Wednesday, March 10, 2010

From Kedougou to Oukam.

My new abode. You can see my whole room, I took this picture from my doorway (that has a lock!)
Children at the school at the bottom of the mountain! They didn't want me to leave!
Biggest Baobab tree in Senegal with some SIT students and our new mountain children
Climbing more rocks on the top of the mountain. Haroma, one of our guides, and Assan in the background in red was our other guide.
So many cute children! (expect more pics of kids again soon)
Children at the mountain village we climbed to after our own village stays
Scariest thrill piggy back ride of my life!
My mom walking to the well and breastfeeding her baby at the same time, who had been previously tied to her back
The main cooking area of my village
Our hotel of yellow huts

So much has happened in so little time. A summary: spent a week outside of Dakar voyaging to Kedougou (a city in southeastern Senegal), stayed in a mountaintop village, had the time of my life, back in Dakar, problems with my host family which have now resulted in moving families. Life here is always full of so many ups and downs, like living on a precarious teeter toter, its either really awesome or really bad; there is no in between.

First, the week in Kedougou. The distance we covered would take around 5 hours in the US by bus, yet the drive there was over 14 hours. We stayed at a hotel which consisted of little yellow huts with air conditioners, showers, comfy beds, and even flushing toilets. We made a few excursions to the market, a big waterfall, climbed a mountain, and a few other low-key things. Then we left for our village stay! All 14 of us were split into small groups and assigned a village. Etchwar was the village for Abby and I which is on the top of one of the mountains (very large rocky steep hills) we had climbed a few days prior. Here in the village, we lived in little mud huts with grass roofs. Sounds quaint and cute, but unfortunately they turned to ovens at night, making sleep very difficult. On the other hand, sleep wasn't terribly important because I just sat around all day. Never in my life have I experienced such quiet, lazy, unstructured, tranquil days. With a large language barrier (they spoke Bedik, all the children who knew french were at school), I ended up doing a lot of observation of the way life works in my village. The women spend most of their time caring for all the children (clothing optional) and preparing meals. In many ways, my village life reminded me of camp. Down to earth and the necessities.

One of the things I found most impressive during my stay was the "baby wrap." Any child who was not yet at an age to walk was tied with a simple piece of cloth to their mother's back. How convienent, no babysitter necessary and they continue to go about their daily work. One morning when my mother and I were walking to the well (a 2 km walk), I was surprised that as she was balancing a large bucket on her head, untied her baby tied to her back and moved him to the front to breastfeed him. She did this all while I trailed behind her on the mountainy terrain. And then on the way back from the well, I carried a pail of water on my head, but lucky for me it was very small and had a lid. Yet I still managed to spill it all down my face and tank top. Well, at least it made all the old ladies in my village smile and laugh. I am good at that kind of thing!

After 3 hot days and boiling hot evenings (I dont think I've ever sweated that much) we went back to showers and AC of the hotel for a few days prior to our return to Dakar. It was terribly hot for us in the village lacking the cool ocean breeze of Dakar, but on the same hand, the villagers and citizens of Kedougou said that it was some of the hottest weather they've ever had. Glad I was there to experience it! We climbed another mountain to visit another village and many baobab trees, and then after the scariest descent of my life we visited a school at the bottom. I say the scariest descent of my life because as we were climbing down this sandy mountain side one of our guides insisted he give me a piggy back ride. As much as I tried to tell him otherwise, he wouldn't listen. And then he took off running, with me holding on tightly. What a rush, that was better than a rollercoaster. My other friends just looked at us with big eyes and open mouths, as I saw my life flash before my eyes. At the hotel, Devin and I become good friends with the cook and other guys that worked there and their friends and it was hard to leave them again!!! (maybe photos later)

Eventually we made it back to Dakar, only a 12 hour drive back. Whoo! However, this is when the problems with my host family began. I'm not going to go into too specific of details but try to explain what all happened. Back at my house, I find that my room was unlocked. Weird, I have the only key and it went with me to Kedougou. Upon entering, I find minor things not the way I had left them. A shampoo bottle on my dresser, blankets rearranged, my notebooks/pens/papers messed up on my nightstand, closet unlocked, and to top it off - a large kitchen knife next to my pillow. My mom was hanging up some laundry on the line right outside the door and when asked about these things she insisted that no one had been in my room. Later, downstairs my sister told me she had opened my door with the knife to get a paper for school while I was gone. (the room is her's before I arrived). This was just a huge trust violation. Nothing was missing, but things were definitely array.

Later, there was a huge misunderstanding about laundry. Through my program, laundry is included in the payment our families receive for hosting us. When asked when my laundry would be done, some members of my family became a bit irrate and told me it was necessary to pay to have my laundry done. Tuesday morning while I was eating breakfast, Devin was over so that we could walk to school together and my host mom blew up at us, over the laundry thing. We weren't upset about the amount of money involved (equivalent of $2) but the concept that it was our word against their's. It turned into quite the arugement and words put into our mouths and then the comparison to their last student was brought up again (like always). This is something that has bothered me throughout my stay here, their last student was completely opposite of me. My mother just kept insisting that "She was so nice, she brought us gifts, she was so nice, she was so nice." And the way my cousin was acting and yelling at us was completely out of character. Very upset, Devin and I left for school.

I was a mess. It was just one thing after another. At school, I had talked with our homestay coordinator the day prior about the situation with my room being broken into by my sister. Talking with her and more members of administration of my program here, they made the decision for me to have me move out and place me in a new homestay. Going "home" for the last time was really hard, packing up my bags. Leaving the neighborhood was even tougher than my house, I have had the opportunity to make some good friends there and everyone gave me odd looks when I left with all my bags and tears streaming down my face.

After a tough day of school, and having the chance to talk about things with my parents and brother back home in the states, I went to a new home, family, neighborhood, way of life. My new 18 yr old sister, Alicia came to pick me up around 8 pm and we took a taxi to Oukam, my new neighborhood. Vastly different from my last. In Oukam, the taxi drove down sandy "streets" between walls that the car barely fit through. I would compare it to really small alleys. Getting to my house, the front door being a gate in a wall that you probably wouldn't notice unless you were looking for it. I was immediately met by a ton of little girls who all wanted to shake my hand. (its a big thing to do here) I was shown my new room, which for lack of a better definition, all I really need. It is a room with a mattress in it. Oh and cockroaches. I took a moment to unpack my bags and organize my things. Then I sat outside and talked with all my new little friends. I met so many members of my family, I can't even remember names right now. (Remember what I said about families being ambigious) After supper from a large platter in the middle of the living room, my little 7 yr old sister and I went on a walk to visit a few different boutiques. I bought some bottled water and some credit for my phone. At another boutique, I met a lady who was really excited to find out that I am studying Wolof. She insisted that I return every night so that she can teach me more. Actually feeling a little chilly, we returned to the house. I got a bit of a tour, which included showing me the "toilet" (nonflushable), shower, and clothesline. There are a bunch of cats that wander the mosiac tiled courtyard area that get into some interesting catfights. After sitting in the living room with my mom and dad and uncle for a little bit, a family friend came over. People that love Wolof love Wolof with all their heart. He is no exception. He found out that I had Wolof homework so we went to my room and worked on possessive adjectives and numbers until bedtime. Once again, lots of laughter resulted.

This morning, after walking through a narrow path to the main road, I took a taxi to school with 3 other SIT students. We gave presentations on our village stays this morning and have been on lunch break since. this afternoon, I have drumming class again. I love learning to play djembe! And at least this afternoon my head isn't pounding.

I apologize that my sharing of my village stay experience was a bit overshadowed by my family problems in Dakar. Remember, feel free to leave comments or questions, or shoot me an email if there's something you want to know about! so many things have become commonplace that would be quite odd to anyone back at home! Hope you continue to enjoy reading!

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  1. Wow the home stay part sounded a lil shady :) and i'm really happy you are in a different family now! Other than that it sounds like you are having a blast!

  2. I am so sorry you had to go through such an emotionally taxing event, changing homestays. I do hope this one works out better for you. I'm glad you got to talk it over with your family back in MN. You're never too old to need your mommy, I say!


  3. Thanks for sharing, Amanda. <3