Thursday, November 29, 2007

Dafa Sed Guiiiiiiiiile!! Its so cold!!

I cant believe Im going to write this, but its cold!

Last night, I actually woke up in the middle of the night and put on socks and a long sleeved shirt. Whats up? The temperature is dropping noticeably and a lot of the senegalese are getting ¨en rhumee¨which means, a common cold. Winters' a-comin' finally! Hallelujah! When I go out to run in the morning, Im pretty chilled. Id say its about 65 degrees and everybodys wearing sweaters and scarves. However, around 11 am, the coolness burns away and I remember Im in Africa. People still take naps from 12-2pm because of the heat.

Tis a mad world.

We got water back. Hallelujah! I did my laundry. I love doing my laundry here. I scrub it by hand in a bucket. Theres an art to it; it has to make a certain squishing noise to be sure that youre scrubbing it right. I feel so accomplished when I look at all my laundry in the line, blowing in the sun. I think I might continue to do it like this when I get back to the states, at least when its warm enough.

Theres no class today because the professors are on strike. The geography department students just got off of a 2 week strike. Strikes work like this: All the students go to class, sit down, and take out their notes. The professor walks in. The ¨responsable¨, or class representative, stands up and tells the teacher that all the students are on strike because they dont like the course material or requirements or new semester system. The teacher says okay, and all the students walk out. This happens each day till the strike is over. When the professors are on strike, they just dont show up to class and the students sit around for a symbolic half hour then leave. In addition to the Geography and Professors strikes, the administrative assistants are on strike as well as the transit system right now. Anarchy, baby!

Oh, other news, I have my Wolof exam today. I should go study.

Yesterday, the Groupe Biblique Universitaire (sort of like my Bible study here) had a Ceremony d'Ouverture to mark the commencement of the school year. Guess what? I sang! Oh baby, I miss singing. We sang Amazing Grace in English; then some french, Wolof, and Serrer songs. It was pretty rad. I also gave a little speech/testimony in French. Needless to say, everyone was so gracious.

How am I feeling about Africa? State of the Union? Hm...Im finding my way here. Im getting used to the slow pace. From time to time I have a little ¨oh my gosh, Im being so unproductive ¨freakout. Im trying to walk slower and write less to-do lists. Things are really positive and I feel comfortable now stopping by friends rooms unannounced and spending 3 hours drinking attayah and discussing everything. Im excited to start my internship at this pro-bono law firm that works for human rights, but as everything in Senegal, its kind of disorganized. Im excited to go to Casamance and talk peace. I wish I could connect a little more with my roomate. Slightly worried about schoolwork, but it'll all work itself out. I dont have any homesickness and Im feeling pretty healthy. Hallelujah. Alxhamdulillah.

Okay, Im going to go into town and pick up a package thats waiting for me at the post office, then Im going to sit in the cafe at the Hotel de la Poste and open it slowly while sipping real coffee. What could it be???
Oh baby, I love the anticipation.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Biggest Thanksgivings Ever

So, instead of missing Thanksgiving celebrations this year, I had 3, count em, 3 Thanksgiving dinners here in Senegal.

First, on Thursday night, the Americans here went over to Stephanie and Fallou Ngom's house for a little makeshift dinner. Stephanie is an American from Montana who married Fallou, a Senegalese who is here in St. Louis teaching on a Fulbright Scholarship this year. Theyre both cool and slightly wacky. They have 2 sweet daughters, Mame-Diarra age 5, and Mariama whos almost 1. We had chicken and mashed potatoes and carrots and Sara's amazing Banana-sweet potato recipie. It was an intimate affair. We all went around and said what we were thankful for in French. I said I was thankful for my sweet tan.

Kidding. I was thankful for my family, American and Senegalese.

Next, on Friday night, we Americans cooked our own thanksgiving meal for our senegalese friends and roomates. I made gluten free brownies from a package my mom sent me, with a peanut butter sauce. We had cooked veggies and macaroni and cheese and peanut butter and jelly sandwitches and cookies and fruit salad etc and, of course, Fanta. At one point in the night, there must have been about 50 people there, all sharing and laughing as we tried to explain the meaning of Thanksgiving. I said that it was a holiday celebrating the commencement of our nation and the goal was to think about blessings and to share with friends and family. ¨And the Pilgrims even shared their smallpox? ¨ I was asked. Somebody brought an ipod and we jammed to Michael Jackson, thank you very much.

Finally, I had the most random, serendipidous thanksgiving dinner with some American expats downtown. My parents have some connections with connections here in St. Louis. One day, a random American woman named Joanna Bestie called me and said that she heard that my parents had been worried about me here. She was so nice and we decided to get together once she returned from Dakar. She called me up the other day and invited me to a Tday dinner at her house, even though we've never met. I arrived after church and everyone was so nice! I met some really great women and there were even a bunch of little kids running around- so reminiscent of American Thanksgivings. Joanna even had the Macys Thanksgiving Day Parade and a Thanksgiving football game, both from 2002, playing on her dvd player. She had a serious feast prepared: chicken, mashed potatoes, rolls, stuffing, gravy, cranberries from a can, yams and marshmallows, green beans, and, drum roll, pumpkin pie!! Oh baby. She said that shes gotten really good at finding ingredients at the market (shes been here for 7 years), but also depends on care packages from the states. I can see her and I becoming really great friends. Shes one of those kind of people that I would like to spend a day with, sitting at her feet, listening and learning what she knows. I promised to make grilled cheese for her next time.

So that was my wonderful thanksgiving. I was able to talk with my extended family on Skype as they were sitting down to dinner, and I didnt even feel too nostalgic. Christmas may be a different story, though.
Speaking of people whom Id like to sit and listen to, I met one of the most amazing peacemakers today, Ibrahima Gassama. I am doing my research project on the conflict in the Casamance region of Senegal, and one of my professors told me about this journalist that covered the conflict and now lives here in St Louis. Megan Alaska and I went to go see him at the radio station where he works, to ask him about his opinions on the conflict and to see if he can give us any clues as to starting points for our research when we go down there, hopefully next month. First of all, this man is amazing. He has the commanding presence of a man who has been persecuted for telling the truth and has come out stronger for it. He is from the capitol of Casamance, Ziguinchor, and has been arrested many times and has seen women and children killed before his very eyes. He was arrested most recently for having interviewed the head of one of the rebel factions, whom the Senegalese government cannot catch. We spent a good 3 hours discussing the conflict, solutions, actors, and his life's work, which is to bring justice and peace. (me too!) He gave us names and phone numbers of contacts in Casamance that are interested in our research including (!) the friggin mayor of the region! Oh yeah, in my cell phone is the cell phone number of the man who is in charge of the most volatile region of Senegal. Lets hope I dont do any drunk dialing. :) Ibrahima has been honored by the US government for his work as a peacemaker. Now hes in a sort of exile in St Louis, (the farthest away region from Casamance) but all he wants to do is return to Ziguinchor and keep telling the truth. I could go on, but I just have to say that he is a man Im very honored to know. Before I left, he gave me a yellowing photograph that shows just an empty blackened room with bedsprings that have been broken. Theres a puddle of blood underneath the bed. Ibrahima explained that it is that photograph that motivates him to do his work. The bed belonged to one of his friends, a pregnant woman, who was killed when a bomb hit her home. He gave me the photograph and told me that it can be my motivation as well and that theres peace to be made.

Growth and experiences. Growth and experiences.

Ah; in other news, this is day 4 of no water here in St Louis. None at all, even at night. We fill up buckets from hoses that pipe river water, and we have to add bleach. Ive been buying potable water, and some days there isnt any food at the resto because they cant prepare it with the lack of water. This is because they are fixing one of the 2 water filtration systems downtown. It will be up soon, inchallah. TIA.

In other other news, I had my first serious DTR (Define the Relationship talk) with one of the guys here. Man, I knew it had to be coming, but not so soon! And this guy I would have never suspected. I thought he was different than a lot of the forward guys here; pretty harmless. Well, he is. I politely told him that I am interested only in friendship. It took him a while to get the clue and I had to insist that it would be friendship or nothing. It was one of those ¨oh man, I wish you spoke english ¨kind of moments. It was slightly awkward, but Im fine being just friends if he is too.

Speaking of being friends, a big ol birthday shoutout to my love, Mrs. Molly Marx!!! Ive been thinking about you nonstop and wish I could sing Happy Birthday to you in our traditional way. If I were there, you know Id make you rice crispies! You are sosososososo loved!!!!! All gifts will have to wait until I come home, however, because it costs more than a dollar just to send a postcard to the US. Hope you had a great day. Tell your mom Happy Birthday too, ok?

Okay, its been a full day. Its been a full life. Im ready for sleep. Jamm ak jamm, my family.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Things I am thankful for this year...

I am thankful for everything here and there. I am thankful that I get to spend this day in Africa, in the 90 degree heat. Thankful for loving family and friends. Thankful for grace, love, and faith. For interesting, organized classes. Health, life, safety, motivation, and energy. For normal poops. Fruit. Skype. Exercise. Sunshine. Autumn and sweaters and chai tea. Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. Christian community. Financial provision. My jobs in Madison and my co-workers. My amazing roomates, past and present. LB. Gei-gei. Schmoopy and Dad. Libraries that actually allow you to check out books. Im thankful for the guys Ive dated that have treated me with respect and patience. For online enrollment of classes. For Madison in general, especially State and Willy streets. Nescafé. Promenades. Teranga. Cheap taxis. Reminders of God ringing from the mosques. Arabic, French, Wolof, English, and Tagolog. Cebbu jen, attayah, maffe, and ngalaax. Mangoes, oh baby. My senegalese brothers, Moussa and Mactar. Marriage proposals. My married friends, my single friends, and my ¨its complicated ¨friends. Big-ass cockroaches. Downtown and little villages. Electricity. The sound of waves crashing against the shore in a huge and beautiful roar. Surfing. The anticipation of Morocco. Swimming in warm blue water. SPF 70. Im thankful for my Grandma. Running water at all times. Not shaving my legs. Conversation. Magnum ice cream bars. The Batcave. Buddhist guru monks. Men who teach boys how to be men. Weekends without plans. Acta Pulgite, the cure for diarrhea. Pictionnary Down the Lane. Bucket Showers. Magueyé and Omar. Im thankful for hot plates and potable water. Malerone. Getting packages in the mail! Cell phones and technology. Thankful for happy memories and photographs. Loving till it hurts.

Im thankful for what has been, what will be, and what is happening right now. There is so much past inside my present.
Im thankful that Im realizing what to be thankful for, in the grand scheme of my life.

You are so loved.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Camping in the back of a truck

This past weekend, Jill, Claire and I decided to go camping, on a whim. Jill said that she found a sweet camp grounds outside of town, and that you could rent huts for cheap. We took a taxi about 20 km out of town and arrived at Zebrabar on Saturday afternoon. Zebrabar is located on a nature reserve in St Louis, so its extremely beautiful and tranquil, surrounded by rivers that meet the ocean. Its very eco friendly. Most of the place is run on solar energy. Its strange and sad that a lot more of Senegal doesnt use solar. There were a few toubabs there, and even one girl from my university on Wisconsin, who is volunteering in Senegal until January. All the places were booked except a Magirus, which was cheap, so we decided to take it. It turns out that a Magirus is the back of a truck that they converted to be a room to sleep in. The owners of the place, an exotic Swiss couple, were so nice and they cooked a delicious barbeque that night with seasoned steak and salads and pasta and pumpkin cake and watermelon. The girls and I just walked around and hung out on the bank of the river. Claire and Jill brought their Ipods and speakers, so we sat looking at the West African meteor shower and listened to Beck's Sea Change and Iron and Wine and talked into the wee hours of the morn. We're devising our plans to go to Morocco for spring break. Those ladies are so quality. I havent laughed that hard in a long time.

The next day, we slept in and then had a delicious breakfast of fresh baked bread and mango preserves and 2 minute eggs and (real!) coffee and apples under the awning. It was glorious. Being in Senegal, eating the same rice and meat and oily sauce and powdered milk and coffee every day has made me appreciate food so much. I think, when Im back in the states or have the means, Im going to buy small amounts of quality food and really enjoy it. One delicious bar of quality chocolate instead of a million Recces peanut butter cups; preserves instead of jelly; a sweet potato instead of chips; a glass of rose wine instead of soda; a salad (!!) with goat cheese instead of other crap; and fruit fruit fruit all the time. Fruit is so expensive here because everything has to be imported. Senegal is making me value different, random things.

Anyway, after breakfast we took a walk through the bird park, and saw suprisingly few birds. We did see one enormous gila monster, though! It had to have been at least a meter long and it came running out of the brush. We checked out of the truck around 1 and after the patron added up our bill, it came out to be about 5 dollars for each of us, not including the cost of food. Holla! What a great mini vacation!

We were walking to the nearby town to catch a taxi and this friendly German couple pulled over in their intense land rover and offered us a ride downtown. Of course I thought about all my parents teachings about never accepting rides from strangers, for a second. They were so nice though and I learned a lesson about altruism from them. they have been traveling all around west africa for the sake of traveling and they wouldnt accept any money or anything from us in return, just conversation. Ill pay that forward someday. Senegal is making me value the important things.

Also, today I walked to the Dunes with my friend Omar. Man, it was so so beautiful! There are these huge cliffs of red sand and baobab trees that stretch across this desert oasis. It was a great memory. So, this was a killer weekend, nice and relaxing, but here comes a big week!

Classes are picking up, petit à petit. The Political Science classes just started this week, so that means my schedule changes completely again. I have to choose classes from that department. Arg. Classes here are run in the old French system, meaning many of them are dictated. Literally; the professor will stand in front of the class and read his notes saying, for example,¨In nineteen-sixty, comma, Senegal acheived its independance, period.¨and the students have to frantically copy exactly what he says. This is tough in french, and I have to fight to concentrate on every word.
Im also going to be looking for an internship at an NGO this week. This is going to be a busy one. Weve decided to have a little Thanksgiving feast for our senegalese friends. All the Americans are going to cook something and tell everybody why were thankful for them. I think I might make French toast because its easy and Americany. Ive never seen French toast in France.

Words of Wisdom this week: ¨Well, you cant eat wheat...but at least you can go on a waterslide!¨-Mame Diara Ngom, age 5

That is the right perspective.

Words of comfort this week: Psalm 77:19 - Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.

Me, Jill, and Claire in front of our truck home

On top of the 12 meter watchtower that looks over the Senegalese savanah.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Samay Xarit

These are some of the friends Ive made on campus. Theyre all pretty rad, and love posing for the camera.

My roomie!

Aminata and her best friend Mbere

Drinking Fanta during ¨The Big Stroll¨ epic adventure in town.

Magueye and I enjoy melted gluten free cookies

Sega and I explore the wonders of powdered milk

Mes voisines!

Sega and Omar, lookin sassy

Mmmm...melted gluten free cookies and chai tea.

Omar and Magueye, my favorites!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Every day things

Eating cebbu jen around the bowl with our hands. Right hands only!

Making attayah tea takes skillz.

Me, Nat, my bro Moussa and Annie and shenanigans on our last night in Dakar.

My room at school in St Louis

My shower here at school.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Classes and cooking with friends

This was the first week of classes and OH BABY are they crazy!

I went to some classes, mostly in the sociology department. You dont have to sign up or anything. Just show up and leave if you dont like it. If you do the assignments and take the tests, youre in the class. They might be harder than I expected, especially being completely in French and a little Wolof. I already have homework, which I should do today. Theres one teacher that reminds me exactly of an old high school teacher, Mr. Moore. Hes animated and a serious academic. He even calls the students ¨citoyen¨- citizen.
I was frustrated by this educational system. Some of the classrooms arent posted, teachers dont show up, and weve even had one strike last friday. The students were allowed to skip class to go to a general assembly and listen to leaders talk about their greivances. I realized, however, that like everything here, I just have to roll with it. Be grateful for the breaks, and get most of my education outside of the classroom. TIA. Im not sure how my credits will transfer to madison; but I know that I have to load up on the classes here to get equivalent amounts of credits.
Im taking classes like The Sociology of Development, The History of Africa, The History of African Thought, Problems of Social Development, Economic Geography of Africa and Senegal, but my schedules not set, and Im one who does like certainty. I want to start taking dance classes too.

While Im here, I have to do a fieldwork research project. For my major, it has to be something pertaining to Peace Studies or Conflict Resolution. Im thinking about writing about the conflict in the southern Casamance region of senegal, and how it is negotiated by local actors. Id like to learn how organic, microscale solutions to conflict can be applied globally. This means that I have to travel to Casamance, which is pretty stable and even a little touristy now, and interview people. I want to get started on this now; but dont know how/where. Prayers. I think Ill go over our winter break, after the Muslim holiday of Tabaski on the 21st.

Im meeting more and more new people. The girls on my floor are super rad and we hang out a lot and go to the Resto together. My roomate is super nice but its true, she does sleep a lot and studies hard. Thats good motivation for me.
I made friends with Lamine who owns a boutique where you can buy laax, a yummy porridge stuff. Hes so nice and I sometimes go and sit with everyone there and chat and drink Cafe Touba- a strong sweet coffee. I made friends with Rene, who is the president of this ¨secret society¨called GASS in one of the guys dorms. They have ¨5 Minutes of Folly¨every so often where they do things like tie up goats in classrooms and play their djembes in the cafeteria. Its pretty hilarious. I made friends with Madame and Soughna, two girls in my dorm, both of whom are married with children living elsewhere. Madames husband is a UN peacekeeper on a mission in Lyberia. Theyre both like older sister-moms to me. I made friends with Maggé and Omar, two of my favorite people here. They both love philosophy so weve had some great conversation. Last night I made chai tea for them and they didnt like it because it wasnt sweet enough. They appreciated it though after I poured sugar in. It was so great, we watched Islamic music videos from Nigeria (hilarious) and drank my favorite tea and ate gluten free cookies. Holla. I made friends with my neighbors Thioro and Binette, who I introduced to the wonders of Cold-Eez. Those are more necessary than I thought here in Africa. Theyre good people.

This week has been blistering hot. The evenings are getting cooler and cooler though. I went on a run at 6 am and felt overheated when I came back. It was good to be out though. I feel like Im slowly getting energy back.

This morning I went to the market all by myself and bought the neccesary parts to make ngalaaax. It was so fun to ¨waxaale¨or bargain, with the vendors, especially because Im learning more and more Wolof. We are plannning on having a Thanksgiving feast here with the Senegalese.

I was washing my laundry in a bucket this week (holla to Ann and Brenden!) and I realized that I now sympathize with foreign transfer students. I worked at the international office of admissions at madison (holla Jane, Margo, Emily, Erica, Heidi, Nesara, et. al!) and now I really know what it feels like to 1. enter a new culture and 2. To enter a place where people already have established relationships and routines.

This week has been full. Im going to go back to my room and attempt to cook. Excitement!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Ndank-ndank mooy japp golo ci naay.

¨Slowly, slowly catches the money in the tree.¨

This has got to be my motto for Senegal. This and ¨Time is not money. Time is attayah.¨
I have had to retrain myself to think slowly, to walk slowly with groups, to socialize lots, even when theres work to be done, to eat slowly with my right hand (hard cause Im left handed and its offensive to eat with your left), and especially to learn Wolof slowly. I love love love learning languages; but theres so many that Im learning at the same time, and I feel like I depend on French so much. The other day one guy started talking to me in English, and I couldnt understand what he was saying because my mind doesnt really run in english anymore. His accent was fine, but I just could not figure out the words that were coming out of his mouth. I kind of like this. But for me, who is obsessive-compulsive about mulitasking and being economical, Senegal has been a huge change.

I even feel like Im making friends so slowly. I know it hasnt been that long and that its too much for me to expect that I will make bosom buddies right away. I wish that I could have someone to talk to deeply here. I do want a mentor as well, but thats been a constant desire of my heart. I have been hanging out with the girls on my floor and with friends of Mactar and Ive been trying to be social, but its exhausting! Relationships take time and effort, and by golly Im tryin!

This has been a pretty good week. I went downtown a few times to do some shopping. St Louis is divided into 3 parts. Well 4. The university where I live is in the ¨suburbs¨ about 10km from downtown. Its really in the middle of nowhere, almost desert. Then theres Sor, the downtown on the mainland. Cross a bridge and you get to the Island of St; Louis where most of the culture is, including the governmental buildings. Cross another bridge and you get to the Langue de Barbarie; which is actually a small peninsula that comes all the way down from Mauritania. This is where all the fishing happens and is where the beach is located.

In town I bought a pot and some dishes, so i can cook in my room. I want to learn how to make ngalaax, a millet porridge with peanut butter sauce. Yums. I bought a watermelon to share with the girls on my floor and they make Tang. Downtown St Louis has fabulous architecture and many of the buildings are painted bright colors. It used to be the capitol city of Senegal, Mauritania, and all of West Africa, so theres a lot of life there. We went to the HUGE beach; the Hydrobase. Oh man, I love the ocean and this one was overwhelming. The waves are huge. Surf shop boy was right, its like a washing machine and I would die if I tried to surf. But the beach is white and bright and there are even little huts that you can stay overnight in. They cost about 3000 CFA per night. Thats about 6 dollars. You pay for the security. St; Louis is also a major fishing town; so the port is teeming with fish vendors and drying fish and animals scrounging for food.

There are animals ALL OVER St Louis. Especially dogs and sheep and goats. Especially goats. They just walk all around campus. One even walked into our classtoom the other day when our professor was talking. TIA.

In the city I also bought a sweet mat that I can use for Yoga or praying. I bought bleach for my fruit; so I can finally get some apples and pears. Theres a quaint little french cafe around the corner from the post office that serves real coffee. Alhamdulillah. The grocery store is pretty expensive and toubabular, but the market is as bustling as ever.

My friend Mactar came to visit from Dakar. We went out dancing, which, as I said, is a two day affair. Some of us first went to see a concert at the French Cultural Center downtown. There were lots of toubabs, but it was one of my favorite nights yet. We sipped wine and watched this man play a traditional Senegalese instrument that was part guitar part cello part drum and made from a giant gourd. The breese was blowing and everyone was silent, taking it all in. He had a fabulous voice. After this; we heard some reggae music at a local club and stopped in to listen. Pretty fab. We went to this club by the beach called Papayae at around 2 am. When we first got there, there were about 7 people in the club. Megan Alaska, Sarah and I decided to make Toubab fools of ourselves, as usual, so we had a good time dancing. Around 4 am they put on a traditional Senegalese show with djembe drums and traditional dancers. Super sweet. I wish I could groove like that.

After we were worn out we walked to the beach from the club at about 5 am. It was incredible. The roar and the wind were such a part of God. I felt so close to him there. I always feel close to God in nature, and I meet him in the waves. I think I always have to live by big water.

I went back to the beach yesterday with Megan and Sarah and girls on my floor: Thioro, Soughna, Binette, Mariama, and their guy friends Ibou, Lalune and Ibrahima. We danced to djembes (it seems like every Senegalese is born with a natural ability to play the drums) and played a relay game and went in the water. Most senegalese do not know how to swim and dont like being in the ocean, so we hang out on shore a lot. We walked the length of the langue de barbarie to save cab fare and got home pretty late.

One thing I have noticed that has really suprised me is that the campus is way more conservative than Dakar. The students dress more modestly and arent as open to talk about taboo subjects like dating and homosexuality as readily. They definetly do date and will talk about any subject, but you have to gain their trust first. There are tons of Muslim girls who wear the haijab, or head scarf, whereas that was sort of a rare sight in Dakar. Many of the students practice Islam pretty strictly and in Dakar, the young people are not as pious. I wasnt expecting this. Its an interesting shift.

Speaking of God, I had a minor miracle this week. I have been praying to find a church that I like here. I was getting sort of frustrated and have been missing community this past week. However, out of the blue I received a call from a student named Jeremy. He introduced himself and then the first thing he said was, ¨so, I hear youre looking for a church.¨He doesnt know me at all, but a mutual friend of ours is the head of the Groupes Bibliques Universitaire (GBU) in Dakar. Jeremy and I got together and he told me about the GBU that meets once a week here and discusses the Bible and world religions. Its open to all faiths and denominations and apparently a lot of muslim students come. Also, this morning I went to his church with my friend Sandra. It was wonderful! We walked about 20 minutes to get to this little house church. The pastor, Dr. Mbaya, and his wife are from the DRC, and he is also a professor at the Univeristy. There were just a few people there including us, but it was so warm and friendly. The pastors daughter, Gracia, leads the worship music with a djembe, and Jeremy joins in with his. Everyone sings harmony however they feel like and the room is so full of praise. It was all in French; but I could appreciate it anyway. Dr. Mbaya spoke about ¨Choisis la Vie¨, and decisions in our life at tough times. He used one of my favorite passages, Luke 10: 38-42, which talks about Martha and Mary. When Jesus came to their house, Martha busied herself with all the details and worried about having things just right for Jesus. Mary sat at his feet and lived a little existentially, soaking in all her savior had to say. That is such Grace. Jesus words were her life.

Ndank-ndank mooy japp golo ci naay, right? Slowly, slowly catches the monkey in the tree.

After the 2.5 hour long service, I thought we were going to leave. We all stood up for the final prayer, and the pastor had me pray over the offering. Afterwards, we all shook hands goodbye, then everyone sat back down again. We all socialized for another half hour and people asked all sorts of questions. One question I get a lot from both Muslims and Christians here in Senegal is, ¨how has the American church changed after September 11? Are Americans more religious now?¨Everyone was so nice, Im glad to have found this family; and I cant wait to make deeper connections. This was an answered prayer.

Weve started out Wolof lessons with our fabulous teacher, Pap Laye Dial. Imagine a super-stylish version of Bill Cosby 35 years ago. Pap Laye is so nice and patient and hes an expert in Wolof and French. English, however, is a bit different. We had a 5 minute conversation where he was trying to find the english word for ¨watermelon¨and we ended up thinking he was either talking about melanin or melon water.

Real classes start tomorrow. Ive chosen a bunch that sound good, but I have to go and see if I like them this week. The educational system is such that you can go to a class without signing up and drop it by leaving whenever you want. If you take exams, youre in the class. I dont even know how to find the classrooms, so I have to scope that out soon. I also have to buy a fan. Desperately. I dont know what to expect from school this year, but I have a nervous excitement about it all.

Okay, this entry has been a mile long. Im posting photos on Facebook, but Ill put more up here soon.

Oh, SP family: I taught the girls here how to play Pictionnary Down the Lane. I thought youd be proud of me. It was hilarious in English; but just as a heads up, be careful when you play in different languages. Some things really get lost in translation.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Aminata, boys and girls

My roomate, Aminata Diouf, moved in today. She seems really nice, but Im not sure how to approach this relationship. She is a pretty, strong-looking 3rd year Sociology major. She is from Kaolack, a town in the middle of Senegal. She drove almost 12 hours but she started cleaning our room right when she arrived. She even cleaned my stuff and aired out my mattress. She is the roomate of a girl who was on this program last year, and the girl told me that Aminata loves cleaning and sleeping. ?? This will be interesting. I bought a watermelon to share and we had some pleasant conversation, but then I let her go to sleep. I cant wait to really talk with her and hang.

Men and women in Senegal:
As they told us before we left for Senegal, the men in Senegal are very forward. I have been proposed to many times, but I just have to laugh it off and tell the men I have a husband or five. Men do grab at us and ask straight up for our phone numbers. Humor is the best solution to the potentially awkward moments. Men are considered the heads of households, but a huge number of them are undereducated and unemployed.
On the other hand, Senegalese women are pretty standoffish. This is just a part of their culture. We americans need to gain the trust of the women. Women wont even make eye contact on the sidewalk, but men will stop us and tell us how beautiful and nice we are. Women are the organizers and the glue that holds families together. they take care of all the daily activities. Being a mother is an expectation and a highest honor for Senegalese women. Men are told to marry women who make good hostesses.

As Professor Fair told us in our orientation, American women are awarded ¨honorary male¨stauts, which is totally true. For example, during a holiday dinner, the women eat around one bowl, the men eat around theirs, and Im engcouraged to eat with the men. It is easy to talk to them, whereas conversation with some women can be a strain.

The girls on my floor are all polite and nice. Very first week of college-ish. I cant wait to cultivate these relationships, becuase each one is so vibrant and strong and beautiful. Hoorah.

Life here is St. Louis is pretty rad. Were taking Wolof and History of Islam classes that are so so easy so far. Tomorrow we meet with Baydallaye to choose classes. My daily schedule here: Wake up. Yoga on the basketball courts with a bunch of little kids watching and laughing and playing along, or run around the trail around the university. Breakfast of instant coffee in the Resto. Breakfast costs 15 cents and is a loaf of bread and coffee. No bread for me. Sweat. Wolof or Islam class. Lunch in the resto. Lunch costs 30 cents and is cebbu jen, rice and fish, or maffe or ¨rice and meat and some oily sauce¨ as they say and bread, always bread. Lay around. Sweat. Maybe go for a walk. Maybe go into town. Maybe use the computers. Maybe read. Class. Dinner at the resto if Im feeling it. Costs 30 cents and is the same as lunch. Ive been buying fruit instead, but fruit is pretty expensive, 50 cents for one piece. Sweat. Hang out with roomates. Make attayah tea. Chat. Take a shower when the water works. Sleep. Sweat.
Things will speed up, albeit slightly, when classes start.

We went downtown the other day, and its pretty sweet. Way way more chill than Dakar. The island is tiny, but theres a huge bright beach with cool huts and lots of fishermen. I havent found any good surf here yet, though. I bought some pots and pans for cooking, but Id like to get a hot plate, and I need a fan.

OKay, this is all for now. Happy birthday to mom, too. I love you lots!!