Meet Burkina

learning & sharing Burkina Faso


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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

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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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.”)