Posts Tagged ‘Ramadan’

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Grace: Korité, theft, & chocopain

September 8, 2011

Okay so let’s see, what have I done since my last post…I’ve finished my pre-session French class, learned some more Wolof, eaten lots more chocopain (the nutella-ish stuff that I love), completed the month of Ramadan (feeling like this is a major accomplishment, not that I fasted or anything…), celebrated said ending of Ramadan, had my cell phone stolen while buying an outfit for the aforementioned celebration, and made lots of new friends, both American and Senegalese.

Alrighty, let’s talk about Ramadan. I got to Senegal the day before it started, so I have gotten the full Ramadan experience. Before coming here, I knew what Ramadan was, but I thought all it really involved was skipping lunch. Turns out, it actually involves more than just not eating during the day.  During Ramadan, people don’t really hang out with friends, or go dancing (all the dance clubs in Dakar have been closed), or see their boyfriends/girlfriends, or wear makeup, or play sports. They pretty much avoid fun.

So on Tuesday evening, my family was frantically searching the night sky for the moon, which has to be there for the end of Ramadan to happen. We couldn’t find it anywhere. Thankfully, the moon-less sky was only in Dakar, and other places in Senegal saw it (don’t really understand this, but whatever). So Ramadan was officially over! This meant that Wednesday was “La Korité”, the end of Ramadan celebration. 

I really didn’t know what to expect with Korité, but I had heard that everybody buys new, traditional-style outfits for it, so last Saturday Anne and I went to the market to find dresses.  This was an experience. And I don’t really mean that in a good way. It was sooo hot, and there were pretty much a billion people there, pushing and shoving, 500 million of whom were trying to sell stuff to me or give me a henna tattoo. We had to squeeze our way into the center of the market where the pre-made, Korité-appropriate clothes were and try to find something that was a decent color and wouldn’t make us look obese. In the end, we were successful, and each found something we liked for about $20. We then managed to squeeze our way out of the market again and took a car-rapide home. And then I got home and discovered that I no longer had a cell phone…

So I don’t think I’ve explained car-rapides yet.  These are small, brightly colored buses that are the traditional means of public transportation in Dakar. Anne and I have been wanting to ride them this whole month, but we didn’t know how they worked and were a little scared, so we’ve just stuck with the boring old taxis. But Saturday was the day, and with the help of Ami, one of my family’s maids, who took us to the market, we got the car-rapide experience. Basically, there’s a guy hanging off the back of the bus and you hop on and tell him where you’re going and pay him (the going rate is like 20 cents).  Then you squeeze onto the rickety bus and try (and usually fail) to find a seat in between all the bodies.  When the bus gets to where you want to get off, the guy on the back hits the side of the bus and the driver stops and lets you off. 

Your typical car-rapide.

So after buying a new outfit, and hearing about Korité for weeks, I was expecting a pretty big shebang.  However, Korité day actually wasn’t that different. We ate lunch, which was new, but I’m assuming that starting today that won’t be that unusual. Oh, and we had this sweet yogurt-y stuff on top of oatmeal for breakfast (instead of chocopain like usual…this was sad).  Other than that, everyone just kinda sat around all afternoon and napped.  Towards the evening everyone changed into nice clothes, but nothing really special happened then either, except that the kids in the neighborhood came around to all the houses asking for money (it’s a little like Halloween, but not).


With my cousins (Aisha, can’t remember the baby’s name but she’s adorable, and Suley) in the courtyard of my house on Korité (note my new outfit)

Oh, and something else exciting that happened this week was that the rest of the study abroad group came! So now there are 18 Americans here, which means lots of new friends, yay! We start classes on Monday. I’ll be taking French, Country Analysis (culture/history of Senegal), Wolof (actually super pumped for this), International Development, and Public Health.  All in French. I’m pretty excited, I don’t know if I’ve ever had a semester before where I’m actually legitimately interested in all my classes.

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Mary: Jodhpur, the blue city

August 20, 2011

Today is the first time all week the rains have relented for more than a few hours straight, finally allowing the city to dry out a bit. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever use the word “monsoon” lightly again for fear of invoking even a hint of the rainfall we’ve gotten here this last week. When we all got back to Jaipur from our weekend trip, the streets were positively flooded, making for one of the most unpleasant rickshaw rides I’ve had yet back from the train station. Not to mention I seem to have picked up a most unpleasant head cold for these past few days, but luckily that seems to be clearing up with the weather.  In the meantime, I’ve been utterly slammed with school work, studying for our first Hindi exam, which was Thursday, hence why this post has taken me a while to get around to writing! But now that it’s the weekend I’ve finally found some free time and felt I really must share more of the wonderful adventures I’ve been having!

Last Saturday morning, I and six other MSID students headed off for the ancient city of Jodhpur, 331 kilometers away from Jaipur, more to the west and much closer to the vast deserts the state of Rajasthan is famous for. Our train was scheduled to depart around 11:30 in the morning and we made it with more than enough time to spare considering we didn’t roll out of the station until around 1. The train station itself was incredibly entertaining though, full of sights and sounds galore, so we really didn’t mind sitting around for some time.  Best of all were the train station guards, all wearing baggy orange jumpsuits with name tags across the front that said “Jaipur Railway Employee – Your Friend for Life”.  What a comforting slogan! When our train finally arrived, we made our way to our sleeper car. There were two sets of three tiers of blue leather bunks with the middle one folded into the wall so that we could all sit on the bottom one. The large, barred windows had no glass but did have a metal cover you could pull down in case it started raining. I was lucky enough to snag a window seat for the five hour journey, prime real estate for soaking up the images of life and beauty offered up by the extensive Indian countryside. We made our way through dozens of small town railway stations, sometimes hardly slowing down enough for the people jogging alongside the train to hop aboard, sometimes stopping for what at least half an hour. On one such occasion, a group of 3 or 4 daring teenage boys decided that hanging on to the bars of our window and begging to have a go on our ipods was perfectly acceptable, despite our rather sour expressions.  Overall though, the train ride was absolutely splendid! We passed several herds of sheep being tended by small men bent crookedly forward, structures ranging from magnificent temples to small little huts with grass roofs, and the largest salt mine in northern India. The giant piles of salt being bulldozed around were incredible and the vast fields of shallow water from which the salt is harvested were beautiful. We hit a spot of rough weather after a few hours but it did little to hinder our progress and I was actually quite keen to make use of the dramatic lighting in some of my pictures!

We finally arrived in Jodhpur late in the evening. We had arranged with the guest house where we were staying to send someone to pick us up from the train station but since we were so much later than our original arrival time, we ended up having to find our own transportation. Navigating the slew of rickshaws waiting outside the train station was utterly dreadful. All the drivers can spot tourists a mile away and will swarm you, trying to yell over all the other drivers that they know where you’re going (even if you haven’t told them yet) and offer very reasonable prices (even though you know they would offer a local the same distance at maybe a tenth of the cost). It’s very frustrating to say the least. We finally managed to find a driver who spoke decent English and legitimately seemed to know where our guest house was and after cramming all 7 of us into the back of a rickshaw, made our way deeper into the city streets. Jaipur is known for being the first pre-planned city in India, with streets carefully constructed on a grid, allowing (relatively) logical flows of traffic and distinctly straight edge streets. Driving through the streets of Jodhpur made the fact that it was not a planned city painfully obvious. We took increasingly sharper turns into narrow, crooked alleys as we worked away from the train station and into the heart of the city. I must have hit my head against the roof of the rickshaw no fewer than 7 times. We finally made it to our guest house just as the sun was setting though and it was suddenly all worth it. A beautiful courtyard garden greeted us with an inviting set of stairs leading up to the rooftop terrace. We left our bags sitting outside the front office and scampered up to see the view, just in time to watch the sun set for a few minutes. The rooftop world of Jodhpur stretched out all around us. You could see children flying kites all over the place, the sky was simply filled with them. The houses famously stained with Indigo dye which give Jodhpur its nickname as the Blue City were standing out brilliantly against the orange sunset. Mehrangarh Fort, the main attraction of Jodhpur and largest fort of its kind in India, towered over the city, high on a hill, probably just a quarter mile away from our guest house. It was truly a breathtaking moment.

We eventually pulled ourselves away from the roof and headed back downstairs to check in. It was a surprisingly long process, with the front desk having to make photocopies of all our passports and write down both our American and Indian addresses. We eventually finished up, had a wonderful dinner at another rooftop terrace restaurant, made our way back to the guest house, and immediately fell asleep. That morning we were all woken up around 5 am by the call to prayer from a mosque very close to our house. It turns out we were staying in the Muslim quarter of Jodhpur and since this is the month of Ramadan, the family who owns our guest house woke up to eat before sunrise. While we were less than thrilled at being woken up that early, it gave us the opportunity to get a nice early start to the day. Nonetheless, we didn’t quite manage to beat the heat. We were all sweating profusely as we climbed the millions of stairs on our way up the “mountain of birds” to see the fort at the top. Oh, how it was worth it though! The view from our rooftop terrace, spectacular though it was, simply paled in comparison to the view outside the fort! You could see for miles in all directions. I had the distinct feeling that I was standing inside some National Geographic travel documentary, which only increased tenfold once we entered the fort and started listening to the smashing old British chap who narrated our audio tour, explaining away the architectural wonders around us in such eloquent words that the queen herself couldn’t have sounded more dignified. We saw the giant palanquins (elephant saddles) once used by the kings of the palaces. We gazed in shock and dismay at the plaster handprints of all the women of the castle who had long ago been forced to commit sati, the ritualized burning of a widow on the funeral pyre of her husband so the pair may remain together in the afterlife, a practice now outlawed in India but still sometimes practiced in the villages. We spent hours and hours wandering around, beholding all the ancient wonders and I again couldn’t help but think how, as an American, I would normally consider something fifty years old “historical” and really have no concept of a civilization and culture as old as the very hill upon which it has been built.

By the late afternoon, we had found our way back into town, specifically the central bazaar. We frittered away the rest of the day in a whirlwind of tapestries, scarves, curry combinations, and countless cups of chai, offered by various shop owners as we sat and admired their carefully crafted goods, epitomizing the idea of Indian hospitality. We were very tired by the evening and since we had to wake up early to catch the 9 o’clock train home, we headed back to the guest house after dinner. Monday dawned bright and early with another 5 am call to prayer. We packed our bags and headed downstairs for a delicious breakfast of aloo parathas (kind of a flat potato pancake) with curd and chai. The 8 year old son of the owner of the hotel also kept picking flowers and bringing them over to us as we ate, it was unbelievably adorable and just really tickled me pink. We made it back to the train station without any difficulties. After another crazy train ride with tons of people all over the place and guys walking up and down the aisles with big baskets shouting for you to buy their food or chai and dealing with the dirt and dinginess by remembering it’s just all part of the experience, we finally made it back to Jaipur, which brings us back to the flooded streets we first encountered in the beginning of this post. 

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Grace: Arrival

August 3, 2011

Okay, so let me start out and say how excited I am for this semester.  It’s only been 3 days and we haven’t done anything particularly exciting yet, and I’m already having the most amazing time.

I got off the plane after an 8 hour flight with NOBODY SITTING NEXT TO ME. Best flight ever! I felt like I was in first class. When I left the airport, nauseous, sweaty, and repulsive after waiting what felt like 3 hours for my bags to finally appear on the conveyer belt in baggage claim, there was Waly waiting for me with a helpful sign.  Waly is the program coordinator for the MSID (Minnesota School of International Development) study abroad program in Senegal.  He took me to my hotel and I was told to just chill on my own for a day (my flight was a day earlier than the program is supposed to start).  Thankfully, the hotel had wifi and I didn’t die from boredom.  Anyways, I won’t go into detail about those first 24 hours, but it basically consisted of lots of sleeping, drawing, and surfing the internet.  Also, all I ate the whole day was a Clif bar and 3 twizzlers because I had no CFA (local money) and couldn’t change any because it was Sunday and everything was closed. So that was fun.

But anyways, Monday at 12, I went downstairs and met Waly again, but this time Kouka was with him too.  She is the other program coordinator.  Also, the other 2 pre-session students, David and Anne (University of Texas and University of Richmond), came down after arriving early that morning.  Yes, there are only going to be 3 people in my class for the next 3 weeks. Everyone else gets here after that. At that point, we are going to be AMAZING at French and be all Senegalese and awesome, and all the other students will be so jealous, hehe.

Monday was a fun day filled with instructions, food, incredibly tasty juices, Senegalese dancing (yes.), a trip to the rocky beach, and sweat. Waly and Kouka and Honourine (another MSID worker whose home we were at) told us all the cultural faux-pas we should avoid and what we should expect from our families.  We found out that apparently there have been problems in the past with students who don’t shower enough and repulsed their host families to the point that they actually had to tell the program directors about it.  The entire way back to the hotel I couldn’t quit thinking about the shower in my near future, so I don’t think that will be a problem for me. 

After an ambien-induced sleep, I woke up this morning at about 7:30 and went down to meet Anne and David for breakfast. We each were served half a (large) baguette and a croissant. Beaucoup de pain. Then Waly came and picked us up with our luggage and we set off on a little tour of Dakar.

We saw all the sights, including the GIANT monument recently built by the President. It’s supposed to represent the African renaissance, with a man, wife and child emerging from rough ground and the child being lifted toward the future.  A cool idea, but incredibly controversial.  Not only did the huge monument cost millions of government dollars in a nation where people are starving, but the statue is a human representation, which is forbidden by Islam.  95% of the population of Senegal is Muslim.  So yeah.  On top of all that, the President actually tried to claim intellectual property rights on the monument and receive personal profit for the tourist revenue.  Oh and did I mention the statue was built by North Koreans? Haha, this monument was not the greatest of ideas. This picture doesnt really convey how huge this thing is. Just imagine my body as the length of one of the womans fingers.
We also saw the “Porte de Millionaires” which was built after the peaceful elections of the year 2000, in which there was not only a democratic election of a new president (pretty rare for Africa), but a total change in government (from socialist to liberal). 
We also saw a few cool mosques.
And the white house.
And some GORGEOUS views with AWESOME cliffs.
After our tour, we went to WARC (West African Research Center), which is where the MSID offices are, and where we will be having our class.  Then we went to lunch at “My Shop”, a totally Western restaurant thing where they had pizza.

And then came the nerve-wracking drive to go meet our families.  I was sooo scared…as it turns out for no reason. My family is awesome.  I have 3 brothers, Mario, Babacar, and Tapha, and a sister, Aida.  Babacar isn’t here right now though, and when they explained to me where he was, I didn’t understand exactly what they were saying, but nodded and smiled anyway, so now I really have no idea where he is.  My host mom’s name is Soda, and she and her children are living with her mother, whose name I can’t remember, but that’s because I just call her “Maman”.  I am sharing a room with Aida.

Ramadan began today so I’m really glad I got lunch, because my family didn’t eat until after sundown.  They can’t drink anything allll day, which seems unbearable in this heat.  I downed two giant water bottles this afternoon, but I tried to be discreet about it so I wasn’t rubbing it in their faces. Tonight for the late dinner, several of their family members who live close came to do evening prayers and break the fast.  It was a little awkward because they spoke Wolof pretty much the entire time and as of now all I know how to say in Wolof is “hello” and “thank you”.  Surprisingly, my extensive Wolof vocabulary didn’t really come in handy during the dinner conversation. But 2 of the cousins, Suleyman (I’m guessing 9 years old) and a girl whose name I can’t remember (12 probably) said they felt bad for me just sitting there clueless, so they spoke in French with me.  They taught me a bunch of like hand-clapping games (I’m sure theres a name for them…), and I taught them that little “down by the banks of the hanky panky…” thing.  And we talked about America, and Justin Bieber, and movies, and school, and it was actually tons of fun!

And now I am sitting in my room after a nice cold shower, and writing this.  And thinking about how long this post is, even though I left out tons of stuff, and how if I write this detailed of a post every 3 days, I will have a very large book by the end of this semester. 

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Patrick: Salam Amman!

September 1, 2009

As-Salāmu `Alaykum (formal greeting meaning Peace Be Upon You),

Amman iPhone 001I am now on my fourth night in Amman so I figure it is just about the right time for my first entry. After a lovely first class flight to Jordan (which we didn’t pay for), my fellow traveler Rustin and I were the first in our program to arrive at the Hotel. Getting to, and checking into, the hotel proved to be far less of a herculean task than we expected. The taxi cab driver spoke English fairly well, and all we had to say upon arrival at our Hotel was, “CIEE Students” and a room was ready (we decided not to make a reservation as there was a no refund policy, and we were flying standby).

Since we arrived during the Holy Month of Ramadan, we were culturally aware that eating or drinking in public (during daylight hours) was a bit taboo. So we brought everything up to our room, and patiently waited a couple hours for nightfall. Finally, it became dark so we locked our room (a task which always seems to take about three times longer than it should) and embarked out into the city for the first time.

After aimlessly meandering around the immediate city blocks, we decided to walk into an outdoor cafe that looked promising. Having no idea what was customary (Do we just sit? Find a waiter? Go to the register?) and the inability to read Arabic well enough to be of any help, we decided to walk to the main register. Immediately when we walked in all eyes were on us. I suddenly knew we made the right decision when I noticed one of the workers was sporting a University of Minnesota shirt. I smiled, pointed at his shirt, and tried explaining to him that’s where I went to school. No dice. He politely gestured he had no idea what I was talking about, and handed me a menu as if to nicely say, “Food is a universal language”.

The food was outstanding, but the entire time we couldn’t help but feel like typical Americans that don’t speak the local language apart from a few basics (at least we knew shukran (thank you) so we could be polite idiots. Good thing for us, 99% of Jordanians are more than willing to help and seem to have infinite patience.

We began to walk back to our hotel when we ran into another group of CIEE students that were there for the language only program. If we didn’t feel bad enough about our Arabic now, this was about to be salt in the wound. Most of them could speak Arabic with each other very well, but talking to Jordanians was a slightly more difficult undertaking (the local dialect is different than the Modern Standard Arabic that is taught back in the States).

We decided to head back out to the main drag with them. We sat down at another cafe, had some drinks (no alcohol of course), and some hookah. We all got to know each other: what we studied, where we’re from, why we are in Jordan, etc. The short time with them proved to be very useful as we picked up some knew phrases that we could test out the following day.

Here is a list of a few things I’ve taken note of since my arrival:

  1. Pedestrians do not have the right-of-way. Traffic accidents are one of the leading causes of death in Jordan, so looking both ways is a must to say the least. Most taxis don’t have seatbelts and they like to drive as if they are playing a videogame. So hold on, and if need be, don’t be afraid to tell the cab driver to slow the hell down.
  2. The food is awesome and fairly cheap. You can go down to a nice cafe and get a huge plate of food for around $5 with tip.
  3. During the week you may spot a few females out, but on the weekend (Thursday & Friday night) it is 98 percent males.
  4. Guys hold hands or arms. For some reason Rustin has fallen “victim” multiple to being pulled over.
  5. Girls dress anywhere from fairly western (jeans & and form fitting shirts) to the full burqa with nothing showing but their eyes. I’d estimate around 75 percent wear hijabs (head scarves).
  6. Most people assume we know more Arabic than we do. Although Jordan does have some tourism, the main parts of Amman don’t normally attract too many tourists. So saying “I don’t speak Arabic” (in Arabic) multiple times is not uncommon.
  7. Taxis are cheap. You can get a ride anywhere in the city for usually no more than 5 bucks.
  8. My computer constantly wants to change the default language to Arabic. Maybe that is a good thing…
  9. Did I mention the food is awesome?

Well, so long for now! Or, as they say here… “Shuuf” (later)

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