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 I wrote this post a week ago so its a little outdated but i'm putting it up anyway.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: . 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!