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Tiana: This is my life

March 4, 2010

French and Wolof.  Theatric negotiations with taxi drivers.  Hustling, bustling markets spanning city blocks.  Traditional garb.  Ataaya, ditax, and soump.  Senegalese salsa music played in concert with palm trees swaying in the background.  Soaking sun at an isolated beach next to towering cliffs.  Pick-up basketball as the sun sets.  Preparation for the last two weeks of class.  Seriously, and I mean seriously, can it get much better?

Last weekend, I wrote about being in the middle of the transition, that’s to say, in the middle of figuring some things out.  This past week, I think I can safely say that said transition (one, I’m sure, of several that I’ll go through) was completed.  I’ve been tired and irritable all week, frustrated with I don’t even know what.  Turns out it wasn’t all for nothing.  I feel I’ve finally turned the corner between being a visitor in this country, in this home, and actually living here and existing as a pseudo-member of society.  Allow me to expound…

On French and Wolof:

Quite simply, I see the levels of French and Wolof in our group consistently on the incline.  Personally, I can tell that I am starting to understand more bits and pieces of the Wolof that is spoken in my direction (I’ve actually been incriminated as an eavesdropper because I sometimes try to understand people’s conversations…) and I can usually offer a solid, albeit basic response.  This is becoming increasingly evident in my communications with family, with random folk on the street, with vendors, and with taxi drivers.  We have our first Wolof test this coming Wednesday, and I think we all feel pretty confident about it.  It’s great to have so many opportunities to practice, as many people are more than willing to help and are typically surprised when a toubab can speak their native language!

On theatric negotiations with taxi drivers:

Taxiing home from Sandaga Friday afternoon.

Folks, taxis here are all about theatrics.  ACT ONE: The experience starts off with a warm, sometimes extended salutations.  You tell the taximan where you want to go and ask for their first proposal for a price.  Without fail, especially if you are a toubab, the taximan will propose something ridiculously high!  This is not the time to get angry or upset…no…this is the time for you to laugh almost hysterically at the outrageous demand and propose something ridiculously low.  Will they accept?  (Curtains close, mbalax music plays.)  ACT TWO: No way, Jose!  Your price is way too low!  You dance around each other, with laughter, assertion, and sometimes a pouting waññi ko as your methods of negotiation, and you can typically get a decent price.  (Cue the joyful mbalax music!)  But WAIT!  Not all such stories have a happy ending — sometimes, you simply must walk away.  For example, Saturday night, as we were leaving a salsa music concert at l’Institut Francais, one driver would not budge from the 3500 CFA mark for a ride that we ended up paying 1500 CFA for.  Case and point, we had to walk away.  The more you bargain, the more comfortable you feel bargaining, and I think I’m getting to a point where I feel a lot more comfortable doing so.

All in all, taxiing is a cool experience.  It gives you a few minutes to just sit and observe your surroundings.  You can sit in silence, or you can engage in conversation with the driver.  You can look out the window, or you can look within the car, as they are usually decked out with colorful decoration.  Saturday night, we caught a taxi to the concert at sunset.  We drove along the Corniche, a main roadway that borders the ocean, and had the opportunity to see the sun just as it slipped below the horizon.  Let me just say…WOW!

On hustling, bustling markets spanning city blocks:

MSID students at N'ice Cream

I went to the Marche Sandaga in downtown Dakar on two separate occasions this past week: Wednesday and Saturday.  On Wednesday, Julia, Kelsey, Britney, and I went to a hugemore content when we went to N’ice Cream, a cute little ice cream parlor downtown!  I got two scoops, each a different flavor — The first was Black Forest and consisted of vanilla ice cream with large black cherries and chocolate and cherry drizzle; the second was Strawberry Shortcake, made of strawberry ice cream and chunks of strawberry, also accommodated by a chocolate drizzle.  It was delectable, to say the very least! fabric store to look for the fabric we envisioned for making new outfits.  I settled on two and a half meters of a creamy silk fabric patterned with deep red and deep purple flowers, spending only about nine dollars in the process!  The man who cut the fabric was nice enough to give me a small discount, so I left the store quite content, only to find myself

On Friday, we went to the same market again after Wolof class.  Unfortunately, the fabric store that we were going to return to was closed because of the Gamou, but we happily went back to N’ice Cream, and this time I chose a scoop of Strawberry Tiramisu and a scoop of Dolce Latte.  Again, I was more than content by the time we left the parlor.  We headed to l’Institut Francais just a few blocks away to purchase our tickets for the upcoming salsa music concert, and then headed home.

On traditional garb:

I wore my new taille base (previously described) on Friday for the Gamou, much to the delight of Maman and other family members.  Gamou is the Muslim holiday celebrating the birth of Mohamed.  Several people in my family left for Touvaoune that day, one of the two main Gamou pilgrimage sites, so the house was quiet after I returned from the Marche Sandaga and l’Institut Francais.  I put on the outfit and felt absolutely regal!  It turned out soexcellent job!  I was really delighted by my family’s reaction, as they called me a real Khadija, a true Senegalese, and remarked on how well the garment suited me.  In all honesty, I cannot take the credit here.  Magat helped me pick the fabric and the design, and the tailor is the one who made it.  In any case, it felt really nice to be regarded in such terms. beautifully; the tailor, Khadim, did an

On ataaya, ditax, and soump:

A description of ataaya has graced a previous blog post, but to review, it’s a method of making tea that is highly esteemed here in Senegal.  Green tea leaves are mixed with mint leaves and a large quantity of sugar, the tea is poured between two small glasses several times to create a lot of foam, and it is served in three rounds.  The process of ataaya can take up to two hours, and the important thing about the process is the time you spend with the people around you.  My cousin, Matar, just happens to be an absolute expert at ataaya!  Several times these past weeks, we’ve sat and chatted, sometimes just us two, but often with other family members or friends around.  It wasn’t really until this Saturday that I began to understand the importance of those around me during ataaya.  I was sitting with Matar, Bap (a renter in the house), and Adama (Matar’s friend), but I wasn’t participating in the conversation, I was just sitting and reading an article that I have for my Country Analysis course.  Matar is always poking fun at how much I study and constantly telling me to relax.  Friends, my idea of relaxed is curling up on the couch and studying.  My tendency, introversion.  But it’s different here.  Relaxing is sitting and simply enjoying the company of others.  (By the way, Matar just walked by my door, saw me on my computer, and told me to relax!)  This is something that I’m slowly learning to do.

Ditax is a tropical fruit that I’ve never heard of in my entire life.  I tried ditax juice for the first time this past week and fell in love with it!  Seriously, every time since Tuesday that I’ve seen it on a menu, I’ve ordered it!  (This has only been, like, three times, but I know the trend will continue.)  Imagine a fruity, sugary cucumber juice, that’s probably the best that I can describe it!

I just tried soump this afternoon.  I think it’s a nut, but I’m not really sure.  You peel the outer layer and chew on the inner layer for a little bit, but the inner layer is actually another nut that is just covered by some fruity, raisin-y something.  Vague?  Absolutely.  And I’m very sorry to describe these things with such ambiguity, but I think it’s kind of a “you’ve got to try it” thing!  So, if you ever see the words ditax or soump, don’t hesitate to try it!

On Senegalese salsa music played in concert with palm trees swaying in the background:

L’Institut Francais is a location in downtown Dakar that is organized around the fusion of Senegalese and French culture.  They hold all sorts of activities there, from concerts to films, from exhibitions to debates, and they boast a library and computer room along with kind personnel and a welcoming environment.  Saturday evening began with dinner at the Institute’s restaurant, a cozy, plush, and very well decorated space.  Laura, Kaela, Johanna, Devyn, Britney, and I all ate together that evening, and I don’t think any of us had any complaints!  I ordered a Moroccan burger with french fries and a ditax juice.  After eating one-half of the meal, Devyn and I switched plates, and I finished the remaining half of her avocado, feta cheese, tuna, and fruit salad while she finished the burger and fries.  It was incredibly fun for us all to just sit together and chat.

The concert itself lasted about two hours.  With palm trees and ambient lighting behind the outdoor stage, and with open space just in front of the stage for dancing, the time passed in delightful fashion.  Energetic, creative beats filled the air, and several Senegalese salsa vocalists took the stage.  During three or four songs, audience members busted out some impressive and ridiculous salsa moves, adding even more to the fun!  One little boy, perhaps five or six years old, was up dancing in front of the crowd nearly the whole time!  It was a beautiful evening and a very nice break from the craziness of the week.

On soaking sun at an isolated beach next to towering cliffs:

Walking along the Corniche.

Saturday morning at around 11:00 am, I walked up to Devyn’s house in Fenêtre Mermoz, the neighborhood just north of mine.  Beach day! From her apartment, we went off in search of a beach that another student had mentioned that was near La Phare des Mamelles, a lighthouse near the northern point of the Cap Vert peninsula.  We had no idea how far the beach was, so we set off on foot, not realizing that it would be about an hour long walk!  Despite the length, it was an extremely pleasant excursion — the sun was shining, we walked along the Corniche, which offers a constant view of the ocean, and then along a winding back road that provided a calm repose from the busy highway.  Courtney, who was also coming to the beach, drove by us in a taxi on her way there, so she hopped out and joined us as we finished our walk!  Stopping three times for directions to the pathway leading towards the beach (once talking to a young man seated on a stump and enjoying the midday, once briefly talking to a man leaving the United World Missions community, and finally to a man stationed within the United World Missions community), we finally found the small, rocky path to the hidden beach.  Semi-hiking down the path, we finally caught sight of our destination.  I was not expecting to behold such beauty that afternoon!  It was a small, secluded stretch of sand with a tall cliff towering on the right and proudly holding the lighthouse, a large stretch of rocks and a view of Les Almadies in the distance to the left, and a quaint, thatched shack behind.  Furthermore, our arrival was accompanied by the rhythmic tapping of a djembe coming from just near the shack.

We spent the next few hours in the sunshine looking through the January issue of InStyle and Brides magazines, chatting with a few other beach-goers and with each other, and floating in the water, which was so salty, you could literally taste the granules if the water got in your mouth (which it did, because in order to get out deep enough to just float, you were first attacked by hammering waves that were approximately your same height and decided to cap just as they approached you).  It was such a relaxing afternoon!  I ended up a little on the overdone side in terms of sun exposure, but it didn’t detract from the experience.

On pick-up basketball as the sun sets:

I haven’t played basketball in what feels like ages, but I’m always up for it when the occasion presents itself.  So, when Britney and her friend Mahmadou organized an afternoon where we could hit a local court and play some pick-up, I was in!  We went to Enea (probably not spelled correctly), a court at Suffolk University just down the road.  The attendees were Britney, Zawadi, Devyn, Mahmadou, two of Mahmadou’s friends, and myself, but we were soon joined by a couple of others.  We played for a good hour and a half, make it take it, and had a ton of fun in the process!  It was windy as all get-out, so most shots didn’t go in, but that allowed us to work with picks, back-doors, and all kinds of other little tricks to facilitate close-range plays.

If I don’t play basketball for a lengthy period of time, I somehow forget how much I love it, and then once I play again, I can’t imagine how I ever forgot!  It was really cool to play in a setting very different from what I’m used to, that’s to say indoors, on a wood floor, in an organized game, not to mention I’ve never played in Senegal before.  It was a gorgeous night, and we’re hoping to arrange another similar game soon!

On preparation for the last two weeks of class:

On a final note, I’ll mention that we have just shy of a week and a half of class left!  Then, I’m heading up north to Saint Louis, the former capital of Senegal, for a few nights in the city, a couple of nights at the gorgeous national bird park, and a night sleeping in the dunes of the desert and riding camels!  And after that, it’s off to Joal to integrate into a new family, intern at the pediatric center, and conduct some preliminary research!  I can’t wait!

This weekend, I’m heading to a gymnastics center with my friend Anta, making chicken fettuccine for my family, hopefully playing some basketball again, and we’ll just have to wait and see what else the next few days hold! I hear that the weather back home is warming up nicely, and I’m very excited for you alll in that regard!  Sending even more sunshine your way!

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