April 21, 2012
March 23, 2012
Mid-way? NO WAY!
By artist Francisca Valenzuela, I'm diggin it right now.
March 1, 2012
Problems in Guediawaye
Like any other part of Dakar, sadly, the sides of the roads were covered in garbage. People here are not in the habit of holding onto their garbage until they find a trash can. This might be because the trash bins are often full or have piles of trash around them, or simply because people don't consider it a big enough issue to attempt to change their lifestyles. In either case, dropping your Kafe Touba cup on the sidewalk after you finish is normal in Senegal, and Guediawaye is no exception. As we walked through the town, we discussed some difficulties that the town faces because of poor planning by civil engineers. For example, construction waste left unattended combined with a rocky and sandy terrain leaves water unable to penetrate the ground. Similarly, the way the land levels out--or doesn't, really--prevents rain and other waste water from flowing properly, creating dryness in some places and stagnant standing water in other. Not only is this a poor system for the environment because it does not function with the natural needs of the area, but also it creates health and safety concerns.
All of these problems were amplified tenfold when we walked down a hill into the heart of the town to see the worst of the situation. At the bottom of the hill was a street with houses, stores, and schools on either side, and a large neon green lake in the middle of it, lined with garbage. Construction vehicles and people stood there idly, watching as we wandered and discussed what we were seeing. Apparently, because of the impermeability of the ground on the hill, all of the rain and waste water pools at the bottom in the street. There too it is unable to soak into the ground, and thus it stays and rots with the garbage and the waste. Not only does this prevent transportation in this part of town, but also it causes health hazards for those who live there and for anyone who passes through. Some houses and schools along this stretch have even been abandoned because of the problem.
As we walked along the shore of this neon green pond, our professor pointed out a small makeshift bridge for us to cross, calling it the "Golden Gate Bridge" of Dakar. After crossing, we talked about the efforts being made toward improving the situation: drainage canals, some construction, but nothing that will really suffice in the long run. The water needs to be removed and prevented from returning, but such a project would be too big, too expensive, and too futile for a place like Guediawaye.
The reason it would be futile is because Guediawaye is situated on a water table and is gradually sinking into this underground lake. Any changes, repairs, or improvements that we make now will be useless in a few years. This was extremely evident when we went deeper into the residential part of town. There we witnessed quite the phenomenon: quite a few houses were slowing sinking into the ground. There was one house whose window base was about a foot from the ground; we looked inside and saw the entire building filled with water and garbage. The house had literally sunk about three fourths of the way into the ground and filled up with water at the same time. It had been abandoned, naturally, but no one took care of the electricity there so there is a really big danger with this and other houses in the same condition. People who choose not to abandon their houses when they begin to sink instead add new parts on top of the walls that already exist. This helps for the moment, but it doesn't fix the real problem or do any good in the long run. However, the people of Guediawaye can't afford to move away, nor can they--or the government, for that matter--afford to make the changes that would be necessary to actually fix the problem. And, realistically, I don't know if this problem can be fixed. The weight of the town is such that everything will continue to sink into the water table regardless of any temporary improvements made today.
I wish I could say that I had a solution. I wish I could say that moving all of the residents was possible or realistic, or that we could build lightweight styrafoam houses for everyone in place of the concrete that they currently use. However, as it stands, there really aren't a lot of readily available solutions, so at the moment we simply have to hope as much as we can and put on our thinking caps for a better solution.
February 20, 2012
Getting into a Groove
February 14, 2012
Neex na looooool
After eating the meal, if you want to say that you enjoyed it and that it pleased your senses, you say, "Neex na;" if you really, really enjoyed it, say, "Neex na lol." The longer you hold out the "o" in "lol," the more you enjoyed the meal. Then, if you put down your spoon or make a move to leave the dinner platter, everyone will tell you, "Mange! Lekkal!" both of which are commands to eat, in French and Wolof respectively. And eat you will, if you can't convince them of "Suur na," that you've had enough. As we students came to learn quite quickly, nearly everyone in Senegal is determined to send us home looking like baobab trees.
After dinner, often we fruit or thiakry for dessert. Thiakry is a sweet yogurty dish mixed with millet. It's soooooooooooo good. Occasionally we'll have thiakry with chopped bananas, or mixed with a peanut sauce. If all goes as planned, I will be learning how to make thiakry so I can bring it back to the States. I also have intentions to learn how to make some traditional Senegalese dinners, whether the improvised kind or actual named dishes. This is a list of different ones that have names:
Ceeb u gen = fish and rice
Ceeb u yapp = meat and rice
Ceeb u poule = chicken and rice
Mafe = rice and meat with a peanut sauce
Yassa = fish or chicken with specific spices
Fataya = a meat sandwich with egg, fries, and other toppings
Occasionally we have hamburgers from the local hamburger stand, and let me tell you that these hamburgers are better than any hamburger you have ever had/ will ever have. They have the same fixings that we would normally put on a hamburger, but they also have a fried egg and french fries on top of that, and they're made with real meat. Neex na looooooooool.
After meals, it's tradition to have ataya, which I've probably mentioned in past posts. However, I've got homework to finish so I'll post in great detail about ataya soon! Ba beneen yoon, enchallah.
February 6, 2012
Graffiti in Granada
February 2, 2012
Thoughts and things
It's just so beautiful to me that something as small as "noo ko bokk" can say so much about a particular culture, especially when compared with its equivalents in other cultures. The more Wolof I learn, the more I find that the whole language is just a perfect reflection of its people (or perhaps vice versa). For example, when you say goodbye to someone, you say "ba suba," "ba beneen yoon," or "ba ci kanaam," and each is always followed by "enchallah." None of these literally mean goodbye, but rather are merely parting words that promise a reunion at a later time, God willing (enchallah). I know this is the third time I've used beautiful in this blog post, but it really is such an incredibly beautiful way of parting and I'm certain that I know no other English words that can do it justice. The hope that this parting will not be the last and the faith that the opportunity will arise again, and the recognition that both depend on something greater than ourselves -- that is such a fundamental and natural element of this culture.
Comme d'habitude, there are plenty more thoughts on my mind that I had intended to post about today, but they will have to wait for another post. Ba beneen yoon, enchallah.
January 30, 2012
Meme si, l'equipe de foot's poor performance was not the first thing on the minds of the Dakarois. Schools have been on and off strike since before I've been here, and last week there was also a transportation strike for a few days, suspended only out of necessity because of the approaching birthday of the prophet Mohammed (4 February).
However, truly the most important thing that is currently underway involves the recent finalization of the candidates for the 2012 presidential elections. Last Friday, 27 January, it was announced that the constitutional council had accepted current president Abdoulaye Wade's candidacy. In reality, there was little doubt that his candidacy would be accepted, but on paper it was under question because of the new(ish) constitutional ruling that one person may only serve two terms as president, which Wade is currently in the process of completing. However, the five people who officially ruled whether he would be able to run again or not were, of course, chosen by none other than Wade himself, so naturally he will be on the ballot 26 February.
All day last Friday, the air was thick with tension in Dakar. Nothing extraordinary occurred that I had the chance to witness, though there were demonstrations and protests in numerous parts of the city from midnight to morning thanks to the constitutional council's announcement. All weekend roads were blocked by students and protesters upset with Wade's acceptance. Even now, Monday night, gendarmerie sit in groups at the roundabouts, by bridges, and at other hotspots in the city just in case. Again, nothing serious has happened yet, but even the weather tells of unrest in the people with heavy clouds and a cool, dry wind. Tuesday will bring more protests without a doubt. On verra; di na baax.
Nevertheless, life continues in this sleepless city. School continues for the MSID students, transportation has started again, the call to prayers is as consistent as ever, and the wind still gets sand in my now-tressed hair. Tomorrow I will discuss Senegalese French poetry, speak Wolof, drink ataya with my guard friends, and live life in West African Internal Time. Alhamdulilaay.
January 26, 2012
January 24, 2012
La Famille et Teranga
Family. Family is so important to the Senegalese. Perhaps only after Allah, family is the most important thing. They will be there for you no matter what, no matter when, no matter why. Even without blood relations, the people you live with are your family, your neighbors are your family, your friends as well, and for most people here all of Senegal is just one big family. It's part of the openness of this warm and welcoming culture. In Wolof, this is called Teranga. It implies hospitality, acceptance, and a culture of giving even when you have not. There is always room for one more at the dinner platter, no matter what.
My Senegalese family confused me profusely for the first few days: the layout, who was who, the connections, the whole shebang. At my house, I have Maman Rama, my brother Babacar, two nieces of Maman who are both named Rama as well, and two renters, Fatou and Jean-Luc. For about a month, we also have a German woman named Rike (Frederike) who lives with us. Aside from Rike and the renters, everyone in the house is related in some manner, but for me, everyone is a brother or a sister--it is so much simpler just to consider everyone a member of the family, especially since that is how it feels anyway.
Now, let me explain why the family confused me at first. On Saturday, Maman took me to a house-warming party of sorts; her niece (?) was married last week and was putting on her first big party as a married woman. There. Were. So. Many. People. Holy dustbins. Some people were introduced, some were not. Most were blood-related, but all were family. Even me! There were the endless siblings of Maman, some from the same parents, some from different parents. Some people were Maman's children, apparently, and I think I figured out the ultimate matriarch and patriarch, but I cannot be certain. There were some random Italian travellers there as well, and tons of children who got very excited when I danced the uza, this year's most popular dance style. I kept trying to keep everyone straight in my head, to remember names, to separate the French-speakers from the nons, to organize how each person was related, and to continue to smile and to interact in an almost chaotic situation. Yet, in retrospect, I realize now that knowing the exact details of the family simply doesn't matter because everyone is loved, everyone is family, no matter the connection. If I forget something or make a mistake, someone will remind me, laugh, and move on. People here really believe in being warm and kind, and they seem to be infinitely patient with the silly toubab that I am. And, as Babacar always says, c'est tranquille.
January 19, 2012
Bienvenidos a España
¡Hola a todos! I'm studying in Spain all semester (Spring 2012) and will be Eurotripping for the rest of the summer. Should be a good time.
For those of you who'd like a little background on where I'm living currently; Granada is one of the oldest cities in Spain. It's in the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula in the region of Andalucía. Granada is the spanish word for Pomegranate. This city is amazing for many reasons, especially its unbeatable history- it was the last Muslim stronghold during the reconquista of the Reyes Católicas (Ferdinand y Isabel). There are very distinct barrios in the city, from the modern bustling city center (Centro, where I'm living with a family) to the quieter and picturesque Albaicín, the old Muslim neighborhood with the steep and narrow streets. Granada is also home to the Alhambra, the red palace. Granada maintains an Arab influence in architecture, food, clothing, etc. It's amazing. The people, the history, the sights and sounds of Granada are beyond real.
At the point that I'm writing this, I have been in Spain a mere 2 weeks to the day. WOW. So far I've been in Granada and in classes even less. Spain is amazing. In true Minnesotan fashion, I have to comment on the weather. The weather is mostly great (better than Morris!!) so I've been wearing light jackets and bumping up against frozen Spaniards in full on FUR COATS. Not kidding folks. To the locals, it's a brutal 5 degrees Celsius, meaning a balmy 41 degrees F. The program directors and my host mom keep telling me to bundle up, I can't help but chuckle.
Granada is a fantastic place, describing it in words only does an injustice, but I've got to try it any way. From the terrace of my host family's piso (apartment) I can see the Alhambra in front of me and the snow capped Sierra Nevada mountains to my right. Everything is tall, cobblestoned, old, colorful, loud, exciting, simple, complicated all at the same time. I'm not at a point where I can really tell you what I'm doing with my life, any future plans or such, but I can tell you that I'll report back the most exciting news.
For now, the most important things for you to know are thus:
1) You only lithp the c's and z's in the middle and ends of spanish words. not the s's.
2) Is it a horizontal surface? It's a road. Motos and cars and delivery trucks. You don't think that ice truck with fit in this alley along with all the pedestrians?
3) Buy a €2 beer, get free food. They're called tapas; don't die without eating some.
4) Spanish women are my idols. Not only are they often working wives and mothers of adorable children but they always look damn good and they get everywhere (from kid schlepping to grocery shopping) on foot . Not just on foot, anybody can do that, but in heels and on cobblestone. You're not human if you're not impressed.
5) Churros con chocolate y café con leche.
6) Granada Fútbol is not a joke. Even though their color is Pepto-Bismol Pink. These fans are crazier than Real Madrid's.
7) The hipsters in Granada are so cool. For hair styles they all have any possible combination of: shaved head, total or partial, dreadlocks, rat-tails, mohawks. Usually the two later are made of dreadlocks that reach to their midsection. Almost all are musicians.
8) Teterías- all are cozy and wonderful, some have free hookah if you buy enough delicious and cheap tea.
9) The cheek kisses are not actual kisses, but 'cheek brushes'. Don't caress the person's face if it's your first time meeting, or ever probably. I may or may not know from personal experience.
10) Olive oil and oranges. I woke up one Saturday morning to a bowl of olive oil with some beans in it. Not the best meal I've had. At least the orange was great!
Now that you've learned 10 (or more) new brilliant things, I'll leave you with an awesome song. You don't need to know Spanish to love it. It's called Todos los días sale el sol, by Bongo Botrako. follow the link! If you're a good enough detective you can download this and other albums for free.
More to come later! Once I've gathered my thoughts and such, more organization...
Bonjour tout le monde!
Day four of the MSID Senegal Spring 2012 program and all is well! We have all successfully moved in with our families and are beginning to settle into a rhythm. It is pleasantly warm here, very sunny, a little breezy, and thus a very nice and snowless winter.
Today's blog theme is transportation. To get to school every day, I walk with Vera, another student in the MSID program who lives very close to me, and sometimes my brother Babacar walks with us. Thank goodness Babacar is so flexible with his time because we live almost an hour away by foot!
If we ever don't feel like walking, we could take a taxi, a bus, or a car rapide. The taxi drivers here remind me a little bit of taxi drivers in NYC because of the way they drive. They have extremely good control of their vehicles (all Toyota Camrys), and in spite of their slightly dilapidated condition, they work quite well. I've noticed that none of the drivers here, taxi or non, seem to pay attention to lights or signs; instead, they pay very good attention to everything else around them: other drivers, pedestrians, motorcyclists, and medians. Though the rules of the road all seem to be unspoken and a little intimidating, it feels really safe using the roads on foot or by taxi because people are simply aware of everything. A horn honk here is not so much a "get out of my way" as a "be careful because I'm driving and you are fragile."
I haven't taken the bus or a car rapide yet, but I've seen them. Both types of vehicles are essentially 16 passenger vans, but bigger. People cram onto them or hang off the back; just like the Senegalese culture, riding a bus or car rapide is casual and no one seems to be pressed for time.
Another thing that impresses me here is the manner in which people walk in and out of traffic. During rush hour, lots of boys or young men weave in and out of cars, holding up bags of fruit or phone cards for the passengers to buy. Of course, they have to carefully avoid the motorcyclists who drive in between lanes of cars like knives through butter.
I really enjoy the Senegalese mentality of transportation. Everyone has an agenda, naturally, but road rage does not seem to exist and people are okay with being flexible with time. Everyone pays attention to the people around them because that is so much more important than being on time or in the quickest lane. And, luckily in addition to these two good characteristics, everyone knows the unspoken rules and is excellent at transporting themselves with great skill.
A la prochaine fois~
January 16, 2012
Salaam Maaleekum -- Peace be with you.
Welcome to the MSID Senegal blog! We safely arrived in Dakar, Senegal, this morning after a short and comfortable flight from DC and were immediately swept up in a whirlwind of orientation, en francais bien sur. As I lie here in my hotel room, my stomach full of Senegalese hospitality and my head anxiously awaiting tomorrow afternoon when I will meet my host family, I can hear the sounds of people being called to evening prayers. The electricity just went out through the entire city, an occurrence almost as regular as the call to prayers, apparently.
No worries though! The warmness of the people and their laughter and sense of humor makes up for trifles like power outages (and it just came back on anyway). Earlier today before both lunch and dinner we were all at a momentary loss as to what we should do with the few minutes before the food arrived. So, naturally, we had a dance party! People just seem to be sincerely joyous and light-hearted here, and so full of life. Even after one day here I can see why this country is so well-loved by all who visit.
For the rest of the week we will have a thoroughly busy orientation (aka not a lot of time for the interwebs), touring the city, learning more about the culture, and visiting Ile de Goree. Next week when classes start we'll learn more Wolof, so of course I'll share some of the knowledge as we go along.
Speaking of knowledge, did you know that the meal-time culture here includes eating with your right hand directly from the communal dish? It's a far more intimate and sharing way of eating, plus there are less dishes to wash in the end. After meals families often do ataya, a type of tea consumed in three rounds that goes from strong to strong/sweet to very sweet. Ataya can take hours because people use that time to sit around and discuss anything and everything.
This has been the quick run-down of a simplified version of what one can learn about Senegalese and Wolof culture in one day. There is so much more to discover :)
Until next time,
Maaleekum Salaam -- Peace only.
January 13, 2012
6 January 2012
Title: Feeling family
On Friday, we went back to Afrika Tikkun and broke into three groups. I was in a smaller group that headed to do a home visit further away. We went to visit a granny whose daughter had passed away and she was taking care of her daughter's four children. Kelly, Ky, Hana and I showed up and granny warmly welcomed us into her home. We had brought a puzzle, a lot of face paint and a ball. The children, ages 13, 7, 5 and 3 were really shy at first, so we cracked out the puzzle and got the ball rollin'. Granny was asked to babysit three more children and we ended up having more kids to play with. All of the kids wanted face paint, including one of the older children who really didn't interact with us. It was a great feeling to be able to be around a sense of family again.
Going into this house with the granny really reminded me of being home on the rez with my own gramma. She is one of the strongest women I know; she has been doing foster care for as long as I can remember and within the past year, she has taken on the task of raising my three cousins, all under the age of 14. It is hard to watch my gramma revert to acting as mother to my cousins, but knowing that they are safe and healthy is worth it.
January 8, 2012
Forgiveness is hard, bru
I got my debit card stolen. Long story short, I let my guard down and thought the guy was showing me how to work the ATM. As I waited for my card to come out, I relized I had been played. I'm glad that only my debit card was stolen ( and so far $185) because it could have been so much more could have been stolen. I'll probably get a refund for the stolen money and a replacement card for free. So for taking advantage of three unsuspecting American girls, three men got away with roughly R2800 or $400. All I can hope is that they needed the money. I lost a hundred dollars at Morris this past month. I feel more stupid about that one as it was completely in the open for anyone to go into my purse and take but it's making me question why I am so trusting of people I don't know. I guess it's just my need to want to please or help people. But really, I want to talk about forgiveness. The Truth and Reconcilliation Commission (TRC) was created to help heal the atrocities which the country faced during Apartheid using a process by applying for amnesty. I mean, in the long run, I think that the TRC will help bring South Africa into a more community-like state. I really believed that the TRC was the best thing that could happen to South Africa after Apartheid ( aside from the world cup being here last year), until we watched Bill Moyer's Facing the Truth: Part 1 in class. When I was able to see the families and friends of people who's lives had been taken during Apartheid their pain became more real. I think it would be extremely hard to forgive someone for not only killing your loved one, but for applying for amnesty just because they believe they won't have to go to jail. None of the families in the video had been apologized to by those applying for amnesty.
Forgiveness is hard. A country can work toward a better future by accepting the problems of the past as the guilt can be spread across plenty of people. I find it hard to believe that individuals find it so easy to forgive the wrong-doers. I believe that with the support of a community, one can find it easier to forgive as they will have someone to fall back on through the difficult times that may lie ahead. I'm not really sure I have ever forgiven someone for a large issue.
Yesterday we went on a safari!!! The second I saw that big ole elephant walk right past our 4x4 I was so excited that I literally didn't stop smiling until I realized how much my face hurt. We then went out to dinner for Courtney's birthday which was super fun. Today we went to the Waterfront, where we spend a LOT of time, and had breakfast with Nj, one of the program coordinators. Afterwards we went to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was held for 18 of his 27 years in prison. It was really eerie. I could tell that there was such rich history surrounding the island and it was really just a great experience overall. After almost getting sick on the ride back to the mainland, a few of us went out for dinner and shopped around ( I got a swimsuit top!). While checking out, the lady asked me if it was the seventh or the eighth today. I still have no idea because I have lost all track of time in South Africa. There's a joke that you never expect South African to be on time. If you say let's meet at seven, you literally have until seven fifty nine until they are late.
Tomorrow we got back to Delft, the township we volunteer in, and I am so excited to go back. On Friday we did home visits in small groups. The house we went to had seven children living in it with no parents. After an hour of playing around with the kids, a drunk neighbor showed up claiming we were doing this for the media and that she would take pictures of us and put them in the South African media showing everyone how terrible we are. She then told us it was rude to play with people's lives like that. I had a great time until this happened. I'm really trying to focus on the positive aspects of the situation, but this rude, drunk lady was mad that we were playing at the house with no parents around and not at her house with her kids. I had a great time dancing, face painting and playing soccer with the kids and I cannot wait to do it again.
I also decided that I'm not leaving South Africa. :)