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. 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.