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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.

Well we caught up with the group and planted mangroves, which is hard to describe via blog. Basically, the mangroves grow this long seed pod things and you just stick them 75% in the mud in long rows and voila you’ve planted mangroves. It was wonderful, we went with the group of women I talked about earlier and they had the best time laughing at the toubabs trying to clomp through the mud. At one point my two friends got stuck up past their knees in mud and had to wrench themselves free using mangrove tree.

The most fun we had was on the way back though, when we gathered at the edge of the mangrove field and formed a circle and held our own mini lutte. Waly lutted Jon finally, as well as several other excellent and hilarious matches. My friend Elke lutted and lost, and my friend and I had to drag her out of the circle in authentic lutting style. We also sang and danced and had too too many mud fights. Oh by the way, i may have a mud parasite in my ear. Mud balls, they happen.

That night we went to a village close by and watched a traditional African dance group. they were insane. It was like watching my African dance class (at the U) but on CRACK. I’ll try to put up pictures!

All in all toubacouta was wonderful, and really hard to leave. The only drawback was that it was completely infested with mosquitos. Case in point, on the 7 hour bus ride home a guy in my program got really really sick and we had to stop at a hospital. And it turned out that he had MALARIA. Ccary! not as scary, however, as the HOSPITAL we dropped him off at. I literally walked out of the hospital praying, “dear god please don’t let me get malaria please don’t let me get malaria I AM GOING TO DIE.” That was in a really sketchy town called Kaolac, which even Senegalese people say is really unsanitary. Still…it was really terrifying. I have since been applying bug spray religiously.

in good news, i got the package from my parents today!!!!!!! it was HUGE! It’s so big that they couldn’t deliver it to the post office by my school, I had to take a taxi into downtown to the main post office where I was put through a series of obstacles in order to receive it. Once I got back to the WARC everyone pretty much cried with joy at the sight of peanut butter and peachy-o’s. It’s like the best day of school ever.

Ok I said before I would end with lists so here’s one for you today:

LESSONS LEARNED

1. it is good to get mail.
2. it is not good to buy water off a street vendor while you’re stopped in traffic in a taxi. The bottle of water is not in fact bottled water, but a bottle refilled with something resembling water. Oh, my poor poor digestive system.
3. it is good to share with friends.
4. it is better to save an entire jar of peanut butter for yourself.
5. it is hard to communicate with someone in the USA if youre in Africa.
6. it is even harder to communicate with someone else in Senegal if you speak French and English and they speak Wolof.
7. homemade limeaide tastes really good.
8. your internal organs hate homeaid limeaide.

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