Tiana: Toubacouta part 2

February 16, 2010

Peeking out the bus windows while approaching central Toubacouta, we saw a large circle of chairs and a giant group of people.  The center of the circle was lit with two bright outdoor lights and nothing else, so faces were cast in shadow.  Stepping from the bus, the children of the village reached for our hands, offering a warm welcome and the invitation to “viens, assis-toi!” or “come, sit down!” We were lead to a chair and several children quickly surrounded us, introduced themselves, asked our names, and promised to teach us to dance mbalax, a traditional African dance, by the time the evening ended.  Then, the drumming began.

The next three hours were filled with traditional African music, including drumming sequences infinitely more elaborate than anything I’ve ever seen before, and dance, which all of us toubabs attempted in good spirits, making quite a spectacle of ourselves.  One guy took a flaming torch and rubbed it over the soles of his feet and his stomach without charring his skin at all, and later swallowed fire!  The mbalax dancers moved their feet so quickly and in such calculated steps, it seemed as if they were never really touching the ground.  So there we were, stars above us and joyous, energetic people all around, having a jolly good time, and getting yet another true taste of culture in Africa.  Three different groups performed, each with a different style of entertainment and a unique flair.  The people of that village seriously know how to have fun.  Something tells me that that is true of this entire country.

Unfortunately, all the sand and dust that was kicked up during the dance took it’s toll on my lungs.  Just as we were leaving the show, my coughing, sneezing, drowsy fit began. Despite feeling miserable by the end, that Saturday had been one of the coolest days of my life.

Children of Keur Ousseynou Dieng

Sunday was a doozy.  And when I say doozy, I mean that every fiber of my being wished that I could have stayed in bed all day.  Wheezing and sneezing like crazy, I joined the group for another delicious breakfast and a bus ride to another local village, Keur Ousseynou Dieng. We received a similar welcome as we had in the previous village and were quickly ushered into the case de santé, a small, village-based medical facility.  It was an insightful visit, but I ended up getting very frustrated.  I don’t even know quite what I was frustrated with, but I think it was a compilation of things.  As an aspiring medical professional, it was difficult to see such a basic facility.  Sure, it is very convenient to have a close area where villagers can go for a free verbal consultation, to give birth etc., but the case lacked even the most fundamental necessities for an efficient practice (aside from the caring and well-trained personnel who run the space as volunteers).  Kleenex for runny noses, band-aids for wounds, malaria medication or antibiotics: all things that they need to out-sourced and that take time and a great deal of money to acquire.  Further, the case is not equipped for medical emergencies, and such urgent cases need to be evacuated to the nearest poste de santé or the nearest hospital, requiring even more time and money that may not be available.  This is, of course, from my outsider’s perspective, and I know that the case is an incredible blessing and a step in the right direction in terms of health care.  Still, it broke my heart.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent in parlance with a local women’s group that is in the process of forming an agricultural market in which women can cultivate and sell crops.  The project is outstanding, but also presented another frustration.  The idea, the dream, and the prospect of the end goal that these women have are all beautiful, but it’s the execution of the plan that seems slightly behind.  These women work and work and work in such admirable fashion and with such heart, and it seems still that all possible roadblocks between them and success spring up.  One foreign government helped them plan an irrigation system for their massive cultivation space, a plan that has not been carried out.  Transport of goods to a larger city is extremely expensive, and there is no middle-man or mediator to help the process along.

Just after we left the village, we headed to the Senegal-Gambia border.  The most notable remark that I can make in terms of this brief visit was the element of culture shock that accompanied it.  The one clear distinction between the Senegal side and the Gambia side of the border was the language in which signs were printed and conversation was spoken.  On the Senegal side, of course, everything was French or Wolof, and the instant that you step into Gambia, everything is in English (because it’s their first language!).  We met the head police man at the immigration office, and no sooner than we arrived, we left.  Fresh cashews in hand, we returned to the hotel.

The day grew long, and so did our faces as the warm afternoon turned into evening.  Fatigued, we ate dinner, and prepared for our last event of the evening, a concourse of culture.  Part one consisted of a mbalax dance competition, part two, a culture question-and-answer.  I took part in the dance part and took the role of spectator in the question-and-answer.  It was a fun, light-hearted event, but you could tell we were all exhausted and excited to go to sleep.

Monday rolled around, the sun shone,  and we ate our final delicious breakfast at the hotel.  Bus packed, we headed to Toubacouta again, and then to Sokone, a nearby town.  In Toubacouta, we toured the poste de santé, another medical facility, slightly larger and better supplied than the previous case.  The main hospital for the region is located in Sokone, and when we first got there, the lines were so long, you wondered if everyone would be seen that day, even though it was just 10:00 in the morning.  Later that afternoon, we were able to meet briefly with Dr. Coly, the chief doctor at the hospital, who told us about the different departments within the hospital and the main illnesses that they treat.  What I loved about the weekend was the extent to which we were shown the structure of the health system in Senegal.  However briefly, we truly got a glimpse of health care here which, let me tell you, is right up my ally in terms of public health interests!  It was so exciting!

Our final stop in Sokone was to pay a visit to Professor Sene’s family and to the mayor of Sokone’s home.  Professor Sene’s family was so welcoming!  We chatted with them for a short while, and crossed the street to the mayor’s large, gorgeous home.  There, we were served baignets, basically fried dough (YUM!), delicious, fresh cashews, and cold soft drinks.

The last experience we had on our trip was our stop for lunch at a small restaurant in bustling Kaolack.  Mostly filled with European tourists and accordian-inspired French music, we occupied a large table and ate as much as we could (considering we had stuffed ourselves with scrumptious baignets just an hour before).  Lunch was wonderful, rice with onion sauce and an ice cold Coca Cola, topped off by ICE CREAM!!  I’ve been craving ice cream forever!  It was perfect!

Devyn, Sophia, Charles (Hotel Co-Owner), Zawadi, Me

The ride home was really fun, and we finished the road trip in good spirits.  Highlight of the trip: seeing a monkey run across the road right in front of our bus!  I was really excited to get home and see my family, and spent the afternoon catching up with maman and the others, sharing stories from the weekend and preparing for the remainder of the week.

Toubacouta was an unforgettable weekend!

Before wrapping up this post, I want to share some sad news.  Not to be a downer, but to communicate something important that happened within our MSID community.  One of our dear Wolof professors unfortunately passed away during our weekend in Toubacouta.  Aissatou had such a sweet heart and such a kind and gentle temperament, and I learned so much from her even in just three weeks of class. My prayers go out to her family.


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