Archive for September, 2009


Claire: MSID Field Trip

September 29, 2009

Sorry for not posting for like a week, but the trip to Toubacouta was just too epic to casually blog about. that, and there was a POOL and a real shower so basically no time to sit and blog. AKA, the field trip was pretty amazing. I can’t really remember the minor details so I’ll just hit the highlights.

We stopped in a town called Socone where we had lunch at the house of the mayor who just happened to be the older brother of the director of WARC (West African Research Center, where my program is located). That was really cool. Three of us sat around a big silver plate and ate seriously ALL of the ceeb_u_jen (rice and fish) with our hands. I felt like dying afterwards.

Anyway, seven hours after we left Dakar we finally pulled up to the hotel and it was fab-u-lous. It consisted of 2-3 person cabana/huts, a pool and a bar/restaurant. It was really gorgeous. And really air conditioned. sigh….

By far the craziest thing we did in Toubacouta was attend a “Seance de Lutte.” on the schedule it said we would be attending the seance de lutte and that there would be a wrestling match between Waly (the director of MSID, my study abroad program) and a student and Adji (an assistant of MSID) and another student. We laughed and figured it would be a party like every other one we’ve attended in Senegal: we’d go to someone’s house, sit around, fan ourselves, eat ceebujen, someone would put on music and the toubabs would dance awkwardly. WELL. Let me tell you what a seance de lutte is. It’s a large open circle surrounded by onlookers who are extremely loud and interested in what is going on in the middle . Outside of the circle is a full drum band and a woman singer singing something completely incomprehensible. INSIDE the circle is about 30 beefy men wearing only speedo’s and a thong over the speedo’s, going around the circle doing the strangest dance you’ve ever seen (which i have actually mastered, thankyouverymuch). From time to time the men (the luttaires) face off to wrestle (to lutte). Oh yah, and they carry around wooden daggers (which may or may not have made Lisa a bit terrified, especially when i told her they were for killing all the toubabs). They use the daggers to draw shapes in the sand, however, which are supposed to call forward good spirits. At first sight it was completely terrifying, especially because we had NO idea what to expect. It was definitely a “dear Claire, you’re NOT IN AMERICA ANYMORE” moment. But after we got over the initial shock, it was definitely one of the most ridiculous and amazing experiences of my life so far. And maybe the smelliest; a giant ring of dancing/wrestling men smells palpably of sweat, dirt and testosterone.

While in Toubacouta we also visited a village called Soukuta (i think) and listened to a presentation by a “groupe de la femme” which made me feel so incredibly lazy and worthless its not even funny. Basically this group of women decided that cooking, cleaning, raising the children, selling oysters at the market, and doing everything else under the sun just wasn’t enough, they also had to save the mangroves.

So they got together and formed a group and each family in said group donated a small amount of money. with this money, along with a loan from an NGO, they created their own bank (credit mutual) which gives out micro loans to women within the group. This group of women depends on the mangroves to make a living, because oysters grow on the roots of mangroves and they shuck and sell oysters at the market. Sometimes, however, they run out of oysters on the exterior roots of the mangroves so they hack the outer roots away to get to the inner roots and therefore more oysters. With the bank, however, they can take out a micro loan to rent transportation to a different area of mangroves where there are more oysters. Then they sell the oysters at market and pay back the loan with the profit. The group also receives donations from NGO’s to plant mangroves from time to time. Feel pretty lazy, don’t ya?

Well the cool part of the story is that i also got to plant mangroves. Which, I’m sure you can guess, was so AMAZING. But first it was a tad bit terrifying. What happened was, we were all in our rooms getting ready to go and me and my roommates Lisa and Cate were doddling (me? doddle? never!) and long story short the group left without us. We waited around for people to show up to get on the buses when we realized that they had already left. Turns out they walked. So flashforward to ten minutes later, when we are SPRINTING through a forest and then across an African mudplain, sometimes falling through mud up to our knees. It was one of those moments where you look around and look at yourself and think, “ok. This is not something I ever anticipated doing in my life,” and thank yalla (god in wolof) that you are exactly where you are and who you are in that moment. Read the rest of this entry ?


Robert: It’s not that H1n1 is that bad—the propaganda’s just that good!

September 28, 2009

Getting ready for a week of (working) vacation. Being stuck in a classroom for most of the day gets a little old after a while– I can do that at home, no?

Had a rowdy Friday night singing KTV until almost 7a.m., and then started getting plans to go to Xishuangbanna together during Saturday and Sunday. Finally broke down and got a flu-mask for all the bus travel I’ll be doing here. That part takes some getting used to; it initially comes off like a paranoid sci-fi movie until you see the hilarious patterns they print on them, worn by about every one in five people. Then you realize the Chinese do not mess around with pandemic disease anymore, and those decades of propaganda experience cajole you into joining the mouthless masses. They’re quarantining H1N1 patients up in Chengdu, which sounds like no fun at all.

Especially since the National Day holiday week starts tomorrow. This year is the 60th anniversary of the revolution, and 30% of all Chinese tourists (12 million is the estimated number) are supposedly coming to Yunnan to eat mooncakes, go to the stone forest (amongst other uber-touristy attractions Yunnan has to offer), and generally muck up every conceivable mode of transportation. I got my ticket as early in advance as possible, so tomorrow night I leave on an overnight bus that gets to Yuanyang at 2 a.m. hopefully ahead of that wave. Fun Times, I’m sure. After a few weeks of really just keeping my nose in a book and working on improving my language skills, I almost feel unprepared to stop working and spend a week traveling around. I’m sure I’ll get used to it pretty quick.

I’m going to spend most of the next 8 days more or less wandering wherever through Xishuangbanna, the southern region of Yunnan that borders on Laos and Burma. I’ll probably stay closer to the Burmese border this time, maybe working my way from Jinghong down the Mekong River. It might get a little rainy, but it’s supposed to be about 90˚F most of the time, so a little rain could be nice. Anti-malarials? Check. 40% DEET? Check.

The rice harvest is mostly done in that region, but the terraces are supposed to be beautiful year-round, and of course there’s always tea and any number of other crops going into the fall. I’m planning on stopping in Pu’er, home of Yunnan’s legendary tea of the same name. The fermented version is sublime; it has an earthiness to it that’s a little peaty, with just the slightest bitterness to an otherwise clean finish. And it’s a gorgeous amber. A good bit of that will be coming back with me, for sure.

So this week I’ll mainly be on the lookout for a community to come back to visit in November, particularly one with a good mix of self-cultivated, local, and commercial foods contributing to their diet. But who knows what I’ll find. There are all kinds of great folk traditions surrounding swidden agriculture, water, forests, and food in this region. And elephants and tigers. Now just let me find a capuchin monkey and my bullwhip.


Patrick: Wadi Rum, Petra, and Aqaba!

September 27, 2009

A few days ago the entire CIEE crew set out on a three day trip around Jordan. We boarded our tour bus promptly at 7am and headed for Wadi Rum – the notorious film site of Lawrence of Arabia. After a short stop at a bathroom/tourist trinket trap, we approached the “entrance” to Wadi Rum where we met a caravan of 80 camels and 20 Bedouin tour guides. The environment was rather hysterical. Imagine: 80 camels, a group of Western students (2/3 girls) who have mostly never been in the desert or on a camel, and 20 non-English speaking fearless leaders. Needless to say, there were a lot of camel groans in the air.

I walked up with a group and was hurried over to a shaggy looking camel. I looked around and saw everyone had padding and a healthy helping of blankets on their camels. I then looked down at mine (who was basically lying sideways) and saw a wooden box with one blanket over the hump. Well, this is going to be an adventure. I got on my soap box camel, and we all road off into the desert.

I brought my video camera along (coming soon) and started shooting the red sand and mountains around me. By the time I brought the viewer away from my eye, I had noticed something… I had started near the front of the pack, and I was now situated dead last… Great! I have an uncomfortable camel that just also happens to be the non-athletic type. At that point I officially named my camel Caboose (a name which stuck among my fellow travelers). We took a break at a Bedouin camp and had some tea. We were now about 1/2 way done with our trek and had a little less than two hours to go. As we headed back to our camels I attempted to pawn off Caboose on another student (thinking I could only trade up), but the stories of my not-so-illustrious camel had precipitously flowed throughout the group. So, to no avail, I had become stuck with my furry friend. I meandered on back to where I had left him (again he was sporting his less than upright posture), and hopped back on to continue the journey.

We arrived near our camp and watched sunset behind the mountains. Truly, it was an indescribable sight. After our cameras were surely spent, we headed down to our Bedouin camp site for the night. The accommodations were hardly roughing it. We each got our own “bed” inside very well structured tents made from goat hair (it’s better than it sounds). We all had a very good dinner that consisted of a Bedouin Buffet – don’t ask me the names of things, I just ate what looked appetizing. We capped off the night with some Arabian music by a campfire. The Bedouins started dancing, and many of us joined in. After the festivities, my friend Zuleikha and I wandered off into the night desert for a bit to take a moment to look at the desert sky. However, the ambiance was slightly disturbed by a Jordian party nearby that was playing American pop music. I suppose if American influence can make it the middle of the desert in Jordan, it can make it anywhere. I hopped into my sandy bed (sand is everywhere) and fell asleep…

The next morning came too quickly. I hurried into the shower (again, hardly roughing it) that actually had a bit of warm water, and threw my bag into the “open air bag truck” (my bag was covered with sand when I recovered it later that day). Outside waiting for us there were about 15 Toyota pick-up trucks that were from I’m guessing the early 80’s with benches in back. Most of my fellow students had already boarded, so I hopped in one of the last trucks and within about 60 seconds we were heading back into the desert. Our local drivers were not shy about hitting the gas over sand dunes, which would habitually cause our benches to slip and slide. We were hauling full speed when suddenly we heard a pop. Yup, flat tire! At this point I was certain I was cursed and would surely be bringing up the rear end for the rest of the trip. Thankfully, the tire was changed out rather quickly and we headed back to our bus. Next stop: Aqaba! Read the rest of this entry ?


Eben: A day in Senegal

September 27, 2009

Sorry for the long time between posts. Some updates:

  • My 6-week internship has now been confirmed; starting October 25, I’ll be in Mekhe, a town of 15,000 about 3 hours northeast of Dakar. I’ll be working in a microfinance institution called Femme Developpement Entreprise en Afrique that gives small loans exclusively to women. (I guess I should translate: Women’s Development Enterprise in Africa. ) Their website is here, but this is the Google-translated version of the site for the non-francophones. More to come on this later.
  • Ramadan is now over, with a big day of celebration (called Korite) having taken place this past Sunday (although it was yesterday for the Mourides, another set of Muslims…depends on when the new moon is first seen or something). Given that my family is Catholic, I spent time collecting invitations for different Korite parties, only to find out that my family just likes to have parties and was having our own. If I had to compare it to a holiday back home, I’d actually say Thanksgiving; although there are a lot of visitors going in and out of houses, the big part of the day is really spent eating with your family. Although maybe I should also compare it to Halloween, since the kids go around asking for money in between meals.
  • I have some more dish on my family after finally having asked a few questions. A couple fascinating teasers: one of the daughters of my host mother/grandmother works at the airport, and another works at the local DHL (which tried to charge me $178 to send my Dad a birthday package…happy birthday, Dad, by the way). I did actually learned plenty of good stuff, which I’ll share in a second post about my family sometime soon.
  • My group of students will be taking a five-day trip starting tomorrow to a town near the edge of the Senegal-Gambia border. There’s a bunch of microenterprise activity there as well as very interesting environmental features, so I think it’s supposed to be some sort of an educational field trip. I’ll be sure to update when I return.
  • In the French-dubbed Indian (as in the country India) soap opera that everyone watches, called Vaidehi, the main character has now tried unsuccessfully to kill his wife and his brother. I’m totally hooked, but I never know when I’ll get my next dose; the last two episodes, inexplicably, took place on a Sunday night and a Thursday night, and shows tend to start at times like 8:26. But somehow, everyone knows when it’ll be on. I’ll keep you posted. (Five seemed like a better number of bullet point updates than four.)

So people have been asking me what I’m up to in Senegal, and my response has tended to be a mix of banal stereotypes about how different life is and some platitudes about how I’m enjoying my host family, or something similar. It hit me at some point that perhaps people would actually like to know what it is that I’m doing on a day-to-day basis. So here’s a timeline account of a typical day. (Every day is somewhat different, but hopefully this gives a good idea of what life is like.) Read the rest of this entry ?


Samantha: Fiestas Patrias

September 26, 2009

The 18th of September is the date that Chile celebrates their patriotism. Almost every family has an asado which is a barbeque. I started celebrating on Thursday the 17th with an asado at my friend Nicolas’ house, with his family and family friends. On Friday the 18th my family had friends over for another asado. People started arriving at 2pm and didn’t leave until 11pm!! Everyone brought a salad to contribute to the meal. On Friday night I went to a friend’s house in Concon which is 30 minutes from where I live for yet another asado!!! On Saturday my entire extended Chilean family came over for… you guessed it another asado. This was by far the biggest family gathering I have seen in my life. I thought that gatherings with my Juve side of the family were big with 25 people, until I helped cook, serve and clean up after 40 people! Every chair, table, fork and plate that my family owns was occupied. Somehow they convinced me to dress in the traditional Chilean dress and dance the cueca which is the national dance of Chile.

For Four days there is a huge fair in a park near my house. There were typical carnival rides and games, artisan stands, as well as more than forty food stands that served a variety of food and beverages.

People also celebrate by going to Ramadas which are tent like structures made from branches and canvas. There is a cover charge to enter but you are able listen to live music, dance, eat and drink. I still haven’t caught up on the sleep that I lost over las fiestas patrias and I don’t care to eat meat or anything grilled for a very very long time!!!

Claire: It’s Senegal Baby

September 22, 2009

Friday during the day we went to N’Ice Cream, which is an ice cream store in Centre Ville (downtown) and is AMAZING and hilarious and run by extremely grumpy people. I got the Obama, yes Obama, flavor. Yes, it was the best ice cream flavor this side of the sahara.

Friday night i got out of class really late and just went home and talked with my fam and lisa came over to chat and then we all went to bed. it was really chill.

Saturday was awesome. I met up with a couple of friends and went to a small market in a neighborhood close to mine and it was SO. MUCH. BETTER. than the other market. At this one we could go into the little boutique and BROWSE without being bombarded by shopkeepers, what a victory. The boutiques were filled with yards and yards of the most beautiful fabric I’ve ever seen (Senegal is known for their textiles). I bought six yards of this really gorgeous blue with green tie-dye and white starfish/peacock pattern fabric, which sounds strange but is truly very pretty (just trust me). Then we took the fabric to a tailor near my friends house and picked out outfits to be made out of the fabric. Mine is a really traditional Senegalese outfit that like all the women wear, its a form-fitting shirt with short sleeves and a wrap skirt. I’M SO EXCITED!!! It should be done tomorrow but we’re leaving for a five day field trip to a town called Toubacouta.

Then we met up with a bigger group of people to pay a visit to another friends house whose host dad DIED last week on Thursday. he was really old and sick with Parkinsons disease. It was really sad and overwhelming. so we went in a big parade of toubabs to visit the family and convey our condolences. When we got to the house we were ushered upstairs into the room chalk full of Senegalese women sitting in chairs fanning themselves wearing their best, fanciest clothes. Us grungy toubabs went in and sat on the floor and just spoke whatever Wolof we knew, which made the women laugh, and fanned ourselves too. We sat there like that for about 15-30 minutes and then left and that was it. Afterwards, though, my friend said that it made the mom really, really happy and surprised that all those toubabs came to visit the family, which felt so good to hear.

Afterwards i met some other friends at a beach and played a little futbol and chilled. The beach is kinda hit or miss though, sometimes theres trash or *gross* fish parts on the beach and sometimes its picture perfect, it just depends on what happened during the day. It was fun until my friends left. I stayed there while my sister, her friend and two guys they met at the beach told jokes in Wolof that I, obviously, couldn’t understand. That sucked. So i swam back to shore and just chilled on the sand and looked at the sights around me: beach, half-built buildings, restaurants on my left; hotel and roped-off private beach to the right; island with enormous houses (including one belonging to Akon) ahead of me. On the beach to my left a group of twenty-somethings were hanging out, talking and laughing, and then a few of the boys started serenading and pointing and laughing at a guy and a girl who were obviously a couple. It made me happy and curious and nostalgic and lonely all at the same time.

All in all Saturday was a great day though. I felt really happy and optimistic and just really excited about being in Senegal. I loved meeting up with friends and walking around the city as if we really do live here and aren’t just on some brief adventurous vacation. I kept seeing “yes we can!” (in english) on the sides of buildings as graffiti, in signs for electronics stores-EVERYWHERE! and took it as a sign.

THEN Sunday was Korite, which is a big celebration of the end of Ramadan. Everyone built it up to be some big party with people running through the streets singing and dancing, but it was really just a cross between Halloween and Thanksgiving: everyone sat around, talked and ate a lot while kids went from door to door asking for change or candy. My sister, Lisa and I went over to my sister’s collegue’s house for lunch. There was a GOAT in the corner just chillin like, “sup, I’m a goat” (which lisa was scared of) and a chicken hiding behind a crate which would poke its head out every so often like “hellooo…I’m a chicken….love me?” (which Lisa was also scared of. love her.) Anyway, we ate a TON of delicious food, first some millet paste stuff with vanilla yogurt stuff on top which is by far my favorite Senegalese dish. Then we had chicken and vermicelli and sauce and I ate it with my hand like a real Senegalese person. It was TRES DIFFICILE.

After we left there we went to drop off some apples for my sister’s boss as a present. On korite and other holidays its common to drop off food as presents for all your friends, like hot dish in Minnesota. My mom told me its especially common for Muslim families to give their Christian friends food on Muslim holidays and visa versa. I told the story of noodle koogle on easter and everyone laughed. Read the rest of this entry ?


Brittany: Krakow

September 22, 2009

So as most of you know, I went to Krakow, Poland this past weekend. It was, well, an interesting trip. On Friday I went to Auschwitz and it was a really weird experience. All I can say is that Sunday School at B’nai Amoona (my shul at home) did an excellent job at preparing me for the visit. On Saturday I went on a tour of Krakow and saw the old Jewish Quarter, the castle and cathedral, and a few other sites. It is a really, really beautiful city and there is a ton of rich history (specifically Jewish history) that I never would have imagined.

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