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.
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.
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!!!