Saturday, April 21, 2012 I spend many an afternoon

So there are only 21 days for me left here in Senegal!  Yikes!  I am nowhere near ready to go home.  I just spent the day with my neighbor and good friend Mamadou's family.  He invited me to come and make lunch with his sisters.  We went to the market together and ended up cooking yassa poisson, which is one of the national dishes here.  Afterward, we made our attaya.  Attaya is a wonderful thing.  It is essentially green tea with massive amounts of sugar and nanna (a mint herb).  You generally make it over charcoal and make three or four rounds of tea.  You then serve the tea in shot glasses after spending hours turning the tea to get the correct amount of foam.  These days, after so much practice with Mamadou, I hardly end up spilling any tea during the lengthy process.  I don't think the foam is actually necessary, but the whole point of making the attaya is really just about finding a way to pass the time in good company.

The photo above is a picture of myself and my friend Mattan going to by charcoal (charbon en francais, kireen ci wolof) to make attaya at the house of one of our program directors.  As you can see it was a bit of a strange setup...we weren't exactly sure what we would find behind the walls.  Luckily, after a nice conversation in wolof with the man selling the charcoal, we made it out alive, bought a large bag of charcoal for 100cfa (25 cents) and proceeded to cook dinner at Korka's house.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Spring Break in Casamance

Before the second round of elections we had our spring break.  After many deliberations I decided I was going to go to Casamance, the southern region of Senegal just south of the Gambia.  It is technically still considered a conflict zone because of a separatist-esque movement there so I had to sign a waiver with our research center.  There was nothing to be worried about, however, since we were just going to be staying in Ziguinchor and Cap Skiring.  I invited my brother to come along with us since my family comes from Casamance and he had been wanting to visit some friends and family there.  We took the boat to get there since it was safer and more comfortable than taking a sept-place.  This is the boat:

Tickets for the boat were ridiculously cheap ($20 for a 12 hour boat ride).  I have been working on a blog post on relative prices and other econ things that I will post later.

But, all in all, Casamance was really cool and we got to experience a less touristy version of the region thanks to Joe.  Many men in Casamance drink a lot of palm wine...which, strangely enough, tastes exactly like you're drinking a peanut butter sandwich.  It was nice to see more animals around than one sees in Dakar.  At one point there was a friendly sheep that wouldn't leave our hostel, and there were more cows than people on the beach in Cap Skiring.


Also, being in Zuiginchor reminded me yet again of how cool certain customs are here.  For instance, as we (myself, Joe, and the two other abroad students) were leaving our hostel one day we came across a girl who mentioned that she was looking for some people to chat with.  After grabbing lunch we walked back to her neighborhood and asked around until we found her house.  She then invited us in and we sat around and drank bissap (a hibiscus juice) and talked with her family.  I was trying to explain to Joe how things like that don't really ever happen in the US and how if somebody you just met on the street asked you to come over you might think that was weird and would quite probably decline.  In many ways, it was a week well spent away from Dakar.  Here's a picture of Joe and Ernest (a good friend of Joe's) hanging out outside of Ernest's house.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Weekend in Mbour!

Fode (standing) and Alla (the grand DJ)
Me and one of Alla's nieces
 This post is rather late but four weekends ago my host brother Joe, cousin Fode, and friend Sophie spent the weekend in Mbour.  Sophie is living with my cousin Fode, so the four of us end up spending a lot of time together.  We decided to leave Dakar for a bit to visit Joe's friend Alla who works as a DJ in Mbour, about a two hour drive from Dakar.  In order to get there we took a sept-place, which is basically like a super old station wagon that fits seven passengers.  Finding transportation out of Dakar was easier than I thought.  The way it works is you show up at this place called "the garage."  There is no actual building there but rather just an open spot in the city where tons of busses and cars meet up.  You walk around and ask for a sept place going to the city that you want, and when you find one, you just wait for it to fill up and then you head out.  Pretty simple.  And the ride there only cost three dollars!  If only transportation in the US were like that.

We stayed at Alla's house in Mbour which was far calmer than living here in Dakar.  Alla is a DJ and for one of the evenings he took us to the club that he works at.  I was talking to my wolof professor who happens to have some land in Mbour.  He said that things have become a bit tricky there because of the tourist industry and mentioned that a lot of the young people living there find that they can make some pretty good money on tourism and then don't end up going to/continuing school.  Even the club that Alla worked had many more foreigners than I was used to seeing in Dakar.

On our way home we were stopped three times by the gendarmerie...which was pretty fun.  The police and gendarmerie are not paid super well here and so it makes sense that they stop people in order to get some extra money.  According to my brother, they tend to stop any cars that have passengers or are transporting lots of goods since the chances are good that the drivers of such vehicles will have cash on hand.  They then inspect your vehicle until they can find some reason to say that the driver needs a ticket.  Instead of getting a ticket, the driver slides them some money in a subtle handshake, and you move on.  Luckily for our driver, one of our passengers was a member of the gendarmerie and she stepped out a couple of times when it looked like the officers were demanding too much money.  She would let the driver give them a little bit, but if they asked again she would casually step out and then suddenly things were fine and we were allowed to continue again.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Na Dem! Na Dem!

There is (unofficially) a new President of Senegal!  They haven't released the official numbers yet but if you calculated the votes reported by all of the individual bureaus it is easy to see the landslide victory that Macky Sall won over our dear President Wade.  Even though the Constitutional Council hasn't officially released the restults yet, Wade has admitted his loss and the transition of power has begun.  Last night as the votes were rolling in, my excited host brother and sister and I ran out into the streets and bought sandwiches to celebrate!  My cartier was not super lively due to the number of Wade supporters living there but once we got on to the main roads we could see plenty of celebrations.  A good amout of noise, singing, and car horns continued long into the night.  There was also a big party outside Macky Sall's house which I unfortunately did not get the chance to partake in due to an Islam exam this morning.

Things are looking good for Senegal today!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Lutte! Traditional Wrestling in Senegal

As part of our trip to Toubacouta we also got to see a traditional lutte (wrestling) match!  Lutte may be my new favorite sport.  There are two main types of lutte-lutte with hitting and lutte without hitting.  There are a lot of preparations that the men go through before the matches in order to protect themselves during the fight.  As you can see from the photo, the clothing worn in a lutte match is quite minimal.  My host brother in Toubacouta explained to me that a lot of the preparations are done to make you less vulnerable both to your opponent and to the audience members.  My over-simplified explanation of it is that when you are so exposed it's easier for people's intentions to have an adverse effect on you. There is also always a drumming ensemble at the matches and the lutters awaiting their turn do a number of different dances around the sidelines in anticipation.  We got up to join in some of these dances.  To our surprise, our African Literature professor suddenly appeared during one of these dances as well.  He turns up in some of the strangest places!

My toubacouta host brother won the regional lutte match that was held the previous year so he was a pretty big deal for the family and the village.  On our last night there some of the other students and I walked to our second lute match to see him fight.  We didn't stay to see the end, but he was doing well in the rounds that we saw!

The photo below is from the first match that we saw (clearly a lightweight division).

Toubacouta Recap

A few weekends back we had the wonderful opportunity to visit the village of Toubacouta.  During that time we spent a day with hostfamilies, cooking and learning a bit about rural life in Senegal.  I stayed with the Diattas and was welcomed wonderfully.  Myself, my host mother, and host sister cooked the two family meals (yassa and ceeb u jen) in an enclosed hut behind the family houses.  My job mostly involved cutting onions (soble in Wolof).  The onions coupled with the smoke in the enclosed space meant that I was essentially crying for two hours, to the amusement of my family and especially the children.  But, all went well in the end.  The Diattas have a large family and all live together with a cluster of small houses around an open area.  There were also a lot more rules around eating and interacting that I don't normally encounter with my family in Dakar.  For instance, the men and women ate separately as you can see in the photo below:

In order to be polite I had to finish this bowl of ceeb u jen, which was quite the task!  When you are a guest like I was that weekend, it is a matter of pride to send you home feeling quite full.  If you went home hungry, it would mean that the family did not do a good job of taking care of you.

Monday, March 5, 2012

trip to Toubacouta!

This weekend we went on a trip to Toubacouta, a small village just north of the Gambia.  It was a nice change from the bustling city of Dakar...A longer post on this to come later...