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.