Posts Tagged ‘Wolof’


Grace: Ba baneen yoon!

October 23, 2011

So tomorrow I’m leaving Dakar at 7 am and taking an 8-ish hour bus ride down South to Nioro Alassane Tall. Don’t bother looking it up on Google Maps, you won’t find it, but it’s in the southwest area of Senegal, just north of the Gambia.  There is very limited electricity and running water in the village, and I will be living in a hut, sleeping on the floor and showering with a bucket.  I’m actually really looking forward to the experience, to getting to know the people in the village, to my internship at the Poste de Sante.  And if I can’t survive 6 weeks of living conditions in a village, that’s pretty pathetic since the majority of humans since the beginning of time have lived their entire lives like that. 

Unfortunately though, my computer was stolen last Thursday (wahhhhh), which means my planned excursions to the nearby-ish town to find internet and feel part of the world again are now not going to happen.  So if you’re in the habit of checking my blog everyday, stop doing that.  And have a Happy Halloween, Happy Thanksgiving, good November, and I’ll see ya in December!

p.s. “Ba beneen yoon” means  “until the next time” in Wolof.


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  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!)


Grace: Getting sick…

September 10, 2011

…with no electricity and only one bucket of water majorly sucks.  That is all.

Okay, wait, that is not all, this post would be way too depressing if I left it just like that.  Besides getting super sick and feeling really sorry for myself, this week was great.  We started all our regular classes (I’m taking Wolof, French, International Development, Country Analysis, Microfinance, and Public Health), and they were all really interesting and good.  My favorite class right now is Wolof because it is very applicable to my life right now, and the professor is hilarious.  It’s been fun coming home and impressing my family with practicing the Wolof I’ve learned in class.  I’m pretty impressed with myself for all the Wolof I now know, but I’m sure my family still thinks I’m mildly retarded when it comes to learning languages.  I’m sure they wonder why I still struggle to form intelligent French sentence structures after 6 weeks of living here.  But oh well.

After week 6, I’m finally starting to feel comfortable with the culture here, and I don’t feel as totally lost as I used to.  That’s not to say that I never feel totally lost, but now I feel like I know a little better what to expect, what I’m supposed to do, etc. Being here has definitely been a challenge, but it’s also been a lot of fun, and I’ve learned a lot in the process: about myself, and about both Senegalese and American cultures.  I still have like 12 weeks left, and I’m excited to learn even more.

Okay, I’m sure the electricity is gonna go out soon (it’s been on for like 5 hours…this is suspiciously long) so I’m gonna go ahead and post this.


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.


Grace: Ile de la Madeleine

August 20, 2011

Today I feel like a real study abroad student.  All the stories I hear about students abroad sound so adventurous and cool, and now I feel like I have one of those stories.

This morning (not sure when I’m gonna post this…today=Sunday), the other two students and I decided to go to the fish market and try to hitch a ride with a fisherman to Madeleine Island, a little deserted island off the coast of Senegal, where we heard it was fun to hike.  We found a fisherman to take us there, and agreed on a price for him to take us and pick us up later (hopefully…we were kinda putting a lot of trust in this guy that he wouldn’t just abandon us on a deserted island).

We got into his little brightly colored fishing boat and took off across the ocean.  Now from the shore, the ocean looks super peaceful. Sure, there are waves, but they just roll along peacefully to make the scenery all the more beautiful. But no. When you’re actually out on the water, they waves are like 10 feet tall, and the teeny fishing boat was rocked all over the place, with water splashing inside. Not quite the peaceful ride I had been envisioning, but definitely fun nonetheless.

We passed Serpent Island (basically a giant rock with lots of bird poop, but no snakes on it)

and pulled into the lagoon (makes me feel like such a pirate/mermaid to say that word) of Madeleine Island. SO GORGEOUS.  The fisherman dropped us off on a rocky beach and took off.  The sense of being alone with nature was overwhelmingly awesome. 

Goodbye, fisherman! (you can see the boat leaving the lagoon)

The water in the lagoon was clear and cool, and the cliffs around us were black streaked with white (from bird poop of course), and we could see between the rocks to the ocean beyond. It was breathtaking.

We sat on the beach for a bit just enjoying how gorgeous everything was and looking at the cool shells, and then we decided to go exploring. I climbed up and along the rock cliff thing next to the water and came to the far side of the lagoon where I could see waves crashing onto the rocks below me and the ocean stretching out in front of me. Amazing. I kept feeling like I was on the set of a music video or mermaid movie or something. The awesome thing too was that the island seemed untouched by humanity, and there weren’t any roped-off sections, signs, or anything.

To the right there was another little rocky cliff thing, and I climbed over there and saw an awesome ocean-creek thing (difficult to describe).  The ocean water would come in from both sies of the “creek” bed and then crash in the middle. So cool. The power of the water was just crazy.  I also saw some cool crabs that were purple, orange and green while alive and red and orange while dead. 

After poking it a thousand times with a long shell and screaming once, I finally determined that it was safe to kiss.  This was actually crab-kiss attempt #2 because I imagined that the first crab moved, dropped it, and it shattered. 

There were tons of other gorgeous and amazing things around the coast of the island, but as my descriptions are miserably failing to accurately represent what anything looked like, I’m just going to stop.  And unfortunately my pictures don’t really convey how amazing this place was. So you will all just have to come to Dakar and go see Madeleine Island for yourself 🙂

I will say that we hiked around the top of the island and saw some GIANT baobabs.  I’m talking 10-15 feet wide baobabs that have probably been there for a couple hundred years or so.  I climbed up one and totally felt like Rafiki in Lion King. There was a lot of red clay around and I was SO tempted to get some and draw a baby Simba on the baobab trunk, but I refrained. 

We swam some in the lagoon too (when I say “we” I mean Anne and I; David didn’t want to get “all wet and blech”), and it was sooo cool, because the water was super salty and we didn’t have to do anything to float.  It was actually difficult to keep our feet under the water, they kept just popping back up.  There were lots of little fish in the water, which at first was a little gross/scary, but they were obviously uninterested in nibbling our toes, so we got along just fine.

At about 5:00 (we got to the island at 11ish), our trusty fisherman came back to fetch us, and he took our sunburned selves back across the ocean to Dakar. 

So now I have one of those cool adventurous-sounding stories to tell about the fun stuff I did while studying abroad. Unfortunately, stories will never be able to convey how breathtaking this island was, nor how amazing this day was.  So like I said, you should all come to Senegal.


Grace: A day in my Senegalese life

August 6, 2011

So we’re technically not supposed to be learning any Wolof for another 3 weeks when we start the class with the other students because if we start learning now we’ll get ahead in the class, but while living with a family who speaks primarily Wolof, it really can’t be helped.  Plus Aisha (the 12 year old girl I mentioned in my last post who I found out is actually almost 11) loves teaching me Wolof words. 

I’ve mastered all the greetings (you have to say like 10 different things every time you greet someone, so this is quite an accomplishment), what to say during meals like “Sourna” (I’m full), “Nairna” (it’s good), and random phrases like “Howma” (I don’t know) and “Rafettna” (it is pretty). I’m practically fluent.  Except that the pronunciations are so hard that most of the time people have no idea what I’m trying to say, but they smile and tell me I’m good at Wolof anyway.

And it’s hot. It technically averages like 10 degrees cooler here than in Atlanta, but without A/C and with sporadic electricity, it feels 50 degrees hotter.  The electricity means fans and cold water, but when it’s out (which is like 50% of the time) the only option is to sit and bake. Or use a hand fan, which I do a lot.  My right wrist is going to be so strong by the time I leave Senegal.  

So as for what I’m doing apart from trying to make the throat noises involved in Wolof words and not melting, I wake up every day at about 8am, take a shower (even though I took a shower before going to bed too…like I said, it’s hot), get dressed quietly as to not wake up Aida, my sister, and then eat breakfast (usually tea and bread with a nutella-like spread, butter or laughing cow cheese) by myself.  The rest of my family gets up at 5 am to eat breakfast and then goes back to sleep after (this is just for Ramadan, not normal).  Then I walk about 5 minutes to the street where the other 2 American students are living and meet them for the 25 minute walk to class. 

By the time we get to class, I am totally sweaty and gross and look like I haven’t showered in days even though it’s barely been an hour. But the classrooms are AIR CONDITIONED so YAY. Sometimes I actually get kinda cold in class, it’s crazy. Then we read difficult French articles that have to do with Senegalese politics, and learn lots of vocabulary/grammar, and speak lots of French.  After class gets out, we go to the computer lab for a few minutes (the internet is really fast so that’s awesome), and then figure out some place for lunch.

Because of Ramadan, most of the restaurants are closed, except for the really Western, expensive ones.  The last two days we’ve just gone to a little grocery store and gotten random stuff for lunch, but these meals have not been very nutritionally balanced (example of grocery store meal: big bottle of apple juice and a piece of cheese). We definitely need to figure out something new to do for lunch because we can’t spend $10/day at the expensive restaurants, but we can’t eat crap either. And I feel bad asking my family to make me lunch when I get back since it would be prepared just for me. 

Anyways, after lunch (wherever that may be), we have gone to the beach a couple times.  Which was fun until I got sunburned (typical.)  Then I come back home, where my family is usually napping or watching tv, and join them in these endeavors.  Oh, and I shower.  Definitely shower.

At about 6 or 7, the guy in the mosque calls out that the day of Ramadan is over, and my family (which at this point has expanded to include my cousins and aunts and uncle and maybe some others) eats dates and drinks coffee.  They give me tea, not coffee, but I don’t really know why…either they think I don’t like coffee or the coffee is only reserved for the Ramadan-ers.  After the coffee/tea, they lay out rugs in the courtyard and do the evening prayers.  For this, Tapha and Babacar (he’s back! But he’s leaving again tonight…and I now know its for his job) and my little cousin Suleyman and my uncle (if he’s there) are on one rug leading the prayers, and the women are are on the rug behind them, heads covered, echoing what they say.  But I’m a little confused because my brother Mario never prays with the men, and my mom and grandmother never pray with the women.

After prayers, everyone just kinda sits around and talks (in Wolof, of course, so I’m totally lost), and then we eat.  We sit on the floor of the courtyard on mats around a big bowl, which usually has rice with some sort of meat and vegetables.  It’s usually pretty spicy and super good.  No offense to my Togolese friends, but Senegalese food is much better. 

And after lots of them saying “Lekel, Lekel” (eat! eat!) and me saying “Sourna, Sourna” (I’m full, I’m full), the meal is over and everyone sits around and talks again. We usually eat some mangoes (YUM), bananas and oranges for dessert too.  At this point, I usually just play with Aisha and Suleyman because everyone else is talking in Wolof about things way beyond my vocabulary.  We play this game that’s kinda similar to red light/green light, and another game that’s similar to Sorry!, and they teach me Wolof and I teach them English and we laugh at each other’s mispronunciations.  It’s a lot of fun, but I’m pretty sure my family thinks I’m like the most immature person ever, because I’m always playing with the kids instead of being with the adults.  Oh well.  It’s funny though, because sometimes Suleyman and Aisha’s mom, who is this super dignified looking woman, always in full Muslim garb, plays with us.  She’s super nice and fun, but it’s just kinda strange watching her run and freeze during the red light/green light game.  

Everyone just kinda drifts off to bed, to watch TV, or to friends’ houses as they feel like it, and I usually go to bed at about midnight, once it’s quiet enough outside my bedroom to sleep. And then it takes me at least an hour to fall asleep because chances are there’s no electricity/fan, and I’m roasting. 

So yeah, that’s a typical day in the life of Grace right now.  Today was a little different because I didn’t have class (it’s Saturday), but I went to the pool with Aisha and Suleyman instead, and that was tons of fun.  They were incredibly impressed that I could do a hand stand AND a flip underwater, so my self-esteem got a nice little boost because at home, I’m not exactly the most talented person in the pool.  I can’t even dive.

Okay, anyways, I better go ahead and post this before the inevitable electricity blackout.  Sorry there aren’t any pictures, but the internet is too slow for those.  I’ll try to post some of my family/house eventually.


Tiana: living & interning in Joal, a tropical paradise

April 12, 2010

It’s been two weeks since I left Dakar, and I am finding that my time in Joal is a perfect complement to my studies there both academically and in terms of ambiance.  I’ve been placed in a situation where work and vacation coincide for me (if that’s even possible!).  Allow me to explain:

When we first arrived at my new home, I wasn’t half as nervous as I had been the first time around.  The house is gorgeous, tranquil, and tropical.  The windows and doors are almost constantly open and draped by light curtains that move ever so gracefully whenever the ocean breeze blows by.  There are four different buildings in this familial complex: The main house is where Mama (grandma) and Papa (grandpa) live with Ferdinand, Clemence, and Agnes.  I live in a house with Paul (dad), Agnes (mom), Chlotilde (little sister), Robert (little brother), and Therese (little sister).  I have a perfectly sized, simple room with bed, desk, chair, and shelf.  One of the other buildings consists of a shower and toilet, the other is half-kitchen, half Augustin’s (uncle) room.  A grove of palm trees is basically in our back yard.  The beach is a small handful of meters away from our front door.  And there is a basketball court about a thirty-second walk away.  I have no complaints!

What a delight to find out that I have younger siblings here!  Chlotilde, whom everyone calls “Mama”, is bright and seems quite wise for her age, which I believe she told me is ten years old.  Robert is an active little man of around eight, and he and his cousin, Jean, can always be found goofing around acting like kung fu champions or wrestlers.  Therese is a little bundle of energy of about four years old who chats, sings, dances, and pesters every waking hour of the day, and she is one of the cutest kids I have ever in my life met!

The family has been so nice!  They have lodged several students in the past, so they seem to know the drill really well.  Agnes has allowed me to help with the cooking a couple of times, and just this afternoon she showed me how to do laundry by hand. The kids and I played basketball the other day, and we all often study together. Agnes makes ataaya almost every evening; I was able to attend church with the family this past weekend; the entire family has been willing to help me with Wolof and even some Serrere; I now have a Serrere name, Nilan Thiaré!

Joal as a community is quite the idyllic place.  Everyone seems to know everyone else, whether personally or through a friend of a cousin of a friend’s brother‘s son, etc. One neighbor, who is an English teacher at a nearby village, has offered to help me with Wolof if I help him with English.  Another neighbor wants to teach me to play the djembe.  Yet another, who just received his degree in English, is also eager for conversation.  I love the feeling of walking into work or walking down the road and seeing familiar faces, exchanging long salutations, feeling a bit like a member of the community.  I feel so blessed to have the chance to stay here for a while, not just pass by for a few days.

Work is another cool part of this unfolding story.  As aforementioned, I am interning at the Centre de Pediatrie Sociale in Joal, an institution started by the German army in, I believe, in 1987, then taken under the wing of a Swiss NGO. It is now functioning based on the participation of the community through payments for consultations, medication, etc.  I work with a lively crew with a family feel, led by Dr. Eugenie.

In any case, I cannot reiterate enough how incredibly blessed I feel to be placed here.  Not only are the personnel wonderful, but I’ve been given opportunities the likes of which I didn’t even imagine before my arrival.  They have allowed me to set up an IV for a dehydrated patient, prepare diluted syringes dosed with the appropriate amounts of medicine, evacuate a premature infant with respiratory troubles to a larger hospital in Thies via ambulance, do cleanings and pansements for burn victims and sutured patients, sit in on a session at the radio station to inform the public about the polio vaccine, participate in the national campaign to vaccinate infants between zero and five years old against polio, aid in the treatment of different tropical diseases, and so much more.  And all in just the past two weeks!  It’s an entirely different method of learning and, as I mentioned, is proving to be quite complementary to my classes in Dakar (particularly public health and Wolof).

The vaccination campaign was really interesting to witness.  Senegal hadn’t had a new case of polio since what I believe was the 80s, at least not until January of this year when the first case in years was seen at the very place that I am working!  I had an opportunity to briefly meet the young boy and his mother, and what a heartbreaking story they have.  Since January, seven other new cases of polio have been discovered in Senegal, hence the need for this campaign.  The vaccines are funded by the Ministry of Health so that they are absolutely free for the population.  Community workers called “relais” went door to door for four days (March 27th through the 30th) briefing parents on the disease and vaccinating the infants of which the parents agreed to the preventative measure.  I worked with two colleagues from the hospital, Doudou Diouf and Maguette Sylla, as well as with Babou Faye, the chauffeur, and the staff from the Poste in Fadial, a small town about ten minutes from Joal by car that is surrounded by tiny villages.  We visited several different villages and homes, supervising the relais who administered the vaccinations to see that they were following the designated procedure of briefing the parents, marking the infants properly, marking the homes visited properly, etc.  The days were long and exhausting, two things amplified even more by the presence of scorching temperatures, but it was an incredible experience just the same. Read the rest of this entry ?


Tiana: This is my life

March 4, 2010

French and Wolof.  Theatric negotiations with taxi drivers.  Hustling, bustling markets spanning city blocks.  Traditional garb.  Ataaya, ditax, and soump.  Senegalese salsa music played in concert with palm trees swaying in the background.  Soaking sun at an isolated beach next to towering cliffs.  Pick-up basketball as the sun sets.  Preparation for the last two weeks of class.  Seriously, and I mean seriously, can it get much better?

Last weekend, I wrote about being in the middle of the transition, that’s to say, in the middle of figuring some things out.  This past week, I think I can safely say that said transition (one, I’m sure, of several that I’ll go through) was completed.  I’ve been tired and irritable all week, frustrated with I don’t even know what.  Turns out it wasn’t all for nothing.  I feel I’ve finally turned the corner between being a visitor in this country, in this home, and actually living here and existing as a pseudo-member of society.  Allow me to expound…

On French and Wolof:

Quite simply, I see the levels of French and Wolof in our group consistently on the incline.  Personally, I can tell that I am starting to understand more bits and pieces of the Wolof that is spoken in my direction (I’ve actually been incriminated as an eavesdropper because I sometimes try to understand people’s conversations…) and I can usually offer a solid, albeit basic response.  This is becoming increasingly evident in my communications with family, with random folk on the street, with vendors, and with taxi drivers.  We have our first Wolof test this coming Wednesday, and I think we all feel pretty confident about it.  It’s great to have so many opportunities to practice, as many people are more than willing to help and are typically surprised when a toubab can speak their native language!

On theatric negotiations with taxi drivers:

Taxiing home from Sandaga Friday afternoon.

Folks, taxis here are all about theatrics.  ACT ONE: The experience starts off with a warm, sometimes extended salutations.  You tell the taximan where you want to go and ask for their first proposal for a price.  Without fail, especially if you are a toubab, the taximan will propose something ridiculously high!  This is not the time to get angry or upset…no…this is the time for you to laugh almost hysterically at the outrageous demand and propose something ridiculously low.  Will they accept?  (Curtains close, mbalax music plays.)  ACT TWO: No way, Jose!  Your price is way too low!  You dance around each other, with laughter, assertion, and sometimes a pouting waññi ko as your methods of negotiation, and you can typically get a decent price.  (Cue the joyful mbalax music!)  But WAIT!  Not all such stories have a happy ending — sometimes, you simply must walk away.  For example, Saturday night, as we were leaving a salsa music concert at l’Institut Francais, one driver would not budge from the 3500 CFA mark for a ride that we ended up paying 1500 CFA for.  Case and point, we had to walk away.  The more you bargain, the more comfortable you feel bargaining, and I think I’m getting to a point where I feel a lot more comfortable doing so.

All in all, taxiing is a cool experience.  It gives you a few minutes to just sit and observe your surroundings.  You can sit in silence, or you can engage in conversation with the driver.  You can look out the window, or you can look within the car, as they are usually decked out with colorful decoration.  Saturday night, we caught a taxi to the concert at sunset.  We drove along the Corniche, a main roadway that borders the ocean, and had the opportunity to see the sun just as it slipped below the horizon.  Let me just say…WOW!

On hustling, bustling markets spanning city blocks:

MSID students at N'ice Cream

I went to the Marche Sandaga in downtown Dakar on two separate occasions this past week: Wednesday and Saturday.  On Wednesday, Julia, Kelsey, Britney, and I went to a hugemore content when we went to N’ice Cream, a cute little ice cream parlor downtown!  I got two scoops, each a different flavor — The first was Black Forest and consisted of vanilla ice cream with large black cherries and chocolate and cherry drizzle; the second was Strawberry Shortcake, made of strawberry ice cream and chunks of strawberry, also accommodated by a chocolate drizzle.  It was delectable, to say the very least! fabric store to look for the fabric we envisioned for making new outfits.  I settled on two and a half meters of a creamy silk fabric patterned with deep red and deep purple flowers, spending only about nine dollars in the process!  The man who cut the fabric was nice enough to give me a small discount, so I left the store quite content, only to find myself

On Friday, we went to the same market again after Wolof class.  Unfortunately, the fabric store that we were going to return to was closed because of the Gamou, but we happily went back to N’ice Cream, and this time I chose a scoop of Strawberry Tiramisu and a scoop of Dolce Latte.  Again, I was more than content by the time we left the parlor.  We headed to l’Institut Francais just a few blocks away to purchase our tickets for the upcoming salsa music concert, and then headed home.

On traditional garb:

I wore my new taille base (previously described) on Friday for the Gamou, much to the delight of Maman and other family members.  Gamou is the Muslim holiday celebrating the birth of Mohamed.  Several people in my family left for Touvaoune that day, one of the two main Gamou pilgrimage sites, so the house was quiet after I returned from the Marche Sandaga and l’Institut Francais.  I put on the outfit and felt absolutely regal!  It turned out soexcellent job!  I was really delighted by my family’s reaction, as they called me a real Khadija, a true Senegalese, and remarked on how well the garment suited me.  In all honesty, I cannot take the credit here.  Magat helped me pick the fabric and the design, and the tailor is the one who made it.  In any case, it felt really nice to be regarded in such terms. beautifully; the tailor, Khadim, did an

On ataaya, ditax, and soump:

A description of ataaya has graced a previous blog post, but to review, it’s a method of making tea that is highly esteemed here in Senegal.  Green tea leaves are mixed with mint leaves and a large quantity of sugar, the tea is poured between two small glasses several times to create a lot of foam, and it is served in three rounds.  The process of ataaya can take up to two hours, and the important thing about the process is the time you spend with the people around you.  My cousin, Matar, just happens to be an absolute expert at ataaya!  Several times these past weeks, we’ve sat and chatted, sometimes just us two, but often with other family members or friends around.  It wasn’t really until this Saturday that I began to understand the importance of those around me during ataaya.  I was sitting with Matar, Bap (a renter in the house), and Adama (Matar’s friend), but I wasn’t participating in the conversation, I was just sitting and reading an article that I have for my Country Analysis course.  Matar is always poking fun at how much I study and constantly telling me to relax.  Friends, my idea of relaxed is curling up on the couch and studying.  My tendency, introversion.  But it’s different here.  Relaxing is sitting and simply enjoying the company of others.  (By the way, Matar just walked by my door, saw me on my computer, and told me to relax!)  This is something that I’m slowly learning to do.

Ditax is a tropical fruit that I’ve never heard of in my entire life.  I tried ditax juice for the first time this past week and fell in love with it!  Seriously, every time since Tuesday that I’ve seen it on a menu, I’ve ordered it!  (This has only been, like, three times, but I know the trend will continue.)  Imagine a fruity, sugary cucumber juice, that’s probably the best that I can describe it!

I just tried soump this afternoon.  I think it’s a nut, but I’m not really sure.  You peel the outer layer and chew on the inner layer for a little bit, but the inner layer is actually another nut that is just covered by some fruity, raisin-y something.  Vague?  Absolutely.  And I’m very sorry to describe these things with such ambiguity, but I think it’s kind of a “you’ve got to try it” thing!  So, if you ever see the words ditax or soump, don’t hesitate to try it! Read the rest of this entry ?


Tiana: In a rhythm

February 23, 2010

T-minus three weeks left of class…and counting. WHAT?!

This weekend has been a sort of surreal transitional period.  I feel like I’ve been here for months, but also like I just got here.  I finally feel at ease and in-step with the pace and practice of Senegalese society and with my family.  I’m becoming more and more able to communicate in both French and Wolof.  And what’s more, I’m just starting to realize that I have three weeks left with my family before I pack my bags, spend a week in Saint Louis and in the desert for spring break, and head on to Joal to work at the pediatric center and integrate into a new family.  So, to recap, life has somehow sped by in slow fashion.  Are you with me?

Friday, most of us spent the morning and early afternoon at WARC for our Wolof class, then we just hung out and did absolutely nothing.  A few people were finishing their papers for Country Analysis, some were befriending the Senegalese students who study there, others were planning the schedule for the weekend and for spring break, and me, well, I sat in the sunshine and played solitaire on my computer for about two hours.

Later that evening, the majority of our MSID group along with some CIEE students met at New Africa, a restaurant in the Sacré Coeur 3 neighborhood, which was putting on a salsa dance party.  Very à la Loring Pasta Bar, if I do say so myself.  All of you University of Minnesota folk know what I’m talking about.  It was so much fun!  The ambiance of the place made me feel like I was in the middle of the movie Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights.  Cool, upbeat music, open-air, tropical setting, incredible salsa dancers (including the U of M’s very own Kaela McConnon!), pool, and an ice cold Coca-Cola.  We relaxed and chatted for a couple of hours, and then us non-salsa-ers got up and danced a bit towards the end of the evening when the less salsa-y music came on.  Surprisingly (and thankfully!), creepers were few and far between that evening, and everyone seemed to have a great time!  I taxied home with Devyn and Brenna at about two a.m.

Aminata, Xadi, and Doudou standing outside my bedroom.

We started by trying to hail a taxi.  Aby negotiated the price which, unfortunately, was upped because of my presence, as I am undoubtedly a toubab.  The taxi ride was long, and I was relieved to finally get to the market, called HLM.  The market is huge! And was incredibly busy!  At first, I experienced some intense sensory overload.  Cars and taxis everywhere.  Colors everywhere.  Hundreds and hundreds of people hustling and bustling through the narrow walkways between packed stalls and vendors selling jewelry, shoes, bags, clothes, fabrics, books, food, sunglasses.  A little scuffle breaking out between a vendor and a buyer.  Vendors coming right up to your face and staying there, trying to sell you their product.  I cannot explain how grateful I felt to be there with two Senegalese women who knew how everything worked.  Otherwise, I think I would have lost myself, both in terms of location and in terms of sanity!

Magat knew just where to bring me for fabric to make a traditional taille basse, as she works at the market and is well acquainted with it.  We went to two different places, and her and Aby helped me decide on a deep, midnight blue, shiny wax fabric with golden, radiating starbursts on it.  After buying six meters and spending four thousand CFA (such a good deal!), we headed to the area of the market where the tailors congregate.  Enter another moment of sensory overload: a one-level, concrete edifice with open air above, aisle after aisle of stalls, maybe six feet wide by eight feet deep, holding up to six tailors, each working on some intricate clothing or beading or threading design, hundreds of sewing machines thump-thump-thumping in rapid succession, fabric and plastic scattered on the ground, you get the picture.  We approached one stall and I was introduced to Xadim, another one of Magat’s friends who works as a tailor and would be making my taille basse.  He took my measurements while him and a couple of his friends tested my Wolof, and then Magat, Aby and I headed to another stall to meet with another man who specializes in more intricate threadwork.  Aby is having an incredible thread design embroidered onto a new tunic, so she negotiated with this man while Magat and I looked through magazines for a specific design for my outfit.  We ate crème glacé, or frozen cream (not ice cream, mind you) and I decided on a pattern.  After sitting and chatting a bit more, we went back to Xadim to show him the layout, I paid half of the price of his service in advance, and Magat is going back on Monday to pick up the finished product.  Thanks to Magat, I’m getting a significant discount!  In sum, I’m spending about twenty dollars on this outfit, and I am so excited to see how it turns out!

I taxied home from the market by myself and got a tour of a part of Dakar that I hadn’t seen before, which was really great.  In awe of how amazing of a time I am having here, I took the duration of the taxi ride to thank the Lord again for this opportunity.

After arriving home, I spent the afternoon with the nieces and nephew and some of the neighbor children.  We ate baignets (YUM!), said hello to people who passed on the street, and held a casual photo shoot.  I flashed back to my first few days here, when the kids were too shy to approach me or jump on me or come up and say hello, and I see how far we’ve all come since that short time ago.  I love it here.

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Tiana: Toubacouta part 2

February 16, 2010

Peeking out the bus windows while approaching central Toubacouta, we saw a large circle of chairs and a giant group of people.  The center of the circle was lit with two bright outdoor lights and nothing else, so faces were cast in shadow.  Stepping from the bus, the children of the village reached for our hands, offering a warm welcome and the invitation to “viens, assis-toi!” or “come, sit down!” We were lead to a chair and several children quickly surrounded us, introduced themselves, asked our names, and promised to teach us to dance mbalax, a traditional African dance, by the time the evening ended.  Then, the drumming began.

The next three hours were filled with traditional African music, including drumming sequences infinitely more elaborate than anything I’ve ever seen before, and dance, which all of us toubabs attempted in good spirits, making quite a spectacle of ourselves.  One guy took a flaming torch and rubbed it over the soles of his feet and his stomach without charring his skin at all, and later swallowed fire!  The mbalax dancers moved their feet so quickly and in such calculated steps, it seemed as if they were never really touching the ground.  So there we were, stars above us and joyous, energetic people all around, having a jolly good time, and getting yet another true taste of culture in Africa.  Three different groups performed, each with a different style of entertainment and a unique flair.  The people of that village seriously know how to have fun.  Something tells me that that is true of this entire country.

Unfortunately, all the sand and dust that was kicked up during the dance took it’s toll on my lungs.  Just as we were leaving the show, my coughing, sneezing, drowsy fit began. Despite feeling miserable by the end, that Saturday had been one of the coolest days of my life.

Children of Keur Ousseynou Dieng

Sunday was a doozy.  And when I say doozy, I mean that every fiber of my being wished that I could have stayed in bed all day.  Wheezing and sneezing like crazy, I joined the group for another delicious breakfast and a bus ride to another local village, Keur Ousseynou Dieng. We received a similar welcome as we had in the previous village and were quickly ushered into the case de santé, a small, village-based medical facility.  It was an insightful visit, but I ended up getting very frustrated.  I don’t even know quite what I was frustrated with, but I think it was a compilation of things.  As an aspiring medical professional, it was difficult to see such a basic facility.  Sure, it is very convenient to have a close area where villagers can go for a free verbal consultation, to give birth etc., but the case lacked even the most fundamental necessities for an efficient practice (aside from the caring and well-trained personnel who run the space as volunteers).  Kleenex for runny noses, band-aids for wounds, malaria medication or antibiotics: all things that they need to out-sourced and that take time and a great deal of money to acquire.  Further, the case is not equipped for medical emergencies, and such urgent cases need to be evacuated to the nearest poste de santé or the nearest hospital, requiring even more time and money that may not be available.  This is, of course, from my outsider’s perspective, and I know that the case is an incredible blessing and a step in the right direction in terms of health care.  Still, it broke my heart.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent in parlance with a local women’s group that is in the process of forming an agricultural market in which women can cultivate and sell crops.  The project is outstanding, but also presented another frustration.  The idea, the dream, and the prospect of the end goal that these women have are all beautiful, but it’s the execution of the plan that seems slightly behind.  These women work and work and work in such admirable fashion and with such heart, and it seems still that all possible roadblocks between them and success spring up.  One foreign government helped them plan an irrigation system for their massive cultivation space, a plan that has not been carried out.  Transport of goods to a larger city is extremely expensive, and there is no middle-man or mediator to help the process along. Read the rest of this entry ?

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