Archive for January, 2010

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Tiana: Ndànk-ndànk mooy jàpp golo ci ñaay: Things take time

January 27, 2010

Literally translated, the above sentence reads “Little by little one catches the monkey in the bush.”  The essence of this Wolof proverb highlights two virtues that I’ve had to cling to with my entire being during this transition — patience (in making mistakes and learning from them, in integrating as much as possible into this society) and hope (that ça viendra, it will all come together in time).

Our first week here ended in memorable fashion (then again, what isn‘t memorable these days?  :) ).  With the amount that I’ve learned so far, it seems as if I’ve been here for months,  not days.  On Thursday, I walked to WARC with Elisa, a student from Mount Holyoke who lives about a minute’s walk from my house.  We aren’t in the same program, but we study at the same school — It’s so nice to be making new friends here!  That morning at the center, us MSID-ers watched the Senegalese film Bamako, which addresses the issues of globalization and development by recounting a trial between the World Bank and the people of a Senegalese village.  After the powerful movie, we discussed the main themes, and our discussion ended with the question, “What is the solution to the problems and inequalities currently plaguing the process of globalization?”  Wow.  It’s a big question, and part of me feels like there is no possible answer because the topic is so multi-faceted, but it was really cool to debate about it within our group.  It’s interesting how even just taking the time to talk about something makes you feel even one step closer to helping make a difference.

Friday was quite low-key.  We went to WARC and got our syllabus for the semester (and my goodness, is it a busy one!), took our lunch, and held a question and answer session about the first few days in Senegalese family life.

I absolutely love my Senegalese family.  I can already tell that I am going to miss them when it’s time to go home in May.  There is no way that they replace my God-given family, mind you, but I know that they’re already taking their place in my life.  Every day, it seems that they get more and more used to me and I get more and more used to them — I love it!  We laugh together a lot, and a lot of the time it’s because of something ridiculous that I say or do, but it’s always in good fun!  I think mealtimes are my favorite, first because we always eat dinner together as a family, with up to seven or eight people at a time sharing one giant plate of deliciousness, and second because that’s where a lot of the laughter happens.  What I love about laughter is how universal it is, how the joy that it springs from isn’t limited or restricted and how it can be understood no matter what language you speak, no matter where you come from.  This family reminds me a lot of my family back home.  It’s obvious how much they love, respect, and enjoy one another, and it’s a beautiful and incredible honor to be a part of it.

Now Saturday. Saturday was probably my favorite day so far!  We toured Dakar, the capital of Senegal in which we live, which is located within the borders of a peninsula that is surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic Ocean.  This is such a gorgeous city!!!  Our first stop was La Porte des Millières, constructed in the year 2000 to herald the new millennium and the beginning of a new regime.  From the cliff that we stood upon, we faced the ocean and could see l’Ile de Madeleine, an uninhabited island, in the distance.  To our left was a stunning, sandy beach where some people were swimming and the waves were pounding the rocks and shore.  We hopped back on the bus and went to the next stop, the Presidential Palace.

It’s a stunning building, really, and quite similar to America’s White House, with a vast expanse of grass and rows upon rows of palms and other beautiful trees.  We were able to take a picture with the soldier guarding the gate — I stood directly to his left, and it turns out that the gun slung across his shoulder was pointed directly at my temple!

Our next stop was my absolute favorite spot of the visit, and probably will end up being one of my favorite places in the entire world.  When we first arrived, the view was rather unassuming and desolate; it was an ex-military bunker now inhabited by struggling country folk and artists who can’t afford to live in the city.  But a small jaunt from the bunker towards the ocean gave way to a breathtaking sight.  And when I say breathtaking, I mean it literally takes your breath away.  I heard the waves crashing before I saw the view.  We reached an outlook perched on a cliff, looked down, and saw a small, rocky inlet where gigantic waves were crashing in.  The inlet was surround by tall, vertical stone columns and opened only to the ocean that fed it with the great waves.  Walking down the pathway, we came to the edge of another cliff, below which was a calm, shallow tide pool the teal color of a peacock’s feathers, which was surrounded by bright, sky blue, rolling ocean waves.  There was a Senegalese man who had scaled down the cliff and was sitting, almost out of sight, below us.  I caught his eye and waved, receiving a bright smile in return.  I could sit entranced on that cliff all day and never become bored or under whelmed.  The ocean stretched so far and wide, I swear I could see the curvature of the earth!

After reluctantly leaving the military encampment, we visited La Regie des Chemins de Fer du Sénégal, the train station, which was just en face de La Place des Tirailleurs, a monument dedicated to fighters from the World Wars.  Next on the agenda was the Pointe des Almadies, another stunning beach, with incredible seashells of all shapes and sizes, which was on the coastline of a charming little village.  The Phare des Mamelles, a lighthouse, followed.  It’s situated at such a high elevation that you can see for miles, looking down over the city and the water, being nearly blown over from exposure to the strong winds.  We mounted the winding stairs to the tippy top of the structure (and I nearly collapsed with fear, realizing for the first time in my life that I just may be quite weary when it comes to heights), where we got to see the giant mirror that rotates within the lighthouse, reflecting light and serving as a beacon for boats and planes alike that approach the peninsula.

We also saw one of the mammoth light bulbs that they use; it is seriously bigger than a grown person’s head!  The Monument de la Renaissance (a highly controversial and politically charged topic in Senegalese society today) and La Mosquée de la Divinité (which stood facing another gorgeous stretch of beach and ocean) were our final two stops, and we returned to WARC for lunch (I ate Hawaiian pizza!).

The tour helped to introduce us to a new level of understanding in terms of this society.  On one side of the street, you’ll see stretches of incredible, intricate villas with lush gardens in the lawn, foreign sports cars in the garage, and guards at the entrance, while on the other side of the street you can see what looks like a slum.  The contrast is vast, and I began to feel a level of frustration with, well, with I don’t quite know what yet.  When I look at this city, I see nothing but charm and beauty, despite the extreme poverty within.  I ask myself — why is there so much poverty, why isn’t this beautiful place more popular with tourists, why do construction workers have only hard hats as safety equipment, why, why, why?  Are there even concrete answers?

Later Saturday evening, a new friend, Anta, who lives just down the street from my house, showed me around the neighborhood and answered some of my questions.  It was late and dark outside, but it was still good to see some of the surroundings — She showed me several supermarkets and places to eat, as well as the easiest way to the nearby beach.  I was then introduced to her husband, brothers, and some friends and then we walked the short distance back to my house.  Anta is so nice and she was extremely patient in explaining and repeating things that I didn’t understand.  Everyone seems to be that way: incredibly kind and altogether helpful.

One final piece of news is that I have now been given a Senegalese name!  Maman chose it for me, with the help of my sister, Mariama.  Alors, je m’appelle Xadijaa (pronounced ha-dee-jah).  Xadi for short.  I like it!

Well, we’ve had a full week of warm sunshine, more than enough to send back to Minnesota, so that’s what I’m doing right now — Sending smiles and sunshine your way!

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Daniel: Martes, Mi Casa, y Mi Cuarto

January 27, 2010
I thought I’d start and end this particular post with my two favorite photos of the day, both of which happened to be quite minimalistic. I’d recommend enlarging the last one if you’re interested in any way, it’s an ant I noticed while doing some hw next to the pool (yes, our school has a pool) at Cemanahuac. Fist is my favorite photo of the day, just a door about a block away from this house.

Next is the parrot that lives on the ledge outside the kitchen. I didn’t know it existed until yesterday.
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My house. Perhaps it doesn’t look like much on the outside, but this place is awesome.
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Just to the right as you enter through the gate of the house.
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The dining room is next and is perhaps my favorite room simply because I eat the best food in the world there. That is no exaggeration.
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The next two are of my room. Yes, I have three beds and no, I don’t push them all together to create one ‘super bed’. I also have a total of 8 chairs in my room. So far, I’ve sat in two. I don’t see that statistic changing for the remainder of this trip, I’ve already picked favorites.

A decorated light post with the sun shining through it near El Centro. I went shoe shopping because the ones I brought have consequently made my feet bleed in many places. No bueno.
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Now I need sleep. Just finished writing my first essay on education in Mexico and the US and did some other grammatical exercises, my brain hurts. As I type this, the house cat (whose name I also forgot, I guess my issue with names applies to Mexican animals as well) is sleeping on my favorite sweatshirt on the floor of my room which it discovered as I was using it as padding to do some stretches. The cat purrs like an industrial generator. I love it. Until tomorrow, or later today I suppose.
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Daniel: Moka

January 26, 2010
This, my friends, followers, and family, is Moka (Mo-ka, like Mocha). Moka is a small, female, mix-of-some-sort, dog that lives with my family. It is hyper beyond reason and it seems that her favorite past time is jumping between, and burrowing into, the three beds that occupy the left side of my room. Possibly the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen. My host mother has three basic names for Moka, two of which make me laugh every time I hear them. 1. Moka; the dog’s formal name. 2. Gorda; simple translation: Fat. And 3. Gorda puerca; you guessed it, fat pig. I can’t help but love this dog and the names that accompany her rambunctious personality. Off to bed, I’ll try and post some pictures of my house and the town tomorrow if I get a chance to take anything interesting.

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Kathryn: San Miguel de los Bancos

January 25, 2010

Friday morning, the 34 students on my program left at 6:30 a.m. for a weekend of relaxation. After three hours of busing through mountains, jungles and deserts, we arrived. San Miguel de los Bancos is in the northwest of a province of Ecuador called Pichincha. We were staying at a resort in a cloud forest- picture a lush, tropical jungle in the clouds. We went on a caminata- a hike- through the forest down to a waterfall and river where people could swim. Our guides showed us trees that hold reserves of water and trees with spikes that can be made into poisonous darts. Some of their leaves were easily two feet long. The jungle engages many senses; it feels moist, smells rich and sounds like a symphony of birds and insects. It is VERY loud. Perhaps sound correlates to size; I have already seen three-inch flying bugs, six-inch stick bugs and “baby” worms that were as long as my hand, wrist to fingertip.

On Saturday, we took a tour of the grounds of the resort and learned some interesting facts. Our guide was standing in the center of a small circular plaza holding two metal skewers at one point. He held them between the thumb and forefinger of each hand, parallel to the ground and each other, slowly walking in a straight line until they were drawn together magnetically.  After, he invited volunteers to come up while he did the same thing, demonstrating where each person’s magnetic field was. For most people, it was two or three feet around their body, but one girl’s energy field was less than a foot from her body. The guide said that the metal from her piercings (which she had removed) saps her energy in the same way a baby uses the energy of a pregnant mother.  The guide also balanced an egg on a nail, telling us that it rested on one tiny point on the edge- apparently one of the wonders of the Equator.

On the way home, our bus got a flat tire.  I’m not sure if it happened before or as we parked at a 45 degree angle (side to side, not front to back) outside an ice cream shop. In the hour it took to repair, we got an ice cream making demonstration from a very jolly proprietor. He showed us how they put a large metal bowl in an even larger basin of ice and pour pureed fruit into it, moving the liquid with a small paddle, by hand.  There are many fruity flavors of ice cream in Ecuador because the fruit is so juicy and luscious! With breakfast and lunch it is common to serve juice made by simply blending the fruit with a little water.  It is thick and pulpy, almost like fruity syrup, but not as sweet as juice in the States.

On Saturday night, my friends and I explored part of Gringolandia called La Plaza de la Foch.  Quito has several tourist districts with bars and discotecas and the top two are Plaza Foch and La Mariscol.  Sunday my family and I went out to lunch at a restaurant named after a famous Mexican television show called El Chavo del Ocho, created by a comedian named Roberto Gomez Bolaños.  We then drove through Parque Metropolitano, one of the many beautiful, large parks in Quito.  This one has thick woods throughout much of it but they are filled with well-used trails where people walk, run and bike.  Sunday night my mama and I went to a nearby church. My brother Sebastion dropped us off because twice while the car was parked outside the church robbers stole my family’s car radio.  When we got home, we immediately went upstairs where my abuelos live. My mama’s siblings and their spouses were there and everyone sat around a tiny table talking, eating bread and cheese, and drinking coffee.  One subject of conversation was the current discussion about traffic reduction in Quito.  Several options have been considered, including the prohibition of driving during key hours of a given day if your license plate ends in a given number.

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Daniel: Escuela

January 25, 2010

Today, I had my first Spanish class. It was insane. After leaving the classroom, and to put this quite bluntly, it felt like someone strapped a Spanish dictionary to their foot and roundhouse kicked me in the face repeatedly. The profesora and I traded off reading paragraphs describing the formation of Latin American countries, the leaders that facilitated this formation, how the colonization of certain areas effected the import and export of goods, the introduction of slaves and it’s effect on certain areas, and how different types of government worked positively and negatively in different countries. This is information that I’d have a bit of difficulty understanding in English, and I just finished digesting 17 pages of it in Spanish. I’m going to be learning far too quickly. And love/hating it.

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Heather: First day of school

January 25, 2010

Sorry I haven’t clarified some of the words I’m using! I will try to from now on.

Tusker=Kenyan Beer (pretty good stuff! And I’m not really a beer person)

Matatu=Sort of like a taxi, but way cheaper. 20bob (shillings) is a normal matatu ride. And that equals about 30cents (~75 shillings/bob=$1). But they are crazy drivers and blast music, but they’re really convenient.

Today was our first day of classes. Even though we didn’t do any class work. Jordan and I met at 8am and started walking to school, and we met a few other students along the way, which was nice. We got to Nazarene University right about 8:30 and we then took a bus (30bob) to the city center. Today was basically meant for learning our way around the city. Well that’s pretty much impossible. It is giGANtic! We took a bus back to school and 10 of us went to grab a Tusker (~120bob) before we headed home. We actually met some previous MSID students from a couple years ago.

Jordan, Kate and I took a matatu back to school and then walked from there. We stopped at Kate’s to check out her home and family along the way. We always try to get back before dark because we have to walk right past Kibera and once it gets dark, it’s really not safe to be outside, especially for us. And I don’t walk by myself because there’s two other students who live near me. But don’t worry! We are safe!

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Trystan: A busy week

January 25, 2010

It’s been a busy week! Last Friday was the opening of Klubb Fantoft – a bar/dance club right on campus. Then Sunday we hiked up Mt. Fløyen – in the snow. It was really, really beautiful. Kids were sledding down the trails the whole way, some old people were bookin’ it up the hill, and everyone else was just peacefully enjoying the outdoors. Norwegians do this a lot, I gather.

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Maddie got here early Tuesday morning, and we left right after that. Us and 8 friends rented 2 cars and did a road trip to Hardangerfjord. It was just… wow. There really aren’t words to describe it. We spent the entire day in cars and had an absolute blast. Road trips are fun – but road trips with new friends, through the fjords of Norway? Amazing.

We took a ferry across and ate lunch that everyone helped make. It reminded me of Philosophy Camp, where everyone made something for everyone else to share. But the sights! Man oh man you can’t make this stuff up. I’m really excited to see it during the summer as well – mountains covered in green, and gigantic flowing waterfalls. This is such a beautiful country. There really is nothing better…

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