Thursday, March 12, 2009

Children are adorable everywhere!

Almost every weekday morning, I leave my house in Liberté 3 at 8am. On my way past the stadium down to the main road, I usually pass a dad walking his 3- or 4-year-old daughter to school. Like most students here, she wears a school uniform. Her school must be a Muslim school, because along with the usual jumper, she also wears the Muslim headscarf (that most Muslims here don't wear). For the first month, she just stared at me when I passed her. (I might be the only white person she's ever seen.) Now, when I wave, she giggles and sometimes even waves back.

This morning, I passed the two of them as usual, but they were in the midst of a major fight, most of it totally unintelligible to me because it's in Wolof. Then, I see her stomp off (like a girl who is 4 going on 15) and whip three braids out of her headscarf so they are sticking straight out from her head in front of her face and so everyone can see the pretty pink beads on the ends of her braids. It made me happy. Kids are adorable everywhere!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Trip to Ile de Ngor

So, yesterday I finished class at noon and I went with Leah, Tiffany and Alex to Ile de Ngor. Since Mom always asks me who I am hanging out with and never actually knows who they are, I thought I'd fill you all in. Leah is considering being a nun and, I think, might actually be able to read my mind. Tiffany hates dogs and cats and when I mention I the book I'm reading involves child abuse, she asks, "Can I borrow it when you're done?" Alex is planning on becoming a sex therapist and has, apparently, a 95% success rate at guessing whether someone's a virgin or not.

So, tales about our trip to Ile de Ngor. We leave from WARC a little after noon. After a little bargaining, we catch a taxi and head out. However, less than a minute into the ride, we pass a bunch of men fighting. Our taxi driver pulls over, apologizes and jumps out. He and some other men separate the fight, while Alex, Tiffany, Leah and I wait patiently. Awkward. But, like nothing happened, the driver comes back jumps in the car and off we go. We drive up the coast, past someone burning trash that has turned the sky around it black with smoke.

We arrive at the beach of Ngor, where we will catch a pirogue to the island. But, before we can do that, we get accosted by a guy who wants to practice his English with us, wants to get our phone numbers and wants us to take his phone number. We give fake names and tell him we don't have phones. This is a particularly bad lie, since my phone is in my back pocket. In Senegal, lying is expected. You can't, however, call it lying-- calling a Senegalese person out on a lie is about the worst thing you can say. Instead, they call it "joking."

So we buy our tickets and head for the pirogue. A pirogue, if you don't know, is a kind of oversized canoe (it can hold 30 people maybe), motorized. They are hotspots for thefts, just like the cars rapides. To get on the pirogue, they have a little dock, but it's only about a foot long, so we end up wading knee-deep in the water anyway and then flinging ourselves onto the boat. The trip to the island doesn't take long-- maybe 5 minutes. The boat is, of course, full of both toubabs and Senegalese people who either work or live on the island. As we "dock" at the island, one toubab asks another toubab, "Do you think we can leave our bags on the boat?" Yeah... only if you don't want it back.

The island was beautiful. It had some too-typical aspects to a Senegalese tourist spot, though. The people mobbing you with stuff to buy. Although, if we explained clearly in our best French and Wolof that we didn't have the money, they tended to get the picture-- not like at Goree. There were occasional places that were covered in trash. Besides this, though, it was fabulous. We had crepes and drinks at a local hotel-restaurant and we chilled on the beach for a while. We even played our own home-made version of scattergories, something the whole group has begun to do recently in a desperate attempt for entertainment. This is where we decided that Leah can read my mind-- we had the same answers, the same categories. Problem. :)

The ride back involved the same flinging-yourself-onto-the-pirogue procedure as before only this time without even the little dock. I lost and retrieved my flipflop three times in this endeavor, but we all made it on.

To catch a taxi, we walked a little ways from the beach in order to avoid the outrageous prices that the taxi drivers were offering to gullible toubab tourists. As we bargained with one taxi driver, another pulled up. As exhausting as this process is, I love it. To me it's the essence of capitalism.

After a long exhausting day at the beach :) we relaxed at La Gandole, our favorite toubab resaurant.

Friday, February 27, 2009

School Days

So I've finally gotten an internship here. I use the word "internship" loosely, though. Let me tell you about it.

I had plenty of time to be there by 10, because my maman practically drags me out of bed if I'm not up by 8:30 or so. I walked to Fann, which is about a 30-minute walk from my house and caught a car rapide. A car rapide, just so you know, is a beat-up yellow and blue mini bus, wildly decorated that acts as a bus. It only costs 100CFA (about 20 cents) and will drop you off anywhere on it's route. It is packed to the roof with people. I was in the car rapide for probably a half-hour, jumped off (literally) at la Grande Mosquee, walked past the mosque and through a market, turned left at the pharmacy with the giant milk advertisement and walked until I saw the electronics shop with the sign for English classes. About 2 yards after that, I turned left into a barely visible alleyway between two shacks. A couple more turns and I'm in a kind of courtyard in the midst of what can only be described as a shantytown. Take the first left and I am in an open space full of laundry hung out to dry, children playing and goats just hanging out. Incidentally, this is the classroom. There is a row of desks and benches facing two chalkboards hung on the side of a building.

This is where I teach French and Math to four students who range in age from 6 or 7 to my age. They are at this particular school, l'Ecole de la Rue, because they work or beg or take care of their families during most of the day, so they only have time to come to 3 hours of class each day.

Their French is very lacking, and of course my Wolof is nearly useless, so it is an interesting endeavor, but they all try really hard and genuinely want to be there, which makes up for the language barrier a little.

Today I tried for class participation (which is a totally foreign concept here). Our reading was about boxing, so I tried to get them to act out simple phrases like "I box Seni's face. Seni boxes my face. Ah, no! I box Seni's face." They understood very little, but were, at least, very entertained. :)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

So I wrote this about my church a while ago, but then the internet stopped working so I couldn't post it and I forgot about it...

I picked the Protestant church over the Catholic church because the Protestants have more written down. In fact, they have everything written down-- just not everyone has all of the words. There are two things you'd actually need for the service to make sense: the Liturgie book and the hymnal. The hymnals are available by the front door, except there definitely aren't enough for everyone to have one. The Liturgies just exist. I don't know where they come from-- they definitely aren't handed out, but some people (usually the older people) just have them. As far as I can tell, the name of the game is to get there early enough to get a hymnal and to sit next to someone with a Liturgie. So far, I have managed this successfully once.

The fun thing, though, is that even though like half of us have hymnals, everyone sings, claps and dances. This makes things interesting for me. I can keep up as far as singing goes, but I can hardly clap on 2 and 4 at home. Rhythm, here, is much more complicated than that. I entertain the entire choir, I think, by my super-concentrated efforts to clap and step in time. I use up more mental energy for the 2 hours I'm in church than the entire week I'm in class!

And that's another thing --my only major complaint about this church-- the service is 2 to 2-1/2 hours long without Communion! The one time we did have Communion, we also had a Baptism and the service was 3-1/2 hours long! This would almost work if the Senegalese weren't such party animals. They leave to go clubbing at like midnight and then come back at like 5 in the morning, as the dawn call to prayer is ringing. This does not work if you then sleep until 10 and rush to 10:30 church and then have to stay solidly awake for a service that lasts 2-1/2 hours in a language you'd understand if you could pay attention long enough to make it through a sentence... You get my point.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Grand Magal de Touba

So forgive me for not having written in a while, but internet is spotty over here and I haven't had much luck accessing it in the past couple of weeks. As it is, it took me a good half an hour to get to this site today. So this weekend is a big holiday for Senegal-- and no, it's not Valentine's Day or President's Day. As we speak, millions of people from all over Senegal are taking any means of transport possible to get to the city of Touba for the Grand Magal, or Great Pilgrimage. Now, if you're coming from Dakar, this is an especially fun adventure as Dakar is on a peninsula and there is only one "road" in and out of the city. It can take 4 hours to get through during rush hour on a regular day, never mind when the entire city is leaving for the weekend.

I am enjoying the Magal, because it means that the religious chanting which is practically constant on normal days is even moreso now. I fell asleep last night to religious chanting. It's a beautiful thing.

The Grand Magal is important for the Mouride sect of Islam, which is most of Senegal's Muslim population. If you've heard of the Mourides before though, it probably has nothing to do with religion. They are also rather famous (especially with the New York police) for counterfitting. This makes Touba, which is entirely run by the Mourides (separately from the rest of Senegal), a very busy economic center.

Other interesting things about Touba:
  • Within the city limits, women must cover their hair, wear skirts down to their ankles and wear shirts with long sleeves.
  • There are no hotels in Touba, because they are considered dens of iniquity.
  • There is one restaurant in Touba. They must make tons of money.
  • The Mosque at Touba is one of the few mosques in Senegal that non-Muslims can enter.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Argument for Polygamy from a Very Educated Senegalese Woman

Okay, so in lieu of our regularly scheduled programming (regularly scheduled, who am I kidding-- only by Senegalese standards!) I am going to repeat what my Gender and Development professor said regarding polygamy. All of this was prefaced by a "Some very educated Senegalese women would say that..." which left me wondering if her husband was polygamous or if it really was just some women who think this and not her.

Anyway, she said that some professional Senegalese women who have their own projects and agendas prefer polygamy because it entails more freedom and less work. Senegalese women are expected to do everything for their spouses-- right down to cutting up their food. It's kind of like having a two-year-old and a husband, which is a lot of work if you're also, say a professor and researcher at the University. This way, a woman has a husband (women are generally not allowed to live on their own here, although it happens), but only has to wait on him hand and foot a couple of days a week. The rest of her time is her own.

This is a fabulous argument as far as I can tell as long as you're not actually in love with your husband. (Can you imagine the jealousy involved if all the wives were in love with the husband?)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Just another day at school in Africa...

So, today I went to my cognitive psychology class (which was originally a clinical psych class, but it was changed because the prof decided clinical psychology was irrelevant). First we started out in a room marked "Library" and then they moved us to another room, both of which would have been condemned in the States. There were random broken electrical wires poking out of the wall, the fans are broken, covered in dust and hadn't been used in years, the windows were broken and the chalk board was so badly cleaned, you could hardly tell what the professor was writing. Like much of my life, it looked like a Unicef commercial.

Now, as a note, in Michigan, in a psychology class, there are a hundred women and two men-- and the two men are dating each other. Here, my psychology class had eight women-- and this is a lot. The women dress really conservatively, too, in academia-- I'm assuming so they'll be taken seriously. One was a nun (with a veil), one had a headscarf (which is actually not very common in Senegal), and others wore things that covered their hair.

Okay, so there was an hour of the prof talking and no one writing anything and then all of a sudden, everyone's writing! Apparently, the prof is dictating-- we don't get a book, he just spends an hour of our two-hour class dictating what we need to know. It was not pretty.

Then, all of a sudden, students burst into the classroom, shouting in Wolof. As the girl in the headscarf translated for me, we are striking. Well, striking doesn't involved just not going to school. People were barricading roads and threatening to throw rocks! I am fine, but I left as fast as I could!

Yep, just another day at school in Africa...