Archive for the ‘Claire in Senegal’ Category


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…


Claire: Senegal

September 15, 2009

Wow. So this weekend was just so wow. The novelty of being somewhere new has definitely worn off and things are now beginning to get very real. Its not like I’m having any big, scary problems, I’m just beginning to run into the many overwhelming obstacles one inevitably faces when moving to a new continent with a terrifyingly unsteady grasp on the language.

It started out great. The week finally ended on Friday and—I never thought id say this—the power blessedly cut out so we could go to the beach instead of slaving away to turn in the paper due that day. The beach was so fun too. It was a little garbage-y and the water wasn’t THAT clear, but it was a beach I could walk to from my school which is a miracle to a girl from Colorado. I’ll put up pictures as soon as I can figure out how to do that on here.

Saturday my mom made ceeb-u-jeen, which is the national plate of Senegal. It involved a whole day’s work because you have to make tons and tons of different kinds of fish and vegetables, let them marinate in a sauce, you also have to make, for forever and then make the enormous vat of rice and let that marinate forever as well. It’s really super delicious though, the fish is tilapia maybe and stuffed with some parsley-and-garlic paste. Everyone eats it from the same big platter, you just eat the portion that is directly in front of you and the hostess/any other woman will periodically give you choice pieces of fish or veggies. MMMMM. Everyone and their mom came over for ceeb-u-jeen and we ate until we exploded like the giant man from “The Meaning of Life”. Read the rest of this entry ?


Claire: Le Week-end Dernier

September 15, 2009

I know I already posted today but there is a. so much to tell and b. a 5 page paper due Friday that I’m avoiding.

So this weekend my brother and sister and some friends/cousins took me and four new expats—aka Frenchies—out to a club. Well, they tried to, but the club was closed because it’s Ramadan right now. So we were in our taxis heading to a church party when we got pulled over by a cop standing in the middle of the street because apparently we had too many people in the cab. Then he demanded to see everyone’s papers, passport for me, which really freaked me out. I asked my sister why he can do that and she said that if you don’t have your papers with you you’ll go to jail. I don’t know what the deal is and why they’re allowed to do that, but it was such a “Toto I don’t think I’m in America anymore” moment.

When we got to the party at the church it was awesome though. There was a choir singing to a group of men drumming, and people would get up from the crowd and dance in front of the choir. It was SO COOL. We sat around and talked—imagine that. They were selling a beef and potato soup that was so incredibly delicious. There was a whole separate room where the youngsters were dancing, so my sister taught me how to break it down Senegal style. I think I’m improving but its way different.

In the end, we didn’t end up getting home until 6 in the morning. And my other sister woke everyone up a 9 for breakfast. I really shouldn’t have been surprised when I felt really sick later.

Sunday we painted our nails all morning because it rained and rained and rained. Its the rainy season. But we went to the beach later and it was gorgeous. I think its especially salty here because you could just lift your legs up and float in a sitting position.

Later that night though I got sick, like I said. I felt weird and gross all day but barfed in the middle of the night and felt much better. My poor mom was so worried about me though. She still comes in to  check on me if I sleep in a minute late, just to make sure i don’t have a fever or something. She gave me beaucoup beaucoup de mangos to eat, which I think actually helped.

Then we started school Monday and since then its been pretty uneventful. I wake up and have a breakfast of bread and coffee at 7:30. Then I go to school all day and come back around 8, eat dinner, hang out with my sister and go to bed. Last night we listened to Halo by Beyonce over and over and taught each other dances. I tried to teach her how to c-walk but she though it was just TOO bizarre.

Another girl left yesterday, that makes three people who’ve left so far. Its really starting to get a survivor-esque feel. Please don’t let me get malaria and get voted off the island…

Speaking of malaria, I bought a mosquito net and tried to use it last night and I failed so very much. I couldn’t hang it up on anything so I tried to set it up like a tent, propped up by my not-working fan i put right next to my bed. I woke up swimming in it and about 1,000 degrees centigrade. Today I think I’ll ask for some help.


Claire: An Ode to the Third Pounder

September 9, 2009

Ok. Africa is great. But I am having a small breakdown and its only the second week.

Its about food.

Here is a list of things i am already craving:

  1. a big fat juicy steak (this most of all)
  2. milk
  3. mashed potatoes
  4. cucumbers
  5. green beans
  6. spaghetti with meat sauce
  7. a latte
  8. ranch dressing

Here is a list of things i eat every single day:

  1. four or five or eleven baguettes
  2. fish
  3. rice
  4. mangos (plural)
  5. instant coffee

Dont get me wrong, its not that i dont feel lucky and privileged to be here and so so grateful that my family is so extremely generous and hospitable. And the food here is NOT bad. For example, i had the best ice cream bar of my life here. And the mangoes are pretty much the best thing I’ve ever tasted (and they’re like 50 cents a mango). Plus there is an ice cream shop in downtown Dakar called N’Ice Cream, which I think is hilarious.

So I’m not starving, its just there are things here you just can not get. and honestly, my family craves a lot of the same things I do. For example, the first day I got here I had a twenty minute conversation with my host mother about American hamburgers and how splendidly huge they are.

So, I guess the moral of the story is that it would be really really nice if someone could please invent a machine that teleports steak across the Atlantic.

Happy but somewhat desperate,



Claire: A Toubab in Senegal

September 9, 2009

There’s so so much to tell that I think I’ll just tell the most interesting things I can remember.

  • It is Africa hot. Really really really really hot.
  • My family is awesome. SO super awesome. My mom is really animated and super nice, my sister and I girl-talk until the wee hours of the morning, my brother comes out of nowhere to save my life like everyday (like when we cross the street because the cars are INSANE) and we have a boarder from the Cote d”Ivoire who speaks french and english and who I could hear playing the guitar outside on the street last night.
  • My Senegalese mama speaks Joola, which is a language from the Casamance region (i think), and has decided that I also should speak Joola if i am going to learn Wolof. So, she gave me a Joola name, a Wolof name and their last name. So at my house now my name is Atomalina Salimata Diatta. Then she gave everyone else a Joola name and she gave my brother Pierre a name NOBODY can understand-it was hilarious!
  • We eat a LOT of french fries, spaghetti, fish and rice. By spaghetti, though, I mean spaghetti noodles and meatballs with a side of french fries.
  • The most common drink is water with a LOT of syrup in it at my house. I feel like the people here love really sugary drinks. For example last night we had wine and put two cubes of sugar in it.
  • The most important thing I think I have to impart on everyone is that I am probably going to come back very very fat. I mean FAT. Whenever we eat my family will watch and if I pause for like two seconds they will tell me to EAT EAT EAT!!! I never buy food because I have to come home starving for every meal. Once, when I left a small pile of food on my plate my brother scooped it up and FED it to me.
  • Today we went on a tour of Dakar. We went to the beach, to a large statue, it was really cool. Ill post pictures.

There is so much to tell I can’t remember everything I should write down. I’m really having a ton of fun here. I miss you all a lot, I hope to get the skype/phone thing worked out soon!!!

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