Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holiday Travels

Hey everyone, once again sorry for the lack of updates. I'm been distrated with hangng out with my good friend Rebecca. Well, and the fact that I am now in Scotland. :) I arrived in scotland a few days ago nd I'll be celebrating Christmas here with Rebecca, then heading on to see Caitlin in Ireland, and making it to Paris before in time to celebrate New Year's. I'll be in London for a night staying with my friend Orrin, who I met in Senegal, before heading back just in time for classes to start again.
Rebecca and I made latkes last night to celebrate (belatedly) Hannukah. I also made applesauce to go with them and was very impressed with my cooking skills. Perhaps my host mom should have come with me to see this extrodinary skill.
Mom, don't worry I've bough a coat (that goes halfway down my thighs) at Primark and a big purple (that's 'cause I'm thinking of you Kate!) scarf. I am keeping quite warm and Rebecca is indulging me with all the things I've missed in Senegal. Today it's a big old milkshake from McDonald's.

I miss you all and wish you a happy holiday season!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Moms are the same all over the world. 
It's been about 75 degrees out lately, with a bit a wind and I've had a bit of a cough. 
This morning when I tried to leave Suma Yaay told me to put on a sweater before I left. 
I thought there were supposed to be cultural DIFFERENCES

Wednesday, December 10, 2008



Tabaski, as Eid al- Adha is known as in Senegal commemorates someone (it’s been discussed in 2 of  my classes and people keep disagreeing) offering to sacrifice him son to God and at the last moment before the son is killed a goat is replaced and killed instead. So each year a goat (or bull or sheep) is killed for each married male member of the family.

So yesterday there was a lot of killing going on in Senegal. I am all for local foods, I just never thought that it would mean, my roof and courtyard local.  My family killed four moutons, which was quite the experience. I took many photos and videos, however internet connection do not really allow for them to be uploaded yet. I will try when I get back to the states. Also half of my program group is leaving and I am sure there will be a sure of photos once they get home which I will put the links to up.

While watching the goats be killed was slightly gory and grossed me out, it wasn’t worse than most horror movies in the states. Though looking around the courtyard and seeing all the blood everywhere was pretty gross.

My friend Sarah lives with a Christian family here and so she came over to my house to experience Tabaski. Sharing holidays is an important part of Senegalese life. It is customary on Tabaski to bring extra meat to Christian homes and to invite others over for the day. The same occurs with the Christians sharing with the Muslims on Christmas and Easter. So Sarah came over early in the morning, eating breakfast at my house, and helping to peel the potatoes, cucumbers and grate carrots. As I was sitting peeling potatoes I realized that I would be doing the exact same thing if it was a holiday at home.  We tried to keep occupied with jobs related to vegetables to avoid grilling or preparing any meat like the Senegalese women.

For those of the feint of heart I please skip the next paragraph. It’s where I describe how the goat was killed and butchered.

Recently I read the book Misery, by Stephen King. It details the story of how an author is kidnapped after a car accident and the torture he endures from his “nurse” including an amputation or two. I nearly puked reading the book, though I couldn’t stop reading and I felt it was very similar with killing the goats. I felt queasy the whole time, but I felt I needed to watch, because when else would I get an experience like that? The goat was trussed up with it’s legs tied up underneath, folded into a seated position. Then the goat was laid on its side and it’s head held back and to the ground. Then with one person holding the body the other held its head and slit the throat. The blood then gushed out of the throat and into the drain only a few inches away. There were often some last minute bleats of the goats and their grayish black tongues would stick out their mouths falling to the side like a cartoon character. The second goat also took a post mortem poop. After as much blood as possible was drained they were taken and hung up by their back legs to be butchered. The rest that followed was like a typical butchering, like you see at so many of the side streets and markets here. Nothing very remarkable except how the intestines spilled out of the goats, which I just thought was interesting.




One of the reasons I was vegetarian for the year before I came to Senegal was that I can’t really handle the idea of killing my own food, and I don’t even like handling raw meat in general. One of the rules of leadership I have always been told is, don’t ask anyone to do for you what you are not willing to do yourself. In that same frame of mind I can’t ask others to kill an animal for me, as I am not willing to do it myself.  My host family, and the student’s families who I talked to all comment on how many photos the students took. Granted it was a LOT of photos but the common response was “What, you’ve never seen a goat killed before?” To which all the American responded with a “no, we haven’t, really.” In fact besides some chickens I saw from afar in St. Louis it was the first animal I had ever seen killed.

The day was filled with grilling the meat, preparing other aspects of the meal and butchering the four goats.  After the main meal (the lunch) everyone takes a little nap, then, as the Senegalese do so well, gets dressed up. The Senegalese go all out when it comes to getting dressed. Everyone one has their own tailor and therefore there are no duplicates when it comes to outfits. Nothing is bought at a mall or real shop, everything is custom made. The skills of a tailor here are different than in the States. “Tailor made” in the States means someone who does impeccable work, with a fantastic knowledge of line and form. Usually a tailor made item is not heavily decorated but rather has an eye for line and shape. Here tailor means someone who can sew. While the quality of the “tailoring” leaves much to be desired (in my opinion) the embroidery is what stands out here. The idea of clean classic lines and a good fit does not exist. The “little black dress” would be met with attempts for embroidery floss and jewels to be attached. I had a boubou made for myself, a bright blue with light blue embroidery. The top had sleeves to elbow length and a V cut front and back, falling a little past mid thigh, while the pants had some embroidery at the bottom. I thought I was looking pretty good until my host family got dressed and I saw how amazing all of them looked. Suma yaay, (host mom) had a lilac boubou with gorgeous embroidery running down the whole front.  I told her how my sister in the States would be very jealous.

The night is celebrated by heading out to the most popular venues for the youth of Senegal, friend’s houses, concerts and the gas station. Yes, that’s right, the gas station. In an overwhelmingly Islamic country, bars do not hold the same popularity as they do in the states. The gas station has a fried chicken and pizza options in addition to typical gas station snacks, and for those rebellious youth, alcohol. They can pretend they are not drinking and hang out at the gas station, a respectable way to spend the night. Across from one of the best gas stations nearby is La Gondole, which has ice cream(!), hamburgers, chwarma, and other great food options. The two venues and the road in between were filled with young Senegalese decked out in their best boubous. I made an early night of it; hanging out with Alex and Tom after there was taxi miscommunication and we realized none of us left actually knew where the concert of Senegalese music actually was.

Tabaski was really great experience, I definitely got to experience things I had never even thought about before. Although a little sickening at times, and even though I will be stuck eating mouton for the next several weeks, it was so cool to see something that had seemed so far outside my sphere of knowledge before. 

Papers, HLM, Yoff, Tabaski and departures.

Like I’ve said the last few times, sorry I’ve been so absent. There has been a lot going on here and it’s a lot to catch up on right now.

The thing that has been keeping all of us busiest was our History of Islam paper. While only 4-6 pages double-spaced, it was in French and also our research options are not the best here. We were basically forced to use online resources from our home institutions and hope that whatever we found on these random topics would be sufficient. As usual my Islam professor liked to remind me and the class that my French is lowest in the class and recommended that I write the paper with someone else. I chose to write the paper by myself, seeing as I didn’t really care what he thought and if, worst comes to worst, I fail the class, I don’t need the credit anyway. In the end of it all, it’s been keeping our last week very busy.

On Saturday I went to HLM with Alex. HLM main attraction is fabric, but you can find anything there really. I needed shoes for my Tabaski outfit and Alex wanted to buy some fabric. Imagine any Black Friday, and then imagine it being ten times worse. There were times were I floated through the crowds just from the sheer volume. Many of the vendors had sound systems and were calling out to the people walking around, they were always surprised when Alex and I would respond to their calls of “Xop-nopp,” (sounds like hop-nop and means red ears).

After a long search, Alex found his fabric and I shoes, though unfortunately they were not the ones that I had seen EVERYWHERE two weeks ago, but I have something that will work, so it’s enough. One guy pretend to stumble into Alex, trying to steal an wallet from his back pocket but luckily all of his things were in the front pockets. I realized later that night that my bag had been cut at the bottom, but luckily the pocket and the outside layer of the bag were cut and the lining was still intact and still kept all my things inside. Dakar is a very safe city, but it was unsurprising given the crowds of the market that it had happened. Being white we are also greater targets.

This morning Alex continued our St. Louis tradition of getting to the beach early in order to catch the best rays, and then get back to our host families for a free lunch. Yoff is a beautiful beach that stays very shallow for a while out, making it good for kids, and for when you don’t really want to go into the water all the way. Saturday afternoon involved Tabaski preparations, in addition to many trip to my tailor who lives behind to try to get my boubou. Unfortunately, each time I’ve gone it hasn’t been ready yet. As Tabaski is tomorrow should will be ready when I get back from school today (incha’Allah).

The first group of people to leave are leaving in just 12 days. It’s hard to imagine half of our group gone. Yesterday marked the halfway mark of our program (and Grandma Zweip’s birthday!). It seems like we’ve been here much long than to just be reaching the halfway mark now. Among us 6-monthers, we’ve been discussing how were are so happy not to be going home in two weeks, just because it seems to soon, but if you had asked us how we felt at any other point in the program we would have jumped to be on those flights on December 20th. I am glad to be seeing friends over break, and get a chance to be away from Senegal for a bit. I do love it here but I really do love the snow and winter, and it will be nice to get a taste of that. The last two months after break are mostly filled with an internship we do and a few classes. I  hope to be helping in English class at a primary school, but the details haven’t been worked out yet.  Well I hope this has caught you all up, and as always I love to hear from you. (Thanks grandpa, I always get your emails, but sometime sending responses back out takes a while with the Wireless internet system we have).

Send emails to awilliams409@gmail.com or to anna.williams06@kzoo.edu

Miss and love you all.

Friday, November 28, 2008


We just celebrated Thanksgiving here in Dakar, as you all did in the states. My expectations for the day were rather low given and figured that the day would go past with some sadness, and perhaps a trip to Caesars to get some fried chicken for the day, the closest equivalent to a turkey dinner we would get.

However all expectations and hopes were greatly surpassed. The Baobab Center, which runs my program, put on an amazing meal of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables, macaroni and cheese, bread, cornbread, and other great things. Students also added to the meal by making bringing in additional food such as green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, WHITE GRAPE SALAD and pies. I was so impressed, not only with everyone’s baking and cooking but also with their ability to find all the ingredients and deal with cooking with limited utensils and cooking supplies.

            A trip to the largest “Casino” (a French supermarket chain) felt like I was stepping back into the states. There was so much selection, a whole row devoted to toilet paper and another just to cereals. They also had a real deli counter, which was something I hadn’t seen in a while. In all of the things there I was able to find MARSHMELLOWS!! which meant that I would be able to make white grape salad. I was also able to pick up whole milk and whipping cream for mashed potatoes and white grape salad.

            Amelia and I spent the morning peeling ten kilos of potatoes without the aid of a potato peeler. After that came the challenge of cooking them all. Surprisingly, it was relatively easy just cooking them in batches and combining them into one big bowl when we were done. However we were presented with the challenge of actually mashing them. Amelia was imaginative though and we used the mortar and pestle, leaving behind the base in favor of just shaming them in the bowl we already had. It was lot of work but we made it happy. We kept “sampling” them as we were working because we were so excited.

            I also had to whip the cream by hand, without a beater or whisk, which was rather difficult, and therefore it kind of ended up like clotted cream rather than whipped cream.  I didn’t mind though, because it still had the right taste.

            In the end the white grape salad wasn’t a huge hit with people but that didn’t matter to me because I liked it a lot. The mashed potatoes were devoured however, which was good.

            Funny enough one of the largest hits was the felt turkey head, which sits on top of a pineapple usually as the centerpiece each year. Everyone really enjoyed it and thought it was funny. Everyone really enjoyed the day and it was a great chance for us all to get an American meal in and chance to feel like we were back in the states. Overall the day was a success.

            In the days to come I have several assignments due, and the days will be very action packed as the first group of students now leaves in only 3 weeks. It’s hard to believe that time is approaching as it always seemed so far away for all of us. For myself today’s starts the hundred-day countdown until I leave with Decmeber 7th marking the middle of my program. It’s hard to think that we’ve come this far. In less than a month I will be in Europe visiting friends in London, Aberdeen, Dublin and Paris for the next round of holidays. I hope you all had as great of a thanksgiving as I did, and as Steve said, “I am thankful to have great family and friends at home and abroad to miss.”

Thursday, November 20, 2008


So nothing special is going on here. After having little to no school work for the last two and a half months, it's all now piling on. In less than 30 days the first group of students leave to return home. Thanksgiving marks the 100 day countdown for those in my group and December 7th marks the halfway mark of the program. 
I've been busy helping to plan Thanksgiving dinner here with the other students, trying to figure out where to buy different ingredients and the like ( apparently you can get marshmallows in dakar, which might allow for white grape salad!). I've also been planning for Christmas break in London, England (one day); Aberdeen, Scotland (about 6 days and Christmas day there); Dublin, Ireland; and Paris France (about 5 days and New Years!). It's going to be a very exciting, and action packed time coming up and I'm sure 'll have lots to talk about after the new year, but it will probably be slow for a while. I hope all of you holiday plans are going well, whether they bein the States or abroad.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


So of course I invite you all to visit me in Senegal, but I realize that is not feasible for the majority of people. 
Luckily, the frequent business trips of my dad to South Africa have allowed for a quick two day visit this weekend. South African airlines flights to South Africa stop in Dakar for a quick drop off of some passengers and a refueling making this visit possible. 
Basically the point of this post was : I'm excited to see my Dad! 
and introduce him to my host family
and make him eat some senegalese food
and eat some real food with him!
Lots of love to everyone!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Obama for Africa?

Since I’ve last written the monumental election has occurred.  Barack Obama will be in the next president of the United States of America. Election night was preceded by many Senegalese, including my host family, taxi drivers, and random people on the street asking me if I had voted, and if I had voted for Obama. (In actuality, voting in Michigan or New Jersey would have made no difference as Obama heavily carried both. And watching everyone else deal with the absentee ballot procedure ridiculousness was enough to keep me from dealing with it. Great idea America to say that certain absentee ballots have to be printed out, filled out by hand, scaned, turned into a PDF and emailed back to the states. That really makes sense when there are power outages each day. Seriously. Get it together. [But I would have voted for Obama and I’m bummed that I didn’t get to be that part of history.] )

Anyway, There is no sense of privacy here about whom you vote for. In the States it’s a rather hush-hush matter that is not often discussed outside close groups of friends. Or perhaps you do know someone’s political leanings, but you would never flat out ask. You have already secretly discovered or have a sense of what they would vote.

We passed Tuesday night at Club Atlantique, which is owned by the US Embassy.  If you hold a USA passport, or are a member of the club or were invited by either an American or a club member you were able to pass the night watching the returns come in on the big screen TV they had set up. It was so strange to see the club, which had a very bizarre southern 1950’s feel to it, with the warm night with a fresh breeze, white people sitting around the pool and bar and the Senegalese working the bar and snack shack.

Everyone in my program showed up for at least some part of the night, most of us stayed the whole night. The bar was serving “red state, blue state” drinks, and we found out later during the whole night only two “red states” were made. There were at most 40 people there during the night, and a group of about 25 by the end of the night. With CNN playing, we waited with anticipation, though myself and several others decided that the couches inside looked too comfortable, taking a nap from Kentucky to just before Virginia.  More surprising than the news, for we had all hoped for it, was watching American TV again. I was shocked to see skirts above the knee and kept expecting a Bocage (butter) ad to come on.  Or maybe Tem Tem (spice packet). Or perhaps Vital (butter). Or possibly Jumbo (spice packet). 

It was fantastic to watch the returns come in, seeing Virginia put Obama to 220. The whole place let out a cheer and the congratulations started. It seemed a shame though for McCain, as I believe the speech he gave afterwards was phenomenal. I’m glad it didn’t happen this way, but if he had spoken like that during the rest of the campaign perhaps he might have been elected (and if he hadn’t chosen Palin as a VP, did you know that she thought Africa was a country? I’m in Senegal, on the west coast of continent of Africa, if anyone else out there is confused).  Obama’s speech of course was fantastic. I’m sure you all watched it so I won’t bother recapping.

Given the time differences, it was just about 5:45 am when we started walking home. The sky was still dark, and we could see an airplane coming in and realized that would be the same flight we had come in on two months earlier. People peeled off slowly as we walked through Mermoz, and I was the last to arrive home. As I passed the boulangerie I saw men picking up the baguettes to distribute to the smaller kiosk type boulangeries to be sold later that day. There were men coming into the street with prayer beads in hand, heading into the mosque while the prayer call rang out.

I left a piece of paper on the table that said, “Obama a gagné,” and headed to bed.

Since Tuesday, it’s been interesting to see how people around Senegal had reacted to the news. Many people feel that it’s a new era, and chance for Africa. Some believe that immigration quotas will change and it will become easier to come to the USA. Others have said that Obama is not African, and hate the use of the term “African American” and much prefer calling him black.  One family friend said to me today that Obama is the leader of the USA and therefore the world, and can’t act in the interests of Africa while still leading the USA.

Most of all it’s been interesting how welcomed I am.  It’s such a change from the hate and disapproval that Bush has garnered abroad over the last eight years.  Now saying you’re American results in congratulations, rather than a recipe for how things should be changed, or a laundry list of what’s wrong. This shift has been so sudden. Just Monday, I would jut say I was from London or Toronto and leave it at that, rather than debating with everyone I met. It will be interesting to see how perceptions will change, especially during his first two months in office. It’s certainly the dawning of a new era, and it will be interesting to see how it unfurls.

Sorry for such a meandering post, but those were my thoughts on the election. 

Monday, November 3, 2008

Asalaam Malekum Dakar!

We’ll it’s back to Dakar. Our time in Saint Louis has finished. The conclusion of our course was group presentations given on Friday, all of which were vaguely BS. That wouldn’t be such a big task to accomplish then, except that our presentations were in French, and the groups were two American students and one Senegalese student.  My presentation wasn’t that great, but it’s done which I think is the most important part.

I was really sad to leave Saint Louis as I really loved my host family there. My mom, Marie, was an adorable old grandmother and the two kids in the house, Thany (10) and Mustapha (4) were so much fun. Marie gave me a paynge (a wrap around skirt, can either be fancy or a piece of cloth to wear during house work, mine is a nice orange waxx [type of fabric]) as a going away present, and had what I like to call Africa shorts (imagine if madras shorts were made with African prints) made for Alex and Dan.

I had a good return to Dakar, but unfortunately I haven’t been around my house very much in the last day in a half (not good manners on my part).  I was around for all of Saturday afternoon after returning, but Sunday was a day for excursions.  Myself, Alejandra and Alex decided that it was rather silly that we had been living in Mermoz (our quartier of Dakar, though here Dakar really refers to the downtown, in a similar way that people say NYC and really mean Manhattan) for a month and still really had no idea about what is in our quartier.

Our first stop was Quatre Vents librairie (Four Winds bookstore). Unfortunately that was closed because it was Sunday. Not deterred, we continued onto the Casino (French brand of supermarkets), myself, hoping to replace the peanut butter I had left on the bus back from St. Louis.  Sadly, we met the same Sunday closing fate there as well. Still we ventured on, hoping to find something new.  I am so glad that we did, because we found a new pâtisserie, which is going to replace our St. Louis hang out, Aux délices du Fleuve. Though our new pastry shop doesn’t appear to have free WIFI. Even better than just a pastry shop though, it also has shwarma, PIZZA! (though it’s always a gamble) and some other sandwich type options.

As we kept walking, not too much further was another small restaurant type place, selling about the same things as the fancy pastry shop we had just left. Prices were about the same, but it also seemed like they we less likely to throw you out for sitting at a table for 4 hours.

We took a random tour for some more exploration and found ourselves in a rather upscale neighborhood. We also noticed an abundance of Chinese people and were trying to figure out where the heck they all came from, as that’s a peculiar sight in Senegal. As we saw another ching-ching (as they are often called here) walk down the street. We decided that we needed to know why they were all there. Turns out there is some random Chinese company there and that’s where is houses it’s employees (or where they all end up choosing to live, it wasn’t clear). The guy we spoke too didn’t speak French, and only a little English and one can assume no Wolof. It’s shocking to me that they are able to function at all in Dakar. It’s necessary to learn at least French to live here, and knowing Wolof is even better. But Griff, it’s a really nice area of Dakar if it all falls through with Standard Charter, maybe you could work with the Chinese company and live there! I would be happy to be your translator, given that we get Oreos shipped to us every so often. 

Wrapping up our visit was a trip to Caesar’s. Although we’ve pasted it many times on our way to the beach, we’ve always kept walking.  I’m so glad we went in though. We had all thought the place was something different, Alejandra though a casino (Caesar’s Palace confusion), myself, I thought it was a bar.  It turns out that it’s Senegal’s answer to a KFC!!!!!! and I live five minutes away!  (So Griff, really if you did want to move to Senegal, you would be set). Not only do they have fried chicken and fries, they also have kebab, ice cream and milkshakes. While the prices are American prices, it’s still completely worth it. We were all headed home shortly after our expedition so we opted to leave the fried chicken for another day. We all got milkshakes instead which was a fantastic choice.  It’s been a long time since any of us had real ice cream. Caesar’s was clean; air conditioned and had fans, and conveniently located which puts it at a 5 stars in my book.

I had lunch at Alejandra’s and spent the rest of the day there, including dinner as well. After dinner brought me back again to Amelia’s as she had been sick all day, sick enough that she and Alejandra went out for a malaria test at the hospital. Luckily the test came back negative and hopefully Amelia will be better by Monday.

It’s strange being back in Dakar, as in some ways it doesn’t feel like we left at all.  We’ve definitely hit a landmark though, as the people on the 4-month program are more than halfway through their program.  It’s a strange idea to think their count down has already begun (ok, it doesn’t matter how long your program is, we all count down the time). The midpoint for me is December 7th, though it feels like it should be sooner, since I am gone for 2 weeks over Christmas and my last week in Senegal is not part of the program.  I think I’ve written more than enough for now, though please everyone keep me updates on life back home, (or wherever you may be). 

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Certainly not all of my pictures but some of them



Vocab Lesson

This is how I commonly learn words in French.

To vomit: vomir, gerber [slang]

Moi: “I am going to puke. Je vais vomir (I am going to vomit) Does that work in French? Is that a real word?”
Amelia: “Yeah, but if you want to say ‘I’m going to puke,’ you can say ‘Je vais gerber,’ which is slang.”
Moi: “Gerber. Did I say that right?”
Amelia: “Yeah, it sounds like Gerber baby food which is a good way to remember.”
Moi: “uhhhhh… if I see fish and rice again… Je vais gerber.”


Un hérisson : hedgehog

(Dog barking and creepy noise that sounds like a child crying)
Dan: What is that noise?!?
Moi: I’ve been wondering that too.
Marie (host mom): Oh, you heard that, it’s hérisson >
Moi: What the hell is a Harrison?
Dan: Comment on décrive ?  [How do you describe a < hérisson >]
Marie (translated): Well, it’s like a bird. With needles on its skin.
Moi: It’s a bird?
Marie: Nearly a bird. But it’s a mammal. And it has a face like a rat
Moi: Is it a turkey?
Dan: Is it a porcupine maybe?
Marie: Timbo (the dog) is killing one. It’s over there you should go look
Alex: In our yard? Right now?
Myself, Alex and Dan all go to the courtyard: It’s a hedgehog
The dog procedes to pick it up in it’s mouth and eat it.
Moi: Timbo va le manger! [Timbo’s going to eat it!]
Marie: Non, il ne le mange pas. [No, he doesn’t eat it]
Moi: Non, il le mange maintenant! [He’s eating it now !]
Marie : Personne le mange [People eat it]
Moi : People eat it !
Marie : Oui, sans le peau, mais les chiens ne le mangent pas. [Yes, withoutthe skin, but the dogs don’t eat them]
Moi : Il le mange maintenant ! [He’s eating it now]

School is certainly different here. 

Monday, October 27, 2008

Coconuts, Illness and Langue du Barbarie

On Thursday Alex, Dan Thany (our host sister) and I went out on a coconut buying expedition. I really wanted to learn how to open a coconut, and thought it would also be a good opportunity to buy a small gift for my host family here. Thany led us down some side streets in the market until we came to a small stand. The different prices were based on size ranging from 200-350 CFA a coconut (about 40 to 75 cents). She asked me if I wanted them grated or cut, and I replied cut, but I wanted to learn how to do it. Attempts in the states to open the exotic coconut involved an ice pick, hammer nail, and perhaps a test of strength by just throwing the damn thing on the brick pavers. We picked out two, 200 and 300 CFA each. I was ready to pay and head out but then the coconut man went to work. With a large machete that had been hanging behind him, he began to hack at the coconut. Taking off with each hit a hard layer of shell with incredible precision, still leaving to brown edge on the coconut, but taking off all the shell. Twice he restarted on the coconuts, picking new ones as there had been some imperfection on the others. After hacking off all the shell he cut a small sliver into the top and drained the milk into a plastic bag for us to take home and drink. Then he cut all the pieces up and placed them into another bag. The coconut milk, which I always figured tasted like coconut-flavored milk, tasted more of coconut-flavored water. I would recommend to anyone who is in the position to buy coconut from a random person on the street to do it, as long as they’ll open it for you.

            As happy we were to eat the fresh coconut, it may have also been the cause of some stomach illness. Not because there were any bad germs in it, but rather that coconut milk naturally helps you along in the bathroom. It was still definitely worth it. However the illnesses that we experience have been nothing in comparison to some of the other people in the group.  On Friday we arrived to the bus for our field trip with many of the class members missing. Myra had spent the previous night, until 4am in the hospital. Although the blood work had come back negative, the doctors are fairly sure, given her symptoms, that she had a mild case of malaria. The reason that the blood work came back negative is likely because it was a mild case. A point of interest is that Myra has been taking doxycycline the whole time we have been here. Malaria is also relative to the amount of infected bites a person has had. Therefore, with even the most diligent pill taking, if you get enough infected mosquito bites, you can still come down with a case. Anne- Marie, our bird expert of the group, halfway through our trip to a wildlife preserve became so sick that she had to return to St. Louis rather than continuing onto Langue de Barbarie, a bird sanctuary, with the rest of the group. Dakarrhea (Dakar + diarrhea, though applicable to all of Senegal) has happened to us all, but some stomachs are stronger, or luckier than others. Anne- Marie has been plagued by intestinal issues for much of the trip, while Amelia has been drinking the tap water at her home in Dakar and Saint Louis. I too started drinking the tap water in Saint Louis, but only after realizing how expensive it would be to buy bottled water, and letting Dan and Alex try it for a few days first.

            Even with all of these illness, the overall moral of the group has remained high, and the trip was a fun one. Le langue de Barbarie is a bird sanctuary. We spent a lot of the day cruising up and down the “tongue” in the pirogues (boats) looking at birds, or just enjoying the ride. After our boat ride we stopped at a section of beach for our lunch. Amelia and I decided that the water looked too beautiful (no trash!) to just look at despite our lack of bathing suits. Given that our professor was there, in addition to 2 Spanish tourists who had some how joined our group, we decided to go in with all of our clothes in rather than skinny dip. The rest of the group thought we were crazy until they saw how much fun we were having and how nice the water was. One by one, more people started getting in the water until nearly every one had taken a short dip in the water. There was the perfect amount of waves, though unfortunately my sunglasses were eaten by the waves. Luckily I have an extra pair, unfortunately they are in Dakar. The dust started kicking up again during the end of the day, making my eyes uncomfortable and irritating them. As sometimes days need to, mine ended with a shower, clean clothes and a long nap. After dinner I hit the hay again, but it made for a much more enjoyable Saturday, and was completely worth it.  

Saturday didn’t result of anything much of interest, mostly just a visit to the patisserie to take advantage of WIFI for a while, and quick trip to the “artist market” (aka the same crap they sell pretty much everywhere).  Perhaps a trip to the beach will be on Sunday’s agenda. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Doctor Visits and Flat Tires

Once again, sorry for the lack of updates. Last Wednesday got rather hectic for me and after that we left on Thursday for Ross Bethio for a weekend of field trips.

Wednesday I finally dealt with an ear infection that had been bothering me for about a week or so. While I had asked for (and got) the name and clinic of an English speaking doctor I arrived to find out that Wednesday was his day off, though I was assured that the other doctor also spoke English. I spoke to the receptionist briefly, who had to be torn away from the tv to help me. She wrote me out a bill as I waited to see the doctor (12,000 CFA, roughly 27 dollars). I went in to see the doctor after a fairly short wait, and Alex and Dan who has accompanied me there went out to buy some soap. The doctor was French and asked me if I spoke French to which I responded, yes, a little. His response was, excellent, now I can speak in medical terms in French to this poor girl with an earache. It wasn’t any different from a typical doctor’s visit, and I learned the French word for eardrum is tum-tum. He basically told me that I had swimmer’s ear (I guess those days at the pool and beach add up) and wrote me out a prescription for 3 different things! And if you thought American doctor’s handwriting was bad, you should see French doctors’, I couldn’t tell when it was upside down expect for the heading at the top. Alex, Dan and I headed over to the pharmacy across the street to fill the prescription. They didn’t have the second thing the doctor had written and the third thing was only if I suddenly got dysentery or something like that (they French are hypochondriacs). I just got the first listed item, which is good since it cost another 7,500 CFA (16 USD).  The box was in French on one side and Arabic on the other. I opened it up expecting to find a dropper bottle like in the US but instead got antibiotics to treat the infection, and Dan helped me translate the directions of when to take it.  Since I didn’t get a lollipop, Alex bought me a popsicle. Now a week later everything is fine so I guess it worked out all right though it was a stressful experience.

Dad, do you know how my health insurance repays me? That’s about a month’s stipend I would like to get back.

On Thursday we left for Ross Bethio. It isn’t exactly rural, but if it were in the US it would be what we call a drive through town, only slightly larger than Antes Fort, PA (not Jersey Shore, Antes Fort). We spent 4 days there looking at different fields. We saw rice fields, tomato fields, except that it isn’t tomato season so rice was planted there, peanut fields, and the actually slightly exciting sugar cane field. The sugar cane was the obvious winner, but that could be because we were easily bribed with the sugar cane that we got to eat (for all those wondering, it tastes like sugar).

Though the actual field trips (get it, hahah, punny) weren’t that interesting, it did provide a good excuse to get out of cities and to interact with the Senegalese students who are in our class.  Though I was disappointed that we didn’t go to any cornfields, as I was ready to display my expertise and declare, “Oh, the corn’s bigger in the States.”

Though we did get to explore some of the roadside as twice in the 4 days our bus got a flat tire. Luckily we had a spare tire, unfortunately we only had one, so when we got the second flat the next day, only 15km away from St. Louis we had to call for a new bus to come pick us up and change over all of out things. Amelia, Anne-Marie, Alex, 2 Senegalese students and myself decided that we weren’t that far from Saint Louis so we would walk the rest of the way. Influencing this decision might have also been my mistranslation of fifteen to 5km.  We started walking, but didn’t get further than 5 minutes away when the new bus arrived. They were kind enough to stop to pick us up as they came our way, saving us the rest of the walk.

Other highlights include petting a donkey, tasting raw peanuts that aren’t really ready yet, eating sugar cane, and stopping at a French, I don’t even know what it was, all I know it that they had an ice chip maker and we got ice. Overall it was a good weekend, though fatiguing in some ways and a nice departure from the usual city life. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Packing List

While I realize most people who are reading this aren’t going to Senegal, if someone does stumble upon this and is going, here is a list of this I I’m glad I brought and if packing again, I wouldn’t bring. And of course, the old packing adage remains true, pack half the clothes and twice the money.

Good things to bring:

Quick dry underwear. You wash your own and this can make the difference between mildew or not, I recommend ex officio underwear.

Steak knife. Fantastic for cutting a mango or just about anything. You never know what you access to use the kitchen is.

Nalgene water bottle. This is great for filling up when at reliable water sources (for me Baobab center). Everywhere else you can buy water.

Whatever swimsuit you want. I figured modestly would prevail at beaches too, but really you could wear a string bikini. I would prefer a two piece because then you don’t get so much sand stuck in it.

Febreeze. You certainly don’t wash your clothes (at least not skirts) every time after washing them, and febreeze can really stretch things out)


Batteries, very expensive here

Flashlight. Seriously. Bring one, and then bring a head lamp too. Seriously.

Chinese type paper fan. It’s a God send in a hot classroom where the power to the one electric fan just cut out.

Spaghetti strap tank tops. Totally fine to wear, and sometimes its just too hot for much more

Flip flops, you’ll almost never wear close toed shoes, and if you need too, you might as well just go to HLM once you’re here and then buy some for 4 dollars.

Pens. The pens here freaking suck. I have no idea why, but they always break, except for the bics which are expensive.

A gift for your host family. Anything is ok. Really. Even if you think it is ridiculous or will never be used, the Senegalese always no someone who could use it if they can’t. Though candies, a map of your home country/ city and candles are typical or popular gifts anything would work. (candles are rather functional too, since the power is often cut)

Conditioner- very expensive here. Also a good host family gift.

Duct tape- when isn’t useful?

A few granola bars to hide away after too many fish and rice meals.

Zip lock bags

Pepto/ Immodium- Anti diarrhea medicine.

Fiber- Senegalese diets has very few fruits or vegetables and sometimes you swing to the other extreme and have constipation.

Leave it at home:
Shorts that go much further than an 1 inch or 2 above the knee, there’s never really a time where they are worth it or appropriate.

Mosquito net- they can be bought here, treated with permethrene already for only 10 dollars.

Skirts above the knee- just kind of inappropriate. As my host mom said, you can just sit easier the longer the skirt is.

Jeans- They take too long to dry, and are considered “very sexy” for women, though you will see women wearing them. At most, one pair.

Overall for women and clothes, they can be tight (some of the jeans and skirts here look like they were painted on) but have them be longer.


On Sunday, our first free day Dan, Alex and I headed over to the beach called Hydrobase. As we hailed a cab we admire the blue sky above us, rather than the haze the last week had provided. We took a cab over there about 1500 CFA (3.75$). The taxi pulled up to some thatch huts pointed over the edge of the sandbank and said that’s where the beach was. Anywhere else I would have thought this peculiar but I’ve just come to accept it as a part of Senegalese life to not know what the heck is going on, and just to go with it.  Walking over the crest, we stopped looking at our feet and took in the beach. Empty, blue water. We were ecstatic, the Senegal River, which St. Louis is at the mouth of, is a muddy mocha brown and had been fearful for the same result for the beach. We walked over to the water admiring that other than a group of about 5 Senegalese men playing soccer further down the beach, we were the only ones there. 

The day passed rather uneventfully, and while a few vendors did wander over through the course of the day (Sorry, I’m married, I don’t have any money, I’m not in the Peace Corps, I’m a student, United States, not Canada, not I don’t want to look at your statuettes, bracelet’s and necklaces for the “pleasure of my eyes,” perhaps another day, Thank you for the compliment, no thank you, good bye, another day, goodbye, Inshallah.) It was rather uneventful, which is exactly how one likes a day at the beach to be. Though perhaps I did forget the sun block, and got a little more red than I would like, it’s turning into a tan and I would rather have color, than be pale like before, which is just ridiculous when you are in Africa.

As we were swimming a man walked on the water’s edge with about 8 oxen, which we found rather amusing.

It was a bit of an adventure going home however. As we were the furthest down the beach, away from the few hotels that are there, no cabs were coming down a dead end road. We started walking back, hoping to catch a cab back at some point. Well, we walked, and waked, hoping for something but ended up walking all the way back in all, about 1 hour to get home. Something that I would probably never do in the states, but at this point the heat doesn’t seem so bad anymore (and it’s actually getting cooler) and I’ve gotten used to walking everywhere. We tried to go to the patessiere on the way home (which is open all night on the weekends and by the bars), but unfortunately was closed.  We settled on some Laughing Cow cheese (la vache qui rit) and a baguette for lunch and tucked in once we got home. All in all uneventful, but it was wonderful to spend an October Sunday jumping in the waves and reading on the beach. 

Darhas Koranic School

Today our History of Islam teacher came up from Dakar for a trip to a nearby Koranic School. This meant that the women of the group had to wear headscarves and long skirts, which created a last minute scramble for these items and borrowing from several people (thanks for the skirt Alejandra!) Once we arrived, we sat in the yard (dirt patch) of the school on mats and talked with some of the teachers and advanced students from the school. Overall I didn’t find it that interesting. It was mostly a combination of “it’s a koranic school” and “look they have to memorize it all.” One interesting point was that they served us bissap. It’s a delicious drink made hibiscus flowers, mint and sugar. Of course, since it’s Senegal they had reused the containers that they were served in, which just happened to be motor oil bottles.  No biggie though, they didn’t taste like it at all, just a little fishy from the ice bucket they had been in.

After talking with the representatives for about 2 hours we looked into the 4 classrooms they had.  Each room had about 30 children, or at least as many could be fit in there as humanly possible, a chalkboard in the front, which beautiful Arabic writing, mats for the children to sit on and that was it. There was no power. No books, nothing. Some of the kids had slates with the day’s passage to memorize, but really nothing. Seeing the resources of Senegalese schools whether public (University Cheik Anta Diop in Dakar) or private (koranic school) has definitely convinced me not to complain about Kalamazoo’s resources. Though there is a trade of that university is free for all students, including room and board, though with rigorous exams at the end of each year, and the suspicion that not much learning actually goes on it’s still something to remember that I don’t have to worry about the power going off in the middle of a Kalamazoo class.

The chanting of the students was a beautiful thing to listen to, I love the sound of Arabic. Again, it was nice to get out of the classroom and see other things but overall not that striking of an experience, but I’m glad I got to go. 


Today’s excursion was to a dam. No seriously. The whole morning was to ride over to a dam and look at it. We walked around at the dam and then rode back the 45 minutes to Saint Louis.

All joking aside I did enjoy the trip. It was nice to be out of the classroom. We only take one class while we are in Saint Louis which suites me well, I refer to intensely study one subject at a time rather than be all over the place with several classes. The course is about the Senegal River valley, looking at different aspects, the people and cultures, history, agriculture around it and, dams.

The Senegal River is also the border between Senegal and Mauritania in many parts, so in crossing the dam, and stepping to the other side we were able to set foot on Mauritanian soil. None of having the foresight to obtain Mauritanian visas we were not making border crossing, but really, there wasn’t much to see beyond the guard point anyway. We did rejoice on our placement of Mauritanian soil though, if just for the idea of it. Once we had reached Mauritania, we turned around and walked back across the dam. You might be wondering how walking back and forth across a dam could take 3 hours, but you have clearly forgotten the African pace of life. 

Stage 2

Sorry for the lack of updates this week there’s a few reasons for that. First of all we have been getting settled into our host families, exploring St. Louis, making trips to the beach and most of all being in Stage 2.

There are two models of culture shock; the U and W curve.  The highs and lows of the experience correspond to the shape of the letter, each letter being a different   theory on how people react. Our group has accepted the U curve as our model, just because we think it more accurate. Stage 1 is the honeymoon phase where you are excited for everything and can’t stop singing the praise of your new country.  General excitement tends to over take everything. Unfortunately, one needs the lows to have the highs. Stage 2 is when you are fed up with your new country, sick of the way they do things, missing family and friends back home, craving for some good pizza or a pb&j sandwich, and reading and watching anything in English. While we are not all firm believers of the U and W curve, subscribing rather to the idea that you have good and bad days, the bad days show up a little more in stage 2. That’s why when someone walks in the classroom and says that they are having a “stage 2,” or “shell” or “grumpy” day you generally give them a hug and leave them the heck alone after that unless they specifically request your company, and most often another person to grumble with. However, there are great ways to pass the time during stage two, listening to your iPod, taking a nap, writing, drawing, drinking or what has become our favorite game, “I miss.”

I miss is a game that can be played for as long as one likes, very portable and can go from 1 to 100 players. What you do is sit around and list all of the things you miss at home. For example, “I miss clean clothes, air conditioning, autumn, my friends, my family, salad, orange juice, brooms with handles, watching TV in English, driving a car, real grocery stores, peanut butter, cereal, cold milk, real pillows, not worrying about the tap water, cooking, flush toilets, warm showers, coffee shops, having power and water all the time, clean roads, not being called ‘Toubab’ every 30 seconds…

As you can see this game can continue as long as one want for it to continue. We all know that these days come and go, but pretending they don’t exist is rarely the solution, rather it is better to just accept the grumpy day and remove your toxic self from others and take the time to do whatever it is you need to do.

Frustrations come from homesickness of course, but also a general sense of helplessness. While St. Louis certainly isn’t an intimidating city, daily life means relearning how to do things. This might mean boiling water on a gas canister rather than a stove, flushing a toilet without an actually flush, taking public transport, bargaining to buy things or cutting watermelon (seriously, my host mom asked me to cut watermelon and then my sister/maid, and her mom took the knife from me and cut it the weirdest way I have ever seen, just really long pieces traveling the length of the watermelon so that they are impossible to hold or eat from.)

But once you hit the bottom, you have nowhere to go but back up. Yeah, we might hang out around the bottom some days, but normally we float around the middle, doing simple everyday things like we would in the states; eat, sleep, go to class and hang out. You relearn how to do things, the Senegalese way, whether you like it or not, or you learn to put up with it. Do not worry though, stage 2 has not been the whole last week, but rather once out of the habit of writing I just kept forgetting to write. Please read the other entries that I just posted to realize that I have had good things happen since I came to St. Louis.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sorry for lack of updates

Sorry for the lack of posts lately, i'll be updating later this week, probably a few posts at once. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

St. Louis (Senegal, not Missouri)

On Sunday we arrived in Saint Louis. The drive was about 4 hours long from Dakar, and most of the time through beautiful scenery lush with grass (!) and spotted with many Baobab trees. We stopped in Theis for a quick rest stop, but unfortunately only really got to see a coffee shop. On the plus side I got 3 bananas and an orange for only 50 cents, and when I went back to the fruitman with Alejandra he gave her two bananas as a gift (sometimes being a white woman in Africa has its perks). Sadly the mangoes season is on its way out.

We arrived in Saint Louis and after quickly meeting our host families, went on a horse drawn tour of the city. The city is rather small, made up of a peninsula that cups an island (historical section) and the mainland which has the “suburbs.” My house is not far from the Pont Farhaide. The city’s small size is nice, as there won’t be a whole lot to try to figure out in terms of geography, like in Dakar. On Monday I went with Dan and Alex and we walked around the historic section together. The island isn’t much over a mile long, if at all, and much narrower.

I was surprised, as was everyone else, to find out with our host family assignments that I was living with Dan and Alex! When they mentioned the possibility of three people living together rather than an old man out I had figured that I would be with 2 other girls. It’s not all one party room though, Dan and Alex have their own room and use the common bathroom while I have my own room and bathroom!!! Might I also mention that the bathroom has a mirror, shower, sink, toilet that flushes AND has a seat. I really couldn’t ask for more. The bedroom is also rather large and I have double bed again.  The courtyard of the house is really nice. It’s filled with plants, as our host Mom (Marie) said that gardening is one of her passions. She also reads and writes English really well and speaks fairly well too. We eat at tables, and so far, with silver wear, which is a nice change for all of us. Marie has also said that she only eats rice once a day because she has a sensitive stomach, so we are all ready for the break from fish and rice! She also doesn’t use a lot of oil in her cooking because that upsets her stomach. There is a rooftop that we can hangout on, and it gets a nice breeze.

The only downside is that at the first meal our mom started talking about how only women should work and take care of the men, and that it’s the women who do the work in the house. She then had me serve Dan and Alex meat and clean up the dishes because I was the woman. It was just weird in the context of it all, even though clearing the table certainly isn’t a hard task or an uncommon one for anyone in the States. Though she also says that because I am the woman I am “la reine” (queen) and Alex and Dan are my guards.

Just settling in to Saint Louis, and as always, more news to come. 


On Saturday I took the plunge and headed over to Oceanium, the only dive company in Dakar. I was really nervous about heading over there, given how important safety is in SCUBA and I was a little apprehensive about how that would be handled in Senegal. But I had heard that the place was alright form Matt, another person from the Baobab Center who has been working on marine conservation in Senegal.

While there was some miscommunication at Oceanium as to the possibility of a dive, it all worked out. Given that the day hadn’t started out looking very nice, people were put off of coming, but a 23-year-old Frenchman showed up, so the dive was on. It was just the two of us and the dive instructor, which made for an awesome dive; feeling like it was just me and the water.

Unfortunately I don’t know anything about fish, so I can’t exactly tell you what I saw. But here are some highlights as to the best I can describe

2 eels, very irridescent
a fish about 10 by 12inches that was rainbow sherbet colored
bunches of black and white fishes feeding
if garbage sludge was made into a fish, it would have looked like a brown one I saw

There was about 25-30 feet of visibility, and the guides were all very professional. The dive site we went to was right off of the cliffs of Goree, an island whose history lies in the slave trade.  I would definitely go again, however the waters become a bit murkier and colder come November, the next time I am back in Dakar. Who knows though, maybe I’ll end up back there. They also have kayaking there so maybe I’ll get a chance to do that.

SCUBA diving was a fantastic last activity before leaving Dakar for the month. Once I was in the water I just had a surge of happiness, in a way that nothing other than swimming can do. It definitely left me on a high before heading out to Saint Louis

FYI: I am in Saint Louis from October 5- November 2, though letters will still reach me if they are sent to the Baobab Center address. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Updates and other blogs

Hey everyone
I wrote up two posts but when I went to upload them I had saved them in the wrong format, so it will be another day or so before they get put up. I just wanted to let you all know that I'm doing well and in Saint Louis now.
If you want to hear what Senegal is like for some other people in my group you can visit their blogs too.

Alejandra (Kalamazoo College)

Alex (College of Wooster)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Korite (part 2)

So Korite is now over, and what a day it was. I think I got photos of all of my host family members at some point, so I’ll be able to show you them eventually. It’s a pain to load pictures here, just because of internet speeds at the Baobab Center, but Alex, another student on the program said that he might put some up. I’ll let you all know the link if I do.

When I woke up in the morning, most everyone was running around trying to get something done. The boys and men were all dressing up to go to mosque, while to women were busying preparing food. Given that food preparation was first on the list for today, I figured that it was a free pass on clothing, because you would want to wear something you didn’t care about.


I forgot I am in Senegal, where everything is an occasion to get dressed up.  While I didn’t look homeless, as usual I was outshone by the Senegalese. With maybe the exception of my aunt who is 9 months pregnant.

While suma yaay (my host mom, suma- my, yaay- mom) was cutting potatoes for French fries, she asked me, once again, what kind of food I could make. I found it difficult to try to explain how we cook in the states, especially from a college student’s point of view. Given that all of out food, except rice, it bought that day, and the huge freezer is only for drinks and lamb butchered by the family, explaining freezer meals, in French, was too much to do. My response; I can make mashed potatoes.  Suma yaay’s response was a hearty laugh and then, “ How are you going to get married? You can’t eat mashed potatoes all the time!”

Clearly the Senegalese don’t realize, that yes, I could live on mashed potatoes.

Anyway, back to the real events of Korite.

In terms of preparation, potatoes and onions continued to be cut, and then suma yaay started on the lamb.

Not seasoning lamb, but butchering it.

Alright, it was already dead, and skinned but it still had the head attached. I watch with fascination as she cut it apart, using a hatchet to sever the spine.  It was a bit much for me, given that a month and a half ago, I didn’t eat meat. However, it was good preparation for Tabaski, when my family will slaughter 2 sheep.

On Korite, everyone goes around asking friends and family for forgiveness of sis and transgressions of the last year. Every conversation went like this (though in wolof of course)

Hello, How are you?
Good, and how are you?
Fine, How is your family?
The are there (fig. of speech), and yours?
 They are there. And your mother?
She is there. (continue with almost all family members)
‘Till next year
May you live until next year
Forgive me if I did wrong
I forgive you, forgive me too.
Ok, may God forgive us all

They would usually go through the whole family doing this, but skip me because I’m white (toubab). They would usually get a kick out of it I started it with them and held the conversation. Unfortunately this usually resulted in them trying to speak more Wolof with me, which I couldn’t understand.

I had a bad headache, verging on migraine in the afternoon so I slept a lot, which I felt bad about because I knew I should have been hanging out with my host family. However, Miriama (my sister, 8) woke me up when Amelia and Alex stopped by. They were both wearing their boubous (did I mention I got one?) and wanted to take photos, and then visit Alejandra and Alex to take photos. We took some photos, laughed about us being white (Toubab) or asian (Ching Ching) and pretending like we looked normal in the bouboubs. It was decided that Alex looked good, Amelia looked like a pink highlighter and the Chiquita banana lady gone Asian and I looked like I was ready for a fiesta. It remains true, even in Senegal, that one should never let their mom tell them what’s the fashion right now.

As we were walking to Alejandra’s we passed the group of women who always sell things on the side of the street. When we passed in our outfits they started laughing and clapping. They thought it was even better when we then started talking in Wolof to them, saying the traditional greetings and salutations of Korite. At Alejandra’s we took photos and her mom lent her a boubous to wear to Dan’s. We stopped by Amelia’s, took more photos and then headed to Dan’s. Unfortunately he wasn’t in so from there we parted out separate ways and headed home.

The rest of the day was filled with similar visits, and I got to meet my aunt’s family (2 older sisters and her younger sister, in addition to nieces and nephews).  A lot of it was similar to the states on Christmas when you just hang around people’s living rooms, waiting for the next group to say hello to.

Dinner was actually something I like to eat; lamb with onions, shredded carrots, cucumber, French fries and tomatoes with a vinegar dressing.  That’s it for the night really. Just three things before you go (if you even made it this far)

1. Fun fact: The word Korite comes from the Wolof word, Koor, which means to fast. The end of Ramadan is only called korite in Senegal.

2. I leave for Saint Louis, in the north, for a month on Sunday.  I don’t know what kind of internet I have there, though there will be cyber cafes, I don’t know of their quality or location

3. I LOVE getting emails. Anna.williams06@kzoo.edu or my gmail account is fine too. 

(response to a question from Kate: No i did not feel more spiritually cleansed or anything after fasting, just grumpy and hungry)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Ramadan and Korite (part 1)

It’s Ramadan here in Senegal, as it is for Muslims around the world. A quick explanation for those who are not familiar, there are 5 pillars of Islam, that are followed by Muslims. One of these pillars is fasting for the month of Ramadan, which is based on a lunar calendar. You cannot swim, shower, smoke eat or drink during the day for the length of the month. This means breakfast is usually around 5:00- 5:45 and breaking the fast usually occurs around 7:15 at night. Dates are traditionally eaten to break the fast and in my family we then have milky sugary tea and bread, sometimes with a little salami, pate or something similar. It depends on the family, but in mine we then eat the real dinner 2 hours later at 9:30. Perhaps there will be a desert of fruit, but then it is a wait until breakfast and then it all starts again, for a whole month. Understandably, there is not as much going on during Ramadan, and at about 5pm everyone starts to get really grumpy, with naps being frequent and closed up shops the norm. When I fasted for just one day I was really surprised with how not difficult it was. I’m not going to say it was easy, because it wasn’t, especially when friends are sitting in front of you eating delicious mangoes or when everyone in the classroom has a glass of water in front of them. But for one day it wasn’t the worst thing in the world. The thirst was definitely much harder than anything else. My way of dealing with the discomfort, which is a common way of coping, is to take a nap. Once I was home from school, I slept until it was time too break the fast. My host family was extremely surprised that I fasted the whole day, especially without drinking any water. They kept on asking me in surprise, “You didn’t drink any water?!?!” Though it wasn’t too bad for one day, doing that for a month straight would be terrible. The next day I felt a like I was about to get a cold, and a little dehydrated. I would almost definitely get sick if I tried doing that for a month at a time. But there is a plus side to Ramadan- Korite. (kor-ri-tay) Korite is the celebration at the end of Ramadan. I don’t really know what it entails exactly, except for praying and eating, but there have certainly been American holidays based on less. Korite depends on whom and where the person is; given that it is based on the moon there can sometimes be different result of when it is announced. In all likelihood it will probably be this Wednesday. Afterwards I will probably have some more to tell you about it. Something to keep you waiting- I have a new boubou (Senegalese clothes) to wear for it. It’s going to be hilarious.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


While much of our time here is stuck inside (though sometimes air conditioned) classrooms, this weekend provided an opportunity to get out a little. On Saturday, after a rather fruitless search for a good restaurant for lunch, my host brother Ahmed (15) showed us [ Myself, Amelia, Alejandra and Dan] the way to “La piscine de Mermoz” (the pool of mermoz). Though it is the ocean, rocks, breaking any waves and essentially providing a saltwater pool, enclose it. The beach around it is only rocks (looks like pumice) rather than sand, but once in the water the bottom is sandy. We were the only white people there, the rest of the bathers being Senegalese boys of about the age of 7. The path down to it is certainly a way you would only find if you knew the area, and is rather steep and slippery and so no surprising that there are no other foreigners. It’s about a 25 minute walk, but that doesn’t seem very long of a walk given the amount we do here, and since it is basically flat, it’s not a very taxing one. On Sunday, our desire to cool off had not yet been fulfilled and so we [Myself, Alejandra, and Amelia] headed out with Alex to the beach he had been to the day before with some other students. It’s a bit closer which is nice, though the way down to it is slightly more treacherous. It’s a typical beach, and once again we were the only foreigners there. People here are generally nice, and always want to practice their languages with you, but there are also people who are waiting to rip you off the second you turn your back. It can make it a little stressful, trying to stay kind and polite with out getting involved with weirdos. The beach was a great way to relax, kick back and cool off, and reminded us all why we had chosen Senegal rather than European study abroad (it was also free!). It was the perfect afternoon to a lunch of fresh mangoes, bananas and apples. Looking at the schedule this week makes us all cringe a little though, because we are in classes until 5 everyday, making another trip to beach before next weekend highly unlikely. But at least we have it to look forward to! And tomorrow (today by the time I post this) I willing try fasting with my family for Ramadan for one day- I’ll let you know how it goes!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wolof Lessons

So I wanted to give you guys and update on what taking classes in Senegal is like; here’s a sample from what mornings/ wolof classes (9-11am every weekday) are usually like
8:35- Leave my house to meet Amelia and Dan on the corner
8:40- Cross the VDN, a 4 lane high way with a median in the middle, it’s actually easier to cross than most of the streets in downtown Dakar.
8:42- Regard the goats/ sheep that are grazing on the median of the VDN
8:45 Meet with Alejandra on the Baobab side of the VDN across from the blue tile house
8:50 – Say hi to Myra who is waiting for Val who is usually late
9:00- Arrive at Baobab 1 for class
9:05- Wait to see if the teacher shows up
9:05- Check the schedule for where class is
9:06- Realize that the schedule has no correlation to where class actually is
9:07- Walk to Baobab 2 for class
9:11- Arrive at Baobab 2
9:11- Curse the group that has class in Baobab 1 in the air conditioning
9:11- 15– Greet everyone who is there, saying hello, asking how they are doing and how their family is doing
9:15- Start class
9:16- Stop class to try to fix the fan which is the only thing keeping us from melting into the floor
9:16- Fix fan by putting a backpack by the plug to keep it in the socket
9:17- Fan turns off; get a big ladle to try to keep the fan in place
9:18- Get Pap Samba to just fix it, no backpack or ladle necessary
10:05- Coffee break
10:06- Read the ridiculous titles of the books available/ left behind to read
10:10 Resume class
10:20- Talk about Senegalese equivalents to “brush your shoulder off” and the Wolof word for butt
11:00 Class ends
As crazy as it can be, I love how everything runs here. My only wish is that the pronunciation in Wolof made more sense to me. It’s been fantastic though I’m still very apprehensive to really be taking classes in French. So far all the French has been mostly Frenglish, but I still like my French is improving, if just from my host family and the frenglish.
I also have a cell phone now, so if you need to contact me the number from the states is 011 221 77 809 12 49 (that is exactly what you dial)

Thursday, September 11, 2008


So I have now met my host family. The head of the house is a widow who is very kind. The family has hosted many K students before and seem wonderful. It’s a little difficult to figure out who exactly is in my family and who is given some cultural differences. In Senegal it is considered bad luck to state how many children you have, or to mention a pregnancy before the baby is born. Both are do to superstitions that talking about such things and drawing attention to it would bring bad luck to the people. So it’s not as easy as just asking someone “How many brothers do you have?” rather you have to be tricky. Usually the kids are the best resource because if you ask them their birthday they will list everybody and their brother’s birthday, unfortunately this also then includes cousins and friends and great aunts twice removed and by then so many people have been mentioned that you don’t even remembered what you asked.

But so far, I have one younger sister (Miriam) who is 10 years old. There seems to be a grandmother, or great aunt of some kind, another aunt, a fat little one year old who totally is what my dad would have looked like as a black baby and my host brother (Ibram?). I’m not sure how old my host brother is but he was surprised to find out I was twenty. At first I thought that I had misunderstood the question, and that he was asking me something else to which twenty was a ridiculous response, but no, he was just surprised. He is somewhere around my age and had headphones on his neck or ears since I got here. He was singing along to some songs in English so I was talking to him about music and apparently he likes Akon (badass).  Also when the call to prayer was sung and he began to pray, he was wearing a “vote for Pedro” t shirt which I thought was awesome.

It’s still hotter than hell here but there’s nothing you can do about it other than sweat a bunch.

I’m am so much less nervous about the coming year than I was before, now that I have met my host family and they seem so kind. I know the girl from K who lived here two years ago and when I had talked to her about study abroad she had really liked it so I have good hopes about this family.

They keep calling me Anna “Escargo(?)” because that is a character’s name on a Spanish soap opera that has been dubbed into French and plays on Senegalese TV. The show is called “Le deux visions d’Ana.” We watched it tonight and it was absolutely everything you expect a spanish soap opera to be.

It is Ramadan and while I know that it is traditional to break fasts with dates I was totally confused by the how the meals worked out tonight. So at about 7:30 when the fast could be broken, we all sat down on the mats to eat. So we had a few dates, some bread with mayonnaise, and swiss cheese and these fritter things that were super greasy and delicious and tasted like funnel cake. I kind of just figured that was dinner since it was 7:30 and if I had had been fasting for 14 hours I would have wanted dinner then too. But it wasn’t dinner. I did not know that. So after fake dinner I sat around in the living room with everyone chillaxing chatting and half watching “Les deux visions d’Ana.” After that people kind of cleared out which I guess was just coincidence. I thought since we had eaten and it was around 8:30 that I should put away my things. So I went to my room (I’ll try to get a photo soon [I’m in Africa so soon actually means in about two weeks if I remember]) and put away things for a while trying to sort though it all figure out what actually needed to be taken out and so forth. Then it was about 9:00 so I figured, “hey, I’m hot and sweaty so I should take my shower now,” and my host brother had taken a shower earlier so I figured it would be good. I got back into my room and changed into basically pajamas ( sports bra and my banana print shorts). Then I head them calling my name and through on a shirt and go outside. Nope, turns out it was time for real dinner which I did not know existed (though I did think it was weird we were having mayo and bread for dinner, but I just figured- hey it’s Senegal!”).  Too bad that those shorts are not super short by American standards but they are well above the knee, which is usually sort of the appropriate length. So I ate dinner in them anyway and then just changed into longer shorts after dinner. I wasn’t super inappropriate because rules about that kind of thing are waayyyy more loose around the house but still, I had barely been there for hours. So after real dinner we all headed back to the tv and watched some more. It was really nice because as we were sitting around, eventually watermelon was brought out and we all had a slice. Then twenty minutes later, beautiful pieces of mango. Then as that was being eaten a can of pineapple was being passed around. At around 11:30 I decided I needed to go to bed given that I hadn’t gotten much sleep the nights before. Unfortunately, as I was saying goodnight and walking to my room I saw them bringing out tea. Drinking tea is fairly important in Senegal and the rounds of tea get increasingly sweeter and conversations can go on for hours. I needed to give myself a bedtime though, and since I had already proclaimed me fatigue ot everyone it would have been rather difficult to get out of. But there will be many more nights of opportunity, though I don’t understand how people who will get up at 5 am to eat breakfast can stay up so late.

I am way more comfortable about the amount of French I have to use here as well. The baobab center employs people who almost always speak French, Wolof and English. Even though our Wolof class today was in French. If we were really confused we could ask questions in English (and our textbook is written in English). Speaking with the family though is honestly like being in french lab. Especially talking to Miriam. “when is your birthday? How old are you? Hold old is your brother” or even talking with Ibram, “What sports do you play? Can you dance? Do you like to sing?” Or even when I ask him questions, “ Do you like American music? Do you know the film Napoleon Dynamite? Do you like Akon? (answer: yes!) Once again though, other countries are putting us to shame by speaking native languages, colonizer’s language and now English, just for kicks (and probably some more regional languages as well).  I’ve written too much and it is getting too late, so I will stop here even though there is far more to say. If you have any specific questions, leave a comment (I don’t think you need to have an account) and I’ll try to answer as soon as possible (but this is Africa so that could be a while).  Bonne Nuit!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

In Senegal!

Hey everyone. 
I've been in Dakar for about 2 days now. It's ridiculously hot and humid here, but on the plus side it is absolutely everyone who is hot and disgusting so you don't feel bad about it because everyone looks gross. 
Dakar is a really interesting city, and less built up than I expected. As you walk through the streets you see sheep and goats everywhere and horses pulling carts full of coke a cola. 
Everyone on the program (14 of us) was been staying in an apartment building for the last 2 nights, giving us time to get over any jet lag and know one another a bit better before we meet our host families.
We walked through the areas where we will be living today with guides from the Baobab center, and I will be living near several of the other students in the Mermoz area. 

It's ramadan right now so everything is very laid back and there isn't much going on.
I'll update as often as possible but it's hard to know how when that is given frequent power outages and getting to cyber cafes or the baobab center. 
Miss you all and I hope you are all doing well in your respective homes (whether they be temporary or not)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Leaving for Senegal!

So tomorrow (really today at this point) I leave for Dakar. I can't believe it's happening, and not in that "OMFG, I can't believe it's here, AYYEEEEEEEE!!!!!!," but in a way that I expect to wake up tomorrow and sit around and watch tv and maybe go to the grocery store like i've done so many other days this summer. 

Maybe it will hit me when I'm in the car on the way to JFK, at the gate seeing my group, or mid flight. But when it hits me, it's gonna hit me like a big yellow school bus. 

I am really apprehensive about the trip even though I'm trying to stay positive. 
I figure, if I'm not expecting much, then I won't be disappointed, right? And not in a pessimistic way, just more realistic one perhaps. 
So here are my hopes for Study abroad.
1. Get a little better at French. 

Honestly, that's it. Even if i screw up 2 of my classes abroad, i'll still be covered credit wise, so I'm hoping to just muddle through 4 of them, and hopefully that will be enough

As per all of the Madame Solberg classes I've taken I think it would be unfair to ignore her suggestions of coping mechanisms, so here are my two
1. Find a public pool and go swimming regularly
2. Try to go kayaking twice

I've heard of a few public pools in Dakar, but I have no idea how difficult they will be to get to, or if they will be very expensive.
I've also heard of some kayaking that can be done (Dakar is a coast town after all), and after this summer I've really taken a liking to it.

Like I said, i can't believe it's all happening tomorrow, I'm expecting that it's more likely to go to the Delaware than Dakar tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Contact Me!

Hey there, my flight to Senegal is fast approaching. If you want to keep in touch ( which i think you do) here's some contact info, though email is easiest for me. 

Snail Mail (1):

Anna Williams
s/c ACI Baobab Center
B.P. 5270
Dakar- Fann

Snail mail for FEDEX, DHL, and UPS (2):
Anna Williams
ACI Baobab Center
509 SICAP Baobabs 
Dakar, Senegal
Tel: (221) 33.825.36.27   <-- this must be included on the package, it's not an actual number to reach me at

*NOTE: Letters and packages must be marked "AIR MAIL" and take at least 2 weeks to arrive from the US.

Remember I love my facebook and email, and those will be the quickest to communicate with me. 


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Background info

So somehow I decided that study abroad in Senegal was a good idea. Of course this was last December when the Michigan winter winds were blowing and a whole year of spring and summer sounded like a good idea. 
So now, in twelve days, I am headed to Dakar, Senegal for six months of study abroad. 
I am more scared than I think I have ever been before.

While I am certainly no stranger to travel, I have never traveled for this length of time to a place so distant and strange to me. My french skills have seriously depleted over the summer, and it will be quite a shock to be taking classes all in french, including learning another language in french (Wolof).

This should be quite the trip