Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Moutons Moutons Moutons!

I have never seen so many sheep in my life.
Tabaski, the second major Muslim holiday of our little stay in Senegal, is fast approaching. On Saturday, every head of household kills a sheep, and the women gut it, grill it, and serve it with onions. I'm not quite sure why people celebrate Tabaski at the end of November, but it seems that at every major occurence (baptisms, weddings, etc.) a sheep dies.
Currently, two sheep reside on our rooftop. In early morning, one can hear them bahh-ing for dear life. I have yet to climb up to the roof since we bought them, but I'm not quite sure I want to see them until just before the slaughter. As an American, our meat only comes in plastic-wrapped post-slaughter form, so there is no real association between our meal and the animal it once was.
And...I"m being kicked out of the computer lab.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Africa Time

Wow, it's been a long time since the last post. I'll lamely excuse myself my saying that I'm running on Africa time. According to the laws of Africa time, everything starts/finishes/gets done late. For example, if a concert is slated to start at 9pm, the musicians sit down at 11 pm. Sometimes professors don't even show up for class. Assignments are assigned and teachers forget about them. At first, this law of African nature grates upon an American to no end. However, after a few months, one begins to accept the slow, mildly inefficient manner in which things are run.
Let's see, since my last post, I've departed for and returned from my rural visit, which was in Yenne, and received the new computer!!!!
Since Yenne is the area of more interest to those who read this blog, I'll write about that as opposed to Gerald (yes, I named the computer).
Yenne is a moderately sized village about two hours by bus from Dakar. It's situated right next to the artist's colony we had visited in September, Toubab Dialow. I stayed with a true African family in an apartment complex/house. In traditional African settings, entire families (parents, sons, daughter-in-laws, children, etc.) live together in larger compound-like buildings. It's not uncommon to see 20 or more people living in this fashion. Each family has their own mini apartment, but they live, eat, and work together.
In my particular family, four or five families, with 8-10 small children lived in the compound. Add in the random friends and visitors who drop by, and you get a crazy house. At mealtimes, one ate as fast as humanly possible in order to protect one's portion of rice from all the small hands reaching into the bowl.
Since some of my family did not speak French, the two other CIEE students and I were encouraged to speak Wolof. Judging by the fact that we had all half-heartedly followed our beginner's Wolof courses for a mere two months, our conversations weren't all that intellectual (think pointing and saying "pretty!" which in Wolof is Rafetna!). However, despite the language barrier, I managed to befriend the woman who barely spoke French. Who knew pointing and talking like a two year old could be a good starter for friendship?
To be continued...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Posting Laziness

To explain my lack of posts, I will have to use the excuse of study abroad doldrums. Gym, school, host family time, out with friends. I guess this is what it feels like to finally begin to adjust to another country\culture. Of course, the harassment by jaded locals and the perception that all white people are mere walking dollar bills has been old for a while and is still irritating, I feel like the majority of us have gotten used to it enough to ignore it.
So, before explaining Halloween celebrations in a country that does not celebrate Halloween, I`ll give an overview of Senegal right now. It is hot but dry, so I can actually walk down the street without becoming a human water fountain. According to the Senegalese, the heat is supposed to dissipate by December, but these are also people who wear long sleeves and pants when the temperature drops below 80. It is also almost veggie season, so more and more carrots, cabbagge, etc. is appearing in our meals. Before I came here, I never realized how wonderful a couple of leaves of cabbage actually were. Or any vegetable for that matter. A white carb and meat based diet makes one truely thankful for the varied American diet.
And now...HALLOWEEN!
Alex, Estee, and I dressed up as half of the Spice Girls and we started out at the school party with Rachel, Allyson, Kristine, Keely, Jocelyn, and Heather. After much dancing and some wine, we opted for a change in venue and hopped Heather`s friend`s car to the US Marine house. However, once we were dropped off in the location where we thought the house was, we found ourselves stranded at 1 am on the Corniche, a road that runs alongside the ocean. Estee made a quick call to her friend at the Marine house and, lo and behold, and Marine SUV appeared within minutes to escort us to the house. And those are the American tax drivers hard at work; saving Halloween for exchange students everywhere. We finished the night with more dancing and a trip to another club. In all, I must say that Halloween in a Muslim country was surprisingly similar to the American version. Well, except for the fact that every conversation is conducted in French. And I think the taxi drivers were quite amused by our outfits as well. :)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

No Alli, The Lions Did Not Eat Me

Back in Dakar, Day One.

I have not had internet access for one whole week! The reason? Backpacking trip to Senegal Orient for the week!

Day One:

We left on Saturday morning, catching a cab to the train stationat 5:30 am. However, in Senegal, train station does not mean train station. Rather, it's a hub where one can catch a bus or a seven-seater car called a sept-place to wherever one wants to go. In our case, we clambored aboard a sept-place heading to Tamba, a transportation hub in Southeast Senegal. Seven hours later, we disembarked to discover that our legs had turned to jelly and that Tamba, besides being a location at which to hire a driver, is also a vendor's paradise. Within two minutes, we had refused offers for bananas, juice in a bag, cell phones, and panties.

"Where are you going?" "Ou allez-vous?" Drivers pronounced as they swarmed our group along with the vendors. Now began the process of negotiating for a car to Kedougou, another town in Southeast Senegal with access to the mountains (really hills, but I'll call them mountains for Senegal's sake). Ultimately, we opted for a mini-bus, which at about $8 American, is $6 cheaper than the more reliable sept-place. But we didn't have too far to go; Kedougou was only three hours away, so why not? we reasoned.

Bad decision. After waiting for three hours for the bus to attract enough passenegers to load, the drivers decided to eat dinner before leaving. Add two hours waiting time. Dinner was fun, filled with French conversation with Senegalese taxi men and the smell of eggs fried in an inch of oil. However, the bus ride is an entirely different story. Packed to the gills, the fellow passengers thought it was funny to poke at the first person who tried to fall asleep. Which, unfortunately, was me. "Il faut taper elle!" " We have to poke her!"

Six hours and two identity checks by border police later, we arrived in Kedougou cramped, overtired, but thankful to have found a Kedougou native who could show us to the nearest auberge. Exausted, we collapsed in bed to sleep off our Senegalese public transportation adventure.

Day Two: Kedougou

We woke to full sunshine and nostrils full of fresh air. It was wonderful! In Dakar, cars don't have to filter their exhaust, so we end up breathing diesel fumes all day. In Kedougou, the worst smells were cow dung. After breakfasting on bananas (bought from a woman who only spoke Pular and didn't understand the hand signal for two) and pate d'arachide (a bitter peanut butter goo that we desperately bought in lieu of peanut butter the day before leaving), we called our guide Djiby to start our adventure!

Since we had arrived a day in advance (when traveling in Senegal, always allot yourself one extra travel day in case a car breaks down), Djiby took us to his house to eat lunch while we waited for our other guide Alpha. Rice mixed with peanut powder never tasted so good.

Finally Alpha rode up on his motorcycle and we discussed our plan of attack for the week. It ended up the following:

Day 1 (today): hike 9 miles to Bandafassi and stay at the campement (a camp with huts)

Day 2: climb a mountain to Itwol, visit the village, then hike 5 miles to the Iwol campement and visit a Pular village once we had settled in

Day 3: finish the trek to Dindefelo, a village 12 km from the Guinean border

Day 4: climb a mountain to visit various villages and see a small waterfall

Day 5: Visit the caves and the small village named Dinde

Day 6: pick peanuts, hike to the large waterfall, and catch a truck back to Kedougou

Day 7: leave

So, Day 1 turned out to be an incredibly hot and fast hike. Whenever we stopped, our bodies literally poured sweat. Kate, one of the girls on the trip, was stunned when she could wipe her forehead and fling water droplets into the air.

Day 2:

The first hike was quite lovely, as the early morning cloud cover kept the heat at bay until 11 am or so. We topped out onto a rocky summit where we could see the all the way to the Guinean mountain-border. Plus, Jocelyn, the other girl (the boy of the trip was Ed), and I discovered a V0 climbing problem on the summit! Easy, but at least it was climbing!

The trek finished with a hot slog into campement Iwol, where we met two French travelers. During our walk to the Pular village later in the afternoon, we met Pular children who could say how are you in Pular, French, Spanish, and broken English. Absolutely adorable. During the night, we experienced our first Southeast Senegal rain storm: the wind pushed our doors and windows wide open in a matter of seconds. Jocelyn had to weight the back of the door with my backpack to keep it shut.

Day 3:

Last trek with the heavy backpacks. As we had outwalked our guides by this point, they negotiated a free ride on the Frenchie's truck. So, 19 km later, we disembarked to trek the last 5 miles to our final campement, passing through Segou, the border village, where truckloads of Guineans and Senegalese arrive and depart. We actually saw one of these trucks being filled with rice and goods as we met one of the border patrol officers.
Once in Dindefelo, Pular for near the mountains, we followed our guides to the soccer pitch to watch the warmup of the national soccer tournement. Due to an unknown conflict, the game was never actually played.

Day 4:
Mountain climbing day! In Southeast Senegal, the mountains are rather tough to climb, despite their lack of height. Rather than employing switchbacks, trails are cut in the most direct manner possible: straight up. Read: ridiculously steep and fun treks. Village visits, swimming under a mini waterfall, and two lunches later (you can't turn down a food invitation), we stumbled back to camp to relax in our huts.

Day 5:
Caves and Dinde day. This time we hiked up the other side of the mountain on a trail even steeper and even more breathtaking. During our break halfway up, we looked over the misty mountains and listened to monkeys play in the trees below. At the caves, we found an old hunting cavern, lush flora, and wasps with a taste for Kate. In Dinde, we met two old women who gloried in stuffing us full of fresh peanuts and Jocelyn and Kate learned how to make traditional Senegalese pottery.

Day 6:
Last day in Dindefelo. Ed, Kate, and I picked peanuts for Djiby's mother and, in return, tasted tamarind oatmeal and received 10 pounds of raw peanuts. Picking was satisfying, but I sincerely hope that my host family loves raw peanuts. :) Mid-morning led to more waterfall swimming under an enormous cascade two kilometers from our campment. Even I loved the water, and I notoriously am not a fan of that element.
Sadly enough, afternoon meant the departure from Dindefelo. When we arrived back in Kedougou, we discovered that all of the cheap lodgings were filled, and we couldn't afford the pricier ones. Luckily for us, Djiby is a saint; he offered up his apartment until we had to catch our 4:30 am bus out of Southeast Senegal. Thus, we dropped our gear off in his studio, picked up two cases of beer (the Peace Corps are not teetotalers, Daniel stressed) and hiked to the Peace Corp house for dinner (thanks for an invitation from Daniel, the Dindefelo Peace Corp volunteer). Upon arriving, a huge grin broke out of my face. Mexican food and beer! Tacos with beef, cabbage, guacamole, and salsa felt like a gift from God. Plus, chatting with fellow Americans was relaxing in itself. We could exchange stories of life in the States and compare reactions about life in this funny country we all found ourselves in.
Day 7:
Even sadder than Day 6: the day to finally leave Senegal Orient. Djiby, always the saint, escorted us to our early morning bus out and departed to hearfelt goodbyes. Ten minutes after he left, a Peace Corps volunteer arrived at the station! Turns out, he was headed north as well! Thanks to him and his Pular language abilities, our transfer in Tamba went smoothly and cheaply.
The final leg of our journey was easily the dirtiest part of our adventure. Nine hours of dusty road equals red and dusty white people. When I finally showered at home, my white shampoo literally turned red in it's attempt to remove the dirt from my heavy and slightly sticky hair.
And...that's all for now!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Toubab Dialow

No blog posts for the last week; I've been sick and in bed for the majority of my days since Monday. Although I did discover that doctors will do house-call consultations for $50. And if you have need of their services later in the week? They'll come a second time for free.
Anywho, to the more interesting part: the artist's colony CIEE visited last weekend!
Toubab Dialow is, almost literally, an oceanside paradise. The mosaic-ed walls of the hotel rose above a white beach whose shore stretched to the left and to the right almost as far as the eye could see. Small children were constantly at play among the pirogues (Senegalese fishing boats) and the pelicans. During our first lunch there, we saw two adolescents capture a pelican live (for that night's dinner, of course) from the rocks jutting out into the sea.
Since the area is an artist's colony, CIEE planned our first day to be filled with one class of our choice (dancing, drumming, or batiking) and complete relaxation. Thus, in between my naps in the hammock above the beach, I made a batik using a wax and dye technique. First, we drew our desired pattern on our 1/3 yard of fabric and painted select portions with hot wax. This finished, we chose the two colors for our batik and left the swatches with the professionals to have them dyed. The next morning, my fabric was dark blue with a light blue tinge to the waxed parts. I then painted the sections that I wanted to be dyed the second color in hot wax and relinquished my fabric to the pro again. By afternoon, my new batik was dyed, washed, and Saturday night, the hotel and CIEE organized a dance and drumming concert, but unfortunately, as I had begun to feel ill that morning, and the maladie had progressed to near full force by that evening, I headed to bed early, to the room my roommates and I christened "the seashell treehouse with princess beds".
Morning two: I felt better, and rejoiced to find millet bread (!!!! This was the first time I had seen anything resembling a whole grain in Senegal. You can imagine the excitement, even if I were ill) and strawberry-like preserves. The rest of day two was spent in the hammock, like day one.
Even though I was ill, I felt thankful that I was ill in paradise. There's no better place to heal than an area where one feels completely relaxed amongst peace and beauty.
Next week I'm off on fall break! Three of my classmates: Ed, Jocelyn, and Kate; and I are off to a region in southeast Senegal known as the Bassari country to backpack for the week. It's going to be eight days of nature, adventure, and of course, Senegalese October heat. I'm so excited! I promise I'll fill you in in a timely manner the week of the 12th.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Way Too Belated Post

Apologies for my lazy blogging this past week. Between the crazy computer lab schedule and my sheer forgetfulness, I've left a small gap in travel log. I'll make it up right now with a brief overview of the events of the past seven days.
If I had a bucket list, I would have fulfilled one of the items last Saturday: surfing! A group of six or seven piled into two taxis Saturday afternoon and directed the drivers to the Yoff beach of northern Dakar. After hiring an instructor and renting boards, leashes, and wet suit tops (so our stomachs, if we were wearing bikinis, wouldn't chafe from the top of the board) for a mere $12 for two hours, we set out into the crashing ocean waves. Unlike American lessons, where the teacher dotes on his/her students in an almost motherly way, our instructor approached his lesson the way a Pitt Psych 101 professor would teach a lecture hall class: by demonstrating once and standing in the waves, watching and staying "good job" or "bad job" as needed. Surprisingly, this method worked well; learning felt more like solving a problem than blinding mimicking the expert. Through sodden determination, several of us (including me!) managed to stand up several times by the 1.5 hour mark. (Side note: I've never felt water so warm; it was quite like taking a tepid bath).
Sunday, dry and salt-free, I donned my new, turquoise, tailor-made sundress for Korite. Korite is the holiday marking the end of Ramadan. In short, it's the Muslim Thanksgiving. To celebrate the end of a month of fasting, Muslims spend the day visiting friends and relatives, apologizing for past insults, praying, and eating copious quantities of high energy food. For example, breakfast consisted of a sugared millet meal topped with a small lake of sweet peanut and baobab juice. Honestly, it tastes like a PB and J in a bowl, aka absolutely delicious. At midmorning, during my visiting rounds, my friend's host family served my friends and I couscous and raisins with sweet whole milk yogurt on top, followed by a variety of sodas (I chose pineapple. Yum). By lunchtime, I already full from the couscous yogurt pudding, sat down to a mutton and pasta feast served on a plate on the floor. Thankfully dinner was a simple mug of the peanut and millet goo.
And I'm being kicked out of the computer lab. So...ba beneen yoon!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cultural Ponderances

Hmmm...what to write, what to write. The days seem to all squish together, what with classes, working out, and fumbling my way through Dakar life. Assimilating into Dakar life is still a grand and, at times, frustrating adventure. All the people are extremely friendly, but the friendliness oftentimes seems odd and sometimes irritating to a born and bred New Yorker. We are supposed to greet the people we see on street everyday, like the security guards and street vendors, even if we've never actually had a conversation. Strangers say "hello" just for the sheer kicks of saying hello. Most of the time, the exchanges are refreshing; after all, who would have thought that a culture that makes simple niceties a necessity actually existed? Other times, all I want to do is retreat back into my "ignoring strangers is polite" American mindset.

I wonder what will happen when I return to the United States? Will I find it offensive when the newspaper vendor doesn't greet me with a "Hello, how are you?" every day? Will I be the student the homeless of Forbes Ave. love because I give them a few brief seconds of my day?

And...I'm being kicked out of the computer lab.

Ba beneen yoon (until next time)!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Host Family

Here I am, fourth blog in, and I forgot to write about one of the most important parts of my stay: the host family!

I live in a neighborhood about 1.2 miles from school called Sacre Coeur 3 with an older couple (they're about 65-70) and their 16-year-old maid. The couple own the entire apartment complex, so they reside on the bottom floor and rent the rest out to students. (Side note: last night, my host mom joked, "This building is filled with toubabs!" Toubab is the Wolof term for white people). I'm the eighth exchange student they've hosted; I believe they take one in each semester to have a new face to talk to.
Yaay, my host mom, is undeniably the cornerstone of the house. My host dad once said that she was the sun and the rest of the home revolves around her. She's very religious, going to the mosque multiple times per day. Cleaning, cooking, and errands are all done under her watchful eye. And when she's not supervising the maid's activities, she plays the socialite by visiting and chatting on her cell phone. At first I thought she was a bit reserved and brisk, but after a week I discovered that she is, in actuality, an outgoing and boisterous woman. Example: her side project is creating a telephone directory for all her friends and family. It's huge. As for the briskness, it's just how Senegalese mothers communicate. If they suggest something or give advice, it sounds like they are scolding, but it's just their way of guiding.
Pa Joe is the typical scholar. He studied at the Sorbonne and has worked in Washington DC and Dakar. He doesn't leave the house much, as he needs a walker to move around, but he keeps busy by reading, watching the news, and debating with and correcting the French grammar of whichever foreign exchange student is currently living with them. His sense of humor is typical of the Senegalese. For example, last night he jokingly tried to marry me off to Yaay's cousin (who's only 35 and unmarried). He laughed in pride at his joke when I refused.
Mari, the maid, is a true sweetiepie. She's only in my house until she returns to high school in the Sine Saloum region of Senegal in October. I have never seen anyone work as hard as she does. From 7 am to 11 pm she's on the go, washing clothes, cleaning dishes, sweeping, folding, cooking, etc. etc. She works all day, seven days a week, with Saturday night to Monday morning off every other week. Sereer, a native Senegalese tongue, was her first language, and she later learned both Wolof and French. Now she's taking English classes in high school. At first she comes across as quiet, but after I spoke with her a little bit, helped her with some chores, and shared my lollipops with her, she's always ready for a chat. Currently, I've been teaching her random English words while she helps me with Wolof and French vocabulary.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Ile de Goree

On Sunday our CIEE program organized a trip to the Ile de Goree, a touristy-historical site about 1 km off the coast of Dakar. The beauty of the island is breathtaking: lush green plants, sandy beaches, small cliffs beaten by the relentless serf, and colorful Afro-European style buildings defined the isle. Street vendors sold colorful garments and fabrics, and hawked musical instrument and traditional statues.
Our first stop was the infamous Maison des Esclaves, or House of the Enslaved. It was considered the point of no return for African slaves who were to be shipped to America. We toured the tiny holding pens (pictures will be included later) and gazed out at the rocky coast from the balcony of the building. The place had the air of a tropical Alcatraz.
Next stop was the Musee des Femmes, or Women's Museum. It's a private museum designed to commemorate the contribution that African women made and make to their culture.
Then the Musee Historique, or Historical Museum, which documented the History of the Island from it geologic formation to current life.
Finally, my favorite, the Castel. It's the only hill that rises on Goree, and from it, one can view the entirety of the island as well as catch a glimpse of neighboring Dakar. On the hike up, we passed goats and cows chewing on grass on the steep hill. I was taken aback by the fact that Goree farmers use the steep slope to feed their creatures. It seemed like they could fall off at any minute.
To culminate the trip, an enormous thunderstorm broke above our heads as we sipped coffee at the local restaurant. The thunder here is quite terrifying; it almost literally shakes one's bones.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Week Three!

Time has started to fly by now that I've settled into something reminiscent of a schedule. Gym/run, class, email checking, Ramadan dinner. I'm finally getting used to Senegal as well. People randomly starting conversation in the street isn't as bothersome and I greet the bank security guard, the university guards, and the the coffee vendor daily as I walk to school.
I'm excited to see the non-Ramadan Dakar. Since 95% of the population do not eat during the day, most people sleep during the daylight hours, eat a huge dinner at the breaking of the fast, wake up at 4 am to eat breakfast, then sleep again. The clubs are closed (Dakar has a huge music scene), and restaurants don't open until the breaking of the fast at 7:30 pm.
However, being here during the Holy month is interesting as well. My host mom goes to the mosque multiple times a day, and I see my host father pray every night. He prays in a sing-song like way that includes bowing and a Muslim rosary. Furthermore, since my host dad is considered the grandfather of the neighborhood, the children of Sacre Coeur 3 (my neighborhood) bring him little pastries on occasion to show their respect. It's adorable when kids do this, as they approach the door really shyly to give him the pastries.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Week and a Half In

I promised to set up a blog about my study abroad trip to Senegal, so here it is!
I've been here for about a week and a half so far, but it feels like a month has past. Every day presents new challenges and almost every one of these obstacles could be easily overcome by a Senegalese 10-year-old. We're learning to barter effectively, ctross the street (there are no traffic lights or signs here), negotiate a taxi price in Wolof (the native language), and to respond to marriage proposals from Senegalese street vendors adn taxi drivers. As far as the marriage proposals go, it's best to lie and say that we are married. Conversations typically go like this:

Taxi Driver: Are you married?
Me: Yes.
Taxi Driver: To an American or a Senegalese?
Me: American.
Now the exchange can go either of two ways:
Taxi Driver: You can always have a Senegalese husband.
Taxi Driver: Are your friends married?
Me: Yes.

Even though the city itself is typical of a poorer country, the vistas here are beautiful! When we drive to downtown, we drive along the ocean where huge waves beat against the sand. From the "Phare des Mamelles", or the Lighthouse of the Mamelles, one can view the entirety of Dakar and the ocean surrounding it. Plus, it's one of the few places in Dakar where one can see enough trees and plants to pretend that one is in a forest rather than a city.
Being here makes me appreciate how comfortable of a life we live in the United States. Here, the power cuts out for hours almost daily and finding a decent internet connection is harder to find than a NYC cab driver who doesn't curse. Bread crumbs are made with stale bread and mortar and pestle, and maids (almost every Senegalese family has a maid) do the laundry by hand.