Meet Burkina

learning & sharing Burkina Faso


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Pressing rewind

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In picture: The house we vacationed in this weekend. Stunning.

Bringing you an update in backwards order.

Z. Currently sitting in Yama’s bed on my laptop. He is next to me on his. He is writing an essay about himself in English for his English class which started last week. I am starting a 20 page essay in French about my internship which is due in two weeks. We occasionally ask each other for advice, and every thirty minutes or so we proof-read each other’s work. It’s a good system. And cute.

Y. I ate dinner (lentils, my favorite meal) and spent time with my family, “family” being an elastic word that includes my neighbor Laye (who has truly became a father to me here), and the close friends of my siblings.

X. I returned home from my internship. I had a long discussion with one of my coworkers. We talked about a lot of things, I don’t really remember exactly what, but one thing was that Senegalese people always love U.S. presidents, obsess over them even. Especially Obama because he’s black, but even Clinton. Every single one, except G.W. Bush, he said.

W. I had lunch with my boss’s family as usual. My boss had a young male guest over today. It was fun for me, not being the guest. I usually get royal treatment, but today I was just a family member and the royal service was given to the guy. I laughed internally at the whole thing, watching someone have to deal with walking the fine line called “polite”, balancing both denying things (like a nice chair when he really prefers sitting on the floor with everyone else) and being thankful and accepting things graciously.

V. Before that, at my internship, I spent most of the morning translating a document from French to English. It’s my major ongoing project there. The document is dense and wordy. But it’s good practice.

U. I woke up and walked to the bus stop. As I was walking past the women grain vendors across the street, I hear the familiar cry of a little baby. Saliou. One of the hardest things I’ll have to leave behind in a few weeks. He always cries when I leave. I rush over to him and pick him up, which instantly stops his crying, and take him down the road with me where I always buy café au lait. I return him to his grandmother after.

T. I woke up. I slept well. I heard and searched around for Alice, my pet mouse who lives in my closet. Didn’t find her.

S. I visited with my friends who I hadn’t seen in a few days – Jibi, Mouhammed, Sadikh. Sadikh and I talked on my porch for a half hour or so which was nice. I updated them on my vacation I had taken.

R. I ate dinner and spent time with the family, who all asked me how my vacation to Toubab Dialaw was. I was hoping they wouldn’t ask who I went with. They never did. I think they’re smart enough not to; they have so much sutura. I went with a boy, which is very taboo in this culture, (and agrees with Christian values). I have no idea what I would have said if they asked. I can’t imagine lying, but I can’t imagine telling them the truth, and I don’t know which I would feel worse about later. Theoretically if it was possible for them to choose, I know for a fact they would prefer to hear a lie – that’s a cultural thing too.

Q. Yama and I took a private taxi to Mermoz.

P. Yama and I took a shared taxi to Dakar.

O. Yama and I took a Dakar Dem Dikk (public bus) from Yene Guedje to bigger village close by.

N. Yama and I spent our last day on vacation, which included mainly breakfast, napping, lunch, and packing.

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M. Saturday – Our only full day of vacation in Yene Guedje. It was really good. Yama cooked dinner (and cleaned up) with little help from me. So delicious. We spent awhile on the beach, walking and having miniature adventures as they came up.

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L. Yama and I spent a lot of time walking and collecting seashells and sea glass and pretty rocks. This is one of my favorite activities and I’ve never been with a boy so into it too! I sacrificed my makeup bag (which now smells) so he could bring them home safely. (Yama has the best and biggest shell on display on top of his TV now. He just told me that he told his six year old niece that the snail is still alive, but just sleeping. Lalla is terrified and definitely won’t be touching (breaking) it.)

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K. Yama played a few rounds of beach soccer.

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J. A little girl brought me a puffer fish! It was so interesting. I had never seen one like it – it was like a huge white goose-bumped balloon full of water.

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I. Yama helped pull in a huge fishing net.

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H. I built a sandcastle with some girls and decorated it with shells.

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G. All the children on the beach came up to me to talk, testing my Wolof, and mostly just look at me. I didn’t mind but sometimes I feel a little bashful or something. When we were walking it the village it was even more crazy, every child announcing there was a Toubab, and often rushing over to me, “Bonjour Toubab!” I don’t mind it. And it kind of broke the ice making it easier to take a picture of me and this boy dressed up as a lion.

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F. Yama had peanut butter and jelly for the first time in his life. Of all the American foods I’ve introduced him to, this is the one he actually wants to eat again.

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E. Yama and I left for our vacation to Toubab Dialaw, but it actually ended up being in Yene Guedje. We rented a part of a gorgeous house on the ocean. I will never be able to explain how perfect the whole thing was. My favorite feature of the house was the mermaid [of no return] next to our door.

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D. I left my internship to go meet up with Yama for our vacation. I waited outside his English class and we left from there.

C. Friday – last work day of a long work week. I had my backpack packed full for vacation, including a bunch of food I had bought at the American Food Store near the U.S. Embassy.

B. The least best week of my stay in Senegal so far, but still not terrible. Certainly there were high points.

A. Had that amazing experience at church.
What’s facing me now? About three weeks left here. A twenty page paper and another smaller essay in French. My research project, which was finally just approved and I can now start interviews, (will post a blog update about that.) Buying gifts for people at home. Figuring out what I’m doing for the people who have done so much for me here. You know, things like that.

Learning Wolof: Lo ragala niak, boulko téyé. Don’t have what you are afraid to lose. (Yama taught me several days ago and I can’t stop thinking about it.)

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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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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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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.”)


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Life today, in lists

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In picture: Me, hanging out at the neighborhood beach. I’ll be back here often.

To buy:

  • electrical converter/adapter (so far I’ve been borrowing a friend’s to charge things)
  • peanuts
  • post cards
  • 10 liter water jug
  • phone minutes

To ask:

  • what time, exactly, is each of the five daily prayers?
  • how do you spell the name of our maid? I can be told something five times, but until it’s in writing I might never remember

To do ASAP:

  • wash underwear (it’s forbidden to give your under garments to the maid for washing)
  • start 3-5 page focus paper on Senegalese cultural values
  • organize/take inventory of my cash, figure out what I’ve spent and how much I have left

Things I miss:

  • warm showers

Things I don’t miss:

  • doing laundry (the maid, every Tuesday, washes, hangs, irons and folds everything)
  • iPhone/texting all day
  • rushing
  • putting on makeup
  • the drink/smoke/bang party scene

Blog post ideas:

  • explanation of structure of Wolof language, as I understand it so far
  • a day in the life
  • my observations about the parallel but strikingly different social scenes
  • thinking critically about child labor
  • different ideas about time, Senegal vs. U.S.

New people:

  • Taylor & Andre (met them at the police station getting visas; Taylor works with an NGO, Andre was down to practice Wolof with me and incredibly sweet)
  • Noussa Gueyè
  • Mahdi (met at bar, young doctor from Tunisia)
  • Mustafa

Homework for this weekend:

  • finish newspaper article presentation preparation with Matthea
  • 1 page essay, in French, definitions of development
  • 2 page Wolof worksheet
  • 8 pages in French workbook
  • prepare country presentation – Sierra Leone, Ghana

Things I’ve learned:

  • “Dama xiff”, Wolof for “I’m hungry” isn’t something to throw around. The use of the pronoun “Dama” means whatever you’re feeling is serious. Practicing my Wolof, I casually said this on the porch. My neighbor immediately got up, and returned 20 minutes later with a (huge and delicious) sandwich. I really could have waited for dinner, and when dinner time came, there was no way I could admit to my mama that I had totally spoiled my appetite.
  • Believe it or not, I’ve lived below about a dozen goats/sheep/big-with-horns-but-I-don’t-know-what-they-are and had no idea until today. This morning I feed them with my brother Papa. They eat, among other things, cardboard box pieces soaked in water.
  • The maid’s son is named Saliou.
  • Senegalese clementines. Nothing compares.

Goals:

  • be better at living in the moment. I’ve had this really weird attitude about time lately that I can’t remember ever feeling. I am getting overwhelmed with how short my time here is. Every day I dread the end. I keep imagining it being entirely shorter than it actually is, and I stress myself out over saying goodbye when really it has just begun.
  • hold short conversation in Wolof by next week
  • find a pumice stone or something and get my feet in check
  • wake up earlier, enjoy the mornings

Learning French: le sable, sand (After the beach today it’s everywhere)


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Sharing a bowl has a whole new meaning here

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In picture:

I took this photo on Sunday at lunch time, sometime between 3:00 and 3:30pm. Two minutes before, 10 people were sitting around the table, as I mentioned in my previous blog post. Questions I didn’t even know I had were answered in class today, Tuesday. It helped me understand this photo more completely even though I hadn’t known I was missing information.

Before I talk about what I learned let me first give some context about the picture. I don’t remember what was in the pan, but it was something with rice, beef, and some sort of sauce and vegetables. With every meal we also eat a lot of bread. Each person has at least nine or so inches of a baguette. We never use utensils. This was the only day we ever have, and I haven’t figured out why we might have used spoons. The meal wasn’t more spoon requiring than any of our other meals. In fact, I found that my spoon didn’t make things easier at all – I missed using my hands. The only guess I can make is that we used spoons because there were so many people around the table and it was easier than having all our hands in the bowl at once. Lastly, when eating around a bowl like this, it’s only appropriate to eat the food just in front of you, in your part of the bowl. Even if the potato piece on the far side of the bowl looks especially appetizing you wouldn’t reach for it.

This is the view from just outside my bedroom door. I live on the second floor. Above this table, straight up – the sky. This is our open air room.

Here is the first question I had answered that I didn’t know I had:

Why, every meal, is mama ripping off pieces of meat and fish and throwing them into my section of the bowl?

I didn’t have this question because I thought I knew the answer. I figured it was because I was new to the game, and she wanted to make sure I ate the meat even if I was too timid to reach to the middle of the bowl and rip some off. I also thought that she was encouraging me to eat more meat, because admittedly I had been shy about taking it and sometimes even wary of eating too much of it. I would quietly say “Merci” and wait a little bit before until eating it because as soon as I did, I knew she would feel that she had to throw me another piece.

Today in Wolof class (my favorite class, a blog post will come eventually), the professor starting talking about meal time. He explained the role of mothers at the table. He said that during the meal, the mother is constantly surveying the bowl, making sure everybody has enough food in the part of the bowl in front of them. Sometimes, with especially good meals, my section will be cleaned out. Mama will push some more rice or noodles into my section so I can continue to eat. She’s also in charge of breaking off pieces of meat and fish for the children around the bowl, who aren’t necessarily supposed to do this for themselves. Now I understand. She is treating me like a child when she breaks off meat for me. I’m not offended. In Senegal, I am a child. I have a lot of learn yet.

In Wolof class today we also went around and told the class an embarrassing moment so far in Senegal. (I’m not sure I will share what I said on this blog. But I’m a pretty open person, so maybe.) One student said that her family told her that she says “Merci”, thank you, too much. She was thanking them for things that were simply expectations, cultural norms. (I also think that we over apologize and over thank in the U.S.) I thought about this in relation to meal time, and vowed not to say thank you every time mama passes me meat. She is simply doing her job as a good mama. I’m experiencing a lot of things at home but starving will never be one of them.

Why, every meal, do people just walk away from the table, leaving mom alone to clean up?

This is another question I thought I knew the answer to, but my answer was incomplete. Now I understand. At the end of the meal, when everyone has had their fill and left the table, mama can relax and just worry about feeding herself. Now she will eat until she is full, and while doing so, clean up the plate, organizing the leftovers into the middle and taking the rest of the meat off the bone. I’m assuming they save the leftovers but I’ve never seen what happens to the plate after it leaves the table. Sometimes after I’m full, I will stop eating but still stay at the table waiting for mama to be done too. Now I realize that it’s probably good that I leave, so I can be officially off her feeding radar.

That’s meal time! Of course, even within Dakar there are many differences between families and the way things run. But I think that many of the things in this post are generalizable to Senegalese culture. At the very least, they are my humble observations of mealtime in the Georges family.

Learning Wolof: Waxal ndànk ndànk, Speak slowly (This will become a useful phrase.)


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FAQs

ebolaimage3

With just over a week before I start my journey, I thought I would answer some questions that people frequently ask when I tell them about my upcoming semester abroad.

Are you scared or worried?

In general no, I’m not. I’ve been waiting my whole life for this and I’m ready. The only thing that I might be anxious about is that I don’t feel prepared to carry on conversations in French. I have taken 5 semesters of French at the University of Michigan, but it takes me a really long time to formulate even basic sentences. But, I will be fine! Becoming better at (and maybe even almost fluent in) French is one of the biggest reasons for my studying in Senegal.

What will you do?

I don’t have a super clear idea of what I will be doing, but it doesn’t bother me. From what I understand I will be taking classes for the first half of the semester. It won’t be terribly different from my responsibility as a student in Ann Arbor – go to classes all week, study for them, pass them. The second half of the semester I will switch residences and have some sort of internship, perhaps at a rural elementary school or something. I will get more details once I arrive.

Is it civilized there?

The term “developed” is the most accepted term to use to ask about the standard of living in Senegal. Senegal is considered a generally underdeveloped country when measuring it by various factors. In terms of Senegal’s Human Development, it’s considered a third world country. The Human Development Index measures Senegal’s development, considering life expectancy, years of schooling, and GNI per capita. Is Senegal poor? Most would agree, yes. When considering the rest of the African countries, however, Senegal has average or just above average wealth, depending on the specific value analyzed. Do they lack adequate health systems? Maybe. They don’t have health systems anywhere near that of the U.S. Are they aware of Western technology and ideas? I would imagine that yes, they totally are. It seems to me that there are only very small pockets, if any at all, of people anywhere in the world that are unaware of how life is, in general, for Americans. Their pictures of it may be incomplete or somewhat inaccurate, but I believe that they have a much better picture of our daily lives than we have of theirs. Also, remember, I actually don’t know that much about Senegal.

Do they hate Americans?

I don’t think so. But I don’t know any Senegalese people, so I don’t know what the most common opinion is about Americans. Some people follow up this question with, “But they’re Muslim, right?” They are. And admittedly I don’t know a lot about Islam, but I do know that not all Muslims, or Muslim nations, hate Americans. And if the Senegalese people “hate Americans” as far as they dislike a lot of what the U.S. government has done in the past and present around the world, then I don’t really blame them. In fact, we can probably find many common opinions in this area. I’m 99% sure they won’t hate me, but I’ll get back to you about it.

How many other students from your school are going?

As far as I know, none! I don’t know a single person who is going to be there. The University of Michigan Senegal study abroad program was cancelled due to lack of applicants. I am studying abroad through the University of Minnesota, however, and I believe there will be a handful of students from U of MN to interact with regularly. Coordinating study abroad with the University of Minnesota has been extremely great so far. The staff that I’ve been working with are amazing, their application and preparation process has been smooth and comforting, and I think it’s going to be an awesome program.

Are you living with a family?

Yes! I recently received my home-stay information. I am living with an older woman who has three kids that are moved out. However, my host-mom’s grandchildren usually spend the day at the home I’m staying in. My host-mom’s nephew also lives at this house, and he is 25 and a student. To me, this sounds absolutely perfect. I adore small children and will be excited to have them around. Having someone at the house who is more or less my age (even better, more) might help me have a little group of Senegalese students to be friends with immediately! And, the fact that he’s a guy might mean that he can help keep me safe. Oh, and I’ve never had a brother before; this might be the closest I’ll ever get.

But wait… Ebola?

Yes, that is a valid question. Senegal, like the Ebola epidemic right now, is in West Africa. Am I concerned about it? Not really. Senegal has had only one case and zero deaths. (The U.S. has had four cases and one death). When I try to comfort the concerned individual with these numbers however, they often say, “Yes, but didn’t those Americans contract Ebola outside of the U.S.?” Yes, two of the cases of Ebola in the U.S. were contracted in West Africa, and the other two were nurses who had been treating one of them. However, the patient with Ebola in Senegal did not contract it in Senegal either. My life passion is Africa; if I wait for it to be 100% safe, I’ll never go.

Learning Wolof: Naka mou? How’s it going?


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“Where’s that?”

westafricamap

When I tell people I’m studying abroad in Senegal, the response I get a large majority of that time is, “Where’s that?” The ensuing conversation is sometimes entertaining.

“It’s in West Africa.”
“Oh, Senegal is a city in the country West Africa.”

or

“It’s in West Africa.”
“Oh, like by Kenya!?”

No and no. Although originally I was disheartened by the lack of familiarity with Africa by the general public, it doesn’t upset me and I don’t think less of anyone for their ignorance. It’s probably no one’s fault individually, but rather some problem with the U.S. education system or neglect on behalf of the media. Furthermore, perhaps not everyone needs to know about Africa, although I would argue the average American should know more than they do, and I must not take for granted that I’m an African Studies major. I don’t know very much about ionic bonds or derivatives; I don’t study chemistry or mathematics. We all have our own specialities. I also have decided that I have been put into a position where I have a great opportunity to educate my fellow Americans about Africa, or at least the small parts of Africa that I have gained some insight on.

Many of you will know that I studied in West Africa this summer as well. I spent four weeks in Ghana. Although my time in Ghana has helped me prepare for Senegal, the two countries are quite different.

Senegal is a small country, marginally smaller than the state of Michigan, on the westernmost point of contiguous Africa. French, spoken in much of Africa, is their official language. My classes will be taught in French, but I will also learn Wolof, the most widely spoken language in Senegal. Most of the Senegalese population is Muslim.

Although I know a little bit about the history and political climate of Senegal from my classes, unfortunately this is the extent of my knowledge about Senegal. Textbooks would probably never be able to give me a complete and true idea of Senegal anyway, and I’m excited to discover Senegal for myself starting on January 18th.

Learning Wolof: Yendul ak jamm, Pass the day in peace