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Toubab drummers

 Our final music concert

 My favourite thing about Senegal

 My banana man! Issa and I

One of our favourite activities

This is how I dress now.

Not the fastest mode of transportation...

My yaye and I

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Ba beneen, Senegal!

Hi everyone,

I can’t believe how crazy this is but today is my last day in Senegal! So many emotions running through me at one time.

It’s been a great last couple of weeks—we made it through final papers and tests, on Wednesday evening we had a music concert where we played djembes and sang for the ACI folks and our families, and Thursday we had our “Re-entry Session” to prepare us for returning to the western lands. Today my family is cooking a big lunch since it’s my last meal…of course they can’t resist one last opportunity to fatten me up 🙂

I’m thrilled to be going home to the land of cold cereal, rain and recycling, but I can’t even explain how much I’m going to miss everyone here. Saying goodbye to all the wonderful people who work at ACI is awful—they’ve become like a second family. And can’t forget my toubabs! Before coming here I didn’t really know any of the other 9 people in my group, but after all our adventures together we’ve become the best of friends. Most of them I won’t see until school starts up again in the autumn, which is weird after being together all this time. And of course my host family here. They have made the past 3 ½ months completely unforgettable. Issa is the number one reason I know I have to come back to Senegal one day in the future.

That’s it! Thanks to all of you who read this blog, I really appreciate all the support and interest. When I get back to the states, I’ll try to put up a few pictures (courtesy of the toubabs who brought cameras). Now I’m off to England for 2 weeks! Enough of this sunshine!

Love you all,

Fatima

P.S. The day before yesterday it rained here. Alexis and I ran to the ocean and suddenly I felt droplets of something wet. I couldn’t believe it. My life is fulfilled. It lasted about 5 minutes and was only a few drops, but all I wanted was one time 🙂

the home stretch

Hello everyone! Sorry it’s been a while (again). They’ve been keeping us busy, and it’s also been really nice to just stay in Dakar for a while. I actually have time to go to the market, do my homework, draw fish and elephants and crocodiles with Issa…

A few (hopefully) interesting things for your reading pleasure…

Classes: I finished my History of Islam class. We turned in final papers—a big thanks to those of you who helped me out with the jihad survey questions! And yesterday we had our final Wolof exam. Alhamdulilaay! Mostly we just have a crapload of French classes left (they decided to add Saturday classes). Also some low-key final topics for Seminar and Lit class. One more music class and then a small final concert. And this Friday presentations and papers due for Continuity and Change on our “research projects” aka Toubacouta for me. It’s actually pretty cool—Alexis and I got permission to do our paper in story form. We’re each writing half of it, so in the end we’re going to have a 25 page French story of everything that happened!

We’ve had a couple lit classes with the author of the book we’ve been reading. His name is Charles Cheikh Sow and he is a really renowned Senegalese author. He’s a really cool dude, and especially as an English major/aspiring writing I’m pretty stoked that I actually get to have classes with him.

Easter/Independence Day: The weekend of the fourth was not just Easter (yes, this is a 95% Muslim country but they’ll find any excuse to celebrate) but also the 50th anniversary of Senegal’s independence. For Easter I went to a friend’s house because her family is Catholic and had a little Easter do. It was lovely.

I didn’t do anything crazy for Indep Day. All the hoopla was about the statue. If you haven’t heard about it, you should google “Senegal Monument de la Renaissance.” Basically President Wade recently built this enormous 30 million dollar statue. It’s supposed to symbolize the “rebirth of Africa” or some shiz, but basically it’s just a huge-ass waste of money, not to mention ugly as hell. Most people aren’t too happy about it…not unreasonable considering my family (not even a poverty-stricken African family) doesn’t have power in our house at least one night a week. Anyway, they inaugurated the statue the day before Independence Day. There was also a parade and a lutte on the 4th which I watched with my family on tv. Go figure, the Senegalese celebrate their independence by watching tv.

The fam: It’s been nice being here to on the weekends to spend more time with my family. Plus, Issa just had 12 days of Easter vacation. I can’t actually believe we all lived through it. In all honesty though, I’m going to miss my family so much. I’ve become really attached to yaye and mam, and of course Issa.

I’m into the home stretch now. My program ends in 2 weeks. Aaah! I’ll be sad to leave my family but I’m so excited to go to England for 2 weeks and then to return to the States. It all seems pretty surreal. Oh my god, I want rain!!!

Love love love,

Fatima

This is Doudou

Bonjour tout le monde! Sorry it has been so long. I have definitely been slacking on the blog front. In my defense, I have a 7-page Islam paper, an hour long French presentation, and a 10-page Continuity and Change paper all due in the coming week or so.

Let’s see. What exciting things have happened lately?

TOUBACOUTA [warning: This may be long and wordy. But so was Dickens.]

 Last weekend was our final voyage outside Dakar. We had to do individual research for this upcoming 10-pager. We split into pairs and got to choose where we wanted to go/what we wanted to study. Alexis and I picked traditional medicine in Toubacouta. The planning of this trip was one of the most disastrous, unorganized, Senegalese experiences I have endured. In the end, I was handed an “itinerary” on Thursday (we were supposed to leave Friday) which said the following (this is a direct translation): Take a car towards Gambia. Get off at Toubacouta. Call some dude named El Hadj. He’ll come get you. Thanks, ACI. Very detailed.

THE VOYAGE

Friday 7:30 am Alexis and I leave our houses, each with a meager ACI stipend that is supposedly going to get us through Tuesday. We take a taxi to the “station.” This so-called station turns out to be a gigantic car park with a million buses, bush taxis, station wagons, and other rusty, piece-of-shit vehicles all parked haphazardly in the dirt. We are immediately surrounded by a load of Senegalese dudes asking “Where do you wanna go? Saint-Louis? Saint-Louis? I’ll take you. Come with me!” We manage to navigate our way to a bus and buy tickets to Toubacouta.

9 am We board the bus. Many many vendors getting on and off the bus trying to sell us all sorts of crap, never leaving us alone. One nice chap told Alexis that if she didn’t buy a pair of sunglasses he would go get a rock and smash her head with it. My reaction was, gaping, “Excuse-moi?” Her reaction was to buy the sunglasses.

11 am We are still on the bus. Have pulled and reversed a bit around the station a few times in order to let people through (they don’t believe in parking spaces here) but now we are parked in the same place as when we began. There are maybe 2 other people on the bus. They finally tell us, this bus isn’t going anywhere! They take us to another bus, this one actually with passengers and we get on that one to go to Toubacouta.

12ish Finally leave the station. It’s getting hot. We get stuck in serious Dakar traffic. By this time our food is all gone. When I say they pack these buses, I mean they PACK these buses. As in you are shoved between an enormous Senegalese woman and her 40 metres of fabric and some dude who keeps asking you to marry him. You are sweltering and the bus isn’t going anywhere. Not to mention when it does move, they keep making seemingly pointless stops every 2 blocks. You do not want to drink water because you have NO IDEA when you will next get to pee. Needless to say, miserable.

We finally get out of Dakar and are actually moving…until—

2:30ish Suddenly we are ordered off the bus at this random-ass gas station and are told if we want to go to Toubacouta we should get on that bush taxi over there. So much for “directement.” Do we have time to run and pee? I ask. I HAVE NOT PEED SINCE 7:30 AM and these are not paved roads, this is bumpy bush lands. No, the dude says. Board toute suite.

We get on the bush taxi. About as comfortable as before but at least we are moving again.

4:30 pm Bush taxi breaks down in the middle of nowhere. I don’t mean Kansas-middle-of-nowhere. I mean MIDDLE OF FUCKING NOWHERE. We are starving and our bladders are about to explode and there isn’t so much as a tree to go pop the squat upon. We call El Hadj to let him know we might be late. He says fine, just call him when we get to Toubacouta. We go buy some Fanta and Biskrem cookies from a boutique (food of champions) and then we go ask some villagers if we could possibly use their bathroom. Bless their wonderful hearts, I finally got to relieve myself on their oh-so-chic patch of dirt behind a straw fence.

5:30 pm The “mechanic” shows up on a moto. Looked remarkably like a mini-me version of 50 Cent. He did some work on the wheel and we managed to get the bush taxi running again.

6 pm We’re rolling again. A couple hours go by. It’s starting to get dark. The driver is whack, there were multiple times I feared for my life.

9 pm It is now pitch black. We hit the lovely village of Socan (the last stop before Toubacouta, about 25 km away). Hurrah, we think, we might actually bloody make it. Literally everyone gets of the bus, except us and this poor sod trying to get to Gambia. What’s going on? we ask. But does anyone tell the toubabs anything EVER. No. We’ve been sitting a little while and suddenly they yell at us to get off. What? we say, why? Oh, we’re not going to Toubacouta, they tell us, we’re just going to stay here. But we paid to go all the way to Toubacouta! we say. Too bad, they shrug.

Left with no other option, we are forced to pay some unknown bloke on the side of the road an exorbitant amount of money to drive us the remaining 25 kilometres in his station wagon. Not shady at all. Whatever. He drives us. We pay him. And he drops us off on the side of the road in Toubacouta.

10 pm We figure we should not stand on the side of the road so we head into the village to call El Hadj. Suddenly we are bombarded my a mob of about 25 men, all with motos, getting all up in our faces saying, oh come with me! Who are you calling? I’ll take you where you want to go! We are exhausted, beyond the ends of our patience, and very aware of how lost and vulnerable we look. We yell at them to leave us alone, which they do not do. I try to call El Hadj. My telephone doesn’t work. Alexis tries to call El Hadj. Her telephone doesn’t work. We both try to call our program director. Neither phone will work. Shit. Now we are quite scared. It is late and there are no taxis, no buses, we don’t know anyone, and we are 2 toubab girls surrounded by aggressive Senegalese men, and we can’t call ANYONE for help. We sit down on the steps outside a boutique to try to calm down and figure out what to do. Maybe we can go into the boutique and, hoping that they speak French (which in fact they didn’t), ask if they know this guy El Hadj. Before we go to do so, thank the lord, El Hadj calls Alexis. We tell him where we are and he says he’ll come and get us. We’ve been waiting a few minutes and suddenly one of the moto guys runs up and shoves his phone to my ear saying “It’s El Hadj! Talk!” I’m like, wtf? It is actually El Hadj. He tells me, go with this guy. He’ll bring you to my place. I am not reassured to say the least. I mean, you’re telling me that Alexis and I should just hop on the back of these random guys’ motos in the middle of the African night and just HOPE that they’re going to take us where we want to go??? Yes, El Hadj replies.

 We each get on the back of a moto. Off we go. I’m starting to relax and actually enjoy myself—the moto ride was actually pretty fun…UNTIL my moto veers off in a completely different direction from Alexis’ moto. For about 30 seconds I seriously thought, okay, I am about to be raped and sold into slavery. Then I asked the guy, why are we taking a different route? It turned out he just knew a shortcut. We both ended up at El Hadj’s, miraculously in one piece. They fed us some delicious cold beans and we went to bed.

 THE WEEKEND

The weekend actually turned out to be pretty tight. We spent both Saturday and Sunday in a nearby traditional village called Nema Bah, with this 75-year-old Serer marabout who practices traditional medicine. He answered our endless questions (well, through our less-than-perfect translator Babacar), showed us his many elaborate gris-gris, took us out into the forest with his kitchen knife and told us all the names of the plants and roots (did you know there is a type of leaf that you can put in water and then drink and it will prevent AIDS?…quite nifty). The marabout (named Doudou) apparently learned all his practices during a three-month-long dream which came to him from God. He also introduced us to his daughter who can tell the future by throwing 12 seashells like dice.

We ate 2 lunches both days, one with the marabout and one at El Hadj’s. Gratuitous much? And—this is Senegal for you—the first day we ate ceebujen and then yassa, and the second day we ate yassa and then ceebujen. The Senegalese aren’t really into variety. It was actually really amazing getting to spend all this time with the marabout. He even gave us a papaya. And some cola nuts (MOST DISGUSTING THING I HAVE EVER PUT IN MY MOUTH). We stashed most of them surreptitiously in our purses). He was quite a chiller, especially with his wooly bobble hat in the 100 degree heat.

 We rode quite a few motos throughout the weekend (turns out to be quite fun in the daylight). And we also rode a donkey calèche. Could’ve walked faster, but whatevs. In the end we had to come back Monday instead of Tuesday because we ran out of money. That was alright though. We aren’t short on stories.

SPRING BREAK

This past week has been our spring break. We’ve got a lot of work to do, so I’ve spent most of it at school working on homework at a leisurely pace. Alexis and I broke down and made a run to the French grocery store to get us through the week. Cereal and milk (oh how I miss you!), Camembert and red wine (bless the lord!), and we even listened to some NPR 🙂

I’m just about done with my Islam paper on the jihad and my French presentation’s this week on AIDS in Senegal. That only leaves my paper on Toubacouta, which I think should be quite fun to write. Back to the grind of classes tomorrow though. I only have a month left now!

Sorry if you actually read to the end of this. You should go reward yourself with some golden grahams.

– You have to push your taxi before you get in it.

– Kids are playing ping pong in the street with Koranic tablets for paddles.

– The whole country has decided to hell with daylight savings time!

– You have to stop and wait for a herd of camels to cross the street.

– There are parts of your bonne’s weave lying about the house, as she is attaching it to her hair over the course of several days.

– Your feet have been dirty for so long that you don’t remember what colour they actually are.

– You try to open the door to school but it’s blocked by a half dead chicken.

– You get compared to an albino.

– You receive your change in lollipops.

– A frog hops into your dinner plate and nobody at the table so much as flinches.

– People think it’s a great idea to have fire dancers/eaters in a thatched straw hut.

–  You ask where the “bathroom” is, and are directed to a strip of dirt behind a straw fence where a full sized chicken and about 10 chicks appear to be residing.

– You have to step over a dead cat on your way to school 😦

– Someone tries to charge you the equivalent of 40 cents for an orange and you walk away because it’s too expensive.

– Your professors answer their cell phones during class.

– At breakfast, the dude next to you puts 6 sugar cubes in his coffee, tastes it, and asks if you can pass him a 7th because it’s not sugary enough.

Things that are completely ridiculous I just love about Wolof:

-There is a word for “early.” The word for late is “not early.” The word for on-time is also “not early.” …and I wonder why the Senegalese are always late.

-Here is how you say the number 247:

Ñaari teemeer ak ñeent fukk ak juroom ñaar (aka: four of one hundred and four ten and five two) [gratuitous much?]

-The money or “derem” system works as such: You have to divide all numbers by five. For instance, if something is 5 francs, you say it costs 1 derem. Easy enough? I think not. If something is 1235 francs, you say it costs 247 derem. Meaning you have to divide 1235 in your head under pressure in a foreign language and if by some miracle of Allah you actually get the maths right, you then have to articulate the number 247 (see above). Doesn’t roll flippantly off the tongue.

-I asked my Wolof teacher how to say “what a complete disaster!” but apparently there is no such expression. No “c’est dommage!” No “oh shoot!” Nothing. I suppose the Senegalese are optimists.