Archive for August, 2009

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Adam: Jeg snakker litt norsk.

August 28, 2009

It was a week of firsts. Norwegian class has been a real hoot. Obviously, there are tons of international students in our class trying to “snakker norsk,” as the kids say. I have a limited knowledge of the language, so it’s pretty easy for me, but there are some classmates of mine who can barely speak English.

Sonja and I aren’t in the same class, but she said there is an Italian girl who has an English dictionary to decipher what Astrid (our fabulous, Helen Miren look-alike teacher) is saying. What a mess. Astrid emphasizes the importance of correct pronunciation all while making old people jokes about herself. She also cakes on the make-up, which I absolutely love! Hopefully I’ll be able to snap a picture with her before the semester is over, but we’ll have to see.

I also started my internship Wednesday with Utrop, Norway’s first multi-cultural newspaper. My supervisor, Are Vogt, took me on a tour of the office and introduced me to the staff. Are explained that Utrop gives a voice to the multi-cultural citizens of Norway (namely Oslo) while not being overly sympathetic. It is a news organization after all.

After the introduction to all that is Utrop, Are sort of just pushed me into the deep end. He assigned me a story about “krafttak for norskopplæring” which is an initiative to get immigrants to learn Norwegian. There is going to be a change in the way the state pays for people’s tuition in 2010, so there will most likely be a big push to get people to enroll in a class as soon as possible, while it’s still free for them.

I made some class and sent some e-mails, and learned that it sucks not speaking Norwegian. Everyone knows English, but I feel bad when I say, “Beklager, jeg snakker ikke norsk” (“Sorry, I don’t speak Norwegian.”) Well, now I guess I could say, “Jeg snakker litt norsk.” Nevertheless, I hope I have a good start to my whirlwind career as a Norwegian journalist.

Tuesday night was pretty remarkable. After going to Mono Cafe, we stopped at McDonald’s. And after three weeks of bland food and disappointment, I now know that a cheeseburger and fries equals complete and utter bliss. The French kids we were with got a good laugh as they believe that Americans can’t possibly live without McDonald’s. Let’s be real, we can’t.

Side note: Ted Kennedy’s death made the front page over here, which was the first American news I had seen outside of CNN and HuffPost. Major bummer.

Tomorrow will be a day-o-homework and then a group of us are going to a concert in Grünerløkka, which has quickly become a hot spot. A lot of cute cafes and oh, so trendy.

Also, Kirby and I might move a little further towards campus to Sogn Studentby. We have a lot of friends there and it’s basically like switching dorm buildings. No big. It’s a little closer to campus and it has more T-Bane trains that go to it, which would give us more time and cut out the embarrassing running we do to catch the one that goes by Kringsjå.

We’d be moving in with our German BFF Charlotte and a few others, but Kirby doesn’t want me to be so optimistic. Oprah says that we should all embrace The Secret, meaning we should imagine ourselves already living there, having a blast. Maybe I’m jinxing us, but we’ll find out tomorrow.

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Eben: Mendy Family Matters

August 27, 2009

First in a series of posts about everyday life in Dakar.

Tomorrow is the last day of the August presession, and fall semester orientation starts on Monday, meaning we have four days off to spend as we please. So three friends and I are taking a 7-place bush taxi down to The Gambia, which, for the geographically handicapped, is the tiny country that lies entirely within Senegal except for its west coast. I hear that it’s pretty striking in terms of natural beauty, but I can report further when I come back. So since I’ll be away for a few days, I figured I would start my “series” about what things are actually like here in Dakar because I’ve said almost nothing about that to this point.

Before that, though, a couple updates. I successfully navigated my first Senegalese haircut this past weekend. I guess that’s my only update.

Anyway, as you can guess from the title, I’d like to use this post to introduce my host family to the world (or at least the 47 people who subscribe to get my updates, plus the few other various people who accidentally navigate to this site). I live with the Mendy family in a neighborhood called SICAP Baobab (I’ll elaborate on the neighborhood in a later post). It’s a large family run mostly by the strong women that compose it, and it’s been great to get to know them so far. Problem is, I don’t know them that well yet; a lot of the time they’re just speaking to each other in Wolof, and I’m also quite shy to ask questions about what people do with their lives given that, as I said a week or so ago, no one really asks those questions of me. So I’ll do my best here.

The head of the family is a woman of about 75, whom we call Mère Vitou. Mère Vitou is a retired veteran of the fashion industry, although I’m not sure in what capacity she worked in couture. She has diabetes and high blood pressure, but that doesn’t stop her from having a pretty great sense of humor, as is evident in this picture that one of my host kids took:

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She’s also quite stoic, though; every morning, I eat breakfast with the flies on our back patio while Mère Vitou sits in a chair outside considering life, I suppose. She likes watching TV, and loves making fun of her grand kids. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Adam: “Now walk away. Strong and Frugal.”

August 25, 2009

The third week of my Norwegian adventure has officially begun.

I really enjoy studying abroad, except for the actual “studying” part. Although, much like at home, being in class keeps me from spending money. Especially the money I don’t have. I’m trying to be as frugal as possible. I hear Norway is really expensive… (Over the top eye roll)

Classes basically involves speaking from our perspective about Norway and the rest of the world. No sweat. There’s a lot of reading that we’re supposed to reference in class, but that’s easier said than done. We’re a very opinionated group, so it’s kind of like being on The View: Norwegian Edition. A real dream come true.

The best part of the educational portion of this trip is our “field seminars” which includes fascinating excursions into Oslo. We checked out the Nobel Peace Center for class Wednesday. After checking out a photography exhibit, we got a guided tour of the center. I thought 2007 recipient Al Gore might give the tour, but we had to settle for the Norwegian Diane von Fürstenberg. It was a very interesting tour and the highlight was the exhibit of Alfred Nobel, which featured a book that made windows frost/defrost and dynamite sounds. Sheer magic!

This weekend included a concert that many, many French kids said would be a real hoot. Note to self: French people reeeeeeeally like techno. Birdy Nam Nam is a group of four broskis who DJ their hearts out on their MacBook Pros. They also make me feel incredibly unhip, or un-French, as I kept wondering why their “phat beatz” had to be so loud.

Sunday was much more quiet and relaxing. Kirby and I met up with some Germans and checked out a festival which had a little flea market and cheap Chinese food. Definitely a highlight of the entire trip. We were super cool and had coffee outside of a cafe, walked outside in a beautiful garden, and almost went to the circus that was in town. They charged a lot for admission, so we had to pull ourselves away.

Punctuality is Norway’s middle name…. Or maybe its last name. Either way, it’s been difficult to not just saunter to the T-Bane stop at my leisure. Instead, I have to make sure I’m there to at the exact time the train pulls into the station. FYI: Oslo’s transportation system does not mess around. Being on time has been a chronic problem of mine, so hopefully this will cure my problem.

I start Norwegian class tomorrow, so I will hopefully be able to carry quasi-conversations with the various store clerks I come in contact with. The other day I replied “nei, takk” to an H&M worker who I thought was asking if I wanted a bag or not. Turns out she was telling me the total of my transaction. She quickly informed me that saying “no, thank you” to “you’re total is 100kr” is not acceptable.

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Eben: A Couple More Things

August 25, 2009

I have a couple addendums to my last post about Sokone. First is that I now have a Senegalese name: Souleymane Diop. I got Souleymane from my friend Casimir, who studies English at the university in Dakar. He was (or is) probably my best friend among the group of those students, and when I remarked that I didn’t as of yet have a Senegalese name, he gave me Souleymane. My picture with Casimir is pretty terrible, so here’s one of him attempting unsuccessfully to braid my friend Alex’s hair.

sokone-and-back-in-dakar-2009-08-13-091And Diop came from a stoic man of probably 60, who was sitting with a group of similarly-aged men on a dirt road in Sokone when my group-mate Vu and I walked by. He started to chat with us, and when he asked me if I had a Senegalese name I responded that I just had been given Souleymane. He didn’t think it was acceptable not to have a family name, so he gave me Diop. I then kept walking.

And finally, I have one last story about Sokone, which I should have included in the section about lack of irony (or perhaps animal sacrifice—you may want to stop reading now if you didn’t like the cow story). One day Casimir mentioned something about wanting to have our group of Americans over to his house for dinner, since he hails from Sokone. I then heard the next day from Casimir’s cousin, Moustafa, that we were supposed to go to Casimir’s house later that night. He told us we would be going there after dinner at our compound, so I assumed that the dinner that Casimir had mentioned would be happening some other night.

After dinner, we went to an open-mic concert-type event, with the intention of going to Casimir’s after that since we were told by our group leaders that we had to go to the concert. We had just settled into our seats in the small assembly hall when Casimir stormed into the room. Being his friend, I went to go talk to him, at which point he informed me that he had killed a pig for us. Oh. So we rallied the troops and went to Casimir’s house. (For those wondering, Casimir’s family is one of the 5% of Catholic families in the mostly Muslim country, so they do eat pork.) Like most people, I don’t generally eat two dinners, and I never eat pork, but I think he would have been more than slightly offended had I politely declined. Casimir is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, but he was serious about that pig. I guess whoever wrote my guide book wasn’t lying when she said the Senegalese are aggressively hospitable. Lesson learned.

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Brittany: Class and Travel

August 25, 2009

DSCI0672Norway has been sweet. I started one class last week that was pretty boring (my Art History class) and my next one starts a week from today. So what have I been doing while not at class?

I finally made it to the islands (or, island…as I only went to one). When we landed we had to scrape for food and then we eventually met Ben and the gang (we like to call them the others). At some point or another, we started traveling through time, too.

Not really, but yeah, kind of. After we took the ferry across we stopped at a cafe for popsicles and waffles and then took a trip through the ruins of a Monastery built in 1142! That is crazy old! I really wanted to take a piece of stone, but Nik convinced me that I’d be haunted by the spirits of the crusades. And, at one point, my friend Ben wandered away from us and then we found him. So in a way, my day trip was EXACTLY like the plot of Lost.

DSCI0579That night we had a traditional Norwegian dinner that I did not love, but everyone else seemed to. Reyes, I’m sure your cooking is better. I’ve also been participating in a lot of, well, social activities. I had a true Norwegian Vorspiel the other night (basically just a really intense pre-game) and I’ve just been going out a lot.

So travel plans:
In a few weeks I am taking a trip to Krakow, Poland with my Aussie friend Monique. We’re going to see the city, and also Auschwitz, so it should be really, really fun! Half kidding about that last part. I have heard that the social scene in Krakow is unreal, though, so hopefully we’ll do some of that too.

And I just booked my trip to see my German friend Suzzie!!! I’m going to Munich at the very end of September, very beginning of October. We’re also going to go across the border into Switzerland for a day. That should be really fun.

Well I’m off for the day but I promise to update more frequently!

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Eben: Camp Sokone

August 21, 2009

As I briefly alluded to, we spent last week participating in the “Vacances Citoyennes” run by the Cheikh Anta Diop University (also known as UCAD, and Senegal’s biggest university). Translated pretty literally, “Vacances Citoyennes” means “Citizen Vacations.” And although there was certainly some Citizenship (whatever that means), there was a lot of Vacation.

3837453972_de778d2c1dThe Vacances Citoyennes is a yearly program that allows students to opt to do a couple weeks of community service at the beginning of their vacation (which runs, pretty unbelievably, from August to January). Students go to any of about 10 villages throughout Senegal, teaching reading/writing skills, teaching computer skills, doing reforestation, and giving medical help. Our group of students went to Sokone, a town of about 12,000 people a few hundred miles southeast of Dakar.

The first day—Sunday the 9th—set the tone, in many ways, for what was to come. We were set to leave the university at 8:30 am, and I managed to sleep until 8:45. I raced to the university so that I wouldn’t be late for sitting on the bus for two hours before we left. We then stopped for a two-hour lunch break. Waly took some time during that break to explain to us the differences between the Senegalese and American ideas of time (which was entirely unnecessary at that point). He said that people refer to Senegalese time as West African International Time, or WAIT. I think it’s unfair and stereotypical to extrapolate from a day’s worth of experience to say that nothing in Senegal goes efficiently, but it was certainly different. I think that efficiency just doesn’t play such a big role in decisions as it does in the US; people are happier taking their time and hanging out together.

Anyway, we arrived in Sokone at about 8 pm after a couple hours of traveling over red dirt roads with multiple potholes per mile. I think everyone was at least slightly uncomfortable upon arrival with the way we were going to be living for the week. The compound we were in—I think it was a converted dance hall, but not sure if that rumor is true—had four rooms. The biggest room was the girls’ room, and the other three smaller rooms were for the dudes of the group. Other than that, there was a bathroom (hole), some showers outside (really just bathroom-holes in which you shower by filling a bucket of water), and big, covered front yard where people hung out most of the day. The first day finished with a nice lesson about the Senegalese sense of irony, which (having learned the hard way) is nonexistent. Upon arrival, there were two cows in the backyard. We were told by Waly that the cows were given by the director of WARC (the place we study in Dakar) to be killed and eaten by our group. I laughed at the funny joke. At 11 pm that night, there was a dead cow in our backyard. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Arianna: Time is a Runaway

August 17, 2009

3825730182_a59ee339b0Well, another week came and went. Time is such a strange thing here. The days and nights can feel so long, almost painfully slow at times, and yet it seems in a blink of an eye a month has already flown past and it feels like I have only just arrived here. The older I get the faster time seems to fly by. And I have to admit, it is a little scary.

I am currently in between laundry rounds. Doing laundry is such a pain in the butt here…. not only do I have to pay $2 for a wash / $1 for a dry, but I also have to haul all of my stinky, dirty clothes all the way from my apartment down to the main building. It makes for major procrastination on doing the laundry, but it had to be done. That stuff stinks!

The past week went well. Class was busy as usual, heavy reading and soon I am going to have start working on some essays. Yikes.

Today I went for my run, although I pushed it a bit farther and just barely made it back. It is getting hotter here and I definitely felt the heat—not a humid heat, but a dry heat. I was also able to speak with my wonderful Nanny & Poppa this morning which was the perfect start to my day…it is impossible not to feel loved and happy after speaking with them. Tomorrow I have to catch up on reading, buy some groceries (joy), and start work on my essays, so definitely nothing too exciting, but I am actually looking forward to the quiet.

Until next time…love you all!

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