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Claire: For the love of harira

October 9, 2009

So we took a small stroll recently to a Moroccan restaurant we had seen closeby and OH MY GOD is moroccan food good!!! A big group of us shared (read: devoured) about five dishes and they were all equally delicious. We pretty much destroyed them. It was amazing. There is this one soup called “harira” that my friend said people usually eat at weddings and it is pretty much the best thing I’ve ever tasted. It had beans and noodles and spices and I dont know what else all I know is I’ve been dying to go back and order it. If you get the chance to go to a Moroccan restaurant order harira.

After that lisa and I haggled the taxi driver down to the lowest price I’ve ever paid using my SWEET joola bracelet. I’m really enjoying being a joola toubab. The taxi driver was giving me an outrageous price so i said to him in french, “stop giving me a toubab price, im not a toubab im joola” and I showed him my bracelet and HE GAVE ME A LOWER PRICE! its really come in handy. For those of you who forgot, joola is a group of people, like the Wolof, with their own distinct culture, language, etc. The joola people originally come from the Casamance region, south of the Gambia. There’s a lot of other groups beside Wolof, for ex.: joola, pulaar, sereer, bambara, fular, mandingue, toucouleur, etc. which is a point of contention in Senegal. some claim that there has been a “wolofization” of Senegal, forcing the Wolof language and culture down the entire country’s throat. I’m pretty sure this originated with colonialism: when the French landed in Senegal they originally allied themselves with the Wolof. The French ruled francophone west africa through indirect rule, giving the Wolof people power and weaponry in exchange for their loyalty to the french government. I think this is how it went down. Therefore, the Wolof language/culture spread, which is why all groups speak Wolof and French now in addition (if they’re lucky) to their original language.

Wednesday I left school right after my last class to go to a town outside of Dakar called Pikine with my family. My mom’s brother-in-law (i think, family relations are relative and fluid) died last week and ever since then there has been funeral-type activities all day every day. My sister told me that her aunt kept asking “where is the american? why doesn’t she come with you?” so i figured i should go. After having gone, however, i have no idea why it was necessary to be there at all. It was one of those cultural differences that was difficult for me to understand. Apparently for more than a week after someone dies the immediate family makes laax (millet and this vanilla-y yogurt) and lunch and dinner for the entire neighborhood. Also, the rest of the extended family goes to the house of the immediate family. We got there around two and just sat and talked. Then ate laax. Then napped a little. Then ate lunch. Then laid around. Then napped more. Then talked with some people. Then my sister finally took me home because I had lots of homework to do, but we were the only people to leave and i think everyone else stayed there until really late. Maybe just a person’s presence is comforting, maybe just having a lot of family around is helpful for the grieving family. But i honestly felt guilty, just sitting around and napping while the family in mourning worked constantly to feed their entire family plus me. I felt like a nuisance. I felt an odd clash of cultures within myself, as a midwesterner I felt like I should be bringing them hot dish, not laying around their house being fed.

When we left the house, however, we took a “car rapide” (fast car) which is a short yellow school bus which has been hollowed out, replacing the seats with a few dilapidated benches, painted wild and crazy colors and with no windows. It has a somewhat set route, you just hop on and tell the guy in the back with a purse for your fare where you want to go and he bangs on the side of the bus to tell the driver when you want to get off. It definitely was an interesting–and much cooler–experience than the bus, but wasn’t really that rapide and took about twice as long as a taxi. Then again it costs 1/3 as much, so its a give and take.

Yesterday I went downtown with some friends to study for our wolof test and drink coffee. We went to a pretty ritzy cafe called La Piaza which was AWESOME. I got a cafe au lait and it was so good I almost cried. Its definitely a “treat-yourself-to-a-toubab-delicacy” kind of place. HOWEVER a girl also got pick-pocketed while we were downtown. She was passing by some street vendors and they were harassing her to buy something (as usual) when one tugged on her pants saying “you need new pants!” on her right while another pulled the money out of her pocket to her left. WHAT a freaking bummer. She of course felt it and of course told him to give her money back but here just about the worst thing someone can be accused of is a thief so there was no way they were going to admit to stealing her money and give it back. I’ve been really careful with putting my money out of reach of pickpockets, but its just a reminder to always be aware.

Anyway, today i have class until late and then I think a group of us are going to the French Institute to see a modern dance performance. i hope its not too expensive because that would be really cool.

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