Archive for January, 2010
I had the chance to go to Xochicalco yesterday with a group today and learned more than my mind could possibly handle. Charlie Goff (Charliopedia Gofftanica as I will now refer to him), who runs Cemanahuac, leads all of the tours we go on and knows more information about anthropology and Mexican history than I will most likely ever know about myself. The place was beautiful and exceptionally interesting as I had just finished an anthropology course on the rise of civilizations before coming to Mexico. Luckily, the last unit we did was Mezoamerica and specifically Teotihuacan, which was basically the predecessor to Xochicalco and may have lead to the fall of Teotihuacan during the Epiclassic period around 700AD. This made things both relevant and insanely easier to understand.
Last night, I also went to a birthday party for the brother of my host mother, who teaches a photography class (and is also a professional photographer) at another local university. It was a blast. I didn’t say or do much beyond eating amazing food and talking about what I was studying and such, but listening to his/her family was hilarious. I’ve found that while my Spanish speaking seems to have leveled off pretty sharply since being here (Instead of talking quickly and fluidly, I’ve been trying to speak using the correct words and enunciating a bit more), my comprehension is fantastic. I understood a fair amount of what was being said every time someone would tell a story a make a joke. Hilarious people.
On Monday, I’m going to have the opportunity to go with Martin (brother of my host mother) to attend one of his classes and also talk to the philosophy department about their exchange program with the U of M. Couldn’t be more pumped for that. He also said that if he gets any work any time soon, he’ll bring me so we can tag team it, and of course split the payment. I can only hope a wedding or something comes up.
I’ll post quite a few pictures following this post of Xochicalco and of some stuff that I took around the school. Enjoy.
Yesterday we only had 2 classes, Development and our class that corresponds to our internship. I am taking an environment/ecology class. There’s only 6 of us in it, but it’s actually very interesting. I’m disappointed that we’ll only have it once a week. My professor was telling us about how New York took a ton of their garbage and loaded it onto ships and barges and brought it over to Africa to dump. They dumped it in places all over, mostly on the West Coast, but when they got to Kenya, the government wouldn’t let them dump it there. Very interesting stuff.
So we got out of class at 12:30 and 6 of us went to Stosh’s place to grab some lunch and a drink. He has a very nice apartment and there’s a really cool courtyard that we hung out in. I was planning on going back home to change and get ready to go out, but it would have taken about an hour to get home. So we just stayed there until about 5:30 and we started walking to this Ethiopian restaurant (Sara’s mama is the manager) for dinner. Well we didn’t really know where we were going, and we couldn’t understand what Sara’s mom was saying on the phone. So we were still walking when it got dark out and I just really wanted to get there. Everyone had a really short temper and we couldn’t figure out where to go. We FINALLY got there at 7:30, right when our reservations were and met a few more people there. It was a really neat place, and the food was great! I’ve never eaten Ethiopian food, but I definitely will again!
Today Irene and James (my brother) took a friend and I to the city center to a really big market. It was a very interesting place. It took awhile to get there, and the place was huge! I was really just looking for some skirts because it’s really hot. (It was 24 degrees in Nairobi yesterday, and 32 in Mombasa! I am going to die there!!) So we started looking around and you can’t really stop to look at much because the vendors will swarm you. I had one guy grab my arm as I was walking and he wouldn’t let go. It was a good thing James was there. I was getting called a bunch of names, like Njeri and Shiko; nothing bad, just Kikuyu names. I found 2 skirts that I liked. The one started at 800bob, but I told him 400. He went down a little, but I said I didn’t want to go any higher so I walked away, and of course he said “Ok, ok. We’re friends now, I give to you for 450.” So I figured that was pretty good so I got it. Another one started at 1200bob and there was no way I was paying that, so once again I said 400. He didn’t NOT like that! We argued for a little bit and I walked away and he actually didn’t come after me. We later walked by the same place and he came out and said 600, but I said no and walked away again. He followed me and told me that if I married him, I could have it for 450. Well, I got it for 450, but I did not agree to any marriage! It was a really fun experience, and I’m looking forward to going to more!
We have a grocery type store thing that we can go to, and I looked around it yesterday to see what they all had. They have pretty normal ingredients, but I don’t think I’ll be able to find anything weird. We looked at the cheeses yesterday…we found some “cheddar” cheese that was salmon colored. Don’t think I’ll be buying that anytime soon.
So as I was talking to Kayla yesterday, I was telling her about some interesting things that I do on a daily basis/or things that we do here that are really different from home, so I thought I would share them with you.
- We only have running water twice a week. The rest of the week we have stored water in jugs and when I want to take a shower, I boil some on our stove thing and then add more cold water too it. I have almost mastered the technique of a bucket bath. Irene (my sister) laughed at me when I asked how I was supposed to do it. And along with that, that means that the toilet does not flush everytime you use it. I think I am just going to have to embrace that fact. It’s just very weird.
- Nairobi is a very polluted city, and the emissions from all the cars makes your clothes very dirty. I have some white tank tops that I wear under my shirts, and the white part that sticks out is brown after I get home. And my feet get so dirty everyday from walking to school on all the dried mud and dirt. I think I have dirt permanently on my feet. Also, when I blow my nose at night, it’s definitely not normal colored. It’s basically black because of all the emissions. Yum.
- Nairobi is also a very large city, as mentioned. I don’t think they have traffic laws, as there are cars going everywhere and park in both directions on the same side of the street. And the whole driving on the left side of the road is still screwing me up. I have been hit by a car trying to cross the street. Don’t worry, I was only nudged. But it’s a very difficult thing to do, crossing the steet. We’re learning though.
- My mom and sister love to laugh at me. I tell them about my day and all my matatu stories about how we were taken to the wrong place and how we had to backtrack for 2 miles to get to where we wanted to go. They think it is hilarious! I’m glad I can make them laugh at my expense. I’m used to that. Oh yes, and my family does speak English pretty well. There are a couple times when it’s difficult to understand, but for the most park it’s working out well. My mom and sister like to say “nini” in the middle of their sentences a lot, and that means “what.” So when they first started doing it I was so confused, but I asked my Swahili professor, and he said it’s kind of like an “um” equivalent. We are supposed to try and speak Swahili with them when we can, especially for us going to the coast for our internship. I tried the one night and they started talking so fast!
While there was quite a bit of cloud cover today and what looked like a chance of rain, my mood remained steadily content with a 90% chance of life is awesome because I’m in Cuernavaca. We had our first day at VAMOS today, the service learning project where we go to small school for K-6th graders in a colonia on the outskirts of the town. It reminded me quite a bit of the orphanage in Nuevo Laredo, almost as profound as déjà vu but not quite the same. The area was in noticeably better shape than that of Nuevo Lardeo, though still certainly no walk in Central Park.
I had, and will have, the chance to work with the 5th and 6th graders at the school which should be good for me since I don’t have a tremendous amount of experience with the real youngins’. It was really tough at first simply because all the kids were talking loud and fast and Spanish and the teacher was doing about the same. I sat there speechless just smiling for about 15 minutes before I actually had a chance to interact with anyone. It was a little awkward, a lot of noise, and a carpet bombing of Spanish to my somewhat-still-used-to-English ears.
After doing a little cleaning when a meal was served, I chatted a bit with the kids who thought it was hilarious to confuse me (seems to be the general consensus amongst those who have managed to do so on this trip so far, really isn’t a bother though) and ended up working the David. David is a 5th grader who was having a serious amount of difficulty with some pretty rudimentary addition, and we were working at a multiplication table with ~40 problems. I managed to show him the way I learned to do it, and we actually got through a solid portion of it before our time was up. It felt fantastic. Perhaps he’ll forget it tomorrow, but for about a half hour, I had him doing problems he otherwise wouldn’t have had a clue how to do before that class period. He actually seemed interested and focused, counting on his fingers and concentrating on how to make 6, 8 times larger.
I took some film today but no digital. I actually have a reason to now that I’ve discovered a one-hour photo in El Centro. I’ll try and take some digital tomorrow if I have time. School is tough, still kicking me in the face but I’m certainly getting by. I’ll post pictures this weekend, I’m trying to get some people in there as they are often times my favorite subjects, but it’s not an easy task here. I hate being ‘that guy’. You know who I’m talking about. Stayed tuned folks, it’s only been 6 days.
We started all of our classes on Tuesday, and we’ve had Kiswahili, Country Analysis, and Development so far. Swahili is pretty good; I’m in 3rd semester and it’s going well. Mwalimu (professor) asked me today if I thought he was going too slow because I guess I am doing really well so far. But it’s all pretty much review, and I’m sure it will get harder. The other two classes are just really boring and I struggle to stay awake. Even though our one professor is hilarious and has the coolest accent. Tomorrow we start our class that corresponds to our internship.
My group worked on our presentation on Tuesday after class and then we walked home and stopped at some of our group member’s homes. They are all really nice and have nice families too. I haven’t talked a lot about my family, so I’m sorry. As mentioned, I don’t see my dad a lot because he works. But mama and my sister are home quite a bit so we talk a lot and hang out. My sister is 20 years old and her birthday is in a couple weeks, so we’re really close in age. She is going to take one of my friend’s and I to a market on Saturday to check out some stuff. We get along really well, which is good. I gave them their gifts the other night..a MN mug for mama, a MN notebook for Irene because she’s a student, and a MN baseball hat for my dad. They seemed to like them a lot. The mug was perfect for all of our chai!
We had classes yesterday and then got out at 12:30, so a bunch of us went to Prestige to grab some lunch. Everyone wanted to walk, but we draw a lot of attention to ourselves when we do that, so one of my friends and I decided to take a matatu. Bad idea. All the matatus along Ngong Road are supposed to stay on that road. Well, we must have gotten onto a bus, even though it looked like a matatu because it definitely turned off Ngong Road. We had no idea where we were going so we just stayed on, hoping it would head back to Ngong. Nope. So eventually we decided that we should get off and try to walk the rest of the way. So we get off and are right in the middle of Kibera. Every way we turned there was Kibera around us. So we started walking to find our way out. We weren’t exactly lost, but we definitely did not know where we were going. Eventually we found our way out alive! In all actuality, Kibera isn’t dangerous during the day, it’s only at night. During the day it’s just really gross and dirty and smells terrible.
So we finally got to lunch, then decided to go to Toi Market, but couldn’t find it, so we backtracked for awhile and found a market, but we weren’t sure if it was the right one. Then we took a matatu back to school and walked the rest of the way home. One of my friends came over and we hung out with Irene and watched the Discovery Channel and football. The power went out a couple times, but eventually came back on after awhile.
Today was more school, and then a few of us went down to Junction to grab a bite to eat. We took a matatu for a little ways, and then walked the rest of the way back. Long walk!
The wind started to twirl and the rain was sinking the ground beneath my feet and the tears were falling and the world was a disaster…until I made my first great discovery here. While I was frantically searching my dictionary for the words to purchase a new train ticket, I realized that the word for “cry” in French is pleurer, which really is a lot like the word for “rain”: la pluie. There was nothing that could have felt more wonderful or more right to me then. I was upset and worried and frustrated, but I was in the place of my dreams, a world where even crying in a train station feels beautiful. Now I am here and all is well. Feels like mystery, feels like hope, but still doesn’t feel like home (yet).
Everywhere I go in this frightening country, I see the left-behind musings of another. How and when graffiti art became such a vibrant part of French culture is something which, just a week after moving here, I have yet to understand. There are long, spidery webs of writing spun around old brick corners; garish cartoon faces splayed across city sidewalks; furious and ongoing debates between multiple authors scrawled on bathroom doors. By night the rain comes down and mixes with the multicolored threads of paint hewn on the wet walls, and the water leaves a viscous sheen that’s better than pure.
It’s elegant, really: the way something so inappropriate somehow feels so right here. Maybe the reason I love this graffiti is because it reminds me how much the people here feel connected to their home. I’m enchanted with the idea of claiming ownership over physical place, especially something old. I know I shouldn’t like this graffiti at all, and it’s something I never thought of as “French” before coming here. Yet now it fascinates me. It’s like a story contained within a wall; a life within a city; a world within an idea. I’m realizing that it might be the collective ownership of history that’s so compelling: how wonderful to think that I will one day be a part of this city’s past.
Literally translated, the above sentence reads “Little by little one catches the monkey in the bush.” The essence of this Wolof proverb highlights two virtues that I’ve had to cling to with my entire being during this transition — patience (in making mistakes and learning from them, in integrating as much as possible into this society) and hope (that ça viendra, it will all come together in time).
Our first week here ended in memorable fashion (then again, what isn‘t memorable these days? ). With the amount that I’ve learned so far, it seems as if I’ve been here for months, not days. On Thursday, I walked to WARC with Elisa, a student from Mount Holyoke who lives about a minute’s walk from my house. We aren’t in the same program, but we study at the same school — It’s so nice to be making new friends here! That morning at the center, us MSID-ers watched the Senegalese film Bamako, which addresses the issues of globalization and development by recounting a trial between the World Bank and the people of a Senegalese village. After the powerful movie, we discussed the main themes, and our discussion ended with the question, “What is the solution to the problems and inequalities currently plaguing the process of globalization?” Wow. It’s a big question, and part of me feels like there is no possible answer because the topic is so multi-faceted, but it was really cool to debate about it within our group. It’s interesting how even just taking the time to talk about something makes you feel even one step closer to helping make a difference.
Friday was quite low-key. We went to WARC and got our syllabus for the semester (and my goodness, is it a busy one!), took our lunch, and held a question and answer session about the first few days in Senegalese family life.
I absolutely love my Senegalese family. I can already tell that I am going to miss them when it’s time to go home in May. There is no way that they replace my God-given family, mind you, but I know that they’re already taking their place in my life. Every day, it seems that they get more and more used to me and I get more and more used to them — I love it! We laugh together a lot, and a lot of the time it’s because of something ridiculous that I say or do, but it’s always in good fun! I think mealtimes are my favorite, first because we always eat dinner together as a family, with up to seven or eight people at a time sharing one giant plate of deliciousness, and second because that’s where a lot of the laughter happens. What I love about laughter is how universal it is, how the joy that it springs from isn’t limited or restricted and how it can be understood no matter what language you speak, no matter where you come from. This family reminds me a lot of my family back home. It’s obvious how much they love, respect, and enjoy one another, and it’s a beautiful and incredible honor to be a part of it.
Now Saturday. Saturday was probably my favorite day so far! We toured Dakar, the capital of Senegal in which we live, which is located within the borders of a peninsula that is surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic Ocean. This is such a gorgeous city!!! Our first stop was La Porte des Millières, constructed in the year 2000 to herald the new millennium and the beginning of a new regime. From the cliff that we stood upon, we faced the ocean and could see l’Ile de Madeleine, an uninhabited island, in the distance. To our left was a stunning, sandy beach where some people were swimming and the waves were pounding the rocks and shore. We hopped back on the bus and went to the next stop, the Presidential Palace.
It’s a stunning building, really, and quite similar to America’s White House, with a vast expanse of grass and rows upon rows of palms and other beautiful trees. We were able to take a picture with the soldier guarding the gate — I stood directly to his left, and it turns out that the gun slung across his shoulder was pointed directly at my temple!
Our next stop was my absolute favorite spot of the visit, and probably will end up being one of my favorite places in the entire world. When we first arrived, the view was rather unassuming and desolate; it was an ex-military bunker now inhabited by struggling country folk and artists who can’t afford to live in the city. But a small jaunt from the bunker towards the ocean gave way to a breathtaking sight. And when I say breathtaking, I mean it literally takes your breath away. I heard the waves crashing before I saw the view. We reached an outlook perched on a cliff, looked down, and saw a small, rocky inlet where gigantic waves were crashing in. The inlet was surround by tall, vertical stone columns and opened only to the ocean that fed it with the great waves. Walking down the pathway, we came to the edge of another cliff, below which was a calm, shallow tide pool the teal color of a peacock’s feathers, which was surrounded by bright, sky blue, rolling ocean waves. There was a Senegalese man who had scaled down the cliff and was sitting, almost out of sight, below us. I caught his eye and waved, receiving a bright smile in return. I could sit entranced on that cliff all day and never become bored or under whelmed. The ocean stretched so far and wide, I swear I could see the curvature of the earth!
After reluctantly leaving the military encampment, we visited La Regie des Chemins de Fer du Sénégal, the train station, which was just en face de La Place des Tirailleurs, a monument dedicated to fighters from the World Wars. Next on the agenda was the Pointe des Almadies, another stunning beach, with incredible seashells of all shapes and sizes, which was on the coastline of a charming little village. The Phare des Mamelles, a lighthouse, followed. It’s situated at such a high elevation that you can see for miles, looking down over the city and the water, being nearly blown over from exposure to the strong winds. We mounted the winding stairs to the tippy top of the structure (and I nearly collapsed with fear, realizing for the first time in my life that I just may be quite weary when it comes to heights), where we got to see the giant mirror that rotates within the lighthouse, reflecting light and serving as a beacon for boats and planes alike that approach the peninsula.
We also saw one of the mammoth light bulbs that they use; it is seriously bigger than a grown person’s head! The Monument de la Renaissance (a highly controversial and politically charged topic in Senegalese society today) and La Mosquée de la Divinité (which stood facing another gorgeous stretch of beach and ocean) were our final two stops, and we returned to WARC for lunch (I ate Hawaiian pizza!).
The tour helped to introduce us to a new level of understanding in terms of this society. On one side of the street, you’ll see stretches of incredible, intricate villas with lush gardens in the lawn, foreign sports cars in the garage, and guards at the entrance, while on the other side of the street you can see what looks like a slum. The contrast is vast, and I began to feel a level of frustration with, well, with I don’t quite know what yet. When I look at this city, I see nothing but charm and beauty, despite the extreme poverty within. I ask myself — why is there so much poverty, why isn’t this beautiful place more popular with tourists, why do construction workers have only hard hats as safety equipment, why, why, why? Are there even concrete answers?
Later Saturday evening, a new friend, Anta, who lives just down the street from my house, showed me around the neighborhood and answered some of my questions. It was late and dark outside, but it was still good to see some of the surroundings — She showed me several supermarkets and places to eat, as well as the easiest way to the nearby beach. I was then introduced to her husband, brothers, and some friends and then we walked the short distance back to my house. Anta is so nice and she was extremely patient in explaining and repeating things that I didn’t understand. Everyone seems to be that way: incredibly kind and altogether helpful.
One final piece of news is that I have now been given a Senegalese name! Maman chose it for me, with the help of my sister, Mariama. Alors, je m’appelle Xadijaa (pronounced ha-dee-jah). Xadi for short. I like it!
Well, we’ve had a full week of warm sunshine, more than enough to send back to Minnesota, so that’s what I’m doing right now — Sending smiles and sunshine your way!