Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

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Doug: 142…

December 22, 2011

Days in Kenya. I have not been in the United States since July—even just writing that sentence is strange. Tonight at midnight I will board a plane back to my country after living for 142 days in a country so different from my own, with people who don’t look like me or talk like me. After 142 days of being in the minority, of being the mzungu, of walking through parts of Nairobi and Mombasa and feeling like ALL eyes are on me, just waiting for someone to yell at me, or come shake my hand, or start a conversation solely because I’m white, I am about to return to suburban Ohio, with its two story brick houses, with unnecessary Living Rooms and Dining Rooms, where the electricity only goes out during a storm, and clean running water is always available at the turn of a tap.

I am returning to a place where I grew up a different person—where Africa, in my mind, was a country, not a vast continent of 47 different countries and thousands of different ethnicities and languages; where my biggest worry growing up was what to do on a Friday night.

Perhaps these are many of the same thoughts that have crossed the minds of countless other Western-raised students, after having lived for the first time in a developing country; after having to grapple with the fact that I’ve never known what it’s like to live in a tin roofed “house” the size of my own bedroom in America, where water leaks through the ceiling when it rains, as is the case for families in Kibera.  Or that I’ve never been abandoned by my parents on the streets, only to be found by the police and brought to an home for street girls, as is the case for some of my students I taught at Wema.  Or had to move away from a rural home, away from family, and work 12 hours per night every night for minimal pay, guarding a rich family’s home, in order to pay for school fees—like my friend Josphat who was the guard at my Nairobi homestay.

Looking back it is difficult to process the past 142 days. I have found myself wondering recently Well, self, how was Kenya? Words like good, and awesome don’t seem to scratch the surface. While eye-opening perhaps, is a little closer, it does not come close to conveying what I’ve learned and who I’ve met. Over the past 142 days, I have met some of the most resilient people of my life; Kenyans who are busting their butts to get themselves or their kids an education; who are living in a country where the government can’t be trusted to provide social services; who are so alive and passionate in their faith in Christ, despite difficult circumstances, that they are an inspiration to others.

It is the faces of these people, and the memories of their places, their places which, for a time, were my places, which flash in my mind when I think of Kenya.

And, so, who am I now? The Doug who stepped off that plane at Nairobi International Airport 142 days ago certainly has changed; he has grown greatly in his faith; he is a little less naïve, and a little more aware of his potential role in this world; a little more aware of the culture he grew up with; and a lot more comfortable in speaking in Swahili.

And, yet, fear not, in many ways I am still the same person. Kenya may have changed me in perspective, but it only reaffirmed my notion that sometimes the best way to handle ridiculous situations is just to laugh it off.

Kenya, it has been real, and I know, Mungu akipenda, siku moja, tutaonana tena.

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Grace: Is this MY life?

October 2, 2011

About 95% of the time here I forget that this is real life.  When I was walking through the streets of Saint Louis, a gorgeous island off the coast of Senegal with colonial-style architecture, I felt like I was in a movie.  When I was in a car driving on the beach down the entire coast of Senegal, dodging seagulls and crabs as the ocean spray hit the side of the car, I felt like I was in a dream.  When I’m speaking Wolof with my family or having splash fights with kids on flooded streets, I feel like I’m just watching someone else’s life happen.  But then I have these moments where I stop and realize that, wow, this is my life, I am actually in AFRICA and these crazy and awesome things are happening to me.

I apologize to my vast and highly interested audience (aka, my mom) for the lack of posts.  It has been suggested that I change the blog description from “various musings” to “scarce musings”. However, if you look closely you’ll notice that this is actually my eighth post here, which I would say isn’t so bad for 2 months. With the electricity being as it is, classes/homework being as they are, plus all the things to do here being so exciting, blogging has kinda scooted down my list of priorities.  But I know all of you (and of course by “all of you” I mean “Mom”) are dying to know what I’m doing, so I will try to be better.

Important life update: in 3 weeks the classroom phase is ending and I will be leaving Dakar and heading down south to a village called Nioro Alassame Tall.  I assume you pronounce that phonetically, but I’m not exactly sure how it’s supposed to sound. Anyways, I will be living there for 6 weeks working in a clinic.  I’m not sure exactly what my job will entail, but I get the impression that I will be helping with the small stuff, taking temperatures, fetching things for nurses, etc.  I will be seeing firsthand the public health system in Senegal, and I’m super super excited.  I will also be living with a new host family in the village, and I assume that my living situation won’t involve rotating fans, a tv, wi-fi, and a pizza/milkshake place around the corner like it does here in Dakar.  Waly (program coordinator) told me that there should be somewhere where I can get on the internet within an hour’s walk. So by that I mean that my already infrequent blog posts will become even more seldom, sorry bout it. But I’ll try to write lots down so that I’ll have lots of stories afterwards.

Oh, and this weekend we’re going on a field trip to Toubacouta, which is a small town in the south that’s about an hour or two away from Nioro Alassame Tall. We’re all missing classes on Thursday and Friday and taking an (air-conditioned!!!!) bus down and staying in a hotel (with a pool!!!!!). Very exciting.  I will do a really long blog post with lots of pictures from Toubacouta to make up for how horrible I have been lately. This is a promise.

So I just read my friend Anne’s blog and she describes everything we’re doing really well (my trip to St. Louis, what our classes are like, etc) so if you want to know all that, go to anneinsenegal.blogspot.com.  I realize how lazy I am being right now, but writing all that down in detail sounds way too difficult, and I have to go do Wolof homework (first test on Tuesday, wish me luck!)

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Shawnda: First three days in Botswana

June 8, 2011

So, three nights in Gaborone and it still hasn’t fully hit me that I’m in Africa.  It is unusually surprising how similar it is to being back at home.  Riverwalk, the mall near UB (University of Botswana) is like any other mall you would find in the US.  There are plenty of grocery stores, clothing stores, banks, phone stores, etc.  It is a little hard getting used to paying in Pulas instead of US dollars, but it is fun.  We have eaten at Italian, Indian, and steak/rib restaurants, all of which were amazing.  The Indian restaurant, Embassy, has the best garlic naan.  Squash and beef are staples here, and pap, which is similar to mushy rice, is also very popular.  They eat a lot of fruit and vegetables as well, and everything is good.

The transportation is a little difficult to get used to, especially when I’m so used to Minneapolis transit systems which are on a set schedule.  Here, there ‘buses’ are called combi’s, which are vans that fit about 15 people.  They pick you up on the side of the road and you jump in as fast as you can and pack as tightly as you can.  It was somewhat terrifying our first time riding one on our own because we had no idea what we were doing and the locals were laughing at us, but so were we.  It is normally 3 pulas to ride, and you just yell at them when you need to stop.  Hopefully I’ll get used to it; it’s a great way to meet people.

The locals are incredibly nice too.  It is still odd getting used to being a ‘minority’, especially when you are walking around with 21 other white people who are confused and overwhelmed.

The weather is extremely similar to Minnesota’s spring.  The mornings are crisp and cold, probably about 40 F.  It gets warm and sunny pretty quick, around 8 am, and the days are in the 70’s.  It gets dark and cold very quick, however, because it is winter, so it is about pitch black at 6pm and a comfortable 40-50 (note: this could all be off by 10 degrees because I’m terrible at judging temperature).  No sunburns yet!  Hopefully I’ll come home with a little sun, it’s odd being probably one of the palest people in Africa!

We just got to the dorms a little bit ago and they seem very nice.  They are suite-style/dorm-style apartments.  Each apartment building has about three floors with two suites on each.  Each suite has 6 single rooms which are typical dorm rooms, there are 3 of us in my suite, with two other grad students I have yet to meet, and the 5 others are in the suite next door.  We also have a kitchen/living area with a fridge, stove, sink, and table.  There is also a shower room and small bathroom.  Everything seems very comfortable. They also have maids that come in once a week to clean.  My room has a lot of windows which is nice, so I think I’ll get a lot of sunlight.
It is a little odd having to go get our own food, especially when we are still a little unsure where to get it, but I’m sure in one or two days we will be pros.  We went to Riverwalk to get groceries and have a ladies night at Linga Longa.  Grocery shopping was not what we had hoped and ended up being much more confusing than we had thought.  We attempted to share everything and divide the cost, which turned out to be a very long process.  The store didn’t have sandwich meat which was a little odd.
Taxis were a disaster.  After I attempted to call for two taxis twice, and was hung up on twice, we finally were able to get through and have two meet us outside of Linga Longa in what we thought would be 20-40 minutes.  We got a call 20 minutes later saying to go outside, no taxis in sight.  A group of men asked us if we were getting a taxi, so thinking that was ours we said yes and went towards them.  They tried to help us with all of our bags and seemed a bit off.  Finally we realized that they were scamming us, so we asked them to drive their cars up so we didn’t have to walk.  Turns out they were pirating and didn’t have real licenses, which is illegal.  Finally our cabs showed up and for some reason they were in a huge hurry so we just had to jump in. We were told it would be 20 Pula…it was 40 and 30.
So, now we know to look out for scams and to not trust people so readily.  And to probably not get groceries at 9pm.  Nothing like feeling like a true tourist.Other than that, I am excited to cook big dinners together and have roommates, I think it will go well.
A full 6 hour day of class starts tomorrow, so we will see how it goes.
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Shawnda: The Journey

June 5, 2011

PART 1
Well, I am now sitting in the Dubai airport.  I can honestly say that I hope to never come back to this airport.  Walking through its futuristic supermall-like walkways is about 5 times worse than the sidewalks of the U of M campus; not one person knows how to walk and everyone seems completely oblivious to the common rules of locomotion.

As for my flights, my first was more than what I had expected.  The plane was practically empty and I had a whole row to myself, although its full potential was not taken advantage of: I slept for about a half hour.  The Canadian airport in Gander, wherever that is in Canada, had by far the best gift shop ever.  We unloaded right outside, and it was raining, and the first thing I see when I walk in…Canadian flags, a maple syrup stand, and fur vests.  The food actually wasn’t bad either, and they gave us more than enough including an awesome brownie that rivals even Cosmic Brownies.  The flight landed a little over an hour and a half late in London, giving me about 5 hours to kill at Gatwick.

Not only did they have little to choose from, I probably wasted about 30 US dollars on a pay phone and water.  I didn’t understand how to use the phone of course, and it had a minimum charge.  So, sorry Mom, I tried to call but was too technologically challenged to do so.  As for the remaining money, I bought a US Weekly, warm bottle of water, and a bottle of flavored water which amounted to about 9 Euros, so approximately 18 US dollars is what I’m guessing. London seems nice, it is still so odd that people stay to the left.  I have officially decided that I am going to raise my child to have a British accent, which is just about the most adorable thing ever.  It was so hard not to start talking in accents while I was there, I’m still so tempted.

My flight to Dubai was absolutely terrible.  I was on the most awesome plane ever, Emirates, which had TVs in the head rests of the seats with new movies, I watched Just Go With It, The Green Hornet, and part of Country Strong.  We got complimentary pillows and blankets, the meal was awesome and tailored to my diabetic needs, and the ceilings in the plane had lights that looked like a starry sky.  Perfect right? Well it was near impossible to enjoy all of this while gagging from the BO from the people next to me.  I honestly don’t think I’ve ever smelt such bad BO in my life.  I was seriously considering slapping the guys arms down every time he raised them, but was too incapacitated by the smell.  Also, the man had no idea how to use the TV, which was touch screen. He would then continue to speak to his family with his headphones in, unaware of the fact that every person could hear him.  He spilled a Heinekin and half of his dinner on his lap, and managed to leave some of his wrappers in my seat too.

However, I did meet a UK girl who is traveling to Thailand to give a presentation at a conference about bats, which she studies.  She has been all over Thailand, and her trips there made me appreciate the contrasting simplicity of my own.

So now, I am waiting at gate 213, 2 am (about 5 PM at home), still unsure if it’s the right one, for my connecting flight to Dubai.  I’m tired of waiting, my legs hurt, and I’ve slept about 2 hours within the past 24. There is a Starbucks and PeaBerry here, but I don’t know the money exchange and don’t want to get cheated just for some coffee and what is most likely the best frozen yogurt ever.  I just want a large Americano right now, sans cream.  I’m tired of stale plane coffee, which does not help my 90 year old bladder and fear of vortex death toilets.

I want a shower.  I was expecting everyone to look equally as crappy on these flights, but it turns out I’m the only one who dressed in sweat pants and a tshirt, while everyone else is in trendy cute outfits that are most likely uncomfortable.

And still, after all of this, it has yet to hit me that I will be in Africa in a day.  I am set on either bungee jumping or zip-riding at Victoria Falls, or riding on elephants there although it is not very nice for the elephants.  I hope that we will all have time to travel around Botswana and hopefully South Africa.  I would love to see a soccer or rugby game too.  I can’t wait to go shopping. I’m holding off on airport paraphernalia.

PART 2
So my flight to Jo-berg proved to be the best so far.  I met the most interesting person and probably learned more on that flight than I have ever learned from a class or the news.  I’ll begin, however, by describing the first two people I met before my neighbor.  I met one girl, who I had to poke awake, who was going to Mozambique to visit her father.  Another girl was moving to South Africa to live with her boyfriend.  She got a 3 year visa, and had just come from Germany, where she went on a cruise with said boyfriend.  She majored in psych at Colorado State.

Now for the interesting man.  He was coming from Afghanistan, where he had just spent 20 weeks and was returning home to Jo-berg to visit his pregnant wife for 2 weeks.  His job?  He supplies fuel to American troops in Afghanistan at a place containing over 180 million liters of fuel.  On average, 25 of his employees die from bombings every month.  We continued to talk about his job, the uselessness of American occupancy in Afghanistan, and the US in general.  It is almost embarrassing having to explain to people that you do not agree with many things your government is doing, and when people from other countries know more about your own than you do.  Actually, it is very embarrassing. Read the rest of this entry ?
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Shawnda: Explore. Dream. Discover. My pre-departure thoughts

June 1, 2011

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
[Mark Twain]

This has been my favorite quote for quite some time now, and I am just beginning to apply it to my life.  I leave in 3 days to what has been my dream destination for about half of my life.  I find myself full of emotions…and all together I can’t tell if I’m so excited I’ll pee my pants or so terrified I’ll throw up. Right now it’s about half and half.  I’m sure I’ll get about 2 hours of sleep within the coming days and stay awake high off of caffeine from work and excited anticipation for my 7 week trip. 
As of now I am more nervous for finding my way through the airports and figuring out how to pack everything without being charged hundreds of dollars in baggage fees.  I’m almost positive I can bring a small ruler as a carry on and a plastic baggie for a checked-in piece of luggage and still be charged 50$ one-way.  I would rather not be tormented by my shrinking bank account while on a two day and 40 minute flight to Gaborone. 

And yes…it will take me two whole days to get there, with approximately 35 of those wonderful 48 hours spent on what will most likely be an uncomfortable plane with several crying children, bad food, scary vortex toilets, and a middle-aged overweight male in my personal space.  Luckily, I will have both my iPod and computer well equipped with books, movies, and music.  That and I’ll pack along some Advil PM to put me to sleep.  

And of course I am nervous to travel with diabetes.  The farthest I’ve gone was to Florida for a week.  I only needed two vials of insulin,  some syringes and my glucose meter.  Now I am equipped with more medical supplies than I would ever want…about 7 vials of insulin, a box of syringes, glucose tabs, ketostix, emergency glucagon kits, test strips, backup lantus, a spare meter, pump supplies, etc. etc….the joys of having a chronic disease.  However, I am happy to be leaving in very good health, and I believe that I am more than capable of taking care of myself and not allowing my diabetes to ruin my time abroad.  I expect some minor complications while getting used to the food and getting sick, but hopefully they will remain minor. 

Despite these nervous pre-departure worries, I cannot wait for what will be the most enriching and eye-opening experience of my life.  As I said, I have wanted to go to Africa for a very long time, and hope to someday spend a large amount of time working in the area.  I am so interested in its culture and landscapes, and also cannot wait to learn more about its history and people.  I will be taking three classes at the University of Botswana in Gabarone: two in public health, and one focused on its language, Setswana, and culture.  

My goals for this experience are to not only travel and see as much as I can, but to also learn what I am meant to be doing with my life.  This is a lofty goal, but I think that learning about public health and living in the environment I would love to work in will help me decide between a career in medicine or a career in public health.  This could not come at a better time for me, considering that I will need to decide between taking the GRE or MCAT this fall (!). 

So..summed up in a few paragraphs, these are my thoughts just a few days before departure.  I’m sure I’ll be posting many more nervous vents within the next hours once I realize how completely unprepared I am and how frustrated I am with packing. 

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Tiana: Gorée Island, charm of the tropics

January 25, 2010

Gorée Island, a small landmass just off the southeastern coast of Dakar and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was once a principal stop on the slave trade route.  Chosen for its proximity to major western ports in Louisiana, Haiti, Brazil, etc, millions of slaves were forced through the door of no return at the large maison d‘esclaves, the slave house, and packed onto ships bound for the Americas.  We had the opportunity to visit this island and the maison d‘esclaves on Wednesday, and it was an incredible experience, to say the least.  Not only was it a profound reminder of the atrocities of the past and an insightful lesson in terms of Africa’s history, Gorée also boasted the most picturesque scenery fathomable.  Vast areas filled with palm trees, large, panoramic vistas of the ocean, narrow paths lined by colorful buildings and bright flowers, not to mention a number of fascinating baobab trees.  It’s no wonder Gorée is such a popular tourist destination, with such an intricate conjugation of history and charm.

After touring la maison d‘esclaves, we visited the Henriette Bethily museum, an exhibit acknowledging the numerous roles of women in society.  Madame Bethily was a formidable advocate for women’s rights, and when she passed away, the museum was named after her as a token of appreciation for her life’s work.  A small aside — It was at this museum that I had a small health scare.  Note to self and others who may visit the tropics, drink more water than you think you have to, otherwise you will pass out from the intense heat.  Adji and a couple of the women at the museum were extremely helpful in making sure I was alright; many thanks to them!

Our tour then extended to Le Castel, the highest point on Gorée Island, where there stands a large memorial honoring the slaves taken from their homes and forced into a life of suffering.  Next to the memorial is a bunker that used to be used by colonial armies when they inhabited the island.  Down in the bunker, we met a man who makes incredible works of art from different types of sand found throughout Africa in countries like Burkina Faso, Benin, and of course, Senegal.  He uses sap from the baobab tree as glue, and works in layers in order to create dimension in his works.

For lunch, we went to a gorgeous little restaurant on the island where we sat and relaxed for around an hour and a half.  I ate a salad with carrots, corn, peas, avocado, grapefruit, and cantaloupe (yum!), followed by chicken and white rice, and finally coffee.  It was a wonderful meal, and a great chance to get to know other students in the program a little better.

Orientation then continued on the beach.  We sat on rocks right by the ocean, as the waves came in and barely missed our feet, and talked about some more logistical information.  Then we had about thirty minutes to explore!  Cameras in hand, we all dispersed a little bit, so I made my way to the sandy beach with Laura and Zawadi, two fellow MSID-ers.  Removing my sandals, I walked into the ocean and just stood there for a few minutes, taking it all in.  There was a European man playing his guitar in the background, which added to the utopian ambiance all the more.  Laura, Zawadi, Julia, and I then walked to the edge of a stone pier where Kenta was befriending a local fisherman, François Sanchez.  We chatted with him a little bit in French, and he was so nice!  He had just caught a flying fish!

The gorgeous day ended with a relaxing boat ride back to Dakar and my first experience in a Senegalese taxi.  Let me just say…wow!  Driving here is absolutely insane!  It was a little scary because our driver’s windshield was cracked from top to bottom and from side to side; I have no idea how he saw beyond the glass, but I suppose that was a part of the thrill.

I then met two girls at WARC from a different program who also live in my neighborhood, (Mermoz) and who I began walking home with.  Matar met us half-way because I couldn’t remember exactly where my house is, but I think I’m starting to get the hang of the streets here.  The walk between home and the WARC is somewhere between twenty and thirty minutes, and with such beautiful days in store, I know I’ll be walking to and fro quite a bit!

In other news, I am beginning to think and even dream more in French!  I’ve been speaking it so much, I think it’s beginning to become second nature.  As encouraging as this is, I know that I still have a lot to learn and that it won’t be easy, but I’m very excited to continue working on it!  I also can’t wait to learn Wolof, which is the language that my family speaks the most often.  They do speak French, but I sometimes feel like it’s inconvenient for them to keep translating things between the two languages.  I now know a few Wolof greetings rather well, and we’ll be starting Wolof courses as early as next Monday, so we’ll see how everything goes.  Outside of the language realm, I’m also hoping to learn more about soccer while I’m here.  I’ve seen a number of people playing it, I watched a game on TV today with some friends and family, and I know that it’s integral to this culture, but I’ve never really taken an interest in soccer in the States.  Perhaps now is the time?

One final note. I don’t believe I’ve mentioned this before, but here is another source of discomfort for me: time here is so relaxed and so fluid, and there is often nothing to do.  For those of you who know me well, you know that I am a professional busybody, and that I must always be doing something.  It’s going to take some time to learn that sometimes, doing what I might consider nothing is doing something, and there is nothing wrong with that.  This experience is going to teach me a lot about truly slowing down, being patient, taking things as they come, and enjoying life, all while still working hard to learn as much as possible.  Let the juggling lessons begin!

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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.

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