Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Protest Time...

These are some members of the gendarmerie that were getting ready this morning outside the grocery store.  I apologize for the poor quality of the image...I was trying to be discreet!  There is a big march that's supposed to happen today at 3!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Unrest in Dakar...and a splendid weekend avec ma petite niece, Marie Jeanne

The situation regarding the elections got a bit tricky this weekend.  On Friday evening, the constitutional council announced that President Wade does indeed have the right to run for a third term.  It also stated that Youssou N’Dour, a famous popular singer here in Senegal, cannot run. This was not received particularly well by many people here in Dakar, and particularly not received well by the younger generation.  Hundreds of people were stationed at the obelisk in the center of the city awaiting the release of the decision.  There were a few demonstrations after the release of the decision, one of which resulted in the death of a policeman. 
President Wade is already 85ish years old, which makes his bid for another 5 year term slightly problematic.  Previously, he tried to pass legislation that would allow him to have a vice president (almost definitely with the intent of awarding this position to his son), but a large protest that threatened to storm the legislature building put a stop to that.  Wade’s son did not even win the mayoral elections in Dakar. He spent a considerable amount of time in France and supposedly does not even speak Wolof, which makes it a bit strange to think of him as mayor of Dakar.  Some people here in Dakar assume that a third term for President Wade would actually look more like a non-official term for his son.  The same group of protesters (named M 23 in honor of the date of the previous demonstration against the establishment of a VP) have gathered forces against his more recent bids for power.

Our study abroad program, as well as the US embassy, cautioned us to remain at home during the weekend.  As much as I would have liked to have witnessed some of the things that were going on, it was probably best that I remained at home.  My host brother’s daughter Marie-Jeanne was over for the weekend which made things all the more enjoyable!  She is five and just started learning French at primary school.  Her limited knowledge of French coupled with my struggles with Wolof made for some funny moments.  However, we quickly realized that dancing knows no language barriers, so we spent quite a bit of time perfecting our moves.  So, despite the situation in the city, my weekend proved to be quite peaceful!

Here’s a link to the bbc article on the situation…though I feel like it makes it seem more extreme than the sentiment that I am getting here in Dakar.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-16770305
What should be really interesting is what happens if Wade wins the elections come February.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Elections and Soccer...who knew how closely linked they were!?

Last night Senegal lost its second match in the African soccer cup to Equatorial Guinea, which means that we are now eliminated from the competition.  I'm pretty sure that everyone with a television was watching the game last night because every time something exciting happened you could hear cheering or yells quite clearly throughout the neghborhood.

As soon as Equatorial Guinea scored the final goal, my host mom remarked, (and I'm paraphrasing a bit) "Now there will be more trouble with the elections.  If the team had won, maybe people would have been happy long enough to last until February, but now, mon dieu!"  I have heard similar remarks from other people as well.  People are making comments like, "Nothing is working in this country!  The President, the strikes! Not even our soccer team is any good!"

Perhaps Senegal should have offered to pay its players to win like the son of the President of Equatorial Guinea supposedly did.  It may have been a good investment!  My host mother is also convinced that President Wade is going to commit election fraud again come February.  There is a committee that is supposed to decide within the next few days if he actually has the right to run for a subsequent term since the new version of the constitution was instituted after he was elected the first time.  It looks as if the committee is rather linked to the present administration so he probably won't run into any problems getting himself on the ballot.  I believe the government just stated that it is forbidden to protest or to make big demonstrations about the elections until the decision is released.  I'm not sure how official the prohibition is though.  Either way, there have been quite a few more armed policemen standing around the busy streets in case something develops.

Grèves and grèves

We have now entered into the second day of a transport strike here in Dakar, which means that the streets are quite empty again.  Sophie (a student who is staying with my host aunt) and I took advantage of the peaceful streets to go for a run last night, which was great!  We got a lot of strange looks though because it is quite unheard of for women to go running here in the city.  My host brother remarked that “Senegalese women don’t run because they are all overweight and when they finally decide to exercise they are already 200 kilos and it is too late.”  I don’t really know what he was talking about.  They certainly don’t run but are also not all overweight.  Perhaps I will ask him to elaborate on his statement later.

 On the other hand, the strike also means that it is increasingly difficult for our professors to get to class (slightly problematic).  After chatting with my host mom about the transport strike I learned a bit more about the motivations behind the strike.  Apparently gas here in Senegal is far more expensive than it is in neighboring countries and the government takes a big chunk of what you end up paying for a litre of gas.  Being a taxi driver is also a tricky job to have.  Most taxi drivers do not own their own taxis.  The way it works is that there is a person who owns the taxi and contracts another person to drive it.  Each day the driver has to pay the owner something like 10,000 CFA (the equivalent of 20 USD).  Sometimes, the driver might not even make that in a day considering he (and I use he because they are essentially all men) has to pay for his own gas (1000 CFA/litre) and is responsible for all of the repairs that are needed for the taxi.  Profits are hard to come by for taxi drivers, and so that is one of the many reasons that there is a transport strike at the moment.

Anyways, the title of this post reflects the fact that there are many grèves in abundance here in Dakar.  The word grève actually has two meanings in French.  One of them is strike.  The other, as we learned in African lit after reading one of Senghor’s poems, is a word for shoreline.  Dakar, being a peninsula, has incredible amounts of shoreline.  So, I can categorize my stay here thus far as being full of both gèves—strikes and shoreline!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Xaar al ba mu am rakk

Our Wolof classes have been super cool so far!  The other day, we learned a few different ways to say “no.”  The example that our professor gave us in class was how to decline if somebody asked you if they could have your cell phone or some other object that you might not really want to part with.  Instead of just saying no (déedeet) which might be seen as a pretty rude response, you could instead say “xaar al ba mu am rakk” which means “wait until it has a little brother.”  Then you have essentially said that you would consider giving them your cell phone once you have purchased a new one, and the one they asked for would be something that you no longer need.  I just thought it was a pretty neat way to phrase things.

Wolof is still pretty tricky for me but when you use it to greet people on the street and whatnot they always seem really appreciative that you are at least trying!  I have also been really relieved that I have been able to get along fine with my French since my conversations in Wolof can only last for a few sentences.  Caitlin Callahan—you were right!  It’s easy to get confident with a string of greetings until somebody asks you a new one or phrases something slightly differently than the sentence structure that you are used to. 

Despite the Wolof challenges, I am getting more and more comfortable with my French each day!  I can already understand the news stations far better than I could when I arrived (assuming it’s not in Wolof).  The accents here are also much nicer than European accents.  You also get quite a bit of practice in French when random boys approach you on the street and want to talk about the United States!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Exploring Marché aux Poissons

Last weekend Maija (another girl on the Wells program) and I went on an adventure to the fish market just south of the university.  While we were walking around we met a really nice guy named Waly who hooked us up with a fisherman who then gave us a tour in his boat around the local coastline.  It was super cool and we ended up going for a dip in the sea!  Once we got back to the market we stayed and chatted with Waly for a while and he cooked us some flying fish for lunch!  All in all it was a great weekend!  There were a few interesting situations that I may not have entered into had I been in the US but we ended up just going with the flow and things worked out great!  I ended up learning a lot about the type of work that goes on around the fishing industry and got to see a bunch of cool species of fish!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Airport mystery solved...

I finally figured out why there were so many festivities going on at the airport when we arrived.  It turns out that there is a really big Mouride festival held in Touba each year.  The people on our plane were some sort of famous group on their way to Touba.  The majority of Senegalese are followers of Islam, and nearly the entire city of Dakar was empty on the day of the festival.  Classes in public schools were cancelled, and my walk to the research center, which is normally a tricky frogger-like situation along some busy streets, was quite calm with just the occasional passing car or taxi!
One of the really cool things about living in a country as small as Senegal is that the news station covers pretty comprehensively a lot of the events that happen on a daily basis.  There was quite a bit of coverage on the festivals at Touba.  Even yesterday, there was a substantial amount of time spent reporting on the party that the Ministry of Health had thrown for all the workers at the pharmacies in Dakar.  It’s a bit like Maine news sometimes, where some of the things you see happening on the way to school end up being headline news stories later in the evening!

Buying bread...

My latest achievement in Dakar has been purchasing bread each morning for breakfast.  Breakfast here in Senegal has a lot of French elements.  To drink I usually have tea (attaya in Wolof) or instant coffee (kafe) with powdered milk.  Most people then have a large baguette type of bread with butter, jam, or chocolate spreads.  My family buys bread from the local boutique which is about 50 feet from our house.  The boutiques are located in pretty much every street corner and can sell you just about anything.  In order to practice my Wolof, I now go and purchase the bread in the morning.  In order to say “sell me bread” in Wolof, you say, “jaay ma mburu.”  The double consonant for bread (mburu) is a tricky one, but I think I have it down!  This, of course, comes after a long string of questions and greetings in Wolof.  Without these introductions, it would be quite impolite to even go up to somebody and ask for directions.

Host Family!

It has now been over a week since I have been living with my host family! I live in a neighborhood called Liberté 1 and it is about a 40 minute walk from the research center where we take some of our classes, and from there it is only about a ten minute walk to the university. It was just me and my host mother Therèse for quite some time.  We spent a lot of time chatting about politics here in Senegal.  She also likes to watch a lot of Brazilian soap operas dubbed in French which are always amusing.  Now Joseph is home from Touba so that's been pretty cool.  He is 25 and works as an electrician in the city.  The neighborhood that we live in is pretty cool.  Right outside my house is a miniature sand soccer field so there are always a bunch of kids running around.  Above is a picture of our backyard that should have a bunch of delicious mangos in a few months!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Arrival in Senegal!

We made it safely to Senegal!  There was some sort of group of important people on our plane from Brussels to Dakar, and there was some great singing and some media groups there when we got into the airport.

After a slightly nerve-wrecking taxi drive through a bit of the city we made it to our hotel.  Orientation and other exciting things to come tomorrow!