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Grace: Arrival

August 3, 2011

Okay, so let me start out and say how excited I am for this semester.  It’s only been 3 days and we haven’t done anything particularly exciting yet, and I’m already having the most amazing time.

I got off the plane after an 8 hour flight with NOBODY SITTING NEXT TO ME. Best flight ever! I felt like I was in first class. When I left the airport, nauseous, sweaty, and repulsive after waiting what felt like 3 hours for my bags to finally appear on the conveyer belt in baggage claim, there was Waly waiting for me with a helpful sign.  Waly is the program coordinator for the MSID (Minnesota School of International Development) study abroad program in Senegal.  He took me to my hotel and I was told to just chill on my own for a day (my flight was a day earlier than the program is supposed to start).  Thankfully, the hotel had wifi and I didn’t die from boredom.  Anyways, I won’t go into detail about those first 24 hours, but it basically consisted of lots of sleeping, drawing, and surfing the internet.  Also, all I ate the whole day was a Clif bar and 3 twizzlers because I had no CFA (local money) and couldn’t change any because it was Sunday and everything was closed. So that was fun.

But anyways, Monday at 12, I went downstairs and met Waly again, but this time Kouka was with him too.  She is the other program coordinator.  Also, the other 2 pre-session students, David and Anne (University of Texas and University of Richmond), came down after arriving early that morning.  Yes, there are only going to be 3 people in my class for the next 3 weeks. Everyone else gets here after that. At that point, we are going to be AMAZING at French and be all Senegalese and awesome, and all the other students will be so jealous, hehe.

Monday was a fun day filled with instructions, food, incredibly tasty juices, Senegalese dancing (yes.), a trip to the rocky beach, and sweat. Waly and Kouka and Honourine (another MSID worker whose home we were at) told us all the cultural faux-pas we should avoid and what we should expect from our families.  We found out that apparently there have been problems in the past with students who don’t shower enough and repulsed their host families to the point that they actually had to tell the program directors about it.  The entire way back to the hotel I couldn’t quit thinking about the shower in my near future, so I don’t think that will be a problem for me. 

After an ambien-induced sleep, I woke up this morning at about 7:30 and went down to meet Anne and David for breakfast. We each were served half a (large) baguette and a croissant. Beaucoup de pain. Then Waly came and picked us up with our luggage and we set off on a little tour of Dakar.

We saw all the sights, including the GIANT monument recently built by the President. It’s supposed to represent the African renaissance, with a man, wife and child emerging from rough ground and the child being lifted toward the future.  A cool idea, but incredibly controversial.  Not only did the huge monument cost millions of government dollars in a nation where people are starving, but the statue is a human representation, which is forbidden by Islam.  95% of the population of Senegal is Muslim.  So yeah.  On top of all that, the President actually tried to claim intellectual property rights on the monument and receive personal profit for the tourist revenue.  Oh and did I mention the statue was built by North Koreans? Haha, this monument was not the greatest of ideas. This picture doesnt really convey how huge this thing is. Just imagine my body as the length of one of the womans fingers.
We also saw the “Porte de Millionaires” which was built after the peaceful elections of the year 2000, in which there was not only a democratic election of a new president (pretty rare for Africa), but a total change in government (from socialist to liberal). 
We also saw a few cool mosques.
And the white house.
And some GORGEOUS views with AWESOME cliffs.
After our tour, we went to WARC (West African Research Center), which is where the MSID offices are, and where we will be having our class.  Then we went to lunch at “My Shop”, a totally Western restaurant thing where they had pizza.

And then came the nerve-wracking drive to go meet our families.  I was sooo scared…as it turns out for no reason. My family is awesome.  I have 3 brothers, Mario, Babacar, and Tapha, and a sister, Aida.  Babacar isn’t here right now though, and when they explained to me where he was, I didn’t understand exactly what they were saying, but nodded and smiled anyway, so now I really have no idea where he is.  My host mom’s name is Soda, and she and her children are living with her mother, whose name I can’t remember, but that’s because I just call her “Maman”.  I am sharing a room with Aida.

Ramadan began today so I’m really glad I got lunch, because my family didn’t eat until after sundown.  They can’t drink anything allll day, which seems unbearable in this heat.  I downed two giant water bottles this afternoon, but I tried to be discreet about it so I wasn’t rubbing it in their faces. Tonight for the late dinner, several of their family members who live close came to do evening prayers and break the fast.  It was a little awkward because they spoke Wolof pretty much the entire time and as of now all I know how to say in Wolof is “hello” and “thank you”.  Surprisingly, my extensive Wolof vocabulary didn’t really come in handy during the dinner conversation. But 2 of the cousins, Suleyman (I’m guessing 9 years old) and a girl whose name I can’t remember (12 probably) said they felt bad for me just sitting there clueless, so they spoke in French with me.  They taught me a bunch of like hand-clapping games (I’m sure theres a name for them…), and I taught them that little “down by the banks of the hanky panky…” thing.  And we talked about America, and Justin Bieber, and movies, and school, and it was actually tons of fun!

And now I am sitting in my room after a nice cold shower, and writing this.  And thinking about how long this post is, even though I left out tons of stuff, and how if I write this detailed of a post every 3 days, I will have a very large book by the end of this semester. 

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