dimanche 5 avril 2009

Spring Break 09: Guinea Dipping

I know I've been promising a Spring Break post, but I'm honestly too overwhelmed to attempt an explanation of the experience. I'll give you the bare bones: 6 friends and I decided to go to Guinea. To cross the border, we took a truck filled with about 60 people and a lot of cargo. This truck was traveling on the worst excuse for a road you can imagine, and we spent a lot of time walking alongside it. The truck journey took 2 1/2 days.

Here are some pictures of the truck.
Once we made it to Guinea we stayed in some great little towns, met some wonderful people, and visited an amazing 3-tiered waterfall. We also had roughly 30 vehicle breakdowns, several dehydration scares, and a LOT of group bonding sessions.

Here is one of the Chutes de Kambadaga.

It was an incredible experience, and I wouldn't trade it for the world, but I won't likely be doing it again. It was truly an adventure of a lifetime. This is a picture of what I looked like at the end of the trip. And yes, those are the real colors, that's how dirty I was.

I tried to post a link to the photos I posted on facebook, but if you're not on fb I have to email it to you, I can't put it on the blog. So if you want to see them all, just shoot me an email and I'll send you the link. The photos tell the story much better than I can in words.

Today I'm off to my rural visit in the Sine-Saloum Delta. One other girl, Holly Anne, and I be living and working with an NGO that does environmental projects and eco-tourism, which should be really interesting. And I promise that when I post about this trip, it will be more in depth than the Spring Break post.

Love to you all!

dimanche 29 mars 2009

The Josephs in Senegal!


So much has happened since that last little post! I've been very busy the past few weeks, starting with 10 days of travel through Senegal and Guinea and immediately followed by 12 spent traveling with my family and showing them around the city. After being spoiled for the last week and a half I hope I don't have too much trouble re-adjusting to my non-tourist life in Dakar--no more hot showers, western food, or wine with dinner; really I'll be living without life's basic necessities. Somehow I think I'll survive.

Tackling the spring break trip seems like a bit of a chore for the moment, so I'll save it for the next post and tell you about the visit from my family. They arrived in Dakar about 8 hours after I did, last Sunday morning, and we spent the first 4 days in Dakar, settling in and exploring the city. I unfortunately had class a few days, but they managed without me sans any major incidents. We had dinner and lunch with my host family, which was really fun. For lunch we had ceebu jen, the national dish of fish and rice, and they learned how to manger à la sénégalaise, sitting on the floor and eating out of a common dish.

Having them here made me realize how much I've adjusted and become accustomed to life here. The first day, they couldn't get over how many goats were running around, the horse- and donkey-drawn carts, the disrepair of every vehicle we got into, the ground layer of trash everywhere you look, and the pervasive poverty that is in such contrast to our lives in the US. Living in the city, even for as short a time as I have, it is impossible not to become desensitized to these sights, so i was grateful to have them serve as fresh eyes. Showing them the city and the country also gave me the opportunity to reflect more on life here in general--kind of a chance to stop and think about what I do and see and experience every day rather than just going through my daily routine. While we were out exploring we met other travelers who had some interesting insights into their experiences as well, including a wonderful French couple and a Canadian who is researching tourism and Senegal's economy for her MBA project. One night at the hotel we were invited to have attaya (Senegalese tea) with one of the waiters there, Abdoulaye, who gave us his views on life in Senegal. I learned almost as much as my family from this conversation and others, with my host family, or with guides we met on our trip--they were perspectives that I wouldn't necessarily have heard on my own.

In Dakar, my family stayed at a little hotel on the beach on the north side of the city (with hot water and everything!!!), which, for them, was a great mid-winter break from northwest weather. After spending a few days in the city, we headed south to Palmarin, in the Sine-Saloum Delta, which is known for its natural beauty and birdlife. We stayed in an amazing little eco-hotel that housed its guests in upscale huts, tree houses in baobabs, and huts on stilts in the water. They also had fabulous food--probably the best I've eaten in Senegal. Our preferred modes of transportation there were boat and horse-drawn cart; we went on a pirogue ride through the delta, where we say lots of cool birds and ate oysters that grew on the roots of the mangroves, then rode through the countryside and the beach on a horse-drawn cart, stopping to drink some freshly harvested palm juice.
Our guide, Thomas, harvesting the oysters
Riding in the horse cart along the beach
Palm wine harvester
Drinking the fruits of his labor

Though we were disappointed to leave our delightful surroundings in Palmarin, we soon headed up the coast to La Somone, a beach town on the Petite Cote. It is just north of Saly, a disgustingly commercialized beach town covered with huge hotels, nightclubs, and white people. La Somone was by no means undiscovered, but the tourism was a bit more low key than it was a few miles south. There we lounged on the beach and took a little side trip to the Reserve de Bandia, a wildlife reserve where you basically go on a mini safari. Its kind of zoo-like, since many of the animal species have been imported from other places in Africa and aren't native to Senegal, but it was still really fun to see giraffes, monkeys, rhinos, and crocodiles in the "wild."

After La Somone, we put away our beach gear and continued north to the Lompoul desert. Just a couple hours north of Dakar, near the coast, there are miles and miles of sand dunes and a little campement to stay in. After wandering in the sand, riding camels, playing drums, and showing off our dance moves, we retired to Mauritanian tents nestled in the dunes. It was a very fun experience, and we even got some drumming lessons from the young group that ran the campement--though they gave up on Alison after a while.

The tents
Exploring the desert by camel!
Learning to drum!

After our travels we returned to Dakar; I went back to class, we saw a bit more of the city, and the family caught their last rays of sun--hopefully enough to last them the rest of the gray season at home. (Side note: it boggles my mind to think that there is actually still snow and freezing temperatures at home--I kind of figured that the snow disappeared when I left.) Having the family here also gave me the opportunity to gloat about being more tan than my sisters for the first time ever. See, there are some pretty sweet benefits to living in Africa.

So now it is back to reality for me--I have a full day of classes ahead of me tomorrow! But I promise the spring break post soon. I hope all is well wherever you may be, and be sure to keep in touch!!!

mercredi 4 mars 2009

Spring Break 09! Woooo!!!

Just a quick update to let you know I'm headed off to Guinea tomorrow! Spring break is next week and we plan on spending it wandering around southeastern Senegal and the Fouta Djalon region of Guinea. Actually, that's about all the "plans" we have--we're going to wing most of it, so it will be quite the adventure. I'll be back in Dakar next Saturday, and then my family arrives the next day, so I'll be busy with them for the next week and a half.
I guess this is all to say... sorry, but don't expect a post from me for a while :)

Ba beneen, inshallah!

vendredi 27 février 2009

Well surprise, surprise, a few weeks have gone by without a post. Oops! But don't tell me you weren't expecting this type of delay from me. All is well in Senegal! I just got back from a weekend excursion with the program to Toubab Dialou, a charming little beach town south of Dakar. It was really great to get out of the city for a bit, and super fun to be with everyone on the program in a non-class setting. I had been sick for a few days before, and the trip was a fabulous departure from being bedridden.

We left Saturday morning and arrived around noon, with just enough time to explore the little resort and the beach before lunch. Our accommodations were quite lovely, everything was made of stone with seashell, glass, and mosaic accents and flowers everywhere. After lunch it was time for more beach, where I proceeded to get a nice sunburn and pick up about 10 hilarious local kids who hung around with us for the rest of the afternoon.
Everyone on the program had the option of either batik, drumming, or dance sessions, and since I'd already batiked and my sense of rhythm is horrifying, I went for the dance. Also, I'd heard that the dancers would be performing later that night and you know I never miss a chance for public embarrassment. The dance class was really fun and we learned a great little routine--it was no Beyoncé, but hey, this is Senegal.
After dinner that night the resort put on a little show for its guests with traditional drumming and dancing. Clearly because of my expertise of the art form, my dance skills were showcased prominently during the student exposition section.
When it was finally time to return to Dakar, we packed into our buses and tucked in for the ride. We had conveniently brought ipod speakers, so we spent the 2 1/2 hours on the road belting out the classic tunes of Celine Dion, ABBA, and Journey as the countryside rolled by. By "we," I mostly mean me, and by "countryside rolled by" I mean the rest of the bus was embarrassed by how many lyrics I knew.

Anyways, it was a great weekend, and I have more travels coming up that I will (hopefully) blog about soon. I'm headed to the desert tomorrow, and in a week I'm going on spring break to the mountains in Guinea!

samedi 7 février 2009

3 weeks in...

Tomorrow marks 3 official weeks in Dakar. So much has happened! I wrote this post a week ago so its a little outdated but i'm putting it up anyway. And I figured out how to add pictures--get excited!

I am really enjoying the adventure of life here, and it is quite an adventure. I still feel a little nervous just walking down the street, wondering if I should greet more or less people, or if I'm saying hi to the right ones. I still worry if someone is following me and get annoyed by the psssting sounds that often follow women (especially toubabs) around here. I feel more and more comfortable every day, though, so i'm on the right path.

The last two weeks have been busy. Our first official classes started last Monday, so we got a taste of what our schedules will be like for the semester. I have class from 9 am to 6:30 pm on Mondays and Wednesdays (!!!), but only one class Tuesday morning and none on Thursday and Friday. I will be working an internship Thursdays, but I'm not sure where yet, so for now I have four day weekends!

Last Thursday the school had arranged a Sabar demonstration, which is traditional drumming and the dancing that accompanies it. I found out, in one of my rather frequent the-world-is-small moments, that the lead drummer taught drumming at MIT, literally right down the street from Tufts. It was really fun to watch them and pretty hilarious to watch all the toubabs try to dance to the drums. A bunch of the Suffolk students were there and they could actually dance--they tried to teach us but there is just something in our white American genes that doesn't coincide with the moves here.

We planned on going to a concert that night and I had (foolishly) volunteered to go downtown and pick up tickets for people. After a slightly harrowing walk through the market (i was only minorly assaulted, no big deal) and a few hours later, we headed back to school with 28 tickets.

That night we took a taxi to the concert, and a few blocks before arriving, our driver decided to take animal control into his own hands, running over 2 cats laying in the middle of the road. This might be too much information, but i felt them hit the bottom of the car under my feet. The four of us in the car just looked at each other in disbelief...did that really just happen??? It's true that there are wayyy to many stray cats in Dakar, but it seemed a little excessive. If our driver continues around town like that, the numbers are bound to plummet.

Regardless of the incidents leading up to the event, the concert itself was fabulous. The performer was Cheikh Lo, a Senegalese singer who, when asked what genre of music he plays, responds "la musique." It was a great show, and you can all check him out here: http://www.myspace.com/cheikhloofficial . He had the longest dreads i've ever seen, and he was wearing quite the get-up, which included a safari hat, long black coat, and a belted dress of some sort. He also had some crazy Senegalese dancers on stage that were really fun to watch.

A group of us had decided to go on a day trip the next day to Lac Rose, which is literally a pink lake. Hayley's brother made arrangements for a quatorze-place, or a 14 person mini-bus, but somehow the group expanded, and we crammed 18 people in for the 2 hour ride.

From a distance, the lake didn't look pink at all. But it was only the angle, and when we got closer we could see the color, which was a brownish-orangey pink, not quite the lovely pastel they display on the postcards. It is still pretty cool to see though.

The lake is pink because of a combination of the high salinity of the lake and some other minerals in the water. It is also very shallow, and local workers harvest the salt by standing in the water and digging it up with shovels.

We drove past a few deserted hotels and some souvenir huts to the other side of the lake, where the salt harvesters work. We got out and dipped our feet in, and a few of us decided to go out on the water in a little pirogue. After checking to see if he could marry any of us, our boater toured us around and took us by some of the harvesters. It looked like incredibly hard work; and if Lonely Planet is to be believed, they only make about 80 cents for 25 kilos of the salt.It was really sad to see a place that was so dependent on tourism so empty. We were one of probably 4 groups at the lake that day, and we were hounded by people at every turn. When we first drove around the lake, there were people literally running after the van to sell us souvenirs. They followed us to the harvesters, they knocked on the windows of the van, they called to us when we walked by, they offered their services as guides.... It's hard to be put in a position like that where you know that these people don't have any other means to live but at the same time you are incredibly annoyed and just want to be left alone.

After lounging around at one of the empty resorts we headed back into Dakar. The next morning we had a day trip with the program to the Ile de Goree, which I will actually save for another post because this one is much too long already. Tonight we're going to a dance party on the beach, so I'm sure I'll have more stories to upload soon!

mercredi 4 février 2009

Of power outages and playing cards

2 nights ago i experienced my first evening blackout. I was taking advantage of the convenient wireless in my room upstairs when all of a sudden my lights went out and my internet stopped working. I went downstairs to join Papi and Aiyou, who had been watching tv, and planted myself on the couch. As we sat with the light of a candle flickering on the now-blank tv screen, Papi and I got to talking--and chatted more in the hour and a half without power than we had the whole time i've been here. Its amazing what can happen when the TV is turned off! My family, as well as nearly every other family in Dakar, always has a TV on, or more likely, 2 TVs. And if i'm lucky, Papi will also be listening to some music on the computer--by now this cacophony seems quite normal to me. One of the things that surprised me the most about moving into the Cissé household was the amount of TV they watched. We sit with the TV on, we dance with the TV on, we eat with the TV on, and no one bothers to turn off the TV even when they pray! My first impression of Islam here was that it couldn't be that intense if you could pray with the TV on...

Back to the other night, the power returned after about an hour and a half of darkness (and relative silence). The TVs turned back on, and we had a dinner of soup--a nice change from rice and fish. Afterward, Papi asked if I had a deck of cards, and we sat around and played War, Spit, and Speed for a while. Now that I've written it down, this sounds even more cheesy than it sounded in my head, but the whole evening really was a great bonding experience. As far as 16 year-olds go, Papi is pretty cool, and I'm excited to keep getting to know him over the next few months. Right now I'm sitting in his room and listening to him sing along to (what he thinks are) the words of Chris Brown and Tupac, some of his favorite Americans that he found on my iPod. And I can only faintly hear the downstairs TV over his voice.

The downside of this lovely story is that the wireless in my house no longer works, so I have more limited internet access. Seeing as I've already been a little negligent with the blog, I don't know how that will affect things, but I'm just giving you a heads up. I hope you all enjoyed two great American holidays, the Super Bowl and Groundhog's Day, and are surviving the winter!

Ba beneen yoon!

mardi 20 janvier 2009

I'm here!

Well, it is my 6th day in Senegal, but it feels like years since I left Tufts last Saturday. I've been spending my days in 70-80 degree weather and I barely remember what snow looks like! So far my experience has been wonderful. Our program spent the first week in a hotel and moved into our homestays yesterday. I'm living with my host parents, my host brothers, Mohammed and Papi, my parents' grandson (my nephew?), also named Papi, and the three maids, Odile, Aiou, and Ndiama. I also received my Senegalese name yesterday: I am now known as Hadija. I haven't quite gotten the hang of responding to it yet. The family is very welcoming and I'm sure it won't be long till I'm feeling at home.

The house is much bigger than I expected, it has 3 floors and lots of space. My room has two beds, as they usually have 2 students staying with them, but no one on the program got roommates so I have the room to myself (and extra closet space!). The family speaks mostly in Wolof, so I have a lot of learning to do. They all speak french as well, though, so communication isn't too hard. The younger Papi is just about the cutest thing I have EVER seen and I'm already planning how to take him home in my carry-on bag. He is two years old and basically runs the house. His parents live in Texas, where he was born, but they sent him back to Dakar to grow up here. The older Papi, who is 15, and I have been watching a lot of TV together, and I've seen some great music videos. The Senegalese ones have lots of cheesy shots of dancing in night clubs or singing in front of a green screen that changes between a map of Senegal, a picture of the president, and a scene at the beach, among other things. And there are some hilarious montages of American music videos set to Senegalese beats, so it looks like Destiny's Child and Missy Elliot are dancing along to a kora and sabar. The maids are very friendly and funny and I think I'll be spending a lot of time with them.

I'm living in the neighborhood Sacre Coeur Trois, which is to the north of the main city and about 25 minutes walking from school, and there are around 15 other students living around the quartier as well. It is one of the wealthier areas of Dakar, and very safe. Wealthy, of course, is relative, and there is a shantytown just across the highway, about 100 meters from my house. My family is quite well off, though; they have 2 sons living in America and my mom visits them pretty regularly.

There are about 45 other students on the program with me, and it has been really fun to get to know them. Somehow I keep winding up with the two other Tufts students, Hayley and Mark, but we're trying to branch out (haha). There are people from all sorts of schools and from all over the country, so its a really interesting mix of people. We've also made some friends with students at the school. Our program is based at the Suffolk University Dakar Campus (weird that that exists, I know), so students come from all over West Africa to study there. After 2 years in Dakar they transfer to the actual Suffolk campus in Boston, and there are posters in all the buildings with pictures of Bostonian landmarks--it's a little surreal. Oh, and by the way, you can see the ocean from our classrooms, no big deal.

Well I'm new to this whole blog thing, but I feel like my post is getting a little long. So as they say in Senegal, ba beneen yoon (till next time), and keep in touch!