So pretty much this vacation changed my life. Especially the last part in Casamance.
There is so much to report, however, so I will just write about everything excluding that sejour and my research in this entry.
Where did I leave off?
Christmas was...interesting. And fun. First, I went to a midnight mass in this huge catholic cathedral (a giant metal hut) where there was an African version of the Christmas story and djembes and chanting. It was long, but it felt good to hear one familiar song. After mass, we went to Jills house where her host mom had prepared a huge Christmas fete with a big dinner and dancing. It was hilarious. At one point us 4 toubabs stepped outside to get some air. Jills mom came out and said, ¨You will sing for us.¨ We asked her what she wanted us to sing, and she simply said, ¨You will sing American.¨ So we went inside and everyone had gathered in a circle and some of the guys made drums out of pots and we sang Christmas carols at a fast tempo with them playing those pots and pans along. It was so surreal to walk home at 6 am Christmas morning, all of us still singing Christmas tunes with Ryan accompanying on his harmonica.
I slept for a bit that morning, then I read myself the Christmas story aloud, just like my dad does every Christmas morning. then I went over to Sara's to make christmas chai and chackry, a porridge-y thing with millet and yogurt. We lazed around a bit, then walked to the beach.
I really wanted to make sure that I set my foot in the ocean on Christmas day, just to say I did.
Interesting, Ryan remarked that ¨Cath, youre all about living for the experience's sake.¨ Hes pretty correct, as I think about it.
That evening my friends Omar and Matar came to pick me up because they said they had prepared a Christmas suprise for me, because they thought that Christmas is the most important American holiday. They were both dressed in suits when they came, so I felt a little awkward. We went to Matar's dorm and they had arranged a little picnic, with music and a gift for me from Omars family. Very sweet. We danced blokas and feted until 4 am.
After Christmas, I spent some quality time in Dakar, walking around the city to discover areas I didnt know and to talk to people. My wolof is noticibly better from the first time I was there, so it was easier to communicate with my host family. I got a few chances to go surfing, and took the time to do some research and set up some appointments with people in Ziguinchor.
On the 29th, I took a 16 hour boat ride from Dakar to Ziguinchor, in the Casmance. It was awesome! I totally recommend it, if you ever get the chance. There was a little restauraunt on board and I watched the sunset and sunrise over the water and saw dolphins jumping and swimming with the boat. I was really cold, though, so I didnt sleep at all. In the morning, my friend Fatou from school came to pick me up with her cousin Ramah. I stayed with Fatou's family in Goumel, a new suburb of Zig. Mr. Sy is a well-known businessman in Zig, so I could say to any taxi driver to take me to ¨Keru Sy¨- The Sy's house- and they would know where to go.
The family is so so amazing. They have impacted me like Nan and John Barron did in Paris last year. So welcoming and kind, we had great meals all the time and they included me as their daughter. I call them Papa and Yaay Sy now. I spent time in Zig walking around, as I love to to, and talking to people. Every day I had interviews to do with Organisations, educators, journalists, and political leaders, as part of my research project. In between interviews, I would go into the neighborhoods and sit and chat with people, trying to get them to be comfortable enough to talk about the conflict with me, which is still a sensitive subject. Amazing stories. My best time came with my last interview, where I was invited to join a group of peacemakers as they went into the forest and discuss non-violent management of conflict with ex-combatants and rebels. So, I changed my return ticket for the boat and joined them. That few days changed my life. But like I said, I'll write more about my research later...
Before the conference, I spent New Years in this beautiful little resort town called Cap Skirring, which is famous among the French for being an exotic vacation spot. It was a little too toubaby for my taste, but gorgeous! Jill, Ryan, Claire, and I got rooms in a campement which was so cheap- $12 dollars a day including breakfast and a huge dinner of shrimp and rice and fries and salad and crepes and wine. It was so lovely, I decided to stay another night. I didnt even bring my work along, and I just let my mind wander on the beach. Sometimes I wonder what it must be like to live and work in that sort of paradise. It is so strange, also, to think about all the violence that has happened just outside of that isolated village.
At midnight, we were on the beach, drinking the famous Palm Wine. All of a sudden, fireworks started exploding from all directions on the shore. Ryan played Auld Lang Syne on his harmonica as we tried to sing along...but seriously, is there anyone who knows all the words to that song? Stepping in the ocean was my first act of 2008.
I went back to Zig to finish my interviews and hang with the family Sy. After the above mentioned conference, I took the boat back to Dakar on the 10th....which was quite the experience...and then took a bus directly to St Louis, where I arrived yesterday night. Im exhausted, and I have a ton of work to catch up on, I found out. I only missed a week of school, but they have started the discussion sections for our classes. I did a lot today, but Im trying not to stress about it all. One foot in front of the other.
Also! To whom it may concern: I finally got the package slips from the post office saying that I have 2 packages waiting to be picked up. I have to wait until monday and the anticipation is killing me! Also also, thank you to all who sent me lovely letters for Christmas. You know who you are.
What now? Aminata my roomie is the same as ever. I was convicted about how I wasnt being a good friend to her before break, and I want to change that now. UGB is the same as ever. Ive been having a lot of those ¨HI! Ive missed you! Where have you been?! How was vacation??¨ type conversations, which will probably last a while.
Its going to be interesting getting back into a routine of school after this amazing break. My thoughts are elsewhere, to be sure. I have little tiny things that I want to start living differently, lets see how they hold up against the temptation of falling into unhealthy patterns, which is so easy when Im too stationary.
To be honest, Im so excited. Im so excited to be here, and I excited that I have this priviledge of life. Im excited for what has been, for what is, and for what is to come.