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.