Thursday, March 20, 2008

Camping, hiking, and freshwater parasidic infections in Park Nikolokoba

It's high time I tell about our ¨camping¨ trip to Park Nikolokoba in the southern Tambacounda region.

20 toubab women, 1 Senegalese english professor Mr. Barry, and 1 poor senegalese student loaded onto the bus at 3 am and set out for the 18-hour drive across the state to Tambacounda. The roads were pretty terrible and the bus was like a normal school bus, but smaller. None of this Coach Bus business. Needless to say, almost none of us slept, and when we arrived we were all covered in a layer of red dust. It must have been pretty hilarious to see this fleet of pink, rumpled Americans tumble out of that bus.

We stayed the first night in a beautiful campement on the River Gambia inside the park. We feasted on roasted chicken and green beans and potatoes and slept really well. The next morning we got up early and took a river safari and saw hippos, crocodiles, monkeys, and loads of birds. After lunch , we took a land safari and pretty much just saw deer and warthogs. Not too exciting. We crossed this suspension bridge over a river, though, and I came a little bit closer to conquering my fear of heights.

The next day, we drove 3 more hours to Kedougou, where the senegalese student is from. I like this town a lot. It really has a small-town feel, but is not a village. There's a little main street and a market where you can buy such treasures as honey, palm wine, avocadoes (!), indigo fabrics, and mangoes galore (!!). Mangoes in the south of senegal cost about 25 CFA each = about 5 cents. I swear I ate about 5 a day, and once the hotel owners learned that I dont eat bread, they brought out an endless supply of mangoes for me. Mmm baby, I wasnt complaining.
We stayed in another cute campement, 3 people in each hut, and feasted on food that was ¨correct¨ according to Mr. Barry: couscous, yassa poulet, potatoes, and plenty of fruit for dessert.
We drove about 2 more hours to a mountain range in order to hike to this hidden waterfall. We found this lone toubab Peace Corps volunteer in the middle of nowhere. He was biking to the falls and resting in the shade of a baobab. I swear, that region is crawing with PCVs, I met quite a few while there. The long hike through the forest was definetly worth it (not that I had to be persuaded- I love hiking and being outdoors et al.). The secluded falls was GORGEOUS. It was like some mystical movie scene, with the mist creating rainbows everywhere. Mr. Barry had told us not to swim in it because it's fresh water, so there was a risk of getting nasty diseases like schistosomiasis. But, come on, it was irresistable. We all whipped off our clothes and cliff jumped in our underwear. Just lovely.

After all that, we relaxed at the hotel. I had some pretty good chats with some of the girls on the other programs. Us 10 from Wisconsin are the only ones who have been/will be here for the whole year, and I am so so grateful that our program works like this and that we've had as much help and orientation as we have...even if we feel lost some of the time.

We also took a 3-hour drive to go hike this mountain, and visited a Batique village at the top that the senegalese student knew about. The climb was steeper than I thought, but it was great to stretch my legs. I love hiking, I've gotta do more backpacking in the states. The village of Iwo was cool; a totally different culture than any other place in Senegal. Very traditional and animist. We walked around and chilled with the villagers and their enormous sacred baobab trees. We visted the tiny school and played with this sweet little girl. One of the villagers told us that she ¨went crazy¨ when she was sick as a baby, so now she's the best kind of crazy: happy and carefree crazy. She dances in the streets and repeats French words and laughs like a hyena. She restored my faith in children. While in the village, I bought a rad pair of earrings that are made from old guinean coins that are dated from the 1920s. I wonder what their story is. Also, in the center of the village, there was a dead leopard with piles of food and money offerings surrounding it. The village chief told us that the leopard had killed some of their cows, so they were obliged to poison it and then need to give offerings to its soul to apologize.

The last night, we all had a fabulous dinner at the student's family's house, and Mr. Barry - who is the man, by the way- bought us a special treat. We left straight away for a 24-hour return voyage in the same rickety bus. No sleep. Till Brooklyn. On the way back to St. Louis, we stopped by the holy city of Touba, where the 2nd biggest african mosque is located. Those of us who covered our heads got to go inside. It was really fabulous and opulent- its the scene of a muslim pilgrammage every March and Mourides come from all around the world to pray at this mosque. It made me excited to see Africa's first biggest mosque next week in Casablanca. And someday the world's biggest mosque in Mecca.

We got back to campus in time to start the second semester of classses....which, so far, have not started, save for 1 hour of a political science class which, as I already recounted, was interupted by rabid freshmen. I'm trying to find my bearings by choosing new classes for this semester and next in Madison. And now Im trying to call hotels in Morocco on Skype. Alll riiight.
See my facebook for more photos of the trip, by the way.

à bientot!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Highlights from my camping trip to Nikolokoba

Megan Alaska and I. This photo pretty much sums up my time here in Senegal.

In the village on top of the mountain we climbed in Kedougou, we stumbled across a ceremony to honor this dead leopard. The villagers poisoned it because it was eating their cows, so they offered it sacrifices to apologize to its soul.

Crossing the bridge on our ¨safari¨ in Tambacounda.

Sunrise over the river full of hippos. This is what I woke up to every morning.

We hiked in the forest until we found this waterfall. We all whipped off our clothes and jumped in in our underwear.

The friends I made at the waterfall. Smart guys.

We visited the Grand Mosque of Touba. Its the 2nd biggest mosque in Africa, after Casablanca. It is so gorgeous inside. I had to cover up and take off my shoes to go in.

Claire, Jill, and I after climbing the mountain to get to the Iwo village.

I am in love with the mystical baobabs of Senegal

The village matriarch of Iwo.
Maren's photo, National Geographic anyone?

Attack of the Killer Freshmen

I have so much to write about last week's camping trip to Park Nikolokoba. It was seriously beautiful and amazing, even if we did have to drive for 24 hours in a cramped bus with 20 toubab women. It was a great trip. Look at my photos on Facebook, and I'll add more later. I have lots to describe.

But not now. Now I will describe the events of this morning.

I was sitting in my Comparative Politics class, ironically discussing Democracy, when all these students (all of them male) rushed in our class. They were yelling and blowing whistles, and they overwhelmed all of us. They threw our papers and notebooks on the floor and overturned the desks, we all got up and left the room when they started throwing chairs against the wall and broke down the door so that it couldnt be shut. This is a student strike, senegal-style. It was the first time I'd seen one get this violent. As someone who studies the resolution of conflict, the whole event was just so fascinating to me.

The freshmen are striking on campus because they still havent been paid their scholarships, which they need to buy meal tickets and bus tickets to go home for easter. I saw my sweet friend Magueye amongst the rioters and I asked him what was up. He said that today he has no money and no resto tickets. He's sort of starving on campus, because he depends on these scholarships. I asked if there were any representatives who were going to talk (rationally) with the administration and he said that they had been trying to, so today the whole crowd was going to make them listen up.

I looked at Freddy (senegalese friend) when we were outside the classroom that was being trashed by a bunch of freshman, he looked at me and mouthed: ¨TIA¨.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

March is Cashed, or How to Find a Moroccan Miracle

Gej naa la gis, everyone! It's been a while!

So much has been happening...I'll fill you in quickly before I have to catch my 3 am bus ride to the other corner of the State of Senegal.

Yes I, Catherine Lori Skroch, and im the posession of one (1) round-trip airplane ticket to MOROCCO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This is a serious dream that came true through a series of unexpected but much prayed-for miracles. I had a peace about the fact that if I was to go to Morcocco, it would have to be all God's doing. He showed up in a big way and I will be in Casablanca, Marrakech, and Essouira from March 27- April 7, with Jill and Claire. If you read my first blog entries, you find that two of my goals for Senegal include 1. learning to surf, and 2. Going to Morocco. I've wanted to go ever since I read an article about it in National Geographic when I was about 9. Excitement!!

What's been happening on campus? I just (finally) finished exams today. Gosh, that was such a long, drawn-out process, with exams being cancelled and rescheduled and professors not showing up and me not knowing the material. I think I did alright, overall, but its near impossible to tell. Technically, the new semester starts this thursday, but that is kind of flexible. Im excited to pick some new, interesting classes, but my two political science classes last all year.

This past weekend, my second favorite hip hop group of all time, Daara J, came to campus! It was sick. I paid $20 to see them in Madison, and here they show up on my front doorstep. Literally...the band members were staying in my neighbor's room! They were so rad. They got a kick out of my elementary Wolof and invited me to the concert that they were playing in town after their show on campus. As it was the World Women's Day, they recited poetry in Wolof, French, and English and we danced until 3:30 am.

This morning at 3 am, Im going to Nikolokoba National Park in the Tambacounda region of Senegal, which is, if you look at a Senegalese map, in the exact opposite corner of the country from where I am now. It is in Casamance, next to Guinea-Bissau, and we have to drive around the Gambia. We'll be traveling until the 16th. We're leaving at 3 am because the trip should take about 20 hours. All of us Toubab women are going with one ballsy English professor, Mr. Barry, and his student assistant...who is also rather goor-goorlu. I'm so glad we're going with Barry. He's this kind old grandpa type who is so intelligent and funny and caring. He helped me a lot with my research on the Casamance, as he's from Tamba. As Jill and Claire say, he's yuppie. He wears classy sweatervests and I hear he buys expensive pasta from the Toubab grocery store in town. But you know the rumor weed...
Anyway, we're going to be going on safaris and visiting villages in Basari Country and hiking the mountains to the waterfalls and being all-around touristy. It's nice to have this from time to time and its such a blessing to be able to escape campus for a while. On trips like this, my alter-ego Cathy always makes a few appearances. Cathy is this 50-year-old soccer mom/travel agent with a little wild streak, married to Tim the financial planner. The girls and I have been elaborating her story since we arrived in Senegal...It's kind of sad, but very amusing when we are in big groups of tourists. I dont know why I'm writing this. It probably sounds creepy.
In any case, we'll be full-out tourists for a few days. OOH, I hope I see some lions!

Other travels: Next week, I'm going with Omar and friends to the Maggal des Tijans in Tiouauan. What does that mean? It's an Islamic pilgrimage to a holy city (Tiouauan) in Senegal, with one sect of Islam here (the Tijans). We'll be spending one night in the city, where everything is free: food and lodging are all payed for in the city by the Muslim leaders. I dont really know what I will do...I cant really go into the mosque, but they may let me into the women's circuit. Everybody prays and sings and recites the Koran all night and all day. I'm curious to see how it all works.

So! March is full. Yes!!! Classes are kind of hazy now, because 1. The vacation of easter 2. The vacation of spring (when Im going to le Maroc) and 3. The vacation that President Abdoulaye Wade has declared for the Conference des Organisations Islamiques which is being held in Dakar this year.

I've got a long drive ahead of me. These moments of pure potentiel are my favorites...

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Celebrating the Little Things


Last night I had a little party in my room to celebrate the end of Februrary. I made popcorn Senegal-style (instead of butter and salt, sprinkle powdered milk and sugar) and bought some Africa cola and invited my proches. I wrote Best Wishes for everyone there and had them choose out of a bowl. Stuff like, ¨I wish you a husband/wife rich like President Abdoulaye Wade...and more gorgeous...if that's possible.¨, ¨I wish you great health, even if you eat at the resto.¨, ¨ I wish you lots of happiness, lots of peace, lots of joy, and lots and lots of mouton!¨ and ¨I wish you enough children to form a soccer team like l'equipe national de Senegal¨. It was nice to have the laughter and joy all around, and the anticipation of something new.

It's not such a big deal that a new month is starting, but celebrating the little things, anticipating events - no matter how insignificant- really spices things up a bit. Besides, it's always great to have an excuse to lighten up a bit. I guess this all fits into my ¨Quality not Quantity¨ 2008 mantra. I seem to be recognizing the value in little things more: birds singing like the birds at my Grandpa Joe's house during my youth, naps, African sunsets, learning a new word and using it properly, Moroccan wine and a piece of dark chocolate, french fries at the Resto instead of rice, short lines at the post office, books in English. Mmmm, baby! Life is sweet.

It was also good to celebrate because yesterday I had an exam in poli sci...which I decided to take literally 30 seconds before the start of the exam. I may have to drop this particular class still because I have too many credits this semeser, but I decided to take the 3 hour exam on a whim...I wasn't doing anything else that afternoon and if nothing else it would be good practice. Yup, pretty sure I went down in flames. I have no idea what the professor was looking for. Even after he explains, its still unclear, and this crazy French system doesnt really leave room for pulling from outside knowledge. Hah, I sighted Samuel Huntington and Fernando Hernique Cardoso! This coming week I have 3 exams...1 oral exam and two 4-hour mothers. Then the next week i have 2 more exams. Pray.

My prayer for ¨from now on¨...

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I hope that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
-Thomas Merton, Thoughts on Solitude