Tuesday, February 17, 2009

week-end bi weesu demoon nanu magal

Well, I am back from Touba and finally well-rested, yet I do not know how to adequately describe the Magal at the moment. It was incredibly crowded, I took a shower in a toilet room, I think I ate ram testicle (it was dark and the meat was hidden in green beans), I basically sat under a tent for three days, the traffic was immense and creative, and the mosque was beautiful, though it was too crowded to visit more than once. In retrospect, I am glad that I went to the Magal. I have much more respect for the Maurides who actually look forward to the voyage, an annual opportunity to express their sincere and direct devotion to God. Additionally, I have acquired the ability to sleep almost anywhere and under any conditions.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Toubacouta Trip

This past weekend the MSID group took a 3-night trip to Toubacouta, a wetlands region about 7 hours to the south of Dakar due to poor road conditions, to study rural development issues.

We departed on Thursday, and after eating lunch at Professor Sene's house in Sokone, we arrived in the village of Toubacouta at about 5 in the afternoon. We, with a group of students from UCAD, toured around Toubacouta, seeing its beach, mosque and middle school before traveling to another village to "assist" with a Seereer wrestling match. During the match, Waly made me dance in front of about 200 locals!

Here is a photo of a wrestler that gives a sense of the mystical, spiritual, and ephemeral atmosphere of the match. It was truly indescribable.

Also, during the tour around Toubacouta, we came across the practice of a dance troupe, who we would see perform the following night during a dance showcase.

Friday morning we met with the public communications officer of a fishery in a village south of Toubacouta and with some public officials in Toubacouta. Here is a photo of a group of women who make a living drying fish and reselling it to sellers from markets in Dakar. It is one of the ways in which they can obtain and maintain financial security and independence.

After meeting with the regional administrator of Toubacouta, the group took a couple of pirogues to visit and study a marine nature reserve about 5km outside of the village. Here is a photo of Sonya, Josephine, and Margaretta with the driver of my pirogue.

After talking with the park ranger, we returned to Toubacouta to eat dinner and attend the aforementioned dance showcase.

The next day, we visited a woman's group in the very rural village of Keur Saloum Diané before visiting with nearly the whole population of another village called Keur Sevigne Korka. Both of the villages were lacking in infrastructure and human capital. The latter, however, had no school, no working-age males, and no medical staff. Josh, Kelsey, and I were invited into a room to see a mother with her newborn child. When we entered we found a premature baby and a dying woman with access to only traditional medicines. Additionally, one of the village elders stated that we were the only outsiders over a period of 105 years (including the government) to visit the village with the aim of finding out how its people live.

Here is a photo of our meeting with the woman's group in Keur Saloum Diané.

We left Keur Sevigne Korka to visit the daara in Sangako where I will be interning. I do not have any photos since my camera's batteries died; however, I can say that I am very excited for the internship and will apparently be learning some Arabic.

Sunday morning, we awoke to take part in a weekly ritual of Toubacouta, involving fire-based forest clearing, communal work, and a Chewbacca-looking overseer with a whip. After leaving the work area, we gave group presentations and left Toubacouta for less mosquito-infested lands!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Naka wa ker gi?

Here are many of the photos of my family and home for which many of you have been asking.

Papa Mamadou "Moustafa" Niang:

Maman Niang:

Khadim Niang, my youngest brother:

Diama Niang, my eldest brother, preparing the traditional attaaya:

I would post photos of Bachirou, Daba and Marième, but I don't have any yet!

Here are some photos of my house, however, including one of the living room, one of my bed, and one of the front of the house. I really like it, as it's quite comfortable.

Now that you have your family photos, you will have to wait until next time for textual information!

Ba beneen yoon, inch Allah.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

ndànk ndànk moy jap golo ci ñay

This Wolof proverb, translated literally, means “little by little one catches the monkey in the bush”. Translated less literally, the essence of the proverb remains and reminds one that things take time.

Last night, since we didn’t have any classes this morning, my housemate decided that he was going to stay out late and explore the city with a girl in the MSID program and her Senegalese brother. As I got ready for bed rather than heading out (it was after 11), I asked myself if I was getting to most out of my experience here in Dakar. I haven’t really seen much of the city yet, I’ve gone out at night only once to a jazz club called Just4U (the musicians were extremely talented, especially the guitarist), and most of the time I’m at home, either talking to Khadim and Diama and their friends or helping Daba with her English homework (she is also helping me learn Wolof). Even the program staff seems to assume that the students go out a lot; they warned that going out unannounced could create tensions with our host families.

Anyway, I came across two different questions: (1) what Senegal did I actually come here to experience, and (2) am I just getting ahead of myself? I suppose I’m not really a big fan of any night life, I don’t party at William and Mary either, and I like to sleep at night to enjoy the day. With that in mind, I feel that, though I haven’t even gone out to explore the markets yet, I am experiencing the Dakar I wanted to all along. I’m meeting real people, and living as close to a real Senegalese life as an American college student can get. I take showers with a bucket so that the water isn’t frigid, I can wash my clothes by hand, and I am slowly working my way into the kitchen. As for the second question, there exists another Wolof proverb which states “lu nit di donn daf ca séntu njeriñ”, which, roughly translated, means that if you exert yourself for something then you expect to gain from it. One does not undertake tasks or activities without a good reason. Additionally, the Wolof response during greetings is “maangi fi” or “maangi fi rekk”, which means “I am here only.” My brother Khadim has told me that I shouldn’t even try to buy clothes at the HLM market until a couple weeks from now, when my Wolof is sufficient for bartering.

Life may be slow at the moment, but I am extremely happy and trying to suppress my fidgety side. I have many adventures ahead of me, including HLM, the pilgrimage to Touba with Diama, and a possible trip to St. Louis, and the whole internship living with a marabout thing. For now I’m just going to keep relaxing and enjoying being here only.

Ba beneen yoon,

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Lu bees?

According to popular demand, I should add photos. So here are some!

Here we find our omnipresent program assistant Wali in front of the Millennium Door just northwest of downtown Dakar.

This is a photo of the MSID group making a guard's day at the gates of the presidential palace!

Here we see Josh and Vanessa chillin' at the cape.

The stairs were really treacherous. Many planks were missing and the wooden structure gave a little and creaked with every step.

Finally, we notice Josephine and me standing in front of the Mosque of the Divinity, a few minutes north of Fann Residence and WARC.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

More First Impressions

Every day I have woken up surprised once again to be in Senegal. It is at once stressful and invigorating, saddening and uplifting. I know at once that this day will bring new challenges and force me to relive many of the stresses of yesterday, whether the smog, the hawkers, the indescribably complex and unruly traffic patterns or the dirty sand covering my shoes and infringing upon the sacred cleanliness of my socks.

But these troubles are not specifically African; life is stressful in the city. A constant sprint of exhaustion even at a snail’s pace of leisure. What I love about Dakar so far is that even at the pace of urban modern life, people take the time to pay attention to the well-being of one another.

Today, after orientation concluded at WARC, I went walking around the quarter of Fann Residence with Josh, Seth and Ellie. As went traveled south along Avenue Cheikh Anta Diop toward the university, I almost collided with a Senegalese student not unlike myself, tall and bit a scrawny, with glasses and a nervous twitch. As he and I approached one another we performed a well known global urban street dance. I moved to the right to let him pass, and he moved to his left; I shifted to my left, and he jumped right. Facing this impasse, rather than become frustrated or ignore me, he stopped switching from side to side, smiled, and proclaimed, “Salaam Maaleekum”, or “Peace be with you.”

Additionally, the Senegalese brother of Henry and Seth, two other students of MSID, has already taken Josh and me into his family, walking with us three times now between our family’s house and WARC. When we left from WARC today, rather than interrupting and telling us that it was time to leave, he was kind enough to sit back and wait until we finished our relatively pointless conversation.

The trip so far has had its minor setbacks: I believe that someone from the hotel staff stole my iPod shuffle (but, they don’t have the charger!), my mosquito net has been too small, I nearly crushed my foot underneath the Gorée ferry’s boarding plank, and I took part in a minor taxi accident. However, the warmth and welcome I have received has kept me calm, I now have a new mosquito net, I have learned how to take a bucket bath successfully, and I my internship seems like it will be a very positive experience. As the Wolof saying goes, “Bu ko Yàlla dogalee, dina am”.

Mon introduction au Sénégal

Finally I can say "hello from Senegal!" I would like to apologize ahead of time for the brevity of this blog post, but I don't have much time before my computer's battery dies. So, I have already lived with la famille Rokhaya-Niang. They are extremely welcoming,if not a bit awkward (I'm probably the awkward one). Anyways, yesterday, my MSID group visited l'Ile de Gorée, and I took many, many photos.

This is a view through The Door of No Return (La porte du voyage sans retour)

This is a photo of me on Gorée with downtown Dakar in the background.

This is a photo of the island's slave monument.