Friday, May 28, 2010

Kevin in Senegal

Hello everyone! I have neglected this blog greatly of late, and for that I really do apologize. With internet difficulties and sheer lack of time, I have been unable to keep it as updated as I had hoped. I hope everyone is doing well and thank you so much for all the comments and birthday wishes. I miss you all very much and am excited to see you in a little over a week! But since it’s getting to the end of my adventure here in Senegal, I thought I would write one more entry before heading on back to the United States. Plus, I know some of you would really like an update on Kevin in Africa :)

The last three weeks of my time in Thiès really were the best three weeks of my entire trip. I really settled in at my internship which I continued to love and I continued to grow closer to my host family each day. My internship ended with their biggest event of the year, the May 1st celebration in honor of the day of the worker. Over 250 young women came out to march in the May Day parade in the morning and the organization put on an entire afternoon event to raise awareness regarding child workers and child rights in the city of Thiès and throughout Senegal and West Africa. The afternoon consisted of dance and theater, both of which I participated in and considering it was traditional Senegalese dancing and the theater was in Wolof, it was quite a sight to see. I made a bit of a fool of myself but in, I hope, an entertaining way (see photos). It was a terrific way to close out the internship though I found it extremely hard to leave. Thankfully I have been able to visit three times since and will visit again this coming week before heading back to the states. The internship really was the most enriching part of my whole experience here in Senegal and I really feel blessed to have had such a terrific experience and learned so much.

I finished the actual program about 3 weeks ago, turned in my 20 page paper on my internship and said goodbye to most of my fellow American students who left as soon as the program ended. Since then, I spent about a week with Elke, a good friend of mine from the states who was also studying with the year-long version of my program at our host family’s home in Dakar before heading to Thiès to spend some time with my family and the students there. Rebecca, another good friend of mine from the states, flew in Friday the 14th and stayed for 8 days. We had a fantastic time traveling around the country, visiting Dakar, Thiès and the Petit Cote. All of our 8 days were fun-filled with meeting my families, horseback-riding, dancing, live music, making friends and a ropes course in the baobabs (Senegal’s most famous tree)! By the end of trip she was speaking Wolof and looking like a local.

Though it was sad to see Rebecca leave on the 22nd, I only had 4 short hours until my dad flew in. I met an excited and fairly unscathed version of my father, having survived a long flight and going through customs in a different language. And the adventure of Kevin in Africa began. We spent three nights in Dakar, seeing some sights and meeting my family and we are currently in St. Louis a smaller town in the northern part of the country, beautifully positioned between river and ocean. We’ve been having a great time and I have especially enjoyed being able to share Senegal and all the things I love about it. My dad is even learning some Wolof. He now knows “Asalamalekum”, the word used as hello (though it actually translates as “peace be with you”) and has decided to use it with any and every person he comes across. Just imagine the two of use walking through a small town where we already look out of place with my dad greeting literally everyone, including those who are not looking at us and those in the middle of conversation or other activities. It’s quite humorous but I think has endeared us a bit to the town’s population as a whole.

Tomorrow, we’re heading on to Thiès so he can meet my family there and visit my internship site. I’m looking forward to introducing him to my coworkers and students. We plan to spend four days there and then we’re back to Dakar for another couple of nights before jumping on a plane back home. I cannot explain how difficult it will be to leave this country that has really become my home and life but I can say that I feel incredibly lucky to have had the experience I did and to come away with the feeling I have for this place. But, of course, I also cannot wait to get home and see all of your beautiful faces! I can’t believe I will be seeing you in a little over week. I really look forward to talking to you and catching up on all of your lives. Leggui, leggui (see you soon)!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Living, Working, Learning

I apologize for taking so long to update this. Though my brother has an internet cable, it’s the only one for the whole house which includes a lot of people who use internet. I’ve now spent about 2 and a half weeks in new city, which means I only have three left! Again, I need to comment on how fast this whole trip seems to be going. Right now, I’m definitely watching Confessions of a Shopaholic on tv, in French, with my teenage host brother who is also making some sort of a clothing item out of a pillow case on a ancient, manual sewing machine. It’s a normal night in Senegal.

Thiès is great, the city is beautifully tropical though very hot, but my walk to work is absolutely gorgeous. I’ll take pictures sometime soon and add them so you can get a flavor of the scenery. My family includes a lot of people just like my family in Dakar. I have 8 siblings, at least 4 brothers who live in the house, two sisters, one sister in law, my host mom and one niece who’s two years old. Everyone is wonderfully boisterous and fun. They were a little hard to get used to at first because they can be a little overwhelming but we gotten to a very nice groove now. It is odd to be the only student here, but it is forcing me to spend every waking moment immersed in culture and language which is a really good experience.
My internship is fantastic and I can already tell it is will be one of the major things I will take away from the whole Senegal experience. The organization I work with, has two major products, one for street children and one for young people who work.

The project for street children works manly with children who beg on the streets for religious leaders who educate them in the Koran. This is a rather long story that I won’t get into here but I’d be happy to explain it to anyone who’s interested. If these children do not get their quota in begging for the day, they can’t go home to sleep and are forced to sleep on the street. The organization works to re-negotiate terms with religious educators to keep kids from sleeping on the street, or reunite these kids with their families, if that’s a possibility. What I get to do, is go around and check on these kids during the day. We just try to see how they’re doing and what they are going through. Having a presence is what’s important, so that kids know someone cares about them and that there is someone there to help them if ever they need it. I am fascinated by this system and impressed by the rapport the organization has with these kids.

The program for young people who work, is for young people who left their studies much too early for whatever reason and entered the workforce. The organization provides daily education in both trade skills and literacy. There are ten base groups in the city, in ten different neighborhoods and each group consists of anywhere from 15 to 40 young people. These groups learn embroidery and crochet twice a week and basic literacy in French three times a week. I am shadowing one group in the neighborhood closest to mine and going to their classes every afternoon. I’m thoroughly enjoying getting to spend so much time getting to know the students and learning what they learn. I have begun my education in embroidery and am hilariously bad at it but I’m trying and hoping that slowly, it will come along.

The rest of the time, I get to attend meetings and see how the organization works. The people I work with are amazingly intelligent and helpful. They never seem to get sick of answering my questions and dealing with my lack of Wolof. The placement really is about as close to perfect as I could ask for and I feel very lucky.

I will try to update again soon. Until then, I miss you all and will be seeing you (somewhat) soon!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday, March 22, 2010

Back from Spring Break and off to the Internship

Tonight I'm sitting in my new family's living room watching tv with multiple family memebers. One of my brothers has an internet cable which is super cool. I don't think I'll be using it a lot but it's nice that's it there. We spent the three days traveling across the country dropping off the other students at their internship sites before I got here which was very long but I'm here now and starting to settle in.

Spring break was fantastic! We spent three days is St.Louis at this adorable hotel right on the river with great food and very friendly staff. The city itself is absolutely beautful and is unlike anything I've seen in Senegal so far. The architecture has a lot of french colonial influence and it reminds me a lot of New Orleans. Not only in buildings, but in mood and personality as well. Everyone was so friendly, welcoming and laid back. We fit in just fine. It was too hard to pick pictures so there's only a few up now put I'll add a link to the facebook album I will put together.

We spent our days wandering around town, meeting people and doing some shopping. Shopping was so much nicer than Dakar. You can actually look around without be baggered on a constant basis. In the evening, we saw some live music and danced a bit. We ate great food and made friends, which is really all you can ask for. After St.Louis, we headed to the National Bird Park. There's only one hotel for the park and pretty much nothing else. It was a good hour and a half of driving on tiny dirt roads to get there and the closest thing to us was one little village about three miles away. The hotel had a great pool which was nice for relaxation but lacked some customer service skills. We went to the bird park itself on our secound day and had a blast. We of course saw tons of birds, especailly huge pelicans, but we also saw warthogs, crocodiles and a python! After the bird park, we headed to the desert. Though I really enjoyed everything on spring break, the desert was my favorite. Sleeping in the shadow of huge sand dunes was just so cool. And we got to ride camels! The employees played traditional music in the evening and everyone danced, we ate great food and hung out under the stars. I couldn't have asked for much more.

It is a bit of a change now though, to go from hanging with a grop of american students 24/7 to being all by myself! There is another student whose about 12 miles away but she's in a tiny village and transportation is difficult. Things are gong well here overall. My language skills are improving by the day, especially wolof since I'm expected to know a lot for my internshp. Speaking oif which, the internship has been interesting. The organization itself is really cool. I've just worked with one of its two projects so far, the one that works with young women who are no longer in school for whatever reason. They teach them trade skills along with basic literacy and other useful things such as health and hygiene. I've shadowed one class so far and really enjoyed it. The other project is working with street children, I reprot more when later when I've seen more of that. The people I work with are very welcoming and energetic and I think I'll really enjoy working there. I don't really think they will be having me do much but at least I get to tag along to interesting things.

Well, that's it for now I think but more updates to come. Keep the emails and comments coming, they are all the more appreciated since I'm much more isolated now. Until next time!

P.S- pictures are taking too long to load but I'll add more soon!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ok, so the Roby family gets a major A+ on blog commenting. I can't believe I got a comment from each member of the family, I love it! Thanks guys! It makes me feel so loved.

Just a quick update on the goings on here. It's my last week in Dakar and though I'm very sad to be leaving the family, I am very ready for a break from classes and very excited for the internship phase to start. I can't believe how fast the time is going, I'm already halfway through!

This past weekend involved a lot of salsa dancing, as usual. I went out on Friday and brought my host sister Baaly! It was so much fun to have her join us and she had a great time. My family has been teasing me to dance for them in the house and I have thus far refused but on Saturday, because it was my last full weekend, we decided to have a little dance party in the dining room. I brought my computer home and cranked the tunes and everyone danced, including all the kids and my 62 year old host mother! It was one of the most enjoyable nights I have spent in Senegal.

Spring break starts this Saturday and I will be traveling with 7 other students to Saint Louis, a city in the north part of Senegal. It's known for it's jazz musical roots and historical character. We're staying there for 3 days and then venturing on to the National Bird Park which is supposed to have insane amounts of birds, the wildlife for which Senegal is known, along with monkeys and I think a variety of reptiles. We're staying at the only hotel for the park which is supposed to be really nice, and it has a pool! After two days at the bird park, we're off to the Desert du Lompoul for camping, complete with camel rides and sleeping under the stars! And then it's back to Dakar to spend the weekend with the family.

More to come!


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Here are pictures from the baptism!

The day started with friends and family filtering in throughout the morning, saying their hellos and finding places to sit and people to talk to. Everyone got very dressed up, especially my immediate family, with fancy clothes makeup, and doing their hair. My family got a dress made for me too so that I fit in a little better than usual.

We got the baby ready, much of which was just picking out a cute little dress for her to wear and changing her diaper. She was dressed in a very western dress which I found surprising considering a baptism is a very traditional and important religious practice. Ami, the baby’s mother was the most dressed up, with my other sisters fussing about her outfit and fixing her hair. All the men and the older women gathered in the salon and the baby was taken out there. But my sisters and I did not follow. We simply sat and chatted and after about 20 minutes, the baby was brought back. Her head was shaved and she had very thick eyebrows painted on. Apparently she had already been baptized and named. But her mother and aunts weren’t even there. I found it surprising that, for the baptism and naming of a female child especially, the mother and aunts weren’t involved. I had no idea the actual event was even taking place. So much for really experincing the baptism but gender seperation is something I've had to get use to in Senegal and the mere inability to experince the actual event was a cultural experience in an of itself.

The rest day consisted tons chatting, eating, chating and eating some more. You should see all the food they made, we had Lakk in the morning, a millet porriage thing with milky yogurt on top. It's sounds wierd but is abslutely delicious. My host mom ordered donuts from our neighbor who's a cook so we ate those between lakk and lunch. For lunch, my brothers slaughtered an entire sheep which is a tadition for baptisms. I refrained form putting those pictures up but if your interested, I do have them and can shot you an email :) I had to sit by the corpse all through lunch, it was an interesting experince to say the least. There was enough lamb, rice and vegetables to feed and army an that's abot how many people we had in our house.

I got to meet tons of exteded family members and friends and had fun practicing my Wolof. Senegalesegathering are mainly just about spending time together and that's what I did. I just sat and chatted, played with the kids and helped where I could. It's interesting, but after the baptism, there was little to know gender seperation. Everyone ate together and hungout together, which is not always the case. My good friend Elke who is the academic year verson of my program was in town and since we share the same host family in Dakar, she was able to be there too wich was a blast! Another student, Johanna, who lives literally a stones throw away also joined us for the festivities. My family is so welcoming and so great, it's always fun to get to share them with other students and friends.

That's all I have time to update today but more to come!


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Salsa, birthdays and babies!

First and foremost, congrats to Colin and Monica!!! I was informed a couple of days ago that the two of you will be heading done the isle sometime in the future….It better not be before I get back :)

Life is good as usual and time seems to be flying by here in Dakar. I’m only here for another two and a half weeks and then off to spring break and a new city for the internship phase of the program. I can’t believe I have to leave my host family so soon! I can already tell, I’m going to miss them like crazy. I guess all I can hope is that I get another family that I love just as much. As usual, I’m really enjoying all the sights and sounds of Dakar. See the pictures above for a below taste of my normal walk home…

My newest discovery is Senegalese Salsa! I found this great little restaurant where there are salsa lessons twice a week. I cannot believe how good the instructors are. Salsa, in general, is very popular here, much more than I would have guessed. Every Senegalese person seems to know how to dance better than the average Minnesotan (not that Minnesotans aren't great dancers too). They have a whole new flavor than what I’m used to, it’s insanely fun to watch (and attempt). I’m trying to learn all I can to bring back home and teach all my Minnesota salseros! I’ve only attended class once but I’m going again tonight and I’m sure it will be just as great. I cannot tell you how good it feels to dance. I was really missing it, all my creative energy had no outlet! They throw salsa socials too that are free and really fun. I even got a bunch of other students to go and now they’re learning to love salsa too!

As for things in the family, my sister Ami (the one I lived with for a week) had her baby on Sunday! Everything went really well with the birth and both mom and baby are healthy and happy. I got to see her last night and she’s absolutely gorgeous! (that’s her in the last picture) I think her, Ami and Fallu (her other little boy) are staying with us for the week so I’ll get plenty of time to hang with them. The baby doesn’t have a name yet, the naming happens at the baptism next weekend but I’ll keep you posted. Baptisms are very important in Senegal, it should be a cool thing to experience.

We had two birthdays this past week in the family, one for my little brother Khadim and one for my little cousin Ibo. Birthdays aren’t too big of a deal here but we had fun playing and attempting to sing happy birthday in Wolof. I made a cake this past weekend in honor of the birthdays and, let me tell, the modern conveniences of cooking in the US make cooking an absolute breeze, everything here is a bit more complicated and takes much longer. But, even considering some ingredient and cooking challenges, it turned out pretty good. It definitely wasn’t the same…but good either way :) It was a definite hit, especially with the kids and my host mom and sister were overjoyed just with the fact that I actually cooked in general.

My Wolof is steadily improving, I can understand bits and pieces of conversations and answer a handful of questions…I really have to study in the next couple of weeks though, my internship is going to be mostly in Wolof! I have found out what my internship is going to be, I’ll be going to Thies, a city about an hour and a half northeast of the capital. I’ll be working at the Centre Doomi Nepp, a center that works with street children and reuniting them with their families. I’m really happy with the placement as I’m very interested in working with urban youth. It’s also a nice placement because I won’t be far from Dakar and can visit often.

Well, that’s it for now. Keep the emails and comments coming! I miss you all!