.

I finished with my first day on the job at my internship! It’s honestly such a long story, but I’m no longer working at the internship with the prisons that I had originally planned on and was accepted to. To put it simply, and really I don’t know all the information anyway, my boss is very busy and he decided that there isn’t that much I would be able to do besides a lot of reading. I’m thankful for him being honest about that up front so that my internship doesn’t consist of doing just the things I could do from an American library.

After I received the information that I wouldn’t be at that internship, Waly and I talked a lot and he found me another one. But, in my head and heart I had a small little struggle. You see, originally I was to move to a village for my internship. I would absolutely love to experience life in a Senegalese village and greatly improve my Wolof. I know I’m cut out to live that kind of life – I could handle it. However, when the prison internship was on the table I thought that it would be a really interesting experience for me, and perhaps relevant for my future. But that would require me to stay in Dakar. Anyway, I knew that it would be unlikely that I got the prison internship, so I decided that if God wanted me to stay in Dakar and do the prison internship, he would make it happen. If he wanted me to go live in the village and do something there, he could easily make it so that the prison internship wasn’t an option. I asked him to guide me.

But then the prison internship was made an option just long enough so that it was impossible to move to the village, but short enough that it wasn’t going to work out. Perhaps I’m not listening to God close enough and instead am choosing based on my own desires, and not his. Or, contrarily, maybe it was his idea that I don’t do the prison internship, but that I really should stay in Dakar.

Mostly I’m content with how things are now. I’ve always been the kind of person to build my network of relationships deep not wide, (if friends are coins, I prefer 4 quarters to 100 pennies). In that way, I’m excited to strengthen and deepen the relationships I already have in Dakar. So far my internship is great. My boss is phenomenal and the two co-workers I’ve gotten to know are also very patient and nice. Which everyone in Senegal is patient and nice, but they are beyond average. As far as improving my Wolof goes, I have decided that I will do some studying on my own. I love Wolof enough to actually do this, and my main motivation is so that at the dinner table I have new things to tell my mom. She gets a total kick out of any new Wolof phrase I can tell her.  And another thing I’ll miss out on by staying in Dakar, experiencing a new environment, is also tempered by the fact that I work in the part of Dakar called Yoff. Although Yoff is in no way comparable to village life, it is very different from the part of Dakar I live in – Mermoz. In that way, I am experiencing something very new while I pass each day there.

The organization I work with is the Association pour la Promotion Economique, Culturelle et Sociale de Yoff, or APECSY. It’s basically an NGO that strives to promote development while guarding the vibrant Senegalese culture. I’m excited to formulate a stronger opinion about how development and culture interact because it has been one of the most interesting things for me here. I’ve written about it in my journal countless times. For example, I often struggle with eliminating the idea that a lot of culture needs to be lost in order for “development” to arrive. Sometimes I notice things that are cultural and beautiful, but these things aren’t good for promoting development. A few weeks ago Waly told me something that I’ll always remember. Put simply, he said we westerners need to be careful to not “preserve culture for the outsider”. For example, I shouldn’t aim at preserving Senegalese culture because I think it’s a beautiful juxtaposition from American culture. Yes, I wish every westerner could come here and experience Senegal because in so many ways it contains exactly the good things American culture lacks. But it’s not fair for me to want to preserve a culture that isn’t benefitting the people who live in it. If they seek development, moving from a hut to a brick and metal house for example, who am I to say “no, but your hut is so pretty and interesting and I want to stay in it!”

The first day on the job was nice and totally relaxed, lacking the stress that the first day on the job might have for someone in the U.S. I had one task today, and I started and finished it. The NGO does a whole bunch of different things, and I already know that “a typical day at work” won’t exist (yay!). Today I organized a giant stack of papers. The stack contained forms and a photograph of hundreds of children who live in Yoff, between the ages of fresh and about 8 years old, but usually around 4 or 5. I was to create a file folder for each child. Basically this is the situation: each child has a sponsor in the U.S., Canada, France, or China. You’ve seen it – pay X amount of dollars daily or monthly to feed a child or send them to school. My family in the U.S. have done it, but now I’m on the other side. I am meeting those children! The NGO I work with facilitates the program. A few of the sponsored kids were in the office today doing what they need to in order to stay sponsored. They really earn the money that they receive. In their file they have a notebook. They are required to write letters to their sponsor on a regular basis, updating them on their life. If the sponsor writes letters too, that correspondence is kept in their file. Sadly, the Senegalese children would write several letters a year and usually there were no letters back, although notably Brian and Tim were good at writing back to their child. I also cleaned out file folders from kids who had become too old to receive money. One girl specifically had all the letters she had written from 2006 to 2012. She also had several pictures of herself in there, as to keep her sponsor updated on what she looked like. I’m really nervous that my boss is going to throw all those old stacks away. Honestly they aren’t something I should be allowed to browse through, but oh my goodness would it be so interesting.

Another thing in the file folder is a form with information about the children. It entertained me so much! The question that was in the specific position on the page that I could glance and read without appearing like I was reading the forms as I put them in their folders was a question about what they like to do during playtime. The child who was most enthused and adorable in his photo said that his favorite thing was to play with his mom. His family described him as curious. Another boy said that his favorite thing was to play with the sheep. Didn’t contain my grin when I read that one.

The best part of the day was lunch time! My boss told me that each day I am to walk to his house and eat with his family there. (Honestly, what? That is incredibly nice. I will be saving money, eating outstanding food, and have the company of wonderful older women and his three beautiful daughters.) We ate ceebujen, the national dish of Senegal and the most common lunch. It was hands down the best ceebujen I’ve ever eaten here, and I’ve eaten a lot of it. Yama asked me some questions and then explained that it’s because an older woman made it. At my house in Mermoz, our maid cooks it. She can’t be more than twenty or so years old so she hasn’t had years of practice like my boss’s wife. Before lunch, admittedly, I took a long nap on their couch. So did the youngest daughter who is about three. With a two hour lunch break what’s better than a nap and phenomenal ceebujen? I also loved talking to middle aged and older women. Usually it’s only men who want to talk to me.

After work I rode the TATA bus home. It was my first time ever riding one and I did it alone. It was so easy actually, but I had to keep my brain powered up for a while. Yoff is about a 45 minute bus ride from Mermoz. (One thing I still can’t fathom is the huge-ness of Dakar. Guys it’s seriously unbelievably expansive.) I am only familiar with perhaps 4% of Dakar, so traversing a large part of it and having to tell the bus driver when to stop was a little nerve racking. I didn’t know if it would be fifteen minutes or three hours, but I just waited until I saw something I recognized so I could walk the rest of the way home. Then, not progressively but randomly and suddenly, I saw something I recognized – Caesars, a restaurant about five minutes from my house. I stood up and made eye contact with the driver. He stopped and I walked just a couple minutes home where my neighbors and the men that often hang out at my house greeted me with smiles and handshakes. “Peace be you with”, I said, in Arabic, as is necessary. “And also with you.”

Anyway, all is well in my life. The past week I sat around doing a whole lot of nothing as classes were finished but there was trouble getting my internship on the ground running. I’m flexible and didn’t stress out about it. That’s the necessary attitude to have when you’re in “Africa”, but specifically here in Senegal. I think I’ve always harbored the qualities necessary to live a peaceful, stress-free life, but I’m really realizing and cultivating them now. Maybe all of the stressed Americans out there harbor the seeds necessary to live a life of “jamm rekk” but those qualities aren’t withdrawn in western culture. I’m excited to bring my new “do life slowly, be a peaceful presence for all” style back to the U.S. I think I can hold on to it for at least a little while.

Learning Wolof: Lekk naa ba fii, I ate until here. (You must also make a hand motion to show how far you ate until. I make it just under my chin. I’ve been saying this after dinner frequently for the past couple weeks and my mom laughs every time. Still she insists that I eat more but honestly mama I couldn’t if I tried.)

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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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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)