Friday, February 27, 2009

Last Day- Man ngiy ñibbi

I leave for the airport at midnight tonight. Last night was spent at "Baobab 4" as the bar around the corner from the 3 actual Baobab Center is called by the students here. It was great to get a lot of people together. There was much hugging, joking and photo taking. I don't think it's really hit me yet that I'm leaving. As Fridays are the dress up days here, I'm celebrating my last chance to really get to use my boubou. My host family said for me to wear it home, and I think I will wear it to the airport to keep them happy and then change once there. 
I am still trying to fit Butterball into my suit case as I have decided he is well worth the 50 $ overweight fee, but i think he would flat out break my suitcase. 
I might update this blog a few more times after getting back to the states, but as I am leaving Senegal, it's clearly not that applicable anymore. 
Thank you to everyone for following my on my adventure of a 6 month study abroad in Senegal. Best of luck to you all, and to anyone else who may be headed off to Senegal. 
Merci pour tous
A la prochaine
Ba beenen yoon

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Reverse Culture Shock Re-Orientation Session

Yesterday we had a session to prepare us to get ready to go back to the good ole USA. People have said to me that the reverse culture shock (the shock that “your” culture now suddenly seems foreign) is worse than the culture shock of arriving to the foreign land. The session was filled with questions like “Who will you call first when you get back? What do you wish you could import back to the US? What will your first meal be? Who will be our hardest goodbye? What will you miss the most? Who will you miss the most? What will have changed since you’ve been gone” and so on and so forth.

The session had some helpful aspects, and given that is was led by our program director, and attended by friends, wasn’t too painful. However, there were some responses that were rather surprising after 6 months in Senegal. For example one question was “What will you not miss?” One response was “backwardness.” It’s funny to see how people still don’t understand the idea of cultural relativity after six months in another country.

As I’ve been thinking about going home, somehow my thoughts always stop after that first BLT sandwich. I have sort of forgotten that I have a “real” life to go back to in NJ and back in Kalamazoo. I was talking to Alejandra and we both feel like life doesn’t really exist after those 24 hours back to the states. We wish there was a way to just take a break from Senegal for a little bit but then return back to our host families. Or more preferably, just take select people back to the states. And have them magically learn English. 


The Baobab Center is a non profit company that teaches languages lessons, can arrange for other classes and is basically a cultural center for orientation into Senegal and other parts of West Africa. By arriving in September there were few other people already here given the heat and the start of the school year. Having passed through a New Year here though I have met Rotary Scholars, American Military personnel, students from other schools and independent travelers. Several people have asked me as the anxiously stare at their empty calendars and days left “What is the most interesting thing you’ve done here? What is the not to miss activity?”

I’ve been standing in groups with other Kalamazoo students when asked this and I always feel rather sorry for the person who asked the question. With the answers we give them Senegal must seem like the most boring place in the world. We stand with our mouths hanging open looking at one another hoping that someone else will chime in first.

Senegal does not have a Great Wall, Eiffel Tower, Running of the Bulls, Large Scale Tomato Fights, Big Ben, Castles or impressive parliament buildings. The beaches are nice, but not something I would ever travel farther than Florida to search out. There have been many activities that I have enjoyed here. SCUBA diving was a really cool experience, as was seeing Mar Lodj and attending a lutte (Senegalese Wrestling Match). But the majority of what has made my time in senegal bearable/enjoyable/awesome has been random experiences, jokes with friends, ridiculous sights, relationships I’ve built and accomplishments. It’s hard to describe how one can search them out themselves. It is likely however that the kind of person who ends of coming here will find them though, because they certainly didn’t sign up for the glamour of coming to Senegal.

So here is my list of accomplishments and great moments in Senegal, which is as close to a Senegalese Great Wall as I got.

SCUBA diving off Ile de Goree

Watching that Goat face plant in the street

My host family telling me I chose good mangoes

Seeing a monkey riding on top of a Car Rapide

Alex making a “nyum,nyum,nyum” noise for the goats and sheep’s, thereby scaring both the children nearby and the sheep.

Marie dancing

Marie calling me “bébé Anna”

Marie giving me a pagne

Being allowed to wash dishes (apparently I was no longer just an imcompetant Toubab at this point)

Obama being elected

Senegalese people congratulating us for Obama being elected, and feeling good will towards America for once.

Everyone clapping for me at UCAD for speaking well (in French!) about what Obama’s election meant for America.

Taking a Car Rapide for the first time

Someone asking what the word “berger” meant and I was the first to respond (the first time I knew the answer to a random vocab question- it means shepard by the way)

Adja calling me sai-sai after I called Ahmed bu nuul. (Ahmed is my host brother and he was giving me crap and teasing me by calling me “xonx nopp” (red ears) so I responded by calling him “bu nuul” (of black) [side not: this is not a derogatory thing to say at all, Senegalese people call a spade a spade. The will frequently say things like “he’s light,” “she’s dark,” or “oh, your sister is prettier than you,” which is quite upsetting to the host students when showing pictures of their American families to their host family {sorry Kate, that wasn’t said to me, it was said to another student}] Anyway, Adja basically called me a rascal for saying that.

Watching the stars on the way back from Touba

Ndeye telling me how to properly hit Ahmed (ie, harder)

Everytime I walk in the door and Butterball runs up to me with outstretched arms

When Butterball wiped out holding that HUGE container of water

Helping to prepare Tabaski food

Singing songs on the back of the bus with Steve and the African students from our CESTI class

Writing a 4 page paper on Talibés in Senegal in French and getting a 14/20 on it (for those unfamiliar with the French grading system that is a pretty decent grade)

Taking the bus to my internship for the first time, having no clue what I was doing and still making it there on time- and all by myself

Hanging out with Senegalese and Americans in mostly French, some English and some Wolof, feeling comfortable and knowing what was going on

Braving a squat toilet at the bus station in Dakar (not a great moment, but an accomplishment)

Ndeye defending me to the family, that although I can’t speak Wolof I do understand it.

And of course- Butterball licking shoes. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Love/ Hate

Study abroad is a love/ hate relationship. Sometimes I love Senegal, sometimes I hate it. It all depends at what comes at you and when. If the littlest thing hits you on the wrong day it can just about crush you, but those days when you feel awful, and then you walk in the door and Butterball runs up to you to give you a hug and say your name makes it so much better. As the students here have discussed, it’s easier to like things a lot more when you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I can get over not getting a piece of fruit each day when I know I am doing my own grocery shopping in a week. It was a much different feeling when I first got here, didn’t know where to buy a piece of fruit, how much it should cost, if I should bargain, whether or not it would make me sick, whether or not the vendor had change and by the end of it all if it was even worth it to buy the apple or not. A lot of the things on these two lists have a lot of aspects to them. For example, I love chocoleca- I love it, but I hate it’s competitor chocomousse which is always really runny. And in the end I hate them both when I have to eat them with bread everyday for 5 months straight. So yes, I like littering but hate the pollution. It’s a double edged sword. 


Things I Love about Senegal

  1. Faux-tella (chocopain, chocoleca, chocomousse,- all peanut/chocolate spreads, imagine nutella but with peanut instead of hazelnut
  2. Not having to look for a trashcan (ie littering- it’s quite convenient)
  3. Awesome Mangoes for 50 cents (but sadly went out of season around October)
  4. Easily Purchased fruit
  5. Akon
  6. Cheap and beautiful fabrics
  7. Bargaining
  8. The many juices here- Bouye (Baobab), Dittah, Bissap
  9. Ngalax- A smoothie type substance of Baobab, peanut, banana and coconut
  10. The relaxed pace of life
  11. General friendliness of people
  12. My Wolof Teacher- Oumoul
  13. Amusing sheep/goats (hey Alejandra- remember when that goat? Hahah)
  14. Marie Gaye, Mustapha and Thany- My host family from St. Louis
  15. A break from Kalamazoo
  16. A unique study abroad experience, and generally more badass than Europe (I still love you all my Europe based friends!)
  17. Cheap snacks
  18. Sharing
  19.  And of course- My Host family in Dakar (even when they piss me off every now and then)


Things I hate about Senegal

  1. Pollution
  2. The heat (written in September, now- the “cold” I am ill equipped for this slightly cool weather)
  3. Power outages
  4. Lack of privacy
  5. Always communicating in French and Wolof
  6. Ceebujen at least three times a week
  7. Only ever watching crappy Wolof soap operas on TV
  8. People trying to scam you
  9. No coffee shops
  10. Very expensive or bad granola bars
  11. Bad pens
  12. Having to share everything all the time.
  13. General lake of variety in food. (Fish or Rice; Cake or Death?)

Monday, February 23, 2009

List of the Day- Food

So this last week is filled with many thoughts. I'm going for a list of day of my most occupying thoughts, but I make no promises that I'll actually follow through on it.

This list has been on my mind for approximately 5 and 1/2 months. 

Foods I miss

  1. Celery sticks with peanut butter
  2. PB and J sandwich
  3. Ruffles potato chips
  4. Mashed potatoes
  5. Peas
  6. Stir fried cashew pineapple and chicken
  7. Ham sandwich
  8. Cinnamon rolls
  9. Cereal
  10. Milk
  11. Strawberries
  12. Milkshakes/ Smoothies
  13. Pizza
  14. Hash browns
  15. Oreos
  16. Sugar cookies
  17. Banana bread
  18. Pot stickers
  19. Salad- walnut cherry vinaigrette cucumbers oooo.... or a citrus salad, or really any type of salad
  20. Real pasta
  21. Granola
  22. Tostitos and salsa and guacamole
  23. White grape salad
  24. Raspberries and berries in general
  25. Baby carrots (raw!)
  26. Chicken Breast
  27. Yoghurt/ Cucumber Tubule Pilaf
  28. Mac and cheese and broccoli
  29. BLTs
  30. Sorbet
  31. Orange Juice
  32. Donuts from Abmas Farm
  33.  Cheese- esp mozarella with some tomato and oil and vinegar 
  34. Stir fry/ Fried Rice from bamboo house or Rice Kitchen
  35. Brother's Pizza
  36. Fruit other than apples, bananas and oranges. 
While not specific, I'm also looking forward to not having more than one starch at a meal ex. bread with mashed potatoes, or using bread to eat pasta.
I'm also looking forward to the general variety of the American diet. I can't say that I've had more than 20 different meals while being in Senegal, 90% of which involved fish, rice or fish and rice. Ooooo, cooked onions, I'm done with that for a while as well. 
Mom and Dad, please have nearly no food at home when I get back. I can't wait to go grocery shopping

Foods I will miss approximately 3 weeks after getting back. I will think about preparing them and then promptly not care. Maybe I'll even try to prepare them.
1. Ceebujen
2. Yassa Poulet
3. Lott (Apparently Ladyfish in the states)

Foods I will miss very quickly
1. Sugar peanuts sold on the side of the street for about a nickel
2. Tempo- A really terrible alternative to Oreos, but they only cost 25 cents for a whole roll
3. Thaikry-  A yoghurt type things with millet balls in it. It has saved me after many a nasty meal
4. Those chili flavored chips they sell at the gas station- so good
5. Lollipops that only cost 5 cents
6. Beignets- (really just donuts, but they are so good)
7. Nems- senegal's answer to eggrolls. 
8. Chawarma- (ok there are places in Kalamazoo and Ridgewood for it, BUT not at the awesome cost of 2 dollars. though you probably don't get diarrhea with it either)
9. Peanut Brittle- again, available in the states, but not for only a nickel! 

I might post a list tomorrow, but it depends how lazy I get. Hope I made you all hungry!

Monday, February 16, 2009

It’s the final countdown

There now remains only two more weeks in Senegal. I can’t believe that the end is so near. In very un-Senegalese fashion I have many things to get done before I leave. I have my ICRP report (10 pages in French), souvenir shopping, packing, and a trip to Toubab Diallo. Ok, actually that’s not that much at all, but having been in Senegal for the last 5 months means that I take things at an even more relaxed pace than usual. Everything seems like it can be put off to the next day, which is now no longer true.

Of course I have mixed feelings about going. I wish I could stay in Senegal longer, but I am done with living with a host family and eating Senegalese food all the time (there is a reason that Senegalese restaurants are not popular in the States.) Many of the things that are important to me here in Senegal are the relationships I have with people. It’s hard to ever imagine coming back to Senegal, mostly because at this point in my life I can’t imagine working in a foreign aid type post, which is close to the only type of job for foreigners in Senegal. Typical of most study abroad students, the majority of my friends are other foreigners. By the time I would have a chance to come back to Senegal, nearly all the people I would want to visit would be gone. I am thankful for the host family situation though. I absolutely my internationally known “husband,” 2 year old Butterball. I also love having a younger brother to tease and lightly abuse- Ahmed. I can’t imagine what kind of mess I’ll be when I say goodbye.  I am excited to get back to a place where a BLT isn’t an epic search, I can cook whatever I would like, and wash and dry my clothes in just two hours, all by machine. Oh, and most importantly, make mashed potatoes the right way (they add SUGAR and powdered milk here, ewww.) Well, I concede that perhaps what is most important is that I get so see my family and friends again. For all the great relationships I’ve made here I still very much miss my family, and friends back in the states. I don’t know where the next two weeks will bring me exactly so, once again, sorry for the lack of updates, I’ll do what I can. 

At the Zoo

A long overdue report of our trip to the zoo last Saturday.

We had the day free and decided to head to the famed Dakar Hann Zoo. Not famed for it’s wonderful animals of anything of the sort, but rather for what was described in Lonely Planet’s guide as “a place more likely to make children cry than smile.” One conversation between a student who had previously gone and his host brother went something like this:

Dan: Yeah, I just found it really depressing

Ibou: Well, were you drunk?

Dan: No, why would I be drunk at the zoo?

Ibou: Oh, well that’s your problem, you got to go when you’re drunk.

So a group of us headed there to see for ourselves. We went on a random day of the week, arriving around 1pm to find out that apparently even zoos take lunch breaks. We spent about an hour wandering around the surrounding park area (quite nice actually, and the greenest place I’ve seen in Dakar) waiting for the park to open back up. We must have been there on a school day because tons of children lined the path up and filled the playground next to the ticket area. As we approached the children started shouting “Toubab, Toubab!” I had the distinct feeling that we were the exhibit.

The entrance fee was only 350 CFA (about 80 cents) and it showed. The animals looked rather neglected and malnourished. We saw some buffalo, lions, camels, horses, turtles, and monkeys. Oh, and pigeons (I guess that’s a lesson in cultural relativity right there.) The only slightly remarkable moment was that we saw some of the zoo keepers bringing out a dead goat for the lions. We were so excited to get to watch them tear it to pieces for lunch. We were disappointed though when we the keepers butchered the goat. Some of the students who arrived after Tabaski found that in itself to be interesting but after seeing four goats slaughtered it really wasn’t that remarkable. After dividing the goat into about 6 pieces the caretaker threw the pieces through the bars of the cage to the waiting 6 lionesses. There was no ensuing feeding frenzy, rather each waited to get their own piece.  In fact it was rather sad to see the animals reduced to so little energy.

I’m glad that I did go, just because I did find it interesting to see the animals, but it certainly holds nothing to others that I’ve been to before. I think I’ll leave the attempts at seeing big game and African animals to reserves, safaris and zoo’s in the states. 

Monday, February 2, 2009

Rural Visit, Illness and Planes

So I got back form my rural visit a few days ago (last Wednesday), though the “rural” visit title would be more appropriate. Though the area we were staying in was very rural Alejandra and I stayed in an auberge rather than with a host family in the village. It actually turned out to be a really nice mix of things. We got to see a lot of aspects of rural life basically without having to deal with any of the really bad parts like actually staying with a host family. All the people at the auberge acted as our host family though. Alpha (Thomas) Ba was our true host though all the women who worked there certainly took us under their wing as well.  While we were there we took a horse cart ride of the whole island (there are three villages on the island), a boat ride of the mangroves, made Senegalese couscous starting all the way from the millet still being on the stock (it’s still is gross though), went to Sunday mass, and learned to carry a baby on our back with just a piece of fabric like the Senegalese do. It was a great stay over all and we learned quite a bit, as our host was very knowledgeable about a variety of topics.  He is divorced with 3 children who live with him, speaks a little English and Italian and in addition to French, Wolof and Seerer is also fluent in German and lived in Germany for 6 years. We talked a bit about the culture shock between Senegal and Germany and decided that there probably isn’t a harder two countries to move between.

Oh, and as usual, he was very interested in me so now my dowry offers are now as follows.

1.     Abdou- The Goat Herder

2.     Ama Sarr- a hamburger

3.     Youssou- He’s gay, but my age (but also not our of the closet since this is Senegal)

4.     Alpha- An auberge in the Sine Saloum Delta. (Quite pretty there)

I think I’ll have to keep mulling over the possibilities until coming to final decision.

My tavels down to Mar Lodj were delayed by, what else, Dakarrhea. I was at the bus station with Alejandra waiting to leave when left with no other options I decided that I was willing to try their bathroom. (For future reference, it was actually quite clean, though a squat toilet, but somebody comes in and hoses down the whole place after each person) I even after venturing into the bathroom and not feeling better I decided I should fork up the money to pay for my taxi back home (3 dollars, I could have gotten it cheaper but diarrhea means you’re willing to get home a little quicker) After getting back together with my good friend Imodium I was ready to leave the next day. I met Alejandra there and everything went well.

However the other day I was struck again by illness . I was feeling some nausea, and had difficulty eating Senegalese food (nothing really that new or out of the ordinary). Yesterday (Saturday) I was feeling terrible, like mild flu symptoms. Unfortunately, since it was a Saturday morning and I was just wanting some peace and quite and not to look at Senegalese food I’m pretty sure my host family just thought I was hung-over (though I was the only person NOT drinking Friday night).  By now though I am much better so no worries. I have to say though, being suck in a foreign country is the worst. Possibly worse than even being actually sick itself. Being sick in the states usually means spending the whole day sleeping alone in a dark room with lots of big blankets, perhaps read a book or take a warm bath, maybe watch some tv, all the while chugging down some honey lemon tea, maybe some bananas, plain rice, or chicken noodle soup, if you feel like eating at all. If you should feel better later in the day, you must suffer the consequences of having taken the whole day off by not doing anything fun for a while and not having anything really good to eat.

In Senegal being sick means sit on the couch in the living room, but you can’t actually sleep because of all the noise and it’s weird to be that random white person sleeping on the couch when visitors come over, sit in your room by yourself while you debate possibly passing out when you stand up in order to go site in the living room so you don’t offend your host family. They will then call you to come eat lunch (which in your mind you should be able to eat whatever you want when you want it, not at meal times, I mean, c’mon, you’re sick, right?). You think to yourself, well, I’m sick, but rice is good for me then. You got wedge yourself a seat around the bowl, nearly passing out to get there, then take two bites and realize that it’s spicy rice and you kind of want to puke. Host family tells you to go to the doctor while you think, “but I’m not dying yet and it’s not malaria, why would I got to the doctor?” Make it back to your room and fall asleep for a while more.  Then you wake up and your host mom has purchased you 2 bananas which seems like the food of the Gods at a cost of about 50 cents, which you feel so bad that you got two whole bananas to yourself and you didn’t share them with the 11 other people in the house and should you repay your host family that 50 cents? Fall back asleep a while feel mostly better except for chills, trying to wrap your one sheet tighter around you. Get told to go to the doctor again even though at this point you really feel fine. Sit with the family a while as they watch TV in Wolof.  Eat the birthday dinner of your host brother (salad [salad is a loose term] and shish kebabs). Sit with the family a while longer. Go out to the boutique in your pajamas with your host sister because she wants company. Eat brioche and sweetened breads for birthday celebration snacks. Actually don’t eat them because you’ve been sick all day but have your family tell you to eat more. Go to bed at 11 because, ya know, you’re sick. Have host family ask why you are going to bed so early.

In short, I guess it could be said that it’s a little weird for an American to be sick here.

But stop your worrying I’m fine.

Anyway, on to my last topic: planes.

I’ve changed my plane flight home. I’ll be returning home February 28th rather than March 8th. With returning home on March 8th I would have had about 5 days at home before heading out to Michigan, then NC and then back to Kalamazoo to start school. This way I have a little less than 2 weeks at home, which is much easier transition than going rushing back into everything.

I can’t wait to get home I already know there is so much about Senegal that I will miss once I am home.  I will likely complain about all of those things while ignoring the fact that that I have had rice twice a day for the last 5 months, didn’t have hot water, I weighed the cost benefit of drinking from the tap each time I was thirsty, the internet is the slowest I’ve used since the 90’s, I couldn’t wear anything that went above my knees, I really missed washing machines, and I wore the same 9 outfits clothes for 6 months.

Anyway, the point is I have one week less than before until I can go to a Jersey diner and get a huge fountain Coke with crushed ice, a strawberry milkshake, and a BLT with French fries.