Archive for October, 2009

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Claire: The Villa

October 19, 2009

OOOOOKAY. friends and family, that has been my motto for the past few days, “OOOOOKAY.”

since a few weeks ago my sister has been telling me “we’re going to rent a villa by the BEACH with a POOL and we’re going to stay up all night dancing and having a party and its going to be AWESOME!” At first i was a little suspect, i wasnt sure if i could afford that kind of luxury or if i wanted to just stay here and enjoy dakar but as the weeks past i wanted more and more to just escape the smog and garbage of dakar and my sister said it would only cost about 20 american dollars so i said, hey why not?

well it sort of went like this:

okay we’re going to a seaside villa with a pool at Saly at 8 am
okay we’re going to a seaside villa with a pool at 12 pm
okay at 2
okay at 2 30
okay its 3 and we’re really leaving this time
okay we’re going to a villa but its either seaside or with a pool, not both
okay its with a pool
okay its not in saly its somewhere else
okay we’re here and it looks good but there’s no pool and no beach but there’s a lagoon nearby and we can drive to the beach
okay we’re here and it looks good but its locked
okay the guy is here to unlock it but he cant because he doesnt have the keys
okay the keys are with someone else in some other village
okay we can go to the beach until he finds the keys
okay we’re going to stay at HIS house on the beach until he finds the keys
okay he cant find the keys we’re staying here
okay its fine because now its seaside again
okay there are a lot of bugs
okay there are a lot of bugs but we can pull the mattresses (aka pads of foam) out onto the porch to sleep
okay there are even more bugs on the porch but i can hear the ocean
okay theres a lizard in the kitchen cabinet
okay theres a goat in the yard
okay this house is pretty disgusting
okay its dark because we left so late but we can swim for a minute tonight and then spend the whole day tomorrow at the beach
okay my sister wasn’t kidding they want to stay up all night and go dancing
okay i need to pass out now
okay seriously i need to go to bed
okay good night
okay good morning…
okay its cloudy
okay its raining, i guess we can lay around and read/nap
okay what are we doing here??? lets go back to dakar
okay the sun came out!
okay now im happy, now i am tanning
okay lunchtime
okay the sun disappeared again
okay lets look at the lagoon
okay its a lagoon. nice lagoon. lets go home.
okay we’re going BACK to the crackden?
okay just a few more cups of bissap
okay youre wealthy uncle is coming over with MORE drinks?
okay just one more hour
okay this is pretty fun, i never thought i’d debate the iraq war in french
okay lets go home
okay its 11 pm and i havent done my Wolof homework but really what else is new.
okay that house was disgusting but that was a really good weekend.
okay now im done.

…pretty much sums it up. there were definitely moments when i went a little insane; those were the times when i said “UGH THIS IS SO SENEGALESE!!!” If i havent told you before there is a wolof proverb that goes “ndank ndank moy jap golo ci nay” meaning “slowly one catches the monkey” which (somehow) translates to, basically, “patience is a virtue.” well there are times when the whole country seems to function at ndank ndank pace, such as peoples walking speeds (much slower than even mine) or, for example, when the ENTIRE post office goes on break for an hour between 2-3 and one is obliged to wait patiently. this weekend was, at times, an infuriating example of ndank ndank, for example when we were supposed to leave at 8 but left at 3, or when we waited around the original villa (which we had a reservation for btw) for a half an hour for the guy to come with keys only to be told a half an hour later that he didnt have them, or when we sat around talking and drinking for HOURS saturday night. i tried to keep telling myself was a lesson in patience, that i was learning to be less impatient. i cant say i always succeeded…but i tried.

it was, in the end, a great weekend. i got to stay at a house separated from the beach only by a ten foot garden. that house could rake in so much money if the guy were to fix it up–the location was just beautiful. also on sunday morning a friend of the guy whose house we were staying at caught a big swordfish, id say about two feet long, and gave it to us to cook and eat for lunch. fish lovers be jealous, it was delicious. also, once i got over my impatience i loved sitting around the table by the beach talking about everything under the sun. and i loved the beach. so all in all it was good, especially because i feel like i made some new friends. plus it was fun to road trip again, i love road trips!

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Robert: Xishuangbanna!

October 16, 2009

My trip to Xishuangbanna was, as predicted, a mix of spur-of-the-moment decisions, short-term plans, small accomplishments, and the occasional minor failure. Melissa, Rose, and I were a capable bunch with a good mix of language skills (my weak point) and travel experience both within and outside of China. We left ready to spend a great deal of time in transit, to smell increasingly foul, willing to get soaked by any number of downpours, and catch sleep anywhere we might find sanctuary. With the welcome exception of rainfall, we essentially got what we expected. And we got thoroughly schooled at billiards by a one-eyed man.

Of course, we had no shortage of unexpected developments and revelations as well, the first of which was perhaps the most devastating: After boarding a bus that took an inordinate amount of work to get to, Mel discovered she didn’t have her bus ticket. The reason she didn’t have her bus ticket was because she no longer had her wallet, which contained all of her cash, a credit card, and student ID.

During the stop in Tonghai that followed, I contemplated what could have  happened, realizing that the state in which we found ourselves was the ideal circumstances for a thief. There had been only one scenario during which an opportunity to slip Mel’s wallet from her purse ostensibly could have taken place. But all eyes were on the culprit, and her purse was secure during this episode– a diversion perhaps? On the other hand, I had to consider the possibility that she had somehow misplaced her wallet; it just seemed so unlikely that an opportunity to have her wallet stolen could’ve occurred. But Mel seems too responsible and experienced to let something so major happen so easily, and if the wallet had been stolen the most likely scenario was that the thief was still on the bus with us. Stalemate. Genius.

After sleeping on it for another few hours, I decided that it would be totally ridiculous to not loan Mel the money to stay on with us. It was a matter of about $100 and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I had an extra ¥400 and a few hundred dollars in traveler’s checks that I could cash once we got to Jinghong. Of course, I’m glad Mel stayed on with us. The dynamic among the three of us was basically a steamroller of hilarity. We met a new friend on the bus, Tidan, an Israeli who spoke no putong hua and would spend the next two days with us as we made our way toward Jinghong.

At Yuanyang, we trekked through the rice terraces with a “guide” who was nice enough to take us to some places we didn’t have to pay to get into. The irony of having to pay to see a rice terrace in China would become painfully obvious during the twelve hours of bussing through rice terraces we would endure the next day. Tidan took a spill into one of the rice paddies, soaking most of what she had on her, ruining her camera in the process. While she dried off, the three of us made our way across the slopes, balancing everything on our backs as we hoped to not meet the same fate. After admiring the intricacy of the terracing– particularly the key-point irrigation method employed to get water across and down the hillside, we met some Hani women returning to a small, three-house village carrying screeching black piglets that liberated themselves from their pens. As they dragged their livestock by their hind legs, we followed them to the gate surrounding their concrete dwellings, and asked to come in.

During this visit, I recalled that Charles (one of my instructors) had previously said that the Hani tended to be less than hospitable to tourists, demanding money for photographs and whatnot. As much as I enjoy taking photographs, I’ve lately found that the most unusual, resonant, and singular experiences are potentially undermined by the presence of a camera. The mere acknowledgement of a person’s interest in photographing someone else threatens to create a hierarchical relationship of subject and object between people, and not surprisingly can bring about any number of negative reactions. As we sat with the women in piecemeal but genuine conversation, I thought about every time someone here mockingly issues a “hello” in passing, whistles at a female friend of mine, or blatantly tries to overcharge me for something I don’t need in the first place, and enjoyed the respite. I opted to not be the lao wai with a camera in some farmer’s face.

The next morning, in Xinjie, I watched one of the only foreign tourists we saw grab his Chinese tour guide squarely by the shoulders and start pointing both her and his beer gut toward a row of buses as he loomed over her. Then he turned her around, still grabbing her by the shoulder, and cranes his neck to put his face directly in front of hers and says Now, why don’t you ask some more fucking questions? Always ask questions. (Pointing) Where are all these buses going? That’s the kinda stuff I wanna know. Ask lotsa fucking questions. Jesus. First of all, the buses either have signs or full-fledged windshield decals displaying the names of the towns to which they go. Not that he can read a single character. Secondly, she’s a tour guide, not a mind reader. Ask the questions yourself. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Eben: Meals Without Wheels

October 14, 2009

A few weeks ago, during the presession, we took a field trip to the island of Ngor, off the northwest tip of Dakar, to conduct interviews with strangers on the beach on the subject of polygamy.  We were informed that Waly and co. had bought food for our lunch there.  Naturally, given my concept of what a portable lunch should be, I was excited for the possibility of sandwiches and maybe, if we were lucky, some fruit.  My cold-cut dreams were shattered when I was asked to carry a large vat of oil to the bus, which we subsequently carried with us on the small, wet pirogue that took us to the island.  Accompanying that vat were multiple pounds of chicken and uncooked French fries, along with a gas cooker.  We were going to have a normal lunch, field trip be damned.  And we did; Waly’s assistant, Adji, tended the cooker for a couple hours until our communal platters were ready.

And this is the way Senegalese food works.  There are restaurants, sure, and even a few fast-food places, but a real meal is hand-cooked.  And in this process, there are no compromises, no shortcuts, and certainly no need for lessons from Michael Pollan.  A meal is a meal, and it must be cooked in a certain way no matter the location or circumstances.  All of which is somewhat surprising given the way food is actually eaten.  Despite the elaborate tradition that surrounds meals here, people eat quickly and usually without stopping to talk or take a drink.  When you’re done eating, you get up even if others are still working.  After hours of cooking — at my house, a 2:30 pm lunch often gets started around 9 am — the meal is usually done within a 10 or 15 minutes.  Then onto the next meal.

At my house, lunch (which I only eat there on weekends) is the biggest deal of a meal.  The family eats with spoons around a large bowl, as depicted in the picture above of students eating in Sokone.  In many families, the bowl is present but the spoons are not, and people sit on mats around the bowl, rolling balls of rice (or millet) and sauce with their fingers.  (All of this is done with only the right hand, for cultural and hygienic reasons.)  Everyone eats the rice and sauce in the area in front of them, while people break off small pieces of the meat/fish and root vegetables in the middle of the bowl to eat with their rice.  This role is often also played by the woman who did the cooking, in which case she’ll distribute the pieces she breaks off to everyone around the bowl.

On the other end of the spectrum, dinners at my house are casual, less stereotypically traditional affairs, eaten on individual plates at each person’s leisure.  Usually, the kids and I eat around 8:30 with Ester, the youngest daughter of Mère Vitou (she’s probably about 30), and the maids.  Mère Vitou gets a plate in the living room while watching tv, and the rest of the house eats later if at all.  Moving back in the day, breakfast, the least important meal, is a very European affair that is done, as far as I can tell, exactly the same at every house throughout the country.  You get a piece of baguette and some chocolate spread or jam, accompanied by a hot drink (despite the heat) made of whatever powders — coffee, milk, hot chocolate mix, sugar — you want.  The French really sold Dakar citizens short in terms of whatever baguette recipe they taught them, and so I’m generally hungry by the end of my walk to school.  Eating air would at least require less chewing.  Outside of Dakar, though, the bread is great — much heavier, but still soft enough to eat comfortably.

In terms of the food itself (beyond breakfast), I’d love to be able to come back to the States and, like many who have traveled abroad, say that the food here was inconceivably wonderful.  But that would be dishonest.  I generally like the vast majority of what I’ve eaten, but I’ll return home and be perfectly happy to go back to eating the food I have for most of my life.  Most meals consist of a starch, meat or fish, and a dark, heavy sauce.  The starch, as I started to explain above, is either rice or very fine-grained millet during one of the traditional “bowl” meals, and then often it’ll be French fries or pasta for our more casual dinners.  The fish is always served whole and I’m pretty sure is usually herring.  It’s nice, flaky white meat once you get past the fact that the thing you’re eating still has its head on.  The meat is either chicken or beef, although Catholic families do eat pork from time to time.  Regardless of the meat, it’s served on the bone with plenty of fat still on.  In my house, beef is much preferred to chicken, much to my disappointment.  I grew up not really eating red meat, and so I do my best to pick around it here, but I’m essentially required to eat at least a little bit given the rules of hospitality.  The meat is always flavored very heavily with spices ground together with the equivalent of a mortar and pestle, and like most everything else, cooked very slowly over a gas cooker.  Finally, the sauce usually falls into one of two categories: onion-based or not.  The onion-based sauce is very thick, and brown, and delicious.  Reminds me of caramelized onions.  The other types of sauces are a mixture of oil with either tomato, peanut butter, or spinach.  This thick spinach sauce (as shown in the picture above) is about the most you’ll get in the way of green vegetables, as the only other “vegetables” you might get are carrots, potatoes, or white roots whose name I have no idea. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Danielle: Shopping? Don’t forget your book.

October 13, 2009

This is something that is important not to forget. But I’ll get into that later. Im sitting right now at the dining room table. Well. The kitchen table. In the kitchen. Its 730 and were going to eat dinner soon. We usually eat in this room. The kitchen. With the five of us at the table but tonight I think there is another kid here. One of the friends of one of the girls. So tonight were eating at the dining room table. Whatever it is smells good. I do enjoy having food there without having to cook. But again. I do like being able to cook for myself. Tomorrow I’m going to buy a coat because it’s the first week of actual autumn. Its going to be in the low to high sixties all week. And im so happy for this. I love this weather. It’s refreshing. The heat suffocates me. so obviously you can see why I would pick the cold more than the heat. This kinda of cold. 60 degrees colder and the weather burns. Suffocates in a different way. But still. Its better then being hot and sweaty. And getting headaches cause the sun cant seem to leave you the hell alone.  Yesterday was a perfect day. I woke up and had the house to myself. read. Ate breakfast. Made tea. Ate lunch in bed (shhhhh….this probably isn’t allowed. But I didn’t make a mess so no foul right?) and then went to this amazingly beautiful beach side town with a very amazing person that im very glad to have made friends with. I got to speak French for a few hours too. And explain English. Which is always my favorite thing. then I ate dinner with my family and read. And wrote. And drank tea. Who could ask for a more perfect day?

So. I’m overall happy right now. I’m getting a lot better at French. I can hold a conversation for an extended period of time and talk about a range of subjects. Yes. It does need to get better. My French does. Whats the French word…ameliorer? I think I put an extra letter in there then I should have. I’ll look later. But it looks right. Hm. Not sure. Anyway. Yes. Its getting better and I feel comfortable speaking to people. Going to eat. A toute a l’heure

Okay. Dinner is over. We ate lasagna. Mmmm…this is one of my favorite meals. Its different than in the states because there is different sauces used. And here we usually always eat it vegetarian. This is quite fine by me. By chance. I got the family that is almost completely vegetarian. This makes me very happy. I would like to eat chicken a bit more. But other then that. Happy. During dinner I had a very nice talk with the dad which almost never happens. I’m trying to make more of an effort with him because I like the mom so much. There has to be something good about him right? And there is. He is just hard to like sometimes. Hard to talk to. but he likes explaining things which really does come in handy for me. The only time it gets annoying is when it feels like hes explaining something because he thinks im ignorant about the topic. Last night we talked about the taxes here in France and…something else but I cant remember. Oh. Cell phones. We talked about them. I have a lot of things. Actually. That I want to talk about right now. And I really don’t want to do my homework. Its not much. But I promised myself I was going to do extra phonetics. Im going to pick 20 words and try to translate them into…I can’t remember the name…the phonetic language. And I need to write this quick thing for methodology. Shouldn’t be hard. But I have an hour tomorrow before im going to eat lunch at 115 that’s free so getting myself to do this homework is going to be hard. Tonight. Well see what happens. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Arianna: One More Month

October 11, 2009

Well folks, I have officially five weeks left of my time in Australia. I can’t quite believe it and can’t even really contain my excitement for coming home. My roommate Melissa and I will both be flying back together Friday, November 13th (I know, don’t even say anything about the freaky date, please). It will be here before we know it.

Today marks the very first “true” rainy day we have ever had here. I woke up to it raining and now at 5:00 pm, it has stopped raining but the clouds are still covering the sky. I am pretty sure this is the first day we have had without the sun, and I have to admit I quite like it. Melissa and I (reluctantly) did our laundry, and I started researching for another one of my essays. It has been nuts trying to prepare for all my final essays and projects – I really have quite a lot on my plate these last few weeks. For Media Law, I have a final essay (either on Defamation or Copyright Law) as well as an exam (yikes), but that has been on the backburner for now. This past week I spent all my hours working on my final essay for Fame & Celebrity. Granted, it was one of the more entertaining papers I have had to write for university, but it was still a hell of a lot of work. For my essay, I chose to examine the ‘celebritisation’ of Scarlett Johansson, and argued how cultural intermediaries have commodified her on the basis of her sexuality and gender.

Now, I am centering my focus on my Sociology of Identity essay. We have a few different directions we can choose to take, and I have decided to examine the body and identity. Basically, I have to argue how the body is one of the principal sites for the construction and production of prevailing social values and norms. Specifically, I am going to argue how the ‘hegemony of thinness’ that exists within our modern society has contributed to body modification and eating disorders as a way of forming personal identity. Research thus far has already been quite interesting, and of course I think this topic will also be quite therapeutic for me to explore. So, even though I have a lot on my plate, at least it all is personally interesting to me. It is just a bit difficult because for most of these classes, my grade is more than 50% based on these essays. That is huge and so they are quite the project to produce. Oh, I also have an entire website to design for my Digital Publishing class, but I honestly can’t even think about that right now.

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Adam: Back from Ireland

October 10, 2009

Shockingly it was not hard to get back into this whole school thing after my Irish adventure.

At the beginning of the week we watched Izzat. The film follows the story of Wasim and his journey from a down-and-out Pakistani immigrant in Norway to a down-and-out gansta. It was actually a pretty interesting film.

In fact, the director of the film, Ulrik Imtiaz Rolfsen, came into class to discuss what we thought of the film and its themes. You know, since we’re experts. I found it funny though, because he knew we were watching the film after finding our syllabus online… I’m guessing he must have Google searched himself.

Tuesday we made a visit to the Nordic Black Theatre, which is located next to the beautiful new opera house… On a boat. Actually, it’s a theatre/cafe/bed and breakfast. We met with Artistic Director Cliff Moustache (I hope that is his birth name) and had a great discussion about the theatre. He was quite a compelling talker and really made me miss the Guthrie. (As well as the money I make working there.)

While at my internship Wednesday I was shown an opinion piece  by Editor-in-Chief Majoran Vivekananthan wrote. He talked about how the Norwegian government says it promotes integration, but really only offers immigrants the option to assimilate. Apparently, he’s been in the media and on television. Pretty neat-o.

I was then asked to write my own opinion piece of my experience in Norway, which, not gonna lie, is awesome. I think I’m not sure what I will specifically be writing about, but I hope to incorporate my confusion on Norway’s obsession with hot dogs.

Since Kirby, Sonja and I missed a week of Norwegian, Grandma Astrid, as Sonja lovingly calls her (behind her back, of course), offered to give us a make-up session Friday. As if that wasn’t nice enough, she made an entire cake and brought grapes! Cake and grapes! This woman is unreal.

We head to the Stock and the Cope next weekend for a 10-day trip. Kirby and I plan to see Mamma Mia! while in Copenhagen. This is something that needs to happen!

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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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