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 ?


Claire: It’s Senegal Baby

September 22, 2009

Friday during the day we went to N’Ice Cream, which is an ice cream store in Centre Ville (downtown) and is AMAZING and hilarious and run by extremely grumpy people. I got the Obama, yes Obama, flavor. Yes, it was the best ice cream flavor this side of the sahara.

Friday night i got out of class really late and just went home and talked with my fam and lisa came over to chat and then we all went to bed. it was really chill.

Saturday was awesome. I met up with a couple of friends and went to a small market in a neighborhood close to mine and it was SO. MUCH. BETTER. than the other market. At this one we could go into the little boutique and BROWSE without being bombarded by shopkeepers, what a victory. The boutiques were filled with yards and yards of the most beautiful fabric I’ve ever seen (Senegal is known for their textiles). I bought six yards of this really gorgeous blue with green tie-dye and white starfish/peacock pattern fabric, which sounds strange but is truly very pretty (just trust me). Then we took the fabric to a tailor near my friends house and picked out outfits to be made out of the fabric. Mine is a really traditional Senegalese outfit that like all the women wear, its a form-fitting shirt with short sleeves and a wrap skirt. I’M SO EXCITED!!! It should be done tomorrow but we’re leaving for a five day field trip to a town called Toubacouta.

Then we met up with a bigger group of people to pay a visit to another friends house whose host dad DIED last week on Thursday. he was really old and sick with Parkinsons disease. It was really sad and overwhelming. so we went in a big parade of toubabs to visit the family and convey our condolences. When we got to the house we were ushered upstairs into the room chalk full of Senegalese women sitting in chairs fanning themselves wearing their best, fanciest clothes. Us grungy toubabs went in and sat on the floor and just spoke whatever Wolof we knew, which made the women laugh, and fanned ourselves too. We sat there like that for about 15-30 minutes and then left and that was it. Afterwards, though, my friend said that it made the mom really, really happy and surprised that all those toubabs came to visit the family, which felt so good to hear.

Afterwards i met some other friends at a beach and played a little futbol and chilled. The beach is kinda hit or miss though, sometimes theres trash or *gross* fish parts on the beach and sometimes its picture perfect, it just depends on what happened during the day. It was fun until my friends left. I stayed there while my sister, her friend and two guys they met at the beach told jokes in Wolof that I, obviously, couldn’t understand. That sucked. So i swam back to shore and just chilled on the sand and looked at the sights around me: beach, half-built buildings, restaurants on my left; hotel and roped-off private beach to the right; island with enormous houses (including one belonging to Akon) ahead of me. On the beach to my left a group of twenty-somethings were hanging out, talking and laughing, and then a few of the boys started serenading and pointing and laughing at a guy and a girl who were obviously a couple. It made me happy and curious and nostalgic and lonely all at the same time.

All in all Saturday was a great day though. I felt really happy and optimistic and just really excited about being in Senegal. I loved meeting up with friends and walking around the city as if we really do live here and aren’t just on some brief adventurous vacation. I kept seeing “yes we can!” (in english) on the sides of buildings as graffiti, in signs for electronics stores-EVERYWHERE! and took it as a sign.

THEN Sunday was Korite, which is a big celebration of the end of Ramadan. Everyone built it up to be some big party with people running through the streets singing and dancing, but it was really just a cross between Halloween and Thanksgiving: everyone sat around, talked and ate a lot while kids went from door to door asking for change or candy. My sister, Lisa and I went over to my sister’s collegue’s house for lunch. There was a GOAT in the corner just chillin like, “sup, I’m a goat” (which lisa was scared of) and a chicken hiding behind a crate which would poke its head out every so often like “hellooo…I’m a chicken….love me?” (which Lisa was also scared of. love her.) Anyway, we ate a TON of delicious food, first some millet paste stuff with vanilla yogurt stuff on top which is by far my favorite Senegalese dish. Then we had chicken and vermicelli and sauce and I ate it with my hand like a real Senegalese person. It was TRES DIFFICILE.

After we left there we went to drop off some apples for my sister’s boss as a present. On korite and other holidays its common to drop off food as presents for all your friends, like hot dish in Minnesota. My mom told me its especially common for Muslim families to give their Christian friends food on Muslim holidays and visa versa. I told the story of noodle koogle on easter and everyone laughed. Read the rest of this entry ?


Claire: Another proverb, ALHUMDALILAY!

September 18, 2009

“Gan du yewwi bey”=”It is not the place of the stranger to detach the goat.”

This proverb basically says “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” An easy concept, yes, of course you shouldn’t try to change a culture thats not yours. however, have you ever MET a goat?! i guarantee that if you have you wanted to “release” it on a one-way flight to Timbuktu (which, now that i think of it, is not far enough away from Senegal as I would like most goats. Strike that, send it to MARS). This morning at 7 am I was laying in bed trying to catch a few more minutes of sleep when i was awoken by something that sounded like a six year old with emphysema screaming for dear life. thats right. a GOAT. and when you have lived among the herds of goats like i have, you know that sometimes they “beeeeeh,” and sometimes they “BAH”, and SOMETIMES they scream bloody murder at the crack of dawn. Like my professor said, “One shouldn’t detach a goat, because a goat is a goat. You know that expression ‘as meek as a lamb?’ Well there is NO such thing for goats. It doesn’t exist.”

Yesterday, I bought a really nerdy headset from a street vendor that makes me look like Hannah Montana but enables me to SKYPE with people, like…actually TALK and have them HEAR ME! so i opted to headset my hours away instead of blogging, it was fabulous.

Today we have two papers due. One on something related to development “in the field” and one thats just a personal observation of something you’ve observed (dur) in Dakar. I wrote about my family for each, about how my mom’s husband died three years ago and since then money has been really tight and nothing has really been the same. I think she trades things, like fish and shrimp, somewhere but she always talks about the good old days when her husband was alive and their tv worked and they had a car and could afford to buy all the apples they wanted. I wrote about how this is a perfect example of why micro loans are so the wave of the future, because they give women like my mom an opportunity to start a small business and support herself in a way she could never do on her own.

The other paper I wrote was about my family and how nice and wonderful they have been. In the past week it has been really easy to be frustrated with the lack of personal space/time, the overwhelming armies of bugs in the bathroom (ill talk about those later), and the blasted GOATS. but, the truth of the matter is that my family rocks, Ramadan is ending soon, and im living much wealthier and healthier than most of the rest of Senegal. we learned this week that 65% of Senegalese households are living in poverty, 23% of those are in extreme poverty. The majority of the poverty is concentrated in the rural regions outside of Dakar, 72-88% of which are living in poverty. POVERTY. Which i know nothing about, lets face it. Ill learn a lot more when I get outside of Dakar, which im sure will make me say things like “REMEMBER when we had things like RUNNING WATER?!” so it really puts things in perspective.

but, if i may, id like to first say a few words about the bathrooms before i start looking on the bright side because, quite frankly, i am struggling with the bathrooms. i have my own which is connected to my room, which is really lucky, but there is NO toilet paper, NO toilet seat, bugs everywhere, and instead of a shower there is a faucet and a bucket. you put the water in the bucket and pour it on yourself and voila you have a shower. i dream about showers. i daydream about showers. i give people the evil eye who have showers.

then again, i just heard one student say to another student, “SHUT UP! YOUR FAMILY HAS A STOVE????”

SOOO. here’s a funny bright-side story:

A day or two ago i was in a grocery store and a man kept trying to say hello to me in Wolof (asalaa malekum, of course) but I couldn’t tell he was talking to me until he asked me, “hey, HOW ARE YOU DOING???” with a somewhat concerned look on his face (greetings are really a big deal here, the way you show someone you are mad at them is by not greeting them, aka acknowledging their existance). Well when i finally realized he was talking to me and replied “OH! Maangi fii” (I’m fine) he threw his hands up in the air and, with an expression of surprise and rejoice, he said “ALHUMDALILAY” (ahl-hum-duh-la-lay) which means “PRAISE be to GOD!!!”


Claire: Internship

September 16, 2009

I only have one class today so I left early and walked with my sister and friend and it was HOT HOT HOT HOT HOT. I cant believe how much I am sweating just sitting here typing on my freaking computer. They say my internship place is even HOTTER (c’est impossible, n’est-ce pas?!) but that around November it starts getting “cold.” I think by this they mean 60 degrees and wonderful. Watch, by then I’ll have completely acclimated and freeze. Sounds like something I would do.

Did I tell you about my internship yet? Its so intense. It’s in a village called Tataguine, which is a huge joke to people here because “tat” is a wolof (or is it joola?) word for butt. So everyone keeps telling me all the girls have big butts there and that i’ll come back with one too. ha ha.

The internship itself is with an NGO called MEC SAP, which is an acronym for something I don’t remember. My prof told me that what I’ll be doing is this: people will come to me with requests for micro loans and I either award them a loan or not. Then, I go out to the village and talk with everyone to whom I’ve awarded a loan and see how they’re doing and what they’re using the money for. (this is when Wolof will transform from a boring/confusing class into an absolute necessity. god help me.) AND, here’s when it gets really intense: if someone doesn’t pay me back I have to go FIND them and get the money from them. All of this, might I add, in either French or Wolof which becomes SO much harder when I am frazzled which I WILL be because I get frazzled asking my guinea pig if he could please give me back the tee shirt she was using to poop on. Scary, huh? But so so cool.

While we’re talking about things that are frazzling, I am really really struggling with communicating with the outside world here. I was told before i came here that “you can just use SKYPE!” “dont buy phone cards, SKYPE!” Well I am here to tell you that SKYPE BLOWS. And it is really, incredibly hard to communicate in general. The internet is slow everywhere but the library which is a) silent and b) locked most of the time. Then, add in a power outage at least once a day, a six hour time difference, a computer that keeps freezing, a lack of outlets, a TON of class time (did i mention we have 2 hours of Wolof four times a week???), and an hour commute to and from school and you have one FRUSTRATED girl in Africa.  *IF ANYONE HAS A TIP FOR COMMUNICATING IN AFRICA LET ME KNOW!* Maybe communicating would be easier if I was more into emails and msgs. I’m either too lazy or it’s too much emotional effort or something. Maybe i will work on being better at email and snailmail since those seem to be the most failproof modes of communication, but…ugh!

Other than that things are much better. I’m finishing a copy of Julie and Julia that my friend lent me and it is really funny and entertaining but makes me really really hungry whenever i read it. I am no longer craving things like ranch dressing and steak. i am now craving extremely wheaty bread, you know the kind with the big chunks of grain in it? mmmm…

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