Posts Tagged ‘mangroves’

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Grace: Toubacouta

October 15, 2011

Just to start off, I would like to say how much I love the country of Senegal.  The people here are so amazing, the countryside and beaches are gorgeous, the clothes are so cool, the food is delicious.  I could go on and on.  I realized last week that I was half way done with my time in Senegal and I freaked out.  I don’t ever want to leave! Of course I miss you, burritos family and friends, but I just wish you could come to Senegal instead of me having to come back there!

Anyways, this weekend our program took a trip to the south of Senegal, to a village/town called Toubacouta (it has enough people to make it more than a village, but I would definitely not call it a town).  It’s about an hour away from the village where I’ll be for my internship.  I can honestly say that this weekend was one of the better weekends of my life.  It was not only super fun, but I learned a ton.  It was both a vacation and field trip at the same time, and it was awesome.  We also did a lot of stuff, so just to warn you, this post is a biggun. 

On Thursday we left Dakar bright and early. The earliness sucked, but we got pain au chocolat and juice on the air-conditioned bus, so the situation improved quickly. It was about a 7 hour ride on the bumpy roads to Sokone, a village/town just north of Toubacouta.  Getting out of the bus was rough, I had kinda forgotten what heat was, but I was quickly reminded with the blast of hot air that bombarded my face and body upon arrival.  After I pretended to get used to the heat again (it’s actually impossible to ever get used to it), we sat down for lunch at the mayor’s house.  They made us like 6 HUGE platters of ceeb u jen (fish with rice, it’s delicious) and we maybe finished half. And then I felt super full, like post-Thanksgiving full, and all I wanted to do was nap.  

Thankfully that was in the schedule, so we hopped on the bus (with a renewed appreciation for air-conditioning) and headed off to the hotel for rest time.  The hotel was super cool, it was a bunch of little huts instead of rooms and it had a pool.  I passed out, and enjoyed sleeping in air-conditioning for the first time in more than 2 months (Ok, I’m going to stop talking about air-conditioning now, I promise).

Me walking into our hut at the hotel, enjoying the blast of cold air greeting me at the door (for real last time.)
After nap time we went to a soccer game, which was a lot of fun.  The Senegalese are definitely not lacking in spirit, and it was fun watching people rush the field and go crazy after goals.  It ended up coming down to Penalty kicks which always makes for an exciting game.  2 things noteworthy about the game: there were people in the trees around the field, which I thought was an excellent idea.  They had a fantastic view. Also, after every goal scored and at the end of the game, the players would go to the corner of the field and face what I assumed to be the direction of Mecca and bow and pray.
Soccer game (yellow dots in tree=people)
After the game we ate dinner, played a Wolof trivia game directed by Waly and Kourka, and had a dance contest.  Needless to say I did not win the dance contest.

The next day we got up bright and early and headed to the Poste de Sante (health clinic) in Toubacouta. We met the head nurse who showed us around the small building.  The paint was peeling off the walls and there was a distinct smell of mold in most of the rooms, but I could tell they were working hard to keep it as clean as they could within their means.  The on-site pharmacy was very meagerly stocked, and the pharmacist explained to us that the health infrastructure in Senegal is set up top-to-bottom so the rural clinics are the last to get medications, and never have enough.  They had a price list on the wall, and a the fee for child was equivalent to $3, adult $4, and this includes both the consultation and the necessary medication (this is a new system, they used not to be together).  The patients are guaranteed the medication they need if it’s on site, but they said that often the medications aren’t available. And they said that most people can’t afford the consultation/medication fees, and complain about the new system.  We also saw the clinic’s ambulance which is currently not working (they said it breaks down a lot).  This means that when patients require further medical attention at a bigger clinic (beyond the Poste de Sante’s means), it’s very hard to transport them.  It was really tough seeing how hard the staff was working (the head nurse lives at the clinic and accepts patients 24/7) but how desperately they needed help/supplies.  I could go on talking about this (public health really interests me), but I still have a lot to cover, so I’m gonna move on.  Oh and by the way, the Poste de Sante that I will be working in during November will probably be pretty similar.

Next we went to the Community Radio station, and they talked about the educational programs they do.  They talked a lot about how important the radio is in an area where literacy rates are low and people learn well through culturally-specific programs in Wolof (shout out to you, Dad!).  They said their most popular program is the one on agriculture.

Me dropping some beats on the Toubacouta radio, nbd  (just kidding, this was staged)

Then we went back to the mayor’s house and he talked to us about decentralization in Senegal.  Not gonna lie, I kinda zoned out during this.  It was hot, I was hungry, and there were lots of flies.  Difficult to keep my attention on a man speaking French and talking about government.  When he finished, we ate, and I once again over-ate.  I named my food babies (they’re twins) Ceeb (wolof for rice) and Yassa (name of yummy onion sauce).

After lunch we went to a village about 30 minutes from Sokone to meet with a women’s group.  There were about 50 (give or take like 25…I’m horrible at estimating crowds) women under a tree and we sat with them and talked with them with Waly’s translation help.  These women come from extreme poverty and are so poor that they can’t even afford the microfinance loans because of their high interest rates (these loans are supposed to help the poorest of the poor…flawed system apparently) so they came together and established a joint savings account to help each other have enough money to plant fields and establish a sort of insurance in case one of their family members gets sick or their crops fail or something.  
These women are amazing.  They all work long and strenuous hours every day in their fields to supplement their husbands’ incomes and take care of their children.  Even with all that work though, they said that there are problems with the saltiness of the soil, so their plants don’t grow well, they often can’t afford the expensive fees at the Poste de Sante (yes, it’s hard to wrap our brains around the fact that $3 can be expensive, but poverty is a hard thing), and getting their produce to the market in the next village is very difficult.  There is no way that someone could say that these women don’t work hard, or aren’t innovative and smart, yet no matter what they do, they cannot escape poverty.  It’s stories like these that really reveal the vicious unjustness of poverty and make me hate when people try to blame the poor for their situation.

After the women spoke to us about their group, their lives, and their struggles, they grabbed some buckets and gas cans and started playing music on them and dancing.  The woman sitting next to me, Mariama, grabbed my hand and dragged me into the circle where I awkwardly tried to keep up with their awesome dance moves.  There was one old woman who I swear never touched the ground as she danced, it was crazy.  And it was so amazing that even with all the hardships that they had just told us about, their response was to get up and dance.

After about 30 minutes of dancing, we reluctantly climbed back on the bus and headed back to Toubacouta.  I really wanted to stay in that village with those women for longer, but I reminded myself that in just a few weeks I would get to stay in a village for relatively long-term and actually really get to know the women there, not just meet with them for a few hours.  It made me really pumped for my village stay.

The inside of the bus

The next few hours were pooltime, dinnertime, blah blah blah, skipping all that.  That night we went to “downtown” Toubacouta (where the market is in the mornings) because there was going to be a performance.  I didn’t really know what that meant, but when we got there there were a few hundred people (again, this is an estimation…probably really off) gathered around in chairs, on the ground, and standing in a circle around 10 or so guys with drums.  All these little kids started running toward us when we got there and grabbed out hands and insisted on sitting in our laps for the show, which was seriously just so adorable.  I had a little boy named Abdou on my lap the whole time, and he was so cute.

Okay so first of all, the music was amazing.  I never knew using only percussion could make such great sounding music.  Second, the performance involved more than just the band playing, which I discovered when this giant terrifying white furry monster burst out and started chasing the kids in the audience.  The monster then acted out a scene (narrated by the drum music, which was super cool) of a folklore story.

Scary monster playing drum

At the end of the story, five girls and five guys started dancing.  And OH MY GOSH. I seriously did not realize the human body had the potential to move in the way that those dancers moved.  Those girls whipped their hair back and forth like their lives depended on it and it was soooo fast (Willow Smith would have been proud).  I don’t really know how to describe all the dancing, but it was so awesome.  Then this guy on stilts came out and started dancing.  Did not know dancing on stilts was possible, but apparently it is.  He and some of the other dancers made this like crazy upside-down human tunnel thing which another guy break-danced through.  So awesome.  THEN came the freaking FIRE EATER, which completely blew my mind. AND THEN this guy with really cool dreadlocks proceeded to walk on, smoosh his face in, and roll around in broken GLASS. Needless to say, it was an excellent performance.  One of the students in our program (also named Grace) will be doing her internship in Toubacouta with this troupe and we are all SO JEALOUS. (Okay, sorry for all the capitalized words, everything was just too exciting for lame lowercase letters.)

The next day we got up and put on our shorts (first time I wore shorts in Senegal, I felt so scandalous) and took a bus ride through the bush (we were off-roading it in a vehicle not at all made for off-roading which was interesting) to get to the national park about an hour away.  We were planning on taking pirogues (small boats) through the amazon-like mangrove canals, but when we got there it turned out there was no gas for the pirogues, so we moved on to Plan B.  Plan B was a safari at a nearby national reserve. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Russell: The land of Eureka!

October 10, 2010

The last paragraphs of this post are the best, and it is so fabricated because of the difficulty of getting through some of the muddy mush in the beginning. Thank you for reading!

yeah westwoodI have come to the point where I can articulate a little bit on exactly why I can’t articulate very much. It is deluging to even think about describing the details of my life here, let alone to actually write or talk about them. I say this not to freak out my loved ones, but more to excuse myself from a prostrated, unpleasant experience. See, I’m having a great time, and I am not stressed out. Je ne blague pas. Wante (“mais” (“but”)) one can understand what I’m talking about best if you put yourself in the shoes [read: flimsy sandals] of a Senegalese. You see, if you had even just a smidgeon of a face-to-face perspective on how different your life is from this Senegalese person’s, it would be utterly impossible for you to bring yourself to describe it.

What are you going to say, really? That “every building has a bathroom”, that “my house has a drain in which you can put large morsels of food, flip a switch and not worry about things getting stopped up”, about how “when you drive, everyone trusts each other to stay on a certain side of the road, and you don’t have to worry about when to turn, because special lights tell you when it is safe”? These are all differences that are so far removed from their roots that they are just shiny surface areas that drunken the foreigner with motiveless envy. But when this Senegalese wakes up from her or his hangover, the exchange that took place seems more like that of Dorothy in Oz; men can dance without possession of any vital organs save some straw, tin mannequins can draw a tear or two with their telling visages, people shrivel up when they die, and that’s just what it is.

But the real truth of this Oz is that a wizard is behind it, not unlike the that has almost permanently advantaged the developed world over the developing one. It is absolute magic, and as someone who is, in a tiny glimmering spark of way, beginning to understand what it’s like to be in the shoes of a Senegalese man, I find the differences as impossible as they are magical. I cannot, for the life of me, put into words what it’s like to experience some of the things I experience over here, so if you please, try not to ask me to. If you consider it an important opportunity for me to be here and potentially a valuable perspective for a young man of the 21st century developed western world to take home, please help me nurture my comforts, wherever I stand, rather than poking at what could be my discomforts.

I am more worried about my return. Don’t ask me how my experiences were; I won’t be able to tell you. I will do much more learning about Senegal and the developing world during the coming years, following now. You will inhibit my learning if I am forced to come to even the smallest conclusion about my experiences, a good example of which is verbalizing something that was before nonverbal. I mean, we are not just talking nonverbal, but sourcing from another set of languages, cultural backgrounds, and interpersonal experiences. Some things, I literally don’t know how to say in English, even though I practically think and breathe my native language. Mon dieu, that is so weird.

Ok, I am being dramatic. But if I were to be totally real for a moment and not even think about the way I’m phrasing this, I will simply say this: everything is different. Merriam-Webster’s first definition of “everything” is “all that exists”. Virtually not one thing is the same. Whatever you’re doing on the sidelines, right now, trust me, none of it is the same. Is that a plate of nachos? Yeah, they don’t eat that here. They don’t make chips out of corn, let alone eat corn in Dakar, nor do they eat cheese except when white people are around. Considering that, should I really be expected to write something eloquent with the rest of this blog post?

…My name is Russell Anthony Angelico, and I am going to try… Read the rest of this entry ?

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