Friday, March 26, 2010

Luxury hotel

Our little funky bus we take places
Making ceebu jen (fish and rice) in the backyard of our school
Keba and I - my hilarious Wolof professor
Samba and I - he runs the boutique across the street where I buy my Coca Cola everyday
Some dancing at the baptism
Me and Joe - one of the students at the business school - he was super tall!
Visiting Bouna's school

I currently find myself in a place of luxury: a hotel in Thies called Massa-Massa. This place is gorgeous, as are all the hotels I've managed to find myself at here. I'm excited for a bathroom sink, flushing toilet, tp, shower with hot water, and furniture in the room; all things of which do not exist at my home. But this is only a little lick of this luxury, tomorrow we find ourselves headed for another village. All 14 of us will be staying in one village rather than split up as before. From the sounds of it, this stay will not be nearly as intense as Kedougou - we will all be together, there's electricity, and its close to the ocean coast meaning it will be cooler. But who knows, it could be more intense in other ways.

The last few days have be nice, normal, Senegalese days for the most part. Get up and walk down the skinny path to the main road from my house, practicing some Wolof with the woman selling cafe touba and never forgetting to say hi to the guy setting up his stand at 8 every morning. At school learn some Wolof and French, take some quizzes, discover American methods of research. We made ceebujen yesterday morning which is Senegal's national dish, fish and rice. I always find myself stuffed after meals here. I definitely ate wayyy too much for supper tonight!

I met up with two Senegalese photographers yesterday also after school which is giving me exciting prospects. One is a professional freelancer who is set to be my advisor for my ISP and the other is a friend of Wally's who does more studio and portrait type work. Both want to show me how they go about their work and have me assist, I can't wait!

The other day we visited another school of one of our professors. He teaches English at a business school so we went to meet with his students. They were super fun, full of energy and enthusiasm! We got to tour their school and then had a chance to sit and chat with them while eating some snacks (they all now know that I love to eat). I hope I can meet up with some of them again sometime - they were so nice and friendly!

Wednesday after meeting these other students, I went to watch Samba play some soccer at the field near my house and made some new friends while trying to keep sand out of my eyes. After I returned home from the game, I hurriedly got dressed up to go to a baptism of my neighbor's baby. Baptisms are big events here. We went down the road/path a little bit all in our best dresses to a huge circle of women and children, with drummers at one end. Then ensued a good hour or so of spotaneous dancing and continous energy! It was amazing! The mother of the baby was gorgeous, especially for just having had a baby a week prior (baptism take place a week following the birth). Funny thing, I never once did see the baby though!

I would love to write more but really need to catch some shut eye! Looking forward to my village stay and more adventures!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Meetin someone famous

Wally and I discussing life after our lutter won the combat! (Senegalese wrestling)
Thioune Seck - Wally's dad and other members of the group on stage
me and the celeb!
The beach at Ngor Island
Gotta love the sunglasses pics - me and Samba at Ngor
Me with a chunk of a wall at Ngor
Chilling with one of Samba's friends at a nice club on Friday night
Mamadou and I - we're silly together (note the mismatched flip flops)
Learning how to make tea at Samba's with my little sister
Leftover paint at Village Des Arts
Walking down the street back to school (just ahead on the left)

What a pretty rocking weekend! I've got a lot of homework on my plate right now so I'm going to try and keep this short. I went out to clubs both Friday and Saturday night with my friend Samba. Met a bunch of his friends at this really nice club called "Diamond" (lots of more "established" places here have English names) which we somehow managed to get in without paying the equivalent of about $10. After some dancing, drinking Coca Cola, and loud music, we walked down the road to a bakery to have some donuts and steamed milk at 4 am!

Saturday night was another adventure. Samba and I took a taxi to Penc Me (pronounced like "pinch me") which was another really nice place. We paid around $11 to enter, which was pretty good considering the entertainment to be had that night. Two Senegalese singers were performing, Wally Ballago Seck and his dad, Thioune Seck, who happened to be friends of Samba's. We enjoyed the good music and dancing then left the club with Wally. We hopped in his car and drove around Dakar at 5am! Then we somehow ended up back at the same bakery for some breakfast! When we got out of the car, a bunch of people swarmed to ask him for money or autographs. Or even while we were eating, people would call their friends on their phones and have him talk to their brother or sister. It was really cool to be out with someone kind of famous! When we were done eating, we went to visit his apartment. By this point I was quite tired and soon we returned home. On Sunday, he had invited Samba and I over to his apartment once again to watch the grand combat - Senegalese wrestling - national sport. In the group of the 7 of us, Wally and I were the sole two fans for Balla Gueye, who of course ended up winning the match that took about 15 seconds! The preparations and excitement and energy put into this sport here was incredible to watch! I really wanted to go to the stadium to see it live but we were all cautioned about how dangerous it could get with riots afterwards. Instead, I watched and cheered with a Senegalese singer at his apartment. For supper we had a big platter of bbq and thiakry (yougurt with millet). It was a great evening, and a fun weekend of going out and having a Senegalese social life.

Unfortunately, my school work is pulling me back into the English world, after going the entire weekend apart from my American friends, English, Point E, and other things I am familiar with. This is the experience I am looking for, a total immersion. And a fun one at that. We leave for 9 days on Friday for Saint Louis, a city at the northern border of Senegal. We will have stops along the way and stay in another village for a few days. We are preparing for this excursion and also starting to work more detailed on our ISPs.

Until next time,
Oumy Thiam (my Senegalese name!)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Les meme choses

Jess working on the wheel
My friend Samba with rocking shades (he's going to teach me how to make tea)
Photo art by me
My friend Mamadou visiting from Kedougou
Ceramics workshop
Trying to make something out of clay on the wheel..concentrating really hard!

Recently things have just been the daily life here which I am thoroughly enjoying. I am getting really good at killing cockroaches and shooing away cats and rats while brushing my teeth or doing my laundry. Afternoons have been spent at the Village Des Arts where I have been taking part in making ceramics. We got to use the wheel today and I wasn't very good at it! I am succumbing to my addictions daily of coca cola, yougurt, sweet bread and chocopain, chocolate, sunshine, and life. I'm hoping to learn how to make tea tonight and possibly visit a friend who is a tailor for another skirt! Yay! Tomorrow I have plans to return once again to Goree Island for another class project with Jarvis and Phillepe. I need to buy more credit for my cell phone and work on more exercises for school. We had two quizzes today of my language classes which were tough since I went out last night in a big group of American students to celebrate St. Patrick's day. My friend Mamadou from Kedougou also came with us so it was fun to see him again.

Well, my camera battery is charged, I have a bandaid on some strange looking thing on my arm and I'm still scraping clay off my hands. My yellow capris are never going to be yellow. Off to take a car rapide for 100 CFA home (about 26 cents).

I hear that there's some flooding going on at home. Please don't let my room wash away Mom and Dad. Thanks :)

Monday, March 15, 2010


One of my little sisters
My friend Samba rocking his shades (you can see me in the reflection)
Marble game on the walk back to our house after visiting my sister's salon
Dino and Mamadou out dancing Saturday night!
Go to Senegal, meet Australian surfer boys making a surfing film. Check.
Andrew catching a few waves
Our hotel, viewed from the beach. Described by many as "hobit-esque" I would agree.
Friday night sunset over the ocean
Friday night as the sun was beginning to set.
Our taxi driver running down the road behind us after two chunks of something fell out of the engine

Fun weekend, like always. Friday after school finished, Devin, Phileppe and I walked with our backpacks and got a taxi to Toubab Dialaw, a town outside of Dakar on the ocean. After a bit of an adventureous drive, we arrived in this little village and walked down the sandy streets to our hotel which was absolutely incredible!!! Right on the ocean, with little garden paths, flowers, fountains, and other trinkets abounding, we were in paradise. The three of us spent some time on the gorgeous sandy beach soaking up some sun and doing some reading. After supper, took in the view as the sun went down and then had spaghetti and bissap juice for supper at little mosiac'd tables. I felt like we were living in a castle!! We met 3 Australian guys that were living in the room right across from ours who are traveling down the west African coast, making a surfing movie. It was so funny to be hanging out with Australians in Africa!!! They were really fun to chill with and let us put our stuff in their room the next day so that we could enjoy this chunk of paradise for the afternoon.

Eventually, sadly, we had to leave and head back to Dakar. Back in the city, I took a taxi to my neighborhood with a very friendly taxi driver, who taught me more Wolof. He's been driving taxi for 3 years and drives for 10 hours a day! Back at home, my family was happy to see me. I unpacked my bag and had supper in the living room! Hung out for awhile, drank some tea, then headed out with my neighbor Mamadou. We walked down the narrow paths of my neighborhood and met up with a ton of his friends. As usual, they all smiled when I introduced myself as "Oumy Thiam" which is my Senegalese name. And Mamadou loves Wolof so he kept insisting that I speak it and learn more. What great homework! After a while of walking around, meeting people, drinking tea, and chatting, we went to a club with pounding music. The girls and guys dancing to mbalax were incredible! I wish I could dance like that. After a meeting at a baobab tree and fried eggs and noodles from a street vendor at 4 am, I headed to my mattress to sleep.

Yesterday was a very content day. Sat back in the living room and wrote my village reaction paper while chatting with my mom, all my little sisters, and their friends. We visited my sister Alica's hair salon for awhile and then played a marble game on the walk back home for lunch. After lunch, Samba and I walked around to meet some of his friends, drink some tea, watched some football (soccer), colored some pictures with my little sisters, visit the ATM, and then an internet cafe. A delightful afternoon, lots of smiles and contentment.

Today has been a usual day of school, with the addition of my intestines doing cartwheels, backflips, and skateboarding at the same time. Hmm maybe the fried eggs and noodles? At least my bank card is working again! I have plans drink tea and practice my Wolof tonight with Samba and Mamadou, tough homework. On that note, however, I do need to write a few papers, some serious studying, and start working on plans for my ISP (Independent Study Project) that will occupy my last month in Senegal!

Friday, March 12, 2010

A little babbling

My breakfast - Nescafe, 5 sugar cubes, powered milk, baguette, and laughing cow cheese
The board after Wolof class
Sunrise yesterday at my house
Lamine et moi
The tama players came for a jam session
Djembe workshop

C'est le weekend! Devin, Phillippe and I are heading out shortly for an adventure a bit out of the city, to a really tranquil hotel on a beach for the evening. I'm very excited!

Yesterday Devin and I had a chance to visit Cheikh Anta Diop Universite with a friend. It was such a cool experience to see such a familiar environment in such a different context! Our hands were also way swollen after a few hours of playing djembe!

Oh and my dad recently let me know I won a bunch of awards back home through the school's newspaper, sweet!

My host sister might cut my hair on Sunday..whooo!

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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