Archive for the ‘Claire in Senegal’ Category


Claire: Nafeeyoh

November 22, 2009

which means whats up in sererre.

Don’t have a lot of time, just wanted to drop a line to say hello and that I’m doing fine. I cant really go on about all I’ve been up to, I’ll just tell you its of course gotten better each day. There are still plenty of times when I want to shut myself up in my room, click my heels three times and repeat theres no place like home over and over again (exhibit a: i have almost finished reading Anna Karenina) but of course I don’t (too much).

I’ve started trying to learn the dances which are really hard but REALLY fun, especially when its a big group of women dancing and yelling and laughing around a big circle. most of the times we dance to the beat of someone drumming on a bucket or big metal bowl, those are my favorite. Last night we threw a party for a baby that was just born in my family, the tradition here is to wait a week to name the baby and then throw a big party once the baby is named by a huddle of the men in the village. After dark one woman grabbed a bowl, one woman grabbed a bucket and the rest of us danced our life away, even my mom!!! I, of course, suck but they encourage me anyway. I signed up for another african dance class in the spring so I hope to learn some moves to show off by then.

Next week is Tabaski, which is a lot like Korite but we dress up and kill a sheep instead of dressing up and eating laax. I bought my outfit today and it is fancy shmancy; my sister said she is also bringing me to a soiree that night where there will be lots of young people and lots of dancing. eep.

Also, i must say this, last week I ate rat liver. Yes your eyes did not decieve you. We found a rat, we cooked it, we ate it and let me tell you it actually tasted just like chicken. Who knew?

Today im in Thies where my mom is from staying with her family. I went to the market this morning and then got to meet up with some friends which was awe.some.

It’s not so hard to be here now because of stress or difficulties acclimating. That’s still hard sometimes, but really the hardest part is just missing home, knowing that it’s so close but yet so far. It’s not that I’m terribly homesick, it’s just that it’s been such a long time since I saw everyone that it’s hard knowing there are a mere three weeks left and there’s nothing I can do to make the time go faster. I keep reminding myself tho that those weeks will be over before I know it and that when it’s over I’ll miss it, miss the people, miss the food, miss the adventure.


Claire: ndank ndank

November 8, 2009

well here i am on weekend number TWO and happy to report i am doing much better.

i dont have much time to blog, im at a hotel in Joal, a touristy and pretty town on the beach, visiting my friend emma for her birthday. theres a computer i can use but its 1:15 am here so i have to be quick.

this past week has been nothing but a continuation of the rollar coaster but i, at last thank the lord in heaven, am starting to feel more comfortable here. i even starting feeling really glad to be here and let me tell you, the first thought i had was What a freakin relief!

this past week i worked and came home from work like clockwork and then proceeded each day to stand around and ask over and over if i could help with something. its gotten better gradually, as i learn how to do more to help, WHAT i can do to help and when i can just go relax and stop stressing. i wouldnt say im at all stress free at home but i feel like im slowly integrating into the daily life more and more.

i got a major help from the most unusual of places: my SECOND mom came home. thats right, my dad has two wives; one who i live with in tattaguine and one in thies where, i guess, he spends most of his time. this past monday she came down to tattaguine to accompany him to thies. well this made my mom so much happier, when hes here he just bosses her around the entire time. im starting to think she may even like me, she called me here daughter the other day and my heart just SWELLED with joy.

work is pretty boring, but that could be worse. altho it feels like im just working at a bank i imagine that im actually learning more about the interworkings of microfinance than im aware of right now.

what else…

well today i saw the biggest baobob tree in senegal, and possibly in africa. it was 32 metres in circumfrance and 850 yrs old. it was the size of a house, we actually climbed inside!

well i better be off to bed; ill try to blog again before i leave.


Claire: get…me…out of here

October 31, 2009

is the phrase i have been repressing for the past two and a half days.

It’s not that my village is bad or anything…just…DIFFERENT. every single thing about it is different.

Here I live not in a house but in a communal dwelling encircled by concrete with about five concrete buildings inside and two grass tents for cooking. Needless to say i live with a big big family. There are kids running everywhere in a big gang playing; adults sit under a big tree and talk, nap, nurse babies, etc; boys are pretty much nowhere to be found during the day. I honestly dont see any of them until around 9 pm when its time for dinner: girls my age and moms do most of the work, such as cooking, cleaning, taking care of the animals, etc. There are chickens and goats running around my compound as well. I made friends with one baby goat. I pet him and he nuzzles up to me, which everyone thinks is quite hilarious and stupid of me.

I sleep on two foam pads on a concrete floor. I didnt know it until too late but I basically kicked my sister out of her room; she sleeps in the living room now. I tried to get her to switch back but she refuses. She’s about my age but still has four years left before she graduates and goes on to university; she is constantly running around making dinner, helping a blind man who lives in our compound, doing laundry; getting water, etc. I feel totally inadequate and lazy all the time. Oh, and she’s gorgeous, by the way.

It’s not all completely rustic. There are lots of things I have here that I didnt have in Dakar; the best news of all is that I HAVE AN ACTUAL FACTUAL SHOWER! This is something I definitely did not have in Dakar. Also, ALHAMDILILAH, i have a flushing toilet WITH a toilet seat, which is new. For the past two nights weve brought a table and tv out on the concrete patio to watch after dinner; I’ve seen more tv here in the past two days than in two months in Dakar. Also we drink ataya (this really amazing tea) like its nobodies business. So its definitely not all bad.

No its not bad at all. The highlight so far has been yesterday when I followed my sister and all the other girls from the village to the well. They tied ropes to old gasoline jugs and dipped the jugs down down down the well to the water, hauled them back up, dumped the water in a big, plastic, rainbow colored buckets, filled them to the brim and carried them home on their heads. She gave me a smaller, toubab sized bucket to carry on my head and I walked back home in the line of girls with buckets of water. I was pretty elated: lets face it i had been practicing for this moment ever since I saw the jungle book and idolized the girl at the end with the bucket on her head singing my own home and luring mowgli away from the jungle.

I also like the weather here, at night theres a cool breeze that makes it the perfect weather to just sit outside and chat. It reminds me of summer nights in colorado and reminds me of something my fav african studies teacher told me: if you like colorado weather youll like western africa. Well I think she meant interior western africa. Any way its pretty gorgeous weather here, made more beautiful by the absence of city smog and garbage smell in the air.

It is just completely and totally different and therefore really hard to get used to; i have no idea if my family likes me or hates me or is simply putting up with me. Mostly i suspect the third.

The men are also even more forward, which I didnt think was possible. I have so far gotten three marriage proposals and even more requests to take them back to america with me.

When I walk the sand path home after work children come RUNNING out of their houses yelling TOUBAB and pointing and laughing at me.

Actually people laugh at me a lot, if I try to speak wolof or sererre, if I try to cook or clean, etc. All I want to do is be included; it feels so much better when I’m actually doing something or helping someone. When I was dropped off I was told by my prof to assimilate completely and I’m trying, but I feel like most of the time I just get laughed at or am so inadequate its sad.

It also sucks being in an area where there is almost NO french spoken, many people in my compund dont even speak french. I’m either wondering if they’re talking about me or absolutely certain they are. And all in a language I dont understand but am expected to.

I knew this wasnt going to be easy, but I found myself wondering why I thought it would be anything but extremely hard, maybe the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Not painful or traumatizing, just HARD. I dont fit it not because anyone is inadequate but just because i just really do not fit in. I am and they are just plain different.

But I’m going to keep my chin up and keep thinking about it as an exercise in self confidence, will power and self assuredness. And also in accepting and experiencing completely different cultures. I go through about twelve emotional roller coasters every day, from I LIKE IT HERE! to GET ME OUT OF HERE! and back, but I keep reminding myself that five weeks will actually go pretty fast so I should soak in the experience while i can. I tell you what, tho, it definitely puts two and a half years in the peace corps into perspective.

I’m at a cyber cafe in a town kind of close by but it was kind of an ordeal to get here. I felt like my family was both amazed and annoyed that i wanted to come here, they feel like they need to accompany me everywhere, despite my protests. So, my posts will be much less frequent, but I will try to hoof it here at least once every weekend…


Claire: Last day in Dakar

October 28, 2009

So today is my final day in Dakar.  I ran some errands, did what was left of my laundry and went to the school. Can’t tell you much about my errands, except that i bought some really cool PRESENTS there. I leave tomorrow for the village of Tattaguine and recently found out that there is no internet there, not even a cyber cafe. The closest one is about a 15 min bus ride away, so i will try to hoof it there at least once every weekend to post.

Needless to say, I am pretty nervous. Well, make that extremely nervous. My mom keeps telling me, though, that if I don’t like it or if my Tattaguine family is mean she will march straight there and give them a piece of her mind. I’m going to miss my family so so much. It’s comforting to feel like i already have a family in the country; I feel nothing like the fear I had before I met my first family when I just arrived here. I’m still scared, however, that they wont speak much French and that we won’t be able to build a relationship because I don’t speak much Wolof at all. I’m also scared because there almost certainly will be no shower and no toilet—just a hole in the ground.

I’ll also miss being able to get on the internet and keep up with the rest of the world at least once a day. I’ll definitely miss keeping up with glee, 30 rock and the office.

Most of all I’ll miss having all my friends around. Everythings about half as scary when you go through it with another person; every traumatizing experience becomes laughable with a friend. I’m going to have to buy A LOT of credits.

The bright side is that the village should be a breath of fresh air, literally. Dakar has lots of cosmopolitan things to offer, but it’s full to the brim of smog and dust and garbage—literally big piles of garbage everywhere. its…lets see how to put this…not the BEST smelling place I’ve ever been.


Claire: The Villa

October 19, 2009

OOOOOKAY. friends and family, that has been my motto for the past few days, “OOOOOKAY.”

since a few weeks ago my sister has been telling me “we’re going to rent a villa by the BEACH with a POOL and we’re going to stay up all night dancing and having a party and its going to be AWESOME!” At first i was a little suspect, i wasnt sure if i could afford that kind of luxury or if i wanted to just stay here and enjoy dakar but as the weeks past i wanted more and more to just escape the smog and garbage of dakar and my sister said it would only cost about 20 american dollars so i said, hey why not?

well it sort of went like this:

okay we’re going to a seaside villa with a pool at Saly at 8 am
okay we’re going to a seaside villa with a pool at 12 pm
okay at 2
okay at 2 30
okay its 3 and we’re really leaving this time
okay we’re going to a villa but its either seaside or with a pool, not both
okay its with a pool
okay its not in saly its somewhere else
okay we’re here and it looks good but there’s no pool and no beach but there’s a lagoon nearby and we can drive to the beach
okay we’re here and it looks good but its locked
okay the guy is here to unlock it but he cant because he doesnt have the keys
okay the keys are with someone else in some other village
okay we can go to the beach until he finds the keys
okay we’re going to stay at HIS house on the beach until he finds the keys
okay he cant find the keys we’re staying here
okay its fine because now its seaside again
okay there are a lot of bugs
okay there are a lot of bugs but we can pull the mattresses (aka pads of foam) out onto the porch to sleep
okay there are even more bugs on the porch but i can hear the ocean
okay theres a lizard in the kitchen cabinet
okay theres a goat in the yard
okay this house is pretty disgusting
okay its dark because we left so late but we can swim for a minute tonight and then spend the whole day tomorrow at the beach
okay my sister wasn’t kidding they want to stay up all night and go dancing
okay i need to pass out now
okay seriously i need to go to bed
okay good night
okay good morning…
okay its cloudy
okay its raining, i guess we can lay around and read/nap
okay what are we doing here??? lets go back to dakar
okay the sun came out!
okay now im happy, now i am tanning
okay lunchtime
okay the sun disappeared again
okay lets look at the lagoon
okay its a lagoon. nice lagoon. lets go home.
okay we’re going BACK to the crackden?
okay just a few more cups of bissap
okay youre wealthy uncle is coming over with MORE drinks?
okay just one more hour
okay this is pretty fun, i never thought i’d debate the iraq war in french
okay lets go home
okay its 11 pm and i havent done my Wolof homework but really what else is new.
okay that house was disgusting but that was a really good weekend.
okay now im done.

…pretty much sums it up. there were definitely moments when i went a little insane; those were the times when i said “UGH THIS IS SO SENEGALESE!!!” If i havent told you before there is a wolof proverb that goes “ndank ndank moy jap golo ci nay” meaning “slowly one catches the monkey” which (somehow) translates to, basically, “patience is a virtue.” well there are times when the whole country seems to function at ndank ndank pace, such as peoples walking speeds (much slower than even mine) or, for example, when the ENTIRE post office goes on break for an hour between 2-3 and one is obliged to wait patiently. this weekend was, at times, an infuriating example of ndank ndank, for example when we were supposed to leave at 8 but left at 3, or when we waited around the original villa (which we had a reservation for btw) for a half an hour for the guy to come with keys only to be told a half an hour later that he didnt have them, or when we sat around talking and drinking for HOURS saturday night. i tried to keep telling myself was a lesson in patience, that i was learning to be less impatient. i cant say i always succeeded…but i tried.

it was, in the end, a great weekend. i got to stay at a house separated from the beach only by a ten foot garden. that house could rake in so much money if the guy were to fix it up–the location was just beautiful. also on sunday morning a friend of the guy whose house we were staying at caught a big swordfish, id say about two feet long, and gave it to us to cook and eat for lunch. fish lovers be jealous, it was delicious. also, once i got over my impatience i loved sitting around the table by the beach talking about everything under the sun. and i loved the beach. so all in all it was good, especially because i feel like i made some new friends. plus it was fun to road trip again, i love road trips!


Claire: For the love of harira

October 9, 2009

So we took a small stroll recently to a Moroccan restaurant we had seen closeby and OH MY GOD is moroccan food good!!! A big group of us shared (read: devoured) about five dishes and they were all equally delicious. We pretty much destroyed them. It was amazing. There is this one soup called “harira” that my friend said people usually eat at weddings and it is pretty much the best thing I’ve ever tasted. It had beans and noodles and spices and I dont know what else all I know is I’ve been dying to go back and order it. If you get the chance to go to a Moroccan restaurant order harira.

After that lisa and I haggled the taxi driver down to the lowest price I’ve ever paid using my SWEET joola bracelet. I’m really enjoying being a joola toubab. The taxi driver was giving me an outrageous price so i said to him in french, “stop giving me a toubab price, im not a toubab im joola” and I showed him my bracelet and HE GAVE ME A LOWER PRICE! its really come in handy. For those of you who forgot, joola is a group of people, like the Wolof, with their own distinct culture, language, etc. The joola people originally come from the Casamance region, south of the Gambia. There’s a lot of other groups beside Wolof, for ex.: joola, pulaar, sereer, bambara, fular, mandingue, toucouleur, etc. which is a point of contention in Senegal. some claim that there has been a “wolofization” of Senegal, forcing the Wolof language and culture down the entire country’s throat. I’m pretty sure this originated with colonialism: when the French landed in Senegal they originally allied themselves with the Wolof. The French ruled francophone west africa through indirect rule, giving the Wolof people power and weaponry in exchange for their loyalty to the french government. I think this is how it went down. Therefore, the Wolof language/culture spread, which is why all groups speak Wolof and French now in addition (if they’re lucky) to their original language.

Wednesday I left school right after my last class to go to a town outside of Dakar called Pikine with my family. My mom’s brother-in-law (i think, family relations are relative and fluid) died last week and ever since then there has been funeral-type activities all day every day. My sister told me that her aunt kept asking “where is the american? why doesn’t she come with you?” so i figured i should go. After having gone, however, i have no idea why it was necessary to be there at all. It was one of those cultural differences that was difficult for me to understand. Apparently for more than a week after someone dies the immediate family makes laax (millet and this vanilla-y yogurt) and lunch and dinner for the entire neighborhood. Also, the rest of the extended family goes to the house of the immediate family. We got there around two and just sat and talked. Then ate laax. Then napped a little. Then ate lunch. Then laid around. Then napped more. Then talked with some people. Then my sister finally took me home because I had lots of homework to do, but we were the only people to leave and i think everyone else stayed there until really late. Maybe just a person’s presence is comforting, maybe just having a lot of family around is helpful for the grieving family. But i honestly felt guilty, just sitting around and napping while the family in mourning worked constantly to feed their entire family plus me. I felt like a nuisance. I felt an odd clash of cultures within myself, as a midwesterner I felt like I should be bringing them hot dish, not laying around their house being fed.

When we left the house, however, we took a “car rapide” (fast car) which is a short yellow school bus which has been hollowed out, replacing the seats with a few dilapidated benches, painted wild and crazy colors and with no windows. It has a somewhat set route, you just hop on and tell the guy in the back with a purse for your fare where you want to go and he bangs on the side of the bus to tell the driver when you want to get off. It definitely was an interesting–and much cooler–experience than the bus, but wasn’t really that rapide and took about twice as long as a taxi. Then again it costs 1/3 as much, so its a give and take.

Yesterday I went downtown with some friends to study for our wolof test and drink coffee. We went to a pretty ritzy cafe called La Piaza which was AWESOME. I got a cafe au lait and it was so good I almost cried. Its definitely a “treat-yourself-to-a-toubab-delicacy” kind of place. HOWEVER a girl also got pick-pocketed while we were downtown. She was passing by some street vendors and they were harassing her to buy something (as usual) when one tugged on her pants saying “you need new pants!” on her right while another pulled the money out of her pocket to her left. WHAT a freaking bummer. She of course felt it and of course told him to give her money back but here just about the worst thing someone can be accused of is a thief so there was no way they were going to admit to stealing her money and give it back. I’ve been really careful with putting my money out of reach of pickpockets, but its just a reminder to always be aware.

Anyway, today i have class until late and then I think a group of us are going to the French Institute to see a modern dance performance. i hope its not too expensive because that would be really cool.


Claire: MSID Field Trip

September 29, 2009

Sorry for not posting for like a week, but the trip to Toubacouta was just too epic to casually blog about. that, and there was a POOL and a real shower so basically no time to sit and blog. AKA, the field trip was pretty amazing. I can’t really remember the minor details so I’ll just hit the highlights.

We stopped in a town called Socone where we had lunch at the house of the mayor who just happened to be the older brother of the director of WARC (West African Research Center, where my program is located). That was really cool. Three of us sat around a big silver plate and ate seriously ALL of the ceeb_u_jen (rice and fish) with our hands. I felt like dying afterwards.

Anyway, seven hours after we left Dakar we finally pulled up to the hotel and it was fab-u-lous. It consisted of 2-3 person cabana/huts, a pool and a bar/restaurant. It was really gorgeous. And really air conditioned. sigh….

By far the craziest thing we did in Toubacouta was attend a “Seance de Lutte.” on the schedule it said we would be attending the seance de lutte and that there would be a wrestling match between Waly (the director of MSID, my study abroad program) and a student and Adji (an assistant of MSID) and another student. We laughed and figured it would be a party like every other one we’ve attended in Senegal: we’d go to someone’s house, sit around, fan ourselves, eat ceebujen, someone would put on music and the toubabs would dance awkwardly. WELL. Let me tell you what a seance de lutte is. It’s a large open circle surrounded by onlookers who are extremely loud and interested in what is going on in the middle . Outside of the circle is a full drum band and a woman singer singing something completely incomprehensible. INSIDE the circle is about 30 beefy men wearing only speedo’s and a thong over the speedo’s, going around the circle doing the strangest dance you’ve ever seen (which i have actually mastered, thankyouverymuch). From time to time the men (the luttaires) face off to wrestle (to lutte). Oh yah, and they carry around wooden daggers (which may or may not have made Lisa a bit terrified, especially when i told her they were for killing all the toubabs). They use the daggers to draw shapes in the sand, however, which are supposed to call forward good spirits. At first sight it was completely terrifying, especially because we had NO idea what to expect. It was definitely a “dear Claire, you’re NOT IN AMERICA ANYMORE” moment. But after we got over the initial shock, it was definitely one of the most ridiculous and amazing experiences of my life so far. And maybe the smelliest; a giant ring of dancing/wrestling men smells palpably of sweat, dirt and testosterone.

While in Toubacouta we also visited a village called Soukuta (i think) and listened to a presentation by a “groupe de la femme” which made me feel so incredibly lazy and worthless its not even funny. Basically this group of women decided that cooking, cleaning, raising the children, selling oysters at the market, and doing everything else under the sun just wasn’t enough, they also had to save the mangroves.

So they got together and formed a group and each family in said group donated a small amount of money. with this money, along with a loan from an NGO, they created their own bank (credit mutual) which gives out micro loans to women within the group. This group of women depends on the mangroves to make a living, because oysters grow on the roots of mangroves and they shuck and sell oysters at the market. Sometimes, however, they run out of oysters on the exterior roots of the mangroves so they hack the outer roots away to get to the inner roots and therefore more oysters. With the bank, however, they can take out a micro loan to rent transportation to a different area of mangroves where there are more oysters. Then they sell the oysters at market and pay back the loan with the profit. The group also receives donations from NGO’s to plant mangroves from time to time. Feel pretty lazy, don’t ya?

Well the cool part of the story is that i also got to plant mangroves. Which, I’m sure you can guess, was so AMAZING. But first it was a tad bit terrifying. What happened was, we were all in our rooms getting ready to go and me and my roommates Lisa and Cate were doddling (me? doddle? never!) and long story short the group left without us. We waited around for people to show up to get on the buses when we realized that they had already left. Turns out they walked. So flashforward to ten minutes later, when we are SPRINTING through a forest and then across an African mudplain, sometimes falling through mud up to our knees. It was one of those moments where you look around and look at yourself and think, “ok. This is not something I ever anticipated doing in my life,” and thank yalla (god in wolof) that you are exactly where you are and who you are in that moment. Read the rest of this entry ?

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