Friday, December 31, 2010
Merry Christmas! Despite being in a country where there is no snow and most of the population doesn’t celebrate Christmas, I actually had a pretty traditional holiday. All thanks go to the Stadtlanders! Sarah and Dirk Stadtlander are ELCA missionaries in Linguere, Senegal and it just so happens that Dirk and his parents have been a part of the Zion Lutheran Church for many years. A year ago, when going to Senegal was just a seed in my mind, I had the fortune of meeting Dirk and Sarah during one of their visits to Iowa City. They have two lovely and intelligent young girls, (Ellen 3 years and Eva 6 years) and were celebrating their Christmas with Dirk’s parents, Bob and Judy. They graciously invited me to spend the holiday with them and I willingly accepted! To the left you can see the stocking that they Judy and Sarah skillfully crafted for me so that Santa wouldn't forget that I was there! Since my family in Yoff didn’t have any plans to celebrate Christmas I felt that I wouldn’t be missing out if I left for a few days.
This was also my first time to travel within the country and transportation definitely merits a few paragraphs. I’d like to start by saying that both my trips to from Dakar to Linguere and from Linguere to Dakar were very safe and without complication! Given all the stories people had told me about the delays and roadblocks that have happened to them I was almost disappointed at my uneventful journey.
Linguere is about a six-hour drive northeast from Dakar on partially paved roads. On my way to Linguere I was able to travel with a Peace Corps volunteer (Kim) who was traveling back to her village just outside of Linguere with her mom and sister. Since she had already 8 months of living and traveling in Senegal under her belt and spoke the local language (Pular), it was a tremendous help to be with her! Kim gave me directions the night before so that we could meet at the “garage” just outside of Dakar at 7:30am to get a ride from a “Sept-place” (whatever that meant) to Linguere. I was a little surprised when the “garage” turned out to be a large sandy lot with many vehicles and people standing around, and find that a “sept-place” (English translated to seven-places) is a station wagon with a third row of seating in the back giving it “seven places” to passenger seats. As soon as I got out of the taxi at the “garage” I was swarmed by a group of 6 or 7 drivers all telling me that they had the best car and offering rates for seating. Kim was able to negotiate us a good deal (about $11 per person), but since we were only 4 people we had to wait around until the driver found 2 other travelers to pay for seats (there was one seat left empty).
All in all I would compare the experience to a semi organized carpool meet up. The car was a little crowded, but comfortable enough for the 6-hour drive. The roads themselves varied in condition- there would be a section of road about a mile long that looked like it had been paved in the past year followed by a longer section of road that was so filled with potholes that the car mostly drove with one wheel on the road and the other on the dirt shoulder making for sort of a bumpy lopsided ride. The scenery was mostly desert with sparse trees and an occasional camel. We also passed through Touba (a popular tourist destination known for having the largest Mosque and largest Market in Senegal). When we arrived at about 3:30 in Linguere Dirk came to pick us up and take us to his house!
On the way home Dirk and Sarah suggested that I take the night bus back to Dakar. They knew of several Peace Corps volunteers that had traveled that way and traveling through the night I wouldn’t have to miss out on a whole day. On Sunday Dirk’s friend offered to go to the station and buy me a ticket for the bus. As it turns out, getting a ticket early is important because if you aren’t in the first 50 people your “seat” is just a stool in the aisle of the bus (aka 6 hours of bumpy roads with no back on your seat). I was dropped off at the Bus at around 11:30pm and got settled into a nice window seat. The bus didn’t leave until about 1:00am and when it did it was packed, aisles and all! As I said, the trip was fairly uneventful. I actually slept for about half the time and I was back at the “garage” by 7am. From there I just took a cab back home.
Christmas down in Africa:
It was a pretty traditional Christmas (Christmas cookies, carols and gifts from Santa, a beautiful Christmas Eve service and plenty of relaxation). In order to have this traditional Christmas I have to thank Judy and Bob’s foresight and heavy packing! They brought back several ingredients from the US that aren’t available in Senegal including a Christmas ham!
I spent a lot of time just relaxing and having fun with Eva and Ellen, but I also got to see the Dairy Mission that Dirk and Sarah have helped develop and took part in the Christmas Eve service, led by Dirk at his perish in Linguere.
The Dairy Mission is a project developed to increase milk production by cross breeding cows. Thanks to the work they’ve done, their cows are producing about 4 times the amount of milk then they were before thus increasing the revenue for the owners and allowing them to expand their business. It was very exciting to see such a successful project.
The Christmas Eve service was really a multi-lingual and multi-cultural gathering. Because of the different languages represented, Dirk would speak in either English or French and then one of the other members would translate what he said into Pular. His sermon, which he had prepared to give in French, was actually given in English and then translated sentence by sentence into Pular. I just loved that despite all these communicative barriers we were all singing, praying and worshiping together as one!
It was such a wonderful trip and I felt so blessed to be spending Christmas with family!
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Today marks my twelfth day in Senegal! I’m still getting the hang of things and observation is still my main daily activity, but I’m feeling much more comfortable and settled in my new home. Things that seemed completely foreign when I first arrived are starting to feel more normal, like eating meals, getting around with public transit, interacting with family and showering! Let me explain:
Family meals~ Senegalese Style:
Breakfast wasn’t much of an adjustment other than the fact that Mama Africa thinks that I should be eating a whole baguette every morning. When I come downstairs (usually between 8 and 8:30) for breakfast, Fama, the maid, goes to the kitchen to get my breakfast. I felt quite uncomfortable being served at first, but Mama would insist that I let her get my breakfast. Now I usually go to the Kitchen with Fama to talk a little as she heats the tea and I grab the tray with the baguette, the butter and cloth napkin. Since there’s no table to eat at (I’ll get to that later) I eat my breakfast in the TV room and watch the news. Once I slipped out of the house to go to work without breakfast because I wasn’t really hungry and wanted to get going. Later in the day when I saw Mama Africa, she gave me a long speech about how important it is to eat a good breakfast so I don’t think I’ll be doing that again soon. I have managed however to get away with only eating half of the baguette.
Lunch (aneh) is the main meal of the day and is served at around 2 or 2:30. When the meal is ready, Fama lays a mat out on the floor, sets down a few footstools and brings out a large metal bowl to place in the middle. Once everyone is seated (women on the floor, men on the stools) large soupspoons are handed out to everyone and the meal begins. The most common meal Tiebou Dien is basically rice with a flavorful red sauce and fish and veggies. Even though everyone eats out of the same large bowl, each person has his or her own area to eat from. Its best described as if the bowl were sliced like a pizza, the slice in front of you is what you eat. At first this seemed a little strange to me, but it actually works out really well and I always have plenty of food! The other major difference about meals here is that it is not a time for conversation as it is in the US. Everyone focuses on their food and very rarely is anything said. When people feel they’ve had enough they simply put down their spoon and leave the area. After lunch is over most people relax or take a nap before going back to work or do anything else.
Dinner (reehr) is very similar to lunch in the way that it is eaten in served, but it’s usually a little smaller and its not served until 8pm at the earliest. Another thing that’s different about lunch and dinner is that you aren’t served any drinks with your meal. No water or anything.
Like I said, there was a lot to get used to when I arrived, but I was noticing today how normal it felt already to eat in silence and from my portion of the bowl. It still feels strange to just leave when other people are still eating, but I expect that will change in time as well.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
As Salaam Aleykum,
In Wolof this means “Peace be with you” and it is probably the most important phrase to know because you say it whenever you are greeting someone (whether they are in your family, your friends or a stranger on the street). Peace be with you signifies the sense of community and partnership between all people here and is just one example of the way people look after each other. Much of this stems from the fact that 95% of the population is Muslim, which permeates all facets of their lives. Senegal is truly le pays de la teranga –meaning the country of hospitality, and they never let you forget it!
I have been in Yoff for three full days now, and for such a short time I feel like I’ve experienced a years worth on new things! I have one of my host brothers (Serigne) to thank for that because he has been like my personal guide from the moment he picked me up at the airport. He speaks French very well, and seems to understand my broken sentences so communication is pretty good. He’s always telling me, “Kahti (my name in Senegalese), if there’s anything you need or any question you have you must ask me, even if it’s the middle of the night” (rough translation from French).
As I mentioned Serigne (pronounced Sereen) is just one of my many host siblings. I’m still not sure exactly who all lives here and how they’re related, but the core family that is here all the time is Mama Africa (right) and Papa, Serigne, Cissé (boy in his late 20s), Marie (daughter, 24 years old), Nadu (house maid in her 20s who is part of the family), Assane (son, 21 years old) and Mustafa (son, about 8 or 9 years old). From time to time I meet others that seem to be living here, they are mostly males in their mid 20s, but they don’t eat with the family. I guess you could think of it as a boarding house, but everyone is treated like family. Everyone speaks wolof as a first language, but depending on how far they got in school they speak French as well. As a result, I really doubt that my French will be much improved when I return, but I may have a good handle on Wolof.
The house itself has three floors. The kitchen, living room area and a few bedrooms are on the first floor. Up the stairs which are partially outdoors the second floor has some tenants and finally the third floor I have my own room and down the hall is where a few of the boys sleep. Where I live couldn’t be better situated. I’m just a five min walk from the beach, a 2 min walk from work and around the corner from where the program director (Marian) lives.
Thursday, when I arrived, I spent most of the day with my new family. In the afternoon my host siblings took me to the beach to hang out, swim and drink tea! It was so beautiful, and the water was great!In the picture from left to right is Nadu, me, ?, Marie, and in front is Cissé.
The rhythm of life:From the beat of the Tamtam in the street to the pauses for prayer and the coming together for meals, Senegal has a rhythm. Sitting in my room I can always hear a drum being played somewhere, and often you can hear a voice singing as well. I had the unique opportunity to get a sampling of all of Africa’s arts this Friday at the opening cerimonies of Africa’s third edition of the Festival Mondial des Artes Negres (FesMAN) being held here in Dakar! This is a Festival lasting till the end of December that brings in artistes, musicians and lectors from all over the World, and the opening ceremonies featured renown artists from Senegal and around the world. Friday night Serigne and I took a short bus ride to the stadium where there was free admission to the spectacle! From seven until midnight there was a mixture of music and dance, video, speakers and fireworks. Some of the artists that preformed are known worldwide (Angélique Kidjo, Youssou Ndour, Doudou Ndiaye Rose, Mahotella Queens, Minyeshu, Ismaël Lô, Baba Maal, Manu Dibango). Speakers included the president of Senegal (M. Wade), and many other presidents from African countries. It is an experience that I’ll never ever forget! To the right is a picture of one performance that included at least 500 people in traditional clothes dancing to music and a light show! To the left is a picture of Serigne in the crowd at the opening ceremonies.
Monday, December 6, 2010
After much anticipation and waiting, I'm only two days away from my departure to Senegal! Its hard to believe that in a few days everything will be so different- I'll be in summer clothing (yea!), speaking French and living and learning about a different way of life. First I'd like to say that all of this wouldn't have been possible without your support! Not only did your charitable gifts allow for my plane ticket and living expenses (most recent update below), but your words of encouragement have given me the confidence to go into this year with strength of heart and peace of mind. Thank you!
Wednesday morning I'll be driving to the Moline airport with my parents, and three flights and almost a day later I'll be arriving in Dakar, Senegal at 5:30am. Once at the airport I'll be picked up by a driver that will take me to my host family! I can't tell you how excited I am for the moment when I finally arrive at my new home and meet all the people I've only contacted by email until now.
This journey is sure to have its challenges and road blocks- some that I've anticipated and some that will come as a complete surprise. I can't wait to face them all!
Thank you again for your support! I'll be keeping you all updated as I get adjusted to my new home and work.