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learning & sharing Burkina Faso


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Aventures à Toubacouta

crashers

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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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)