Tiana: Toubacouta

February 11, 2010

I left my house at 6:30 to head to WARC on Friday morning.  The sun wasn’t awake yet, I was carrying 20 pounds of luggage, and I was extremely tired from writing a 5-page paper on the role of women in Senegalese society the night before.  Nevertheless, I felt really excited for the weekend ahead.

Let me just say, I haven’t had a really good pastry since I left Paris last summer.  So, when the MSID staff passed out croissants and pain au chocolat from La Brioche Dorée, I was absolutely elated!  They also passed around water, juice, apples, oranges, and bananas for breakfast! With full stomachs and fatigued smiles, we began our journey to Toubacouta.  And was it ever a bumpy one!  I was seated near the back of the bus along with Devyn, Britney, Kenta, Dylan, and a couple of others, so naturally we took the brunt of the bumps when our bus driver went off-roading through the Senegalese terrain.  It was fun for a while, but when you’re sleep-deprived and want a quick nap during a five and a half hour road trip…yeah…not so fun anymore!  It was, for the most part, a pleasant drive — We had a chance to see some of the various vistas of countryside, I got to listen to some good classical tunes, and yes, I did end up catching some z’s.

The fun really began when we arrived at our destination.  Our hotel was gorgeous: the rooms were actually individual huts decorated simply but luxuriously, the walkways were paved with seashells, the staff were beyond amiable, and there were flowers to boot.  It was a tropical paradise!  To our delight, the hotel was equipped with a pool and outdoor dining area, as well.  We drove in to the area, and you could hear variations of “Oh.  My.  Gosh!” for about five minutes.  Phillipe, a fifties or sixties French man and co-owner of the hotel, greeted us individually, and remarked quite often about my “beaux yeux bleus”…haha…he was very French!  We had a good period of time to relax, eat a delicious lunch before heading to the center of Toubacouta for a tour.

Our first stop was a courtesy visit to the village President’s office.  Waly mediated between French and Wolof, introducing us to the President in Wolof and translating the President’s Wolof welcome to us in French.  It seems that everywhere we go en groupe, someone comments about how many beautiful women are in the program, and this time was no exception!  The President noted the number of young women in the group and mentioned the need for more American women in the village!  The room erupted in laughter, we thanked the busy man for his time, and left for a walking tour of the village.  We passed shops, straw huts with thatched rooves, street musicians and vendors, a school and boarding house, beautiful flora and fauna, kind village folk, a nearby river, and all the while, I felt so thankful to be there, seeing things that not many people will ever have the opportunity to see, but things that have the capacity to change your life.

Shortly after our tour, we returned to the hotel, relaxed poolside for a bit, ate more delicious food, and crashed from fatigue.

Saturday began with an incredible breakfast — the best rolls ever accompanied by an array of jams, cheese, butter, and chocolate, café au lait, and fresh orange juice.  I ate way to much.  Then again, that’s a pretty common theme for me here…good thing we walk around so much!

After breakfast, we headed to the nearby mangroves for the morning.  Touring the delta area, we learned a bit about the uses and commerce of fish and oysters that are prevalent in the region.  We then set sail (kind of) for an excursion of the Saloum River.  If you’ve ever played Amazon Trail, you’ll understand the genre of experience that we had on the river.  Packed in two boats, we wound along the bends in the river’s course, some narrow, and some vast, accompanied by the rhythmic beating of the djiambe that provoked impromptu dancing and singing.  On our boat, we ended up singing Colors of the Wind from Pocahontas, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, I Will Survive, and Oops, I Did it Again.  Needless to say, we enjoyed ourselves.

The view from the river was amazing!  We saw several diverse bird species taking flight and several fish jumping up from the water as trees and roots created a tunnel around us and shielded us from the sun.  What an adventure!

The afternoon agenda began with a visit to a rural village, Keur Malick Fady.  The moment we stepped off the bus, we were ushered to the arbre des palabres, the principal tree of the village where all important matters are discussed.  We sat down, soon surrounded by nearly 150 people from the village, and were introduced via Waly to the village chief, the elders, and everyone else.  They gave us a brief history of the village and recounted some of the difficulties that they face, after which we were permitted to ask questions.  I asked about their access to health care — It turns out the nearest health center is three kilometers from the village, a voyage typically made by horse- or donkey-drawn cart, and the nearest hospital is twelve kilometers away in Sokone, a voyage made by automobile.  Even if someone were ill, the village people often lack the funds necessary for the ill person to be seen at the center or to drive to the hospital if there are substantial complications.  Even if the ill person were to make it to the center or hospital, there is no guarantee that the quality of healthcare would be adequate.  It’s a frustrating situation, even from an outsider’s perspective.  Other topics of discussion that we touched on were education, electricity, agriculture, and the justice system.

Just as our discussion was ending, a woman pulled out a plastic bucket (typically used in their water well) and began rhythmically banging it as if it were a drum.  People began running to the center of the circle to dance, and I was quickly pulled toward the center.  Now, let’s be clear, I am likely the most uncoordinated person on the planet when it comes to dancing, so you can imagine the insanity of a situation where I am at the center of a giant circle under a large tree with four Senegalese women and trying with all my might to do as they do.  Reflect.  Chuckle if you must.  Either way, it was a really fun experience, and very intense.

The dance soon ended, and we were then escorted around the village by the entire group of villagers that had just previously joined with us in discussion.  The sunny afternoon ended perfectly with a warm farewell and the assurance that each and every one of us was welcome back to the village if we should ever choose to return.

After dinner that evening, we were whisked off to central Toubacouta.  Little did I know that it would be one of the most unforgettable evenings of my life.

Stay tuned for more on our weekend in Toubacouta!


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