¨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.