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home in the Université Cheikh Anta Diop library but couldn't find a seat to sit down and enjoy the smell of an ancient, outdated, dusty book.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.