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!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Becoming a Resident

(The first pic is village musicians, the secound is our boat through the mangroves, next is the hotel we stayed in. The sixth pic is of WARC, where I go to school. The next two are my two adorable cousins who stay with us on weekends and Baaly their mom, my host stister)

Well, first of all, so sorry for not updating this for quite some time. It just seems to get busier and busier around here. Things have been a little chaotic over the past two weeks and I unfortunately seem to have contracted a cold but, other that, things are good. Thanks for the comments, I miss all of you and I absolutely love all the minnesota updates and, Mike, Colin's trip sounds amazing! Tell him he should email me about it. That goes for eveyone else too, I love emails!

Shortly after my last post, my family held a ceremony in honor of the four month anniversary of my host father's death. It was an all day event that reminded me very much of Irish wakes, it was definately a celebration. The ceremony consisted of very large quantities of food and hearty conversation. The entire family came, along with many friends so the house was literally filled to the brim with something close to fifty people and, trust me, if you saw the house I live in you wouln't think it was physically possible to fit fifty people in there. It was a definate experience, I had to wear a traditional outfit borrowed from a sister (see pic above) and a veil for the entire day, I had to attempt to communicate in Wolof and I was fed within an inch of my life. I have decided I cannot stay at the house for a full day on the weekend because they simply feed me too much! I met many community memebers and helped with food and child supervision. Helping out is extremely important in Senegal. Without the conveniences of modern appliances, everything takes quite a bit longer and requires more attention. It took some time to get my family to let me help since I was considered a guest but lately they have been letting me do more and more. It seems I am becoming more a part of the family.

So, next on the agenda, my family decided to go to Touba. Touba is a town about 3 or 4 hours from Dakar and has a lot of religious signifigance for the Muslim Brotherhood my family belongs to. Every year there is a huge celebration in the town, that it seems practically everyone in Senegal goes to, in honor of the most important religious figure's birthday. It's this really big deal and my family really wanted to bring me along but since they were planning to be gone for about a week there was no way I could go and miss all that class. This is where things got complicated. After many discussions sliding in and out of Wolof and French, we came to the conclusion that I would stay with my host sister, Ami, for the week. This seemed a little scary since I had only met Ami once and she lived in an entirely different part of town which meant a whole new navigating system. If you have ever been to Dakar or any other big African city you can probably sympathize with the challenges of getting around, there is no such thing as an accurate addresses or street signs. But even with the complications, I made it just fine and figured out the route to and from school. Yay!

Living with Ami was an absolute blast. She is a total sweetheart and has the cutest little 1 year old you'll ever see. My little bother and cousin stayed with her too so it was a lot of kid time but I am crediting them with my newly discovered potential in football (soccer) playing. They are in the fist picture, from the left, that's Ousmane (who is always smiling and laughing but refused to do so for the picture...I think he was going for the tough guy look), Khadim and Fallu (the baby). We really have become the best of friends and both Khadim and Ousmane have talked to my Dad on the phone! This is even more humorous considering that neither of the kids speak English and my Dad doesn't speak any French...

The day after I moved back in with the rest of the family, I left on a extended fieldtrip with the program leaders and local students from the University of Dakar. We went to a town called Toubakouta and stayed in this adorabe hotel for four days. We visited three different villages and toured multiple clinics and schools. I have never felt so welcome in my life as when we pulled up to these tiny villages. Everyone came out to meet us and the kids were so excited to shake our hands and ask what are names were. I had the priviledge of taking part in a community meeting in one of the villages. I listened to the needs and struggles faced in the village regarding pubic health and education. It was incredibly moving to see an entire community gather and discuss issues collectively. I am in awe of the sense of community here. It truely is a society that lives collectively, where everyone is dependent on each other and cares for one another. The hospitality we were shown was overwhelming and wonderful.

I visited the Mangroves on this trip as well. Mangroves are trees that grow in marsh-like ecosystems. The mangroves are extremely important to the environment of Senegal and in stopping the encrouchment of the desert. They are potected on a nature reserve and we were able to take little fishing boats through the area with the director of the reserve. Talk about gorgeous, I think I could have taken a hundred pictures.

We attended a village party later that night and witnessed (along with pretty much the entire town) a drum performances by two local groups. After the performance, the audience was encouraged a dance so, of course, the American students were dragged up to make fools out of ourselves. I have been trying my best to catch on to Senegalese dancing but it's difficult, they dance on to a whole different beat! But, I will keep trying and hope to have it down by the time I leave :)

That's it for now, I have to get to some homework. Until next time!