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]!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Status Update Style

I've have been on Facebook more during my time in Senegal than probably all of the time I've spent on this addicting website during all of my semesters at Colgate combined! So much so, that I've decided to update you on my going's on's this week Facebook style, through status updates.

Thursday, April 22: felt at home in the Université Cheikh Anta Diop library but couldn't find a seat to sit down and enjoy the smell of an ancient, outdated, dusty book. Made me thankful for the resources we have access to at Colgate!

Friday, April 23: no movie theaters in Senegal, no problem! All we needed was a Pirated Nim's Island, laptop, American bag of Kettle Corn, a room full of American and Senegalese friends, and prayers that the power would not go out.

Saturday, April 24: saw Youssou N'Dour in concert for free with 5,000 of my closest Sénégalese friends, beat that Colgate Spring Party Weekend!

Sunday, April 25: mission accomplished! Quesedilla dinner was well accepted by my family and may become the new Sunday night meal, but under the title Colleendillas, and possibly with more spices! Oh Sénégalese people and their spices...

Monday, April 26: woke up in the middle of the night with a cockroach crawling on my arm. How it got under my mosquito net, nobody knows!

Tuesday, April 27: walked 45 minutes to school, just to find out that my Islam Prof is stuck in North Carolina due to the Volcano in Iceland. Oh globalization...

Wednesday, April 28: two papers, twenty pages total, and two weeks left in Sénégal.

Thursday, April 29: whodathunk teaching English all day to Senegalese University students would be so exhausting!?

Turning 21 in Senegal

Last week was my 21st birthday. Birthdays in Senegal are not as important as they are in the United States, but all the same, I enjoyed my special day with friends, my host family, and yummy food. Highlights of the day included getting to wear my newly tailored dress (see picture above), a taxi ride to school (instead of walking for 45 minutes like every other day), Indian food for lunch with American friends, receiving mail, getting sung to in English, French, and Wolof, eating Yassa Ginaar (chicken with onion sauce) for dinner, and laughing at my host mother who insisted on trying to make me drunk (don't worry, only one cup of liqour was consumed). My favorite gift of the day: a green kettle, tiny drinking glasses, and chinese black tea - the essentials for making ataya (sugary and minty tea that is served leisurely over the course of an afternoon) back in the United States!

Here are some more pictures from my special, golden birthday.

Another newly tailored outfit: my Sénégalese boubou

Emily and I with my host family for my birthday dinner

Hanging out with my host brother, cousin, and neighbor

Monday, April 19, 2010

My Senegalese Story

"Humans naturally seek comfort and stability. Without an inciting incident that disrupts their comfort, they won't enter into a story...The character has to jump into the story, into the discomfort and the fear, otherwise the story will never happen"
~Donald Miller from A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

Disclaimer: Beware of a very long blog post. If you want to avoid my philosophical musings just read the parts in bold and enjoy the pictures.

The quote above comes from a book that I read on the five hour bus ride to and from St. Louis, Senegal (the farthest Northwest you can get in Senegal and the old capital of Francophone West Africa). One of my study abroad mates, Emily, let me borrow the book after I had been going through a couple weeks of spending my days either dreaming about colorful fabric and beautiful Senegalese clothes, or about getting on the next South African airplane to the U.S. The book is about what it means to live a good story and the combination of it being in English and being really relevant meant that I devoured it and was enlightened.

You would think that flying across the ocean and settling onto another continent where everything is blatantly different would be enough of an "inciting incident" to give my life here a story. And while these last three months contain threads of stories, they are more like random anecdotes than anything else.

For example: "One day I woke up to a battle field of cockroaches who didn't have enough force to flip themselves back onto their legs and so an army of ants took advantage of their weakness and won the battle by eating them alive."

Or: "Instead of studying for my final Oral exam in Wolof I walked to the nearest stadium with my host cousin, Momo, and his friends in order to watch the soccer match between my family's home town, Mbour, and their rival team in the championship game. In the middle of the second half, with the score still 0-0, the power went out and the stadium went dark. Momo blamed the outage on a conniving rival team hoping for an excuse to regroup and I blamed it on the electricity monopoly Senelec, who schedules power outages around the city in order to save money. In the end our team lost and we went home."

Wolof class with our professor Sidy

I have encountered very few cultural adjustment difficulties in the time that I have been here, but you can't move to a new culture and not experience conflict, even though I thought I was immune. I criticized those who made themselves an American bubble and convinced myself that I was integrating. But I am especially talented in finding comfort bubbles too, mine just look different. I tell myself, I'm living in a new culture that I know nothing about, so instead of making myself vulnerable and allowing myself to make mistakes, I turn my life off. I became a hidden camera, my ears perked, my eyes peeled, my energy allotted to cultural analysis. I don't like conflict, I don't like to be wrong, and so I waited and watched, and mimicked others, following them in their shadows.

But then the "inciting incident" was written into my cultural story. When I was in Thiès over spring break, my wallet was stolen along with some money and my driver's license. I won't go into the details of the circumstances, but I will say that my stolen wallet finally launched me into a Senegalese Story. I found myself feeling exposed, identity-less, afraid, on the verge of tears, and homesick all at the same time. Beautiful fabric and flying home apparently became the images my mind conjured up in order to numb the discomfort agitating my soul.

Thankfully my passport was not stolen, but the absence of my wallet and my license got me thinking about what it means for me to communicate my identity to people here. It's not as easy as showing them my identity card to explain my existence. And the funny thing is I actually did that with some college students at Université Cheikh Anta Diop one time before my license was stolen. For people to know who I am here, conversation isn't even sufficient. I tried that too, but telling people here about who I am in the U.S. is impossible because life is so infused with cultural subtleties. In order for people to understand me and in order for me to understand them, we have to live together. We have to not be afraid to express ourselves, we have to share life's adventures, we have to go through things together, and still remember that we are both humans. That takes effort but it leads to adventure.

The more in Senegal I push against the river of my life that wants to flow in a certain direction, the harder the force of the river becomes. And if I am strong (or stubborn) enough to build myself a dam, that flowing river of life becomes a stagnant lake of limbo; until one day forces greater than mine caused a torrential downpour of circumstances. There I was soaking in the sun, enjoying my artificial lake that made my artificial life possible, when light turned to obscurity. Thief, lack of normal schedule, little sleep, a holiday far from home, and frustrations in explaining my identity were the drops of rain that overflowed my lake and broke my dam. I was trying to write my own story, and it was getting really boring; until the author of my life made it clear to me that the story I was living was not the story He was writing. My Senegalese Story was only going to get interesting if I took the courage to live in the culture instead of just observing it. I may not know how to live according to my Senegalese neighbors, but if I don’t even try living the way my culture has taught me, I will never learn the workings of another culture’s way of life.

So I got off the bus on the island of beautiful, historic, colonial-influenced St. Louis and was ready to live a new story.

This is how it went:

In between tourist attractions such as riding a horse cart around the island

playing traditional Senegalese instruments including the Kora and the Mellophone

watching Wolof skits

visiting a bird sanctuary

and paying way too much for way too little food, I sought out the St. Louisians.

First it was a stop at the local market, greetings in Wolof, staring at beautiful fabric (I truly am mesmerized), and attempting to bargain down the prices.

Despite my functional Wolof skills, the overly touristic St. Louis atmosphere posed a major barrier for a Toubab wishing to obtain a Senegalese price. I tried hard and spent twenty minutes with vendors asking them about themselves and about the fabrics, nodding knowingly even if the Wolof didn’t entirely make sense. I came away with a better understanding of who the vendor was, but the price of the fabric never lowered: on to the next shop in the market to repeat the process.

Finally, I came across 5 yards of beautiful Mauritanian cotton that was soft to the touch and the perfect pattern for a dress I had drawn earlier in the semester. I got the price down a little and seized the opportunity to buy it. Another walk around the market and I gathered up the courage to converse with the tailors who were busy sewing beautiful boubous for their Senegalese clients. I want to make a patchwork quilt with all of the colorful Wax and Cwep fabric that people wear here and in order for that to happen I needed to ask some tailors for their scraps. I struck a deal with a tall tailor who told me to call him the next day in order to give him time to assemble some scraps for me. Finally, I decided to bring my newly bought fabric and dress sketch to another tailor later the first night. Measurements were taken, the price discussed, and I was told to return the next night for my St. Louis souvenir.

The dress is a reminder of all of the adventures that can happen in one day if I spend the extra energy dwelling in uncomfortable places and push aside the fear of acting “aka toubabe” [like the quintessential Toubab tourist]. And to end the weekend, I wore it to my first Night Club and danced the night away until 3 am to a mixture of Senegalese mbalax, American hits, and the ever popular Romanian Nouma Nouma alongside and surrounded by St. Louisians.

Had I been the author of this story, none of this would have ever happened.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Spring Break Adventures

I have been quite busy the last week here in Sénégal trying to squeeze every last ounce of juice from my spring break. It all started early last Saturday morning with three other American friends, Emily, Claire, and Alex, in the back of a Taxi on our way to the Gare Routier. We had to leave early in order to avoid the traffic out of Dakar that is caused by a four lane highway being reduced to one lane in one of the poorer suburbs of the city. We still got stuck in traffic, but instead of being smushed in a sept places, we shared a mini-bus with twenty five of our new closest friends all the way to Kebemer about five hours away. I kind of like the traffic, though, because a drive-thru market takes place every day in this stand-still, bottleneck mess where you can buy anything from sunglasses, to the newspaper, to markers by just rolling down your window and bargaining with the nearest seller.
We reached Kebemer and were welcomed by a hot wind accompanied with temperatures over 100 F. I tactfully applied sunscreen on the side of the road and invested in another 1.5 liters of bottled water. We spent about $1.50 for a dish of rice and mafé (peanut sauce drenched meat) and tried to hide from the heat. Then we took a bush taxi thirty minutes west toward the ocean in order to meet our 4x4 (sounds like cat cat in french) driver who drove us into the Lompoul desert, which was surprisingly like 20 degrees cooler than Kebemer.

We were greeted in the desert by Bedouin tents, sand dunes, and the sound of the waves hitting the shore in the distance. It was such a beautiful place!

The sand dune that towered over our tents beckoned us to climb it and get a better view of our surroundings. Once at the top, the only appropriate thing to do was to jump off!

After frolicking in the sand and watching a large French tour group settle into their tents from our perch at the summit of our sand dune, we slid down the hill to meet our evening ride, a train of camels, frothing at the mouth.
The camel ride was followed by dancing by starlight to a djembe band. The four of us knew what to do the minute we heard the mbalax rhythm start, however the French tour group just sat on their benches and watched the dancing from a distance. I've never danced so hard in my life. Our dinner of vegetable soup, couscous, meat, and watermelon was a welcoming feast and after dinner we retired to our tents and slept peacefully to the sound of the nearby ocean.

The next morning, we worked our way back out of the desert accompanied by two newly made Swedish friends and took a Sept Places from Kebemer to Thiès, where Emily and I spent the rest of the week.

Emily and I spent the rest of the week with a Missionary who has been working in Sénégal for over 30 years! She was a great host and treated us to American food, conversations in English, introduced us to a lot of people doing a lot of great work here, and answered our plethora of questions about what it is like to be a missionary in Sénégal.

We spent each morning working at a hospital run by a Sénégalese Missions organization and started by a local church as a clinic over ten years ago. I shadowed some of the doctors and nurses and aided in about fifteen gastroscopes that were only conducted under general anesthesia. There are a lot of differences between medicine here and in the U.S.!
Below is a picture of the doctor I spent most of my time shadowing. He is holding the scope that we used to image the inside of a patient's intestinal tract. I even helped him perform a biopsy of a tumor in the stomach. During another one of our intestinal explorations the power kept going on and off, making it quite difficult to correctly conduct the exam. This is the room I spent the most of my time working in, and despite the beckoning and taunting of the broken air-conditioning machine above the window, the room was boiling hot! I drank something like 3 liters of water every day and most of that water left my body through my forehead, which had drops of sweat blurring my vision every five seconds.
Patients in Sénégal are very, well, patient! We would arrive every morning at the hospital around 8 and already there were people lining the hallways waiting to be seen by one of the doctors. The last day we were there the hospital was conducting a screening for a cleft lip/palate and the hospital was filled with mothers and their children who came from far and wide to be eligible for a free reparative surgery.

In the afternoons, Emily and I explored some of Thiès and the surrounding area. We spent one afternoon in Saly, a highly tourist town that sickened me by its screaming disparity between the rich, mostly French condo owners and their poor, exploited Sénégalese neighbors. All over new two story "huts" with air conditioning, full service maids, constant electricity, hot water, pools, and luscious gardens were being built. It seemed so fake and sad.

Another day Emily and I went to a market in Thiès with the tailor to buy fabric for some skirts. Three days later we were the proud owners of matching skirts that only cost $6 each thanks to our bargaining skills and the help of our host's 34 years of Wolof!

Finally, Emily and I headed back to Dakar to celebrate Easter with our families. I haven't looked at school work in over a week, and it feels like I haven't had class for a month. This past week was full of new adventures, feelings, and people, but I am definitely ready for classes to start tomorrow and to pick up my normal schedule.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter

Happy Easter from Sénégal. I celebrated here with my host family by going to a three hour Mass Saturday night and into Sunday morning. Here we are early Easter day (about 2 am) in our Easter best! He is Risen!

Left to right: Me, Momo, Therèse, Rosa, Pierre, Maman

Me with Tonton maman (my maternal uncle)

Ndeye and Maman cooking ceeb [rice] in a big pot over a fire
that we ate for Easter dinner with sheep and onion sauce

Today was also Independence day and Sénégal celebrated 50 years of Independence from France with the inauguration of the Statue of the Renaissance, a grand parade, and a traditional wrestling match.

The most infamous, the most controversial, and the tallest statue in the world

Friday, April 2, 2010

That's development for you

The other day I was talking to my host Uncle at breakfast about the Columbine Shootings that took place in Colorado when I was in third grade. It seems like a strange thing to be talking about, but my Uncle knew exactly what happened because the news about this horrific event traveled around the world. He said he could never picture that happening in Sénégal and offhandedly commented, "Well that's development for you." As I walked to my internship after that short conversation I started thinking: in pushing blindly towards developing "third world countries" or the "global South" or whatever else you want to call them, are we thinking about what we want to achieve? Development has become an endeavor of the blind and corrupt leading the blind and corrupt. Sure, eliminating the electricity monopoly in Sénégal that leads to frequent and counterproductive power outages and increasing literacy rates is definitely something to strive for, but let's just make sure high school shootings and other first world country maladies don't come along in the package deal. Nobody has it all figured out, so maybe it isn't always the best idea for the countries "moving towards development" to look up to their big brothers and sisters and strive to be exactly like them. Maybe there is another model that nobody has figured out yet that would decrease wealth disparity, increase education, and eliminate diseases...

I sure hope school shootings aren't in Sénégal's future, they don't need that kind of development.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Community Mindset

In the United States we say "Time is money" and we talk about "losing time" as if it has some sort of power over us. In Senegal they say "time is us" signifying a synergistic fusion between what the West often views as competing forces. This also points to a subtle but overwhelming difference between my world view and that of my Senegalese friends: individualism vs communalism. To illustrate here are some examples:
  • In the English class I am teaching we asked students to make acrostics with their names to describe themselves. Instead of explaining how each adjective related to who they were, every student related the adjective to how their community works. "In Senegal we like to show people Hospitality" "Senegalese people like Soccer" "I choose the word Patriotic because we like to show patriotism to our country"...
  • When talking about Senegal's Independence day, of which the 50 year mark will be celebrated on April 4th, my friends never gave personal answers about what this day means to them. Instead they talked about how their country really isn't Independent because it relies on France and other countries still for aid in this Neocolonial age. And when we talked about at what age a Senegalese individual gains their independence, the concept seemed non-applicable.
  • My French African Lit professor likes to tell us about how Senegalese people are always considered children when they are around their mother. He has recounted to us more than once a story about how he laid his head in his mother's lap as a grown, newlywed man because the family ties are that important
  • In a recent paper that I wrote for class on development, I said that students need to be taught critical thinking skills at school and University in order to own the legislation and initiatives that seek to improve the country's development. A day after turning the paper in, it dawned on me that kids here develop critical thinking skills at home in the debates they have over ataya (black mint tea with lots of sugar) with their family and friends. Voilà individaul world view slapped in the face with community world view workings.
  • Yesterday at a friend's house I noticed how often the conversation turned to comparing the people in the room to each other. "This one is the fattest" "This one speaks French/Wolof the best" "This one has the most energy" "This one is lively" "This one is reserved and timid" "This one dances the best"... Such talk would be rude and is taboo in the U.S. but I guess because its understood that we are already in community, its ok to point out what the strengths and weaknesses are of each person so that the community supports each other most effectively. I think a Senegalese acquantance (not to mention an aspiring professional basketball player) made a better, truthful evaluation of my personality after knowing me for three hours than any Myer's-Brigg's test ever could.
So what does this difference mean? For me, it means that there will always be an underlying difference in world view that guides our actions, words, and reactions between me and those who grew up in Senegal. For development initiatives and foreign aid groups it means that solutions and initiatives need to be formed with a community mindset as their foundation. For the modernization of the country it means technology and laws are going to be applied differently here than they are in an Individual based society. For anyone experiencing a collision between the two, it means refraining from placing value on one way of life more than the other.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Decolonizing African Research

Today in my Gender and Development class we took a field trip to AAWORD (Association of African Women for Research and Development) which is an organization that was formed by African women in order to "decolonize" the research that is often conducted by Western researchers, funded by Western sources, and reflects Western values in its analysis, thus perpetuating the coloniser influence on African development. We met with a women who works for the organization and were able to ask her many questions about their work and where it has lead them. What stuck out the most to me though was the recurrent problem I have noticed here about the dissemination of information. The research that AAWORD and other African based organizations are conducting is really quality literature. But as I have experienced at Colgate University, it is really difficult to find research articles that are written by people who originate from the communities they study and therefore understand the hidden dynamics, values, and desires of the people they are researching. This is the kind of research that when applied will benefit the recipients the most, but it is hard to find these resources outside of the area in which they were written. We recieved many publications and anthologies of the research conducted by AAWORD today and I felt like I was in heaven in their library full of local knowledge.

I want to share that wealth with the rest of you by directing you to AAWORD's website where you can find PDFs of a lot of their work. Another great website I learned about since being here is CODESRIA's website (Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa). Both of them provide lots of valuable information. I encourage you to check them out and to pass the word on to others who you think might be interested.

Click the links below to be directed to the document centers:

Sunday, March 21, 2010

La Lutte Traditionnelle

Today was like Super Bowl Sunday in Dakar, minus the commercials and halftime show. The traditional wrestling match that people have been waiting for months for finally took place between Modou Lô and Balla Gaye 2.

Balla Gaye 2

Modou Lô

Au centre
As I walked home from church this morning, I passed by many Transport en Commun and Ndiang Ndiaye buses filled with die hard fans, singing, shouting, and waving flags en route to the stadium six to seven hours before the match was to begin. I spared my life and decided to watch the fight from the family room with my brothers, sisters, cousins, mom, and uncle. The ceremonies leading up to the fight took hours while the fight lasted only a few seconds. Balla Gaye 2 won the match, much to my friend Emily's chagrin, who has taken to calling Modou Lô her Sénégalese husband to combat the constant inquiries we receive about whether we have a husband. Some weekend soon I plan on going to a lutte and then I will share in detail about the complexities of the spectacle. Until then, enjoy the music video by Viviane Ndour called "Sama Champion" that talks about her life as the wife of a grand lutteur (famous wrestler). It should give you a hint into what this Sénégalese past time is all about, even if the music was taken from Whitney Houston's song "I have nothing". And apparently my Uncle knows Viviane Ndour: he says the first time she held I microphone to sing was at his family's house in Mbour when she was six years old!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

What I do all week

Yeah, I know, I've kept you all in the dark so far about my schedule here. That is because it has taken a very long time to actually finalize it. I had to be very patient, but I finally got an internship and no longer twiddle my thumbs four days out of the week! So here you go:

  • Three hours of church in the morning at an Assemblies of God church that I walk to with my friend Emily
  • Lunch with my host family around 4pm, yeah it's really late
  • Hang out, maybe do some homework, if I have any
  • The best dinner in the entire week, Thiakry (yogurt and millet)
  • Morning internship at Centre Talibou Dabo, a school for kids with physical disabilities. I am working with the physical and occupational therapists there to see how rehabilatative medicine works in this country.
  • Lunch at home with my cousin, Momo
  • Hang out the rest of the day
  • 9-12 Islam in Senegal class taught in French by a Senegalese professor at WARC with other American students (like all of my classes)
  • 3-5 Wolof class
  • 9-12 Gender and Development class
  • 3-6 French African Literature class
  • 7-9 Play soccer with a group of Senegalese guys at the American Club, if I have enough energy left
  • 10-12 Teach an English conversation class with Emily at the English Resource Center for University students majoring in English
  • 1-3 Wolof class
  • Morning internship at Centre Talibou Dabo
  • Lunch at home
  • 6-8 Play soccer
  • Explore Senegal!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Questions I'm Ruminating On

The trip I took to Toubacouta (a 6 to 7 hour bus ride from Dakar depending on the traffic) two weekends ago was quite a contrast from my life here in Dakar. Due the hyper concentrated cultural submersion I experienced while watching traditional wrestling, learning how to dance local steps such as the ceeb u gen and the ginaar, and passing 24 hours in a village with a host family, I've started to think a lot about what my time in Sénégal means to me. This has lead to many questions that I am only beginning to explore the answers to:

The American stereotype of Africa consists of villages of people living as large families in huts with no running water, no electricity, children dressed in rags with stomachs distended, animistic rituals, and women breastfeeding their infants in public with no shame. These stereotypes are used to pity Africans, to make ourselves superior, or to incite people to help a continent in need. The Sénégalese I know in Dakar do not conform to this picture. My time in the village, however, was very similar to the tropes Americans have, with some important differences; cell phone coverage was wonderful, my family's compound of five huts was equiped with a solar pannel to provide electricity, and everyone in my family was Muslim.
  • But how do I reconcile the fact that so many stereotypes appeared on the surface to be true?
  • Maybe the motivation for perpetuating these stereotypes among Americans is what differs from my discovery of the "reality"?
  • Did my beginner's knowledge of Wolof reveal a more accurate picture of what my family in the village's life is like?
  • Was I more keen at observing the reality of certain stereotypes because of my conditioned mindset and expectations to see these things? Did this blind me to other cultural aspects that a villager might value more than the American's obsession with naked African women and a "more simple lifestyle"?
  • How do I portray what I experienced without adding to the stereotypes that objectify the people that opened their house and hearts to me?
  • What does it look like to improve a villager's quality of life by providing nutrients, schools, and medical supplies without opperating on stereotypes or exercising power over a community?
  • What is the difference between modernization and Westernization?
Other questions surfaced about my own identity as a white woman. Everywhere our bus went, we drew stares and people waved to us on the street. One of my friends called the bus a cultural bubble; a very accurate depiction of the twenty some white people in an air conditioned bus, speaking English, listening to ipods, and recounting stories about our cultural misencounters driving through the Senegal countryside dodging potholes, passing through villages during Friday prayer hour, and following the West African coastline in search of the green mangrove forrests that welcomed us to Toubacouta (sorry if I'm adding to your stereotypes). I was reluctant to take iconic, national geographic pictures of my host family in the village, but at the same time, my host brother snapped photos of his white guest with a 35 mm camera and his newly bought touch screen cell phone, in which my photograph became his wallpaper. He also proposed to me after finding out that I have no husband nor boyfriend and I left with a ring that he took off of his finger and gave to me.
  • Why does the color of my skin mean I merit special attention?
  • I will always be an outsider, always be visibly different here, so how do I reconcile my physical differences with my desire to truly understand and fit into the culture here?
  • How do I respect a culture without denouncing the culture I grew up in?
I could go on and list a lot more questions for you, my head is full of them. But instead I leave you with one overarching question that I had to respond to in a four page paper written in French for my Gender and Development class. What is the best link between women, power, and knowledge to promote development in Sénégal? After writing my paper, I still have no clue.

This culture thing is just so confusing and complicated...but interesting and intellectually stimulating nonetheless.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Toubacouta Kodak Moments

I spent the last four days in Toubacouta and the surrounding area with 16 other students. Our days were packed with travel, dancing, eating, and meeting locals. I have a lot to reflect on from my experience and will write more in the coming days. Until then, here are some pictures to enjoy from my time.

Professor Sène (the director of WARC) had us over to his compound in Sokone for lunch and dancing while we were en route to Toubacouta.

We spent a day and slept over with families in Keur Moussa Sény.
My host sister Awa saw my hair and was determined to braid it.

Delicious diner in Keur Moussa Sény
Freshly killed chicken (including the heart I ate) over a bed of lettuce, with a savory mustard vinagrette. I helped the preparation by chopping the onions, crying like a baby, and finally was promoted to the ever important job of holding the radio just right to get a good station signal.

Boubacar's bread baby

Keur Bah: My host compound
Complete with Mango tree, super friendly host siblings, and many hours of staring back and forth at each other because I don't understand Wolof very well

Visit of the mangroves in "little Cassamance"

Djembe and Dance lessons

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Transportation and Bargaining

This week in my Wolof class we learned some vital vocabulary related to bargaining. Yesterday, I put that vocabulary to the test. After my Gender and Development class a group of friends and I took a taxi to a Nigerian "restaurant" to celebrate my Nigerian friend's birthday. (Restaurant has been placed in quotes because if you didn't know that it was supposed to be a restaurant, you would have never guessed that such delicious food would be served as you sat at a wooden table covered in a plastic table cloth decorated with sheep.) After the meal, Claire and I had to return to WARC for our African Literature course. Before reaching the road, a taxi found us, honking in order to signal that he desired to take us somewhere. Instead of giving him the lowered finger wag (an important gesture to learn here that means: no-I-don't-want-a-taxi-right-now-I-want-to-walk-thank-you-very-much) we walked up to the rolled down window and offered him our greetings.

Us: Asalaam Maalekuum
Taxi man: Maalekum Salaam
Us: Nanga def? [How are you]
Taxi man: Maangi fi. [I am here]
Us: Naata dem fii ba Fann Residence? [How much to go to Fann Residence?]
Taxi man: 1500 CFA [3 dollars]
Us: 1500! Jafe na, etudiant lanu. Wanni ko. [3 dollars! That's expensive, we are students. Lower it.]
Taxi man: Naata men ngeen fay? [How much can you pay?]
Us: 600 rekk [1.25 only]

And thus began the task of bargaining down the price. With this first guy, we got it down to 900 CFA, but we wanted better. We were set to pay 800 rekk and not one cent more than that. Well, apparently if you add the word rekk to the end of the price, the taxi man takes you really seriously. Too seriously, because the first guy pulled away in disgust, probably thinking "these toubabs here think they can speak Wolof and get away with a local price, but I'm not buying it".

A bit surprised at the fact that the taxi man pulled away, we continued down the street waiting for the next taxi to wave down. "No problem, we still have an hour to get to WARC, and taxis are certainly not an endangered species in Dakar." The next taxi man wouldn't go below 1000 CFA and pulled away in disgust like the first. The third one informed us that he didn't have time to bargain a price, he was in a hurry!

"What?! A Senegalese man who didn't want to bargain, and who had somewhere to get to quickly? Now that is an endangered species," I thought to myself. Apparently, however, I was mistaken because as I looked around, I saw men rolling out their prayer mats and washing their feet, hands, and face with their colorful washing kettles; they were preparing for the 2 pm prayer. Then it made sense, earning an additional 1000 CFA by wasting time bargaining over a price was not as important to that chauffeur as was spending time in prayer. It was a good reminder of one's priorities in life.

After conducting the above conversation with about eight taxi men we finally gave in to our ideal price and settled for 1000 CFA. We were kindly greeted by a "Hello, how are you" from our chauffeur who was eager to share the English he knew with some Toubabs trying to speak Wolof. We settled in for a ride along the corniche (the road that follows the ocean) and were ready to give directions to WARC if the taxi man needed them. (There aren't really street names or building numbers here and the taxi men do not know how to get anywhere in the city, like in New York. Instead, they rely on their customers to actually know where they are going.)

Even though the first taxi man offered us the best price, the practice of talking to eight different taxis definitely helped our competence in bargaining. As we head to Toubacouta for four days this weekend on a class field trip, I will be sure to keep some helpful phrases in mind if I want to bargain for anything, or if I am required to turn down buying more wooden elephants.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Pictures from Joal-Fadiouth

To accompany my previous post, here are some of my favorite pictures from Joal and Fadiouth.

In the sept places on the way to Joal

The Women's Cultural Center in Joal

Senghor's childhood home

The Baobab in Senghor's backyard that the women sacrificed to daily. Now Jesus' portrait graces the tree.

Horse cart shadows on our ride from Fadiouth into the Baobab forest

Horse carts are a lot easier to drive than cars in this kind of terrain

Approaching the biggest Baobab tree in Senegal

Inside the Baobab with my travel mates

Sunset over the Baobab forest

Full bars of service!

Back in Fadiouth

Sunset over Joal

Fadiouth from the cemetery

The cemetery with the millet storage huts in the background

Baobabs everywhere, even in the cemetery made of seashells

A view of the mosque on the island

Fadiouth at dusk

Me on the bridge to Fadiouth

On the road back to Dakar