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!