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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.”)