Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Remembering: Lunch

This past weekend I got together with two girls who studied in Senegal with me and one of the Senegal program directors, Waly, who came from Dakar for a week-long conference outside of Boston.  We ate at Boston's gourmet Senegalese restaurant Teranga and reminisced. Odors have a special way of bringing back memories and a waft of the mixture of onions, lemon, and spices from my plate of Yassa Ginaar transported me back two years to the many lunches I ate with my study abroad mates on our Dakar campus.  It was almost as if we were sitting under the ubiquitous canvas tent at a plastic picnic table with our plates of steaming Senegalese dishes, mangoes, and Café Touba. 

Or maybe we decided to venture further than the campus canteen to bring back an omelet sandwich from the shack down the road.  If we were lucky there was an available seat on a wooden bench upon which we could sit while we waited for our turn to order.  If not, we would wait outside of the cardboard shack until a space opened up.  When the businessmen seated on benches next to us yielded their turn in line to one of us outsiders (because we were white and female) we would ask for a tomato and onion omelet.  The omelet man would skillfully chop up the fixings into his hands and add them to the scrambled eggs that were deep frying in oil on a skillet balanced over a small kerosene flame.  While he waited for it to cook, he would serve somebody else a concoction of instant coffee, tea, and sweetened condensed milk that could put Starbucks out of business.  Then he would slice open a fresh baguette, delivered each day to his shack by a man driving a horse drawn cart of baked goods, and added the oily omelet of goodness.  He would wrap the sandwich in a newspaper declaring last year's headlines in German, or Greek, or Chinese and would hand it over to me in exchange for 500 CFA ($0.50).  Jeurejef waay (thanks friend).

Or maybe we weren't feeling too hungry and the dust of the city was making it difficult to breathe.  On those kind of days a cold thiakry (millet and yogurt) made the perfect lunch.  No matter what kind of meal it was, however, there was always good conversation.  Lunch was the time for us to process with each other the cultural clashes we experienced.  Oftentimes the discussion turned to religion.  The Senegalese people, whether they were Muslim or Catholic, all lived lives of faith and devotion.  This was something that challenged all of us.  For my atheist friends it was hard for them to understand how people could have such a strong and unyielding faith.  For me the visibility of religion in Senegal was a challenge to live my Christian faith more openly and without shame.

Back in Boston, I devoured my delicious Senegalese meal.  I can't believe it has been two years; those memories of my semester in Senegal are still so vivid--some of them difficult, many of them fond.               

Monday, November 7, 2011

Tabaski in Boston

It has been almost a year and a half since I returned from Senegal. I can't believe so much time has passed! Sometimes it feels like only yesterday that I was surrounded by sandy roads, scorching sun, and Senegalese friends. Other days I have a hard time remembering the names of places and people that were a part of my life those four months. Surprisingly, I still remember a lot of Wolof vocabulary and sometimes certain Wolof words sneak their way into my dreams. Since I've been back Stateside I have sought out any opportunity I could find to continue learning about and enjoying the Senegalese culture. I have dined at Senegalese restaurants in Chicago, D.C., NYC, and plan on eating all the "ceb" [rice] I can find at a Senegalese restaurant in Boston with my mom next weekend. I pulled out my Wolof on a cashier at Walmart, with my "mango friend" in Colorado, and recently with the Senegalese community here in Boston.

This past weekend I was invited to celebrate the Muslim holiday of Tabaski with some Senegalese families here in Boston. In Arabic this holiday is called Eid al-Adha, or the feast of sacrifice, and I liken it to Senegalese Thanksgiving. It is a holiday to remember when God provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead of his son (Muslims say the son was Ishmael, Christians say it was Issac). In remembrance of God's provision, Muslims in Senegal sacrifice a goat and then divide the meat into three parts, sharing a third with the poor, a third with family and friends, and a third they keep for themselves. Like Easter when Senegalese Christians share ngalax with their Muslim neighbors, during Tabaski, Senegalese Muslims share the goat meat with their Christian neighbors. These two holidays, Easter and Tabaski, are a great example of the respect Senegalese have for their neighbors of another faith.

I am told that in Senegal, around Tabaski time, Dakar is overtaken by goats. You buy your live goat in a lot similar to the Christmas tree lots we have in the States, tie it up in your courtyard to annoy your neighbors for a couple of days, and then sacrifice it after noon prayer. I'm not sure where our goat came from or if my Senegalese hosts here in Boston performed their own sacrificial ceremony because I arrived after the goat had been nicely cooked and served over a bed of my beloved Senegalese ceb.

The feast started out with a warm bowl of laax [porridge and yogurt] followed by cebuyapp [rice and meat] and thiakry for dessert [millet and yogurt]. I found myself sitting as the guest of honor at the men's table throughout the meal -- I have yet to figure out how to interact with Senegalese women. As I sat and listened to the men engage in a lively debate about Senegalese politics in French, Wolof, and English, the women were working away in the kitchen making sure everybody got enough food, and the kids were running around the house. I was once again reminded of how much the Senegalese love to debate, how informed they are about Senegalese affairs, and how they all think they know how to solve Senegal's problems. As I sat at the head of the table and tried to track a conversation that flowed from one language to another, I was quickly absorbed into a Senegalese aura complete with the smells of my host family's home. If it weren't for the leggings and long sleeve shirt that I was wearing underneath my Senegalese dress, I could have truly believed that I was back in Senegal.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Africa running into me

The blog post below this one was written within I week of my return home from Senegal. I spent my last week in Senegal thinking about all of the strange things that I would have to get used to again upon my return to the United States. I was afraid I would be cold back in the Colorado springtime. I was worried that I would start speaking French or Wolof midsentence. And I was certain that I had forgotten how to drive on highways and streets with traffic lights. All these anxious thoughts were not ill founded, and my return to the states meant adjustment. But for the most part, I was surprised how easy it was to become American again. Sure, I found myself converting prices here back to CFA (the Senegalese currency), and I often had the sudden urge to respond to something like a Senegalese (sighing shu-tititititit at something surprising or sympathizing with an ndeeeeysaaan at something unfortunate), but these weren't heart wrenching struggles. They were just brief reminders that my time in Senegal was not merely a dream, but four months of laughter, learning, and growth.

The lack of hardship upon my re-entry to the States was perhaps culture shock in itself. I had braced myself for the worst, and had been blessed with the best. Once you have a connection to a place, you become hypersensitized to anything that reminds you of the culture, the language, and the people. In a sense, since my return, Senegal keeps running into me.

My host mom in Senegal informed me, the last week I was there, that her good friend who lives four houses down in Dakar has a son, Robert, who just moved to Colorado. She got me in touch with him and we have hung out several times this summer. It has been wonderful to have that connection back to Senegal, here in my own back yard. Someone who laughs when you talk about how your Senegalese clothes show off your jaay fonde, and how when you wore them to a market in Dakar the vendors would all yell out "Madame Dakar come, buy, I make you good price". We have shared Senegalese meals, exchanged Bisaap juice for mangoes, and watched the U.S. play England in the World Cup. This week, Robert's father arrived in Colorado to visit him for a couple of months. I met his father today and got to greet him the Senegalese way: Asalaam Malekum. And as if it couldn't get any better, I was surprised with two Senegalese dresses and a note from my host mom who had sent them along with Robert's father to give to me.

After taking the two of them to church with my family, we ate at a Burger joint to share a meal together the way they would do in Senegal (minus the rice). It was so fun to see and hear what Robert's father thought of the United States. He thinks we eat a lot, doesn't understand why American's don't own French cars, and is amazed by the quality of our roads and the lack of traffic. :)

Robert isn't the only Senegalese connection I've made since I've been home. Last weekend I was camping in the mountains with some friends and I met another Senegalese guy at Walmart! I was paying for a box of Milk Dudds when I noticed two scars on the checkout clerk's temple. Immediately I thought of the Poular ethnicity in Senegal and timidly asked: "This is a really funny question, but, are you Poular?" To which he responded: "yes, from Senegal." This thrust us into a quick conversation in Wolof, to his utter astonishment. I left Walmart smiling and pictured him back at his cash register still trying to process how a random toubab had just had a conversation with him in his mother tongue.

So even though I've adjusted back to some of my old ways, Senegal still holds an important place in my life. Re-entry is all about learning how to best reintegrate without forgetting all that another place has taught you. My fears about forgetting everything that happened in Senegal have been abated; Senegal keeps running into me.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Running into Africa

I was cleaning my room yesterday after deciding that I should no longer be intimidated by the huge unpacking job before me. On my computer, Youssou N'dour and other mbalax Senegalese music was blasting. While going through papers in my desk, I came across a National Geographic magazine from 2005 with Special Issue Africa in huge letters on the front. In the subtitle the reader is warned: "whatever you thought, think again"! The optimistic person that I am, I immediately started thinking that this issue of National Geographic would be different; that it would no longer portray Africans as tribal, backwards, naked remnants of our distant past. And then I flipped through the magazine to find the first article:
Ask someone to tell you quickly what they associate with Africa, and the answers you'll get will probably range from "cradle of humankind"and "big animals"to "poverty" and "tribalism". How did one continent come to embody such extremes? Geography and history go a long way toward providing the explanations...
No mention of how wrong these mental pictures actually are?! More page turning and elephants, zebras, and faces of starving children confronted me, not only in the articles, but also in the advertisements. I was looking for any mention of Senegal. You know: the first country in Africa to have a peaceful, democratic change of parties, the home of well known African cinematographist Ousmane Sembène, and the grounds where world renowned singer Youssou N'dour has decided to reinvest his fortune in the development of his own country. But in Senegal there are no giraffes, no rain forests, no tribal or even religious violence outbreaks, nor lots of other things people associate with Africa. So National Geographic didn't mention Senegal once.

And you wonder why Americans are so confused when it comes to talking about Africa.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Things that never happened in Senegal

While the last four months of this blog have informed you of all that I have done in Senegal, explaining my experience to you would not be complete if I didn't include a list of things that never happened. Since my time in Dakar has officially ended, this list will never change, unless of course, I return to Senegal one day, inch'allah [God willing].
  1. I never saw precipitation falling from the sky. Not once did it rain, hail, snow, spit... When they say the rainy season is from June to October, they mean it. It doesn't rain one single bit outside of those months!
  2. I never took a bus. I took plenty of Car Rapides, Ndiank Ndiayes, taxis, sept places, and tour buses, but I never took the public transport bus called Dakar Dem Dekk. Instead I walked to school and back, an hour and a half total, every day (well almost).
  3. I never wore shorts outside of going to the beach and playing soccer. I've gotten really used to wearing skirts and linen pants.
  4. I never took a hot shower (ok I took one hot shower) and I never got completely clean.
  5. I never refused to eat what was served for lunch or dinner with my host family.
  6. I never accepted to buy something for the first price, I always waaxale [bargained].
  7. I never stopped at a traffic light because none of them work.
  8. I never killed a cockroach, despite their tempting me daily.
  9. I never learned how to cook ceeb u jën
  10. I never got a sunburn, despite the fact that the sun never stopped shining.
I never had a boring day!

I landed in Colorado this morning after a 9 hour flight from Dakar to D.C. and a 3 hour flight from D.C. to Denver. While my time in Senegal may be over, I still have a lot of processing to do. Therefore, this is not the end of my blog. I'm still on malaria medications for another month and I'm sure I will be dealing with reverse culture shock for longer than that. So now that I'm back in Colorado and my summer has begun (even though it doesn't feel like summer because I am freezing my butt off here), I will be updating from time to time about my re-entry reflections and cultural clashes.

Friday, May 7, 2010

My Internship in Physical Therapy

Me and Mbay, the physical therapist extraordinaire, at Centre Talibou Dabo

Today was the last day at my physical therapy internship. Two months ago, I arrived at my internship at the Centre Talibou Dabo and was promptly given an ailing infant and told to teach him how to hold his head up on his own. It was a startling welcome into the world of physical therapy in Sénégal because without any real training as a physical therapist, I was expected to work my magic. Serving as an intern at a rehabilitation center in Sénégal has been a dream come true in many respects. It opened my eyes to the unknown world of therapy outside the West and began to answer a lot of the questions I have surrounding the intersection between rehabilitation, culture, and faith.

During my first week, my conversations with the therapists went something like this:
Therapist: You like to work with kids?
Me: Yes
Therapist: Ok. [Then goes to get a child who cannot stand up on her own due to scoliosis or polio or something else] Here is a kid for you.
Child: Screaming
Me: Oh. Um, I haven't actually started my studies to become a therapist. I'm just studying neuroscience right now. I don't know what to do.
Therapist: Oh ok. [Promptly tells mother of child to go sit back down with the crowd of people who arrived at 6 this morning in order to be treated]

Along with a few children, I also spent 30 minutes talking with a man whose hand had been paralyzed for 30 years. I was supposed to be conducting a pre-therapy assessment, in French, with a guy who spoke Wolof, but I didn't know what kind of things to assess. His hand looked pretty paralyzed, that's about as much as I could gather.

Once all of the therapists realized that I wasn't actually a practicing therapist, things got more manageable. I got to shadow two therapists, ask questions, learn vital Wolof words like siggil [sit up] and dafa metti [it hurts], and see for myself the state of therapy in Sénégal. Here is what I have surmised:
  • About 10 years ago the only physical therapist in Sénégal was the national soccer team's sports medicine dude. Now, the only physical therapy school in the country graduates about 10 students a year, most of whom are not actually Sénégalese.
  • The lack of physical therapists means that those who are qualified are always running around. The therapists I shadowed were always working on three to four patients at one time.
  • Unlike in the United States, therapy sessions are paid for entirely by the family of the patient. This means that, of the small percentage of people in Sénégal who have actually heard of physical therapy and accept it as an opportunity for their loved one with a disability to improve their condition, an even smaller percentage can actually afford paying for sessions, transportation, and materials. (I think each session costs around 20 American dollars)
  • Therapy is seen as one of the last options on a hierarchy of solutions to one's medical ailment. For many Sénégalese, you first go to a marabout or healer, then a doctor, and finally, after many years of living with the condition you might seek out a therapist.
  • Many of the patients I met over the course of my internship had hemipeligia (one side of the body paralyzed), diabeties and had to get a leg amputated, or other other conditions that developed over the course of their life. Not many patients had congenital disabilities and none of them had autism or other behavior disorders. It seems to me like only certain conditions are considered worthy of therapy in Sénégal.
  • Materials are limited and often half broken, which calls for creativity and ingenuity. Many of the patients often mentioned how they looked up therapy options in Europe and found apparatuses and therapy regimens that never would be possible for them to find here.
Despite its recent beginnings, rehabilitation in Sénégal is heading places. It was fun to be a part of the action and to talk to patients and therapists about their lives, thoughts, and conditions.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Another face to face encounter

Yesterday I innocently walked into the kitchen to fill my Colgate Nalgene with filtered water from the sink. My host mom was preparing lunch with the maid just like any other Sunday afternoon. But as I turned the faucet handle, I couldn't help but wonder what the unidentified substances were soaking in bowls of murky water. I've tried to take an "ask no questions" approach to the things that I eat because I find it easier to digest if I don't actually know where the brown sauce covered something-or-other came from. Unfortunately, this time the fact that my host mom was banging the poor creature with a wooden pestle, caused me to raise my voice above the clamour and pose the question. "Qu'est-ce que c'est?" [what is it?]

Oh, nothing but the skull of the sheep we consumed about a month ago for Easter dinner. Apparently the head has been hanging out in our freezer, waiting for the day my host mother decided to knock it's teeth out before cooking it in a peanut and palm oil sauce.

This is my second encounter with what I have endearingly coined "facemeat" in my four months here. And this time I got to see the specimen before it was cooked and became the centerpiece on our platter of millet and corn meal.

My science background confirms that there are in fact muscles on your face. I just never thought about eating them. Fortunately, this sheep hadn't been working on it's Colgate smile when it was alive, meaning that the face muscles it had developed were only sufficient to feed my host mom - Alhamdoulilahi [praise be to God]!