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March 23, 2012

Mid-way? NO WAY!

As you may or may not have guessed from my super duper clever title, I have just finished my mid-terms here in Granada at the Centro por Lenguas Modernas, o CLM.  That means that in just about 2 more months I will be DONE with classes. WHATTTTT? That is crazy. Luckily, I've extended my travel plans until mid-July so I can have a chance to explore more of Europe and maybe even  work on a farm in Spain!
Some of you reading the blog may actually be curious in what I'm doing at school, so I'll briefly touch on the tests. I only had 3 because one of my classes is for speaking and therefore we aren't tested on paper but 'performance'. I'm sure that if you know me at all, you also know I really struggle in that class... Another class is a film class for which we have an ongoing film journal and a final project.  My Islamic Culture in Spain class was my first final, and it kicked my butt. I studied all weekend prior to it and during the day on Monday. Showed up to class at 6:30, prof rolled in late, asked when the test was, then proceeded to write the test on Word as we sat there.  There were 2 essay prompts that vaguely said write as much as you know about this general 100 year span. Include every detail imaginable, clothing, art, politics, war. HA. Was not prepared for that format. Also, he's the Center's hardest grader. Perfect. On the upside I cleaned up in my Spanish history test about Franco and the Civil War in the 30s and also in my Art History class. Goya's got nothin' on me.  So those are done, and it's very much relieving.
Now for something a bit more interesting, I thought I'd share something about who I live with, get into the nitty gritty of living with a typical Spanish family. You may find they're a lot like the sitcom families we watch on TV:
1) I live with a blind abuela, or Granny, as I call her.  She spends all day everyday sitting in her chair rosary praying and listening to the TV or radio.  She much prefers music than listening to shows or documentaries.  Granny sits at her table all day, moves from her arm chair to the wood chair when it's time to eat and bangs her way down the hall when she needs  a potty break.  When she hears you enter the room she never fails to tell you how bored or lonely she is, all the while refusing to go sit on the terrace to take in the fresh air and sunshine nor will she go for a walk.  She's a very sweet woman who grew up a youth of Franco but since he's been out of the picture she's a proud Socialist.  Quick story: I went out for a few hours to run some errands today when I got back, I was starving so I went into the kitchen to warm up lunch. Granny heard me and called to me so I walk into the living room. BAM. Granny's diggin in her pants. Like she's standing up, skirt pulled up around her waist, granny panties around the ankles while still another pair of granny panties are in proper position as she is fishing around fixing her over sized adult diaper pad.  All I can say is sweet baby jesus thank GOD she's blind. Because I can't even start to think about the look I had on my face. I was definitely taken aback, but she didn't seem to mind, it's possible she thought I was still in the kitchen. Where I fled to as soon as possible.  So that happened.
2) Marieta is my mom. Probably one of the looniest people I've met. She is always stressed about her daughter and about money (she's an architect and no architects are working in Spain currently due to shitty economy). However, she still goes out for hours on end with friends and is constantly persuading the daughter to buy more clothes. No idea where this money is coming from. She also hires a maid to come clean and do all the house chores she ALSO complains about doing but never actually does.  This being said, I do really like her. She's spunky and into get-rich-quick schemes. Hardly ever a dull moment. She is also very helpful as an anti-smoking campaign. I awake nightly from her gut wrenching smokers coughs. I can't believe she hasn't quit or died yet.
3) Claudia. 18 year old princess who refuses to go to school, nor will get a job. Her favorite past times are coddling the puppy, shopping, whining, yelling at Marieta and being gorgeous. She is very shy and I can't really relate to her. Though I've tried.
4) Chanel. The puppy. She loves me. She's always around to greet me and never misses a chance to get my pants dirty with her nasty mouth that traps all sorts of bogus particles. Ick. But she's cute so whatever.

Congrats on making it to the end of my family album! I hope you feel your life is enhanced now. If not, I'm sorry, listen to this song to try and get any sort of joy out of this entry:
By artist Francisca Valenzuela, I'm diggin it right now.

Caio y besos!

March 1, 2012

Problems in Guediawaye

Asalaam Maleekum! I know I promised to post about ataaya in greater detail, but Guediawaye is on my mind and perhaps a little more important, so here we go. Last week I went on a field trip with my Environment and Agriculture class to Guediawaye, a suburb northeast of Dakar. Suburb here does not have the same connotation as it does in the Twin Cities. In general, the suburbs are the less well-developed areas where too many people live in less-than-sufficient conditions; Guediawaye, unfortunately, is a strong example of this. The focus of our field trip was to see the environmentally-related development problems in this part of town. And we really saw them.

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.

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