Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Finished with work!

The first photo is me with the new baby (now named Ami) on the day of her naming ceremony, which turned out to be the day after Tabaski. She's super cute.

Here you have the after and before pictures from Tabaski. :) Same goat.
My first goat slaughtering! The night before some of our neighbors came in and pulled the goat through the living room and brought him up to the roof. As I was falling asleep I heard the pitter patter of goat hooves on the roof. I thought to myself-wow it's like Santa's reindeer, only it's a goat, and tomorrow is like Christmas! Only we don't eat the reindeer usually.

Much has happened over the last week and a half. My apologies for not posting last week as I'd planned. This is my last full week and I leave on a jet plane this Sunday after dinner. Got to say I'm pretty excited to get home, well, very excited, although anxious about next semester and feeling that I don't have enough direction in life beyond the idea of doing Americorps after college because now there are even more issues I want to explore, like radical thought and black power movements in the context of development of African and diaspora populations and post colonial/colonial studies, like in the West Indies. As with most great learning experiences, I am left with more questions than aswers as I prepare myself for leaving. Before I reflect more I should talk about the highlights of the past week and my plans until I leave.
Last week, of course, was Tabaski. I finished my French exam on Monday and went home to prepare myself, including picking my newly embroidered shirt up from the tailor and applying a fresh dose of henna on my nails. Love the henna. As with most holidays, it was pretty anticlimactic, even the goat slaughtering. My friend Sarah came over because the family she lives with is Catholic. We didn't even hear the goat killed and were chatting in my bedroom when I walked into the living room and saw them dragging the goat in with it's neck slit. "Hey we missed it!" We did get to watch them skin it and chop it up, from a safe distance. It's something boys do. Kind of like stuffing the turkey I guess? Fresh goat was had by all in a late lunch/early dinner in a usual onion sauce with fried potatoes (french fries) and bread. I ate a lot of goat and upon reflection I feel that it is a little to pungent of a taste to replace chicken in my mind, though good nonetheless. I'm still more partial to curry than mustard. I donned my boubou after lunch and that was about it. We ate, had some soda, hung around, my host dad had come home Sunday so he was around. The long awaited Tabaski was not dissimilar to Thanksgiving or Christmas.
The next day was the bapteme/naming ceremony for baby Ami. I donned my less formal boubou for this one, and people started arriving at 8am. Did I mention I found out that the mom, my second oldest host sister who finished college last year and has a two year old daugter, is not married also, just like my oldest host sister. It's very difficult to find a husband once one has children, sort of like in the US. Apparently although it's difficult and frowned upon, it's more common in practice than one would realize. It's not like dad's do all that much besides work anyway... Apparently the father of the babies is still in school and is too busy to get married or something like that. On Sunday last week, before Tabaski, four female representatives from the father's family came, including his mother, and had a two hour heated discussion with my host parents about money and care for the new baby. I felt bad for my host parents, because they have to pay for pretty much everything in terms of the baby and her 2 year old sister. I'm not sure what the results were but they left in a cordial enough way. Of course, I never saw the father at the naming ceremony and I don't know if he came to the hospital to visit. It's difficult for me to comprehend why she would go back to this guy and get pregnant again after what happened with the first baby. Then again it's difficult for me to comprehend why people would get pregnant before marriage when they know they won't have financial resources for the baby and it will shame their family and limit their chances for future marriage. I feel silly a bit because here I am popping my birth control pill, not "using" it at all except that it helps with period cramps, and here is my host sister having children and having little access to birth control even though she's the one who needs it. I haven't inquired, but I hear that it's very expensive here to get the pill, morning after pill, condoms, and similar things. It doesn't make sense. It really doesn't, especially if you have so many people ranting and raving about birth rates and unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. Just another case of hypocrisy I guess.
In any case, about 50 people came to the bapteme, basically all women, and mostly from my host mom's family. This is extremely small by usual standards-it's usually around 150 or 200 throughout the day, but again, there is no husband. Also it usually lasts well into the evening and there is an elaborate exchange of money between the women in the two families, but again this didn't happen and it all ended at the early hour of 6pm! About 6 women controlled the cooking-many gas tanks were brought in with various pots and I wanted to help, but didn't know where anything was and would be more of a hinderance, so I wandered around like a ghost reading until lunch was ready (4pm). Best cheebujen I've had since getting here! (maybe it was all the vegetables that did it). Another highlight was drinking red wine out of a plastic cup with my host mom's Catholic mother and aunts. They poured the left over wine from the bottle into an empty plastic water bottle. So typical and so amusing. When they offered me beer too I politely refused- don't want to be tipsy in front of the host fam! Pineapple soda was the chaser for my wine. I was pretty pooped by the end of it all.
Friday night a bunch of us got together at Sarah's and made "Mexican food" which was great, topped off by my improvised pineapple salsa and godiva chocolates because Stephanie works at godiva back home. We watched Moonstruck and another holiday movie with Cameron Diaz, Jack Black, Jude Law, and Kate Winslet. Yea, it was like that.
Otherwise I've been chilling and am now done with my work, hence my ability to write this entry.
Tomorrow Sarah, Amanda, and I are heading off for a couple days rest down in Joal-Fadiout before we leave this weekend. Fadiout is an island town connected to the mainland by a wooden bridge from Joal. It happens to be the birthplace of my host mom, as well as Senegal's first president- Leopold Sedhar Senghor. It has an even mix of Muslim and Catholic and a little second island filled with Catholic graves. I'm excited. We don't have plans, it's just relax time. We come back Friday afternoon, and that's it. I'll spend whatever money I have left and continue to read my French books. Inshallah I shall return to Boston safely.
I read a book this weekend by this British guy who lives in Yemen and is a historiographer and decided to follow the travels of Ibn Battutah, a very famous Muslim traveller from Tangier in Morocco during the 14th century. He went all over for many years, as far as India and China and elsewhere. The book covered the first part of his journey, and now I want to go to Cairo and Damascus. Maybe summer after senior year? Anyone itching to practice their Arabic? I do want to go to Tashkent and Moscow too, so Russian is another option.
It's all so interesting how things far in the past are so connected to the present and how cultural traditions and concepts and values have travelled so far and how many words we have that come from distant places and things and how some people are credited so much more in history than others.
I was talking with a friend of mine back home yesterday and was asking her if she'd be studying abroad. I know that she is a traveller. She decided against studying abroad because it doesn't make sense to pay full tuition to study in the global south, where just as much could be learned for much cheaper. This is true, I have to agree with her. However, I needed to get away from my school for awhile and am glad that I did. Now I can come back with a changed attitude and be refreshed. Some of us are go-getters in the realm of self-learning and travel, however coming from a family that hasn't strayed very far since my great-grandparents emigrated from Sicily, I think it was good to have the extra structure of this program. And anyway, for whatever reason I have felt much better telling people that I am a student studying the politics, history, and culture of Senegal and am here for 4 months, rather than being a tourist or volunteer. You get more respect, at least I think so. Also it's been really helpful to learn some Wolof (and Serer) to throw around. If I had any superpower it would be the one where I was literally and culturally fluent in every language so I could talk to anyone. It's just not the same when you can't say much, if anything, to someone in their first language.
This won't be my last blog entry. I am going to write one when I am home next week (Inshallah) and reflect on what it's like being back home. I don't expect too much culture shock but I don't know. A lot of emails I've been getting and things I've been reading keep referring to the "recession" and I haven't kept up enough to really comprehend this from over here. I don't want to be one of those people who keeps saying "well when I was in Senegal...". Slap me.
In anycase, this isn't the last you'll be hearing from me! (Inshallah) Maybe I'll even keep up this blog. I do plan to do more travelling, after all.
Until next time,

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

New Baby! /and/ the muttons are coming....

I wrote the below entry yesterday but the internet was bad so I couldn't publish it. As an update, I spent the evening at the hospital with the new baby "Madame X" for now, which was fun. Today I am tired, but am pretty much done with my papers!

Surprise! There is a new baby girl in our house (that is, my host family.) I'm pretty excited. I went to sleep last night at my usual golden hour of 10pm and everyone was sitting on the couch watching tv as usual. They had even just finished a bottle of fanta cocktail together, including my host sister who was pregnant (I was slightly bruised that I wasn't offered any, but that's beside the point). I slept through the night, besides some mosquito bites, and only heard the baby (Khadidja, who is almost 2) cry once. Then I wake up in the morning, take a shower, things are quiet, and as I'm drinking my tea my host mom says "Degen had a girl!" to me. I can't believe I slept through her going to the hospital and I can't believe it was such a fast delivery. That means it was far less than a 12 hour process. In any case, that means I will be here for the naming ceremony, which happens one week after a baby is born and is when its name is revealed to everyone and gifts are exchanged and there's food and it's an all day affair (7am start cooking, 8-10 guests arrive, men leave at around 5-6pm, women leave around 10-11pm). And it will be right after Tabaski so I won't have homework to do-praised be. For me, today is the last *real* day of class, and tomorrow I just have one class, while Monday I have Wolof class then my French written final (the last of three parts) and the rest of the week off because of Tabaski and how my schedule falls. Then Monday the 15th is my Wolof exam, my 3 papers will be handed in, and hopefully I'll scamper down to Joal-Fadiut on the Petite Cote for a couple of nights to see former President Senghor's (and my host mom's) birth place before leaving on my jet plane.

In other news, the mutton (goats) for Operation Tabaski are on every street corner. Their smell is actually fairly contained but I try not to get too close. The men who guard/sell them sleep in tents beside them so none get stolen. On TV, companies like the cell phone giant Tigo are giving away goats if you text a certain number. Come Tuesday blood from thousands of goats will be running in the streets. I have great anticipation.

In class yesterday a rapper named Matador came to speak with all of the students in my program. He and the group he's in, BMG 44, are very political and well known in the Dakar rap scene. They are musicians, and also work tirelessly in the (poor) suburbs of Dakar with kids in order to help them stay in school, get them off the streets, help them become musicians, etc. It's really cool. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-b2I-bXW7Y0 That's a video interview with him, but there are other videos with songs, mostly in Wolof. The rap he performed for us was Xippil Xool-open your eyes and see. Part of the refrain was "your sleeping, open your eyes and see"-of course a social message! Although the American rap videos on TV here are not so quality, most Senegalese rap is political and deals with social issues and what's going on in people's lives. It's good stuff. Here's the page for BMG 44: http://http//www.myspace.com/bmg44

Speaking of music, I went to St. Louis this past weekend, the old colonial capital of AOF- l'Afrique Occidental Francais- French West Africa. It had a bit of a New Orleans feel because of the architecture, though there aren't all the rich people to keep it as nice, though it was bright. There were more toubabs than I've seen anywhere-which is mostly bordering-elderly Europeans, but also random young men. Four of us spent nearly two hours in a music store, and between the 4 of us purchased 15 CD's. The way it worked was that CDs (a healthy collection of reggae, blues, funk, jazz, rap, and of course Senegalese and West African music of all genres) were prohibitively expensive (even for Europeans) so the guy burns them for us on his computer for $5 each. Not a bad deal! He even made special order compilations. So we're all going to burn them from one another. Very exciting.

Our hotel was on the northern tip of the island (the oldest part of St. Louis is an island in the Senegal River, with bridges on either side) and sat on the river. To the north we could even see Mauritania (we think). On Saturday we visited a bird park, took boats down the river, and saw hundreds of migrating pelicans. On Saturday night we went disco hopping and danced with some Mauritaneans in full white kaftans. The next day I managed to get to Sunday mass for the first Sunday of Advent. The old French colonizers used to worship there

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Stuff is complicated.

Man, stuff is complicated.

I’m pretty sure I know even less what exactly I want to do in life and am even angrier and farther “left” than when I got here, though I’ve definitely become more academic and interested in my studies and just the pursuit of knowledge, because I’m really living it at the same time (and I don’t have much else to do than learn and reflect-it’s really a luxury that I don’t often have time to appreciate.)
It’s one thing to look at statistics of one billion people living on less than a dollar a day or look at maps of the world (as I found myself doing yesterday between classes) with different color codes based on levels of education, access to various healthcare needs, infant mortality, numbers of women in the formalized economy and see the light colors across north America, Europe and northern Asia, and then see the darker streaks in South America and Southeast Asia, and most often the darkest streaks blanketing Africa and Central Asia/the Middle East. It is so broad and works great to make money for XYZ Help the Little People NGO but doesn’t do any justice to reality, which as can be expected is much crazier.
What I see in Dakar where I’m living is such a heterogeneous place spanning different languages, countries of origin, ethnic and religious affiliations, and -most obviously- classes. This past weekend a huge mall just opened in the richest area of Dakar- Les Almadies and there are plenty of rich people, there is a large, active population of intellectuals from Senegal and other Francophone African countries, the best university in West Africa- Cheikh Anta Diop U. (which is another discussion entirely-it is overcrowded and campus needs a serious makeover and there aren’t jobs for students when they graduate, though it’s very politically active and many important people are professors there), there are professionals like my host parents who both work at airports, and everyone down to women selling peanuts on the sidewalk (there are of course beggars-mostly downtown, many of whom are physically disabled).
The age without tv, radio, or newspapers is over and people have access to radio, and many have access to tv too. Everything is here. If I get sick I can go to a pharmacy (as I have) and get medicine or call a doctor or find peanut butter and sanitary pads at the supermarket-it’s just that those things are economically out of reach for so many people.
And right now, it’s my time to rag on neo-colonialism- it goes on with the British, of course the US, and other countries, but now I am more intimately acquainted with the French, who cannot seem to get out of Senegal’s bed.
There are a lot of crazy westerners here, from all over. On the car rapide yesterday there was a Spanish (she said her father was Moroccan also) lady who had lived here for five years “this country is very difficult” she said before grumbling out at the car rapide assistant about how much the ride cost and getting off. What’s that supposed to mean? Why bother staying here? Then there is the old Italian guy who lives in my (American) friend’s neighborhood who complains about Senegal and its people and the loose morality of its women and brings multiple young Senegalese women home on a daily basis. How do people get away with that? (Money yes but…I just don’t know). I learned yesterday that the going rate for buying sex here is as basic as 500 CFA- that’s $1- as in ONE US Dollar. I can do a fair amount with a dollar here, such as buy a sandwich, but I didn’t expect that one.
I just haven’t been able to get over my awkwardness as an American (westnerner) here. I’m cool with my friends or by myself walking around saying hello to people, but when there are others-especially groups of others- they tend to mostly be old Europeans (if they aren’t in the French army-but that’s different) and it just makes me feel strange. I can get over being the minority and having more privilege than the majority-people who are native to this country- at the same time. I’m so used to the idea that as a minority I should have less power. I guess those other toubabs remind me of my privilege even more and just make me feel bad about what I represent (to myself, if not to others) and I just cross the street or hide in a corner or stop and buy some peanuts. Maybe that’s why toubabs tend to look at each other funny or avoid each other unless they’re in those special places where toubabs all congregate together like country clubs and special bars and the institute francais. Maybe secretly they feel some kind of voyeurism or some kind of ownership or maybe…maybe…they know what they represent. Or maybe not. I can’t explain it.
You know, Senegal’s currency is the CFA- the West African Franc, which is used by a few other countries in West Africa (duh). It used to be pegged to the French Franc and now is pegged to the Euro. What this means is that all of Senegal’s reserves are kept in France. All of the banks are French and all of the interest they accrue goes back to France. All of the most successful businesses are French companies, and local businesses in effect are stifled. Only the French can bail out the Senegalese in the event of an economic crisis. If power today is economic, then where does the power lie in this case?
Structural adjustment-another form of neo-colonialism. I’ve never liked SA. Senegal was one of the first countries to try it out back in the late 1970s. In 1994 the CFA was devalued by 50% while at the same time sectors that apparently don’t directly effect the economy-like education and healthcare-got major cuts all in the name of macroeconomic growth. Many people lost their jobs, and schools went into a system of “double flux” (which still exists today, sadly, in many places-like the village I stayed in a couple weeks ago 2 hours outside of Dakar) where 2 grades are taught by one teacher in the same class at the same time, or kids only go to school have the usual time because there aren’t enough resources-so one class goes in the morning and one in the afternoon. It’s better than nothing, they say.
Every day on the bus I pass the French military base, with cement walls and barbed wire on top-it’s like its own city. When I peer over the walls while standing on the bus I can see tree-lined streets. Senegal isn’t known for many violent wars or uprising, with the exception of some separatism in the Casamance (part of the region south of the Gambia-separated from the main part of Senegal). What’s the need? Just like the US and other countries, France has to keep its ducks in a row and make sure that leaders who cooperate with its interests stay in power.
Then you have people like president Sarkozy who came to Dakar in 2007 and told “Africans” (Senegalese/people in former French West African colonies) who tells is audience “the young of Africa” he used, that there were some good colonialists, and that colonialism was the beginning of a “special” relationship between Europe and Africa that he “keeps in his heart” and that it’s the fault of Africans for the lack of development and democracy.

We just watched a short (45 minute) film in my Society and Culture class by the director Djibril Diop Mambety called La Petite Vendeuse de Soleil (the little girl who sold the sun –Le Soleil being the government run newspaper in Senegal) that I highly suggest watching! Our discussion prompted me to crank out the above thoughts.
Power is the most dangerous thing on earth, it seems.
It’s funny that AOF (French West Africa) countries had the opportunities to be independent in 1958 through referendum but all said no, besides Guinea Conakry, whos leader ended up being communist trade-unionist-turned-dictator. The charge was led by former Senegalese president Senghor who loved France so much that in the 1980s, when he felt like not being president anymore, he just left and retired and died in France without any official visits, to the country he had led for 20 years, before he died. He said he spoke French better than his native Serer, was Catholic, married to a French woman, had French citizenship, and wrote all of his poetry and books in French. In 1960 France gave independence, on their own terms, to Senegal and many other colonies. However it wasn’t until the late 1970s that “Senegalization” (Africanization, in general) took place and all of the French administrators in government finally left.
It’s miraculous what people are able to accomplish here in spite of the forces working against many of them.

In other news, yesterday on the bus ride to school I saw a man walking stark naked down the street, just sauntering, flopping in the breeze. Oddly enough I was the only person to exclaim anything (“oh my god!”). It was really unusual.

I’ve been laying pretty low lately, just working on homework because I’ve got papers to finish and finals are coming up now, but this weekend we are heading north to St. Louis, which I hope to write an entry on next week. We’ll also be going to a national park filled with millions of migrating birds, so I plan on having some (at least mediocre) bird photos when I get back!

By the way, Happy Thanksgiving.
It’s my first one away from the family and hopefully the last one for awhile. They’re making dinner for us at the (American) country club down the street so we’ll get our pumpkin pie and turkey (don’t know where they found turkeys).

I don't want to be too negative, its just what I've been reflecting on. I have another whole entry to write about CIPFEM and my Gender class. *Note to Self* It will also be sort of negative.
As a friend and I were discussing, after being here, I have a lot more faith in humanity and a lot less faith in "the system"-the prevailing powers that be.

On another note, I spent my Saturday night checking out the mutton with my host mom and oldest host sister. Mutton meaning the goats we are buying to eat on Tabaski-which is coming up on the 9th (hopefully). It commemorates the occasion when Abraham was going to kill his son and then the angel Gabriel descended and gave him a sheep to kill instead. So we eat two goats-one for the mom and one for the dad- and the blood is streaked across the foreheads of little kids and everyone eats and wears new clothes. Those goats are expensive too. 75 thousand CFA each-meaning $150x2= $300 in one day! That is A LOT of money here. It sort of put my existence with my host family in place. I realized, as I watched my host mom fold clothes and tally up numbers all weekend for how much she would make by selling them at work (clothes shipped from the US-new and used- and acquired probably from a family member), that really I am just an extra source of income. And I’m okay with that-it’s only natural. She showed me the room my host brother was sleeping in (I took his room and he’s in a seemingly extra room (one of two)) and told me that it’s going to be her master bedroom-complete with tv and air conditioning, and showed me all of the other things she wants to finish with the house. Slowly but surely! No wonder I’m there!
Also I found out that my oldest host sister with the 7 year old doesn’t have a husband after all. “Amanda have you ever seen my husband?” “I don’t think so…maybe?” “No you haven’t, and that’s because I have none. None at all!” “Oh!” Funny and not at the same time, yo.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ataya neppee; Obama a gagne; am jaay fonde!

Last week was amazing! and only one reason for that was that Obama won and the democrats increased by 6 seats in the senate. (The tickets for GW's inaugural ball sold out in less than 24 hours however, so I won't get to go. It will be next to impossible to get a ticket to the inauguration, but you know I'm working my resources to locate one or even two.)

**I should be doing research for my two 10 page papers right now, but I guess I do have a month to write them...the internet seems to work for my blog but it can't handle the weight of my email and school research portals at the same time. Alas...

Sarah and I spent the week in Ndiaye Bopp with Diouma, who was our "host mother." There are about 2000 people in Ndiaye Bopp, which is next to the larger town of Mont Rolland, and is the largest of an 18 village network about 2.5 hours outside of Dakar, but as usual it felt so much farther! There is electricity, but no running water, and farmers have to bring out all of their water with them in large containers on their donkey carts in the mornings from the wells. This is crazy because pieces of land are falling in on themselves, creating large ditches/dried up river looking things that indicate underground caves, which means an underground river network! Oh the possibilities!

We started off on Monday by going to a funeral with Diouma. It was the first day of the funeral, which lasts a week. It was for the "husband" of her mother, who was an old man related to the actual husband of her mother who died previously. I'm not completely clear on the relationship, except that he was very old and somehow was a husband figure. In Senegal, it's a big deal when an elderly person dies, but the younger they are the fewer the people who are invited-possibly a testement to child mortality? Diouma lent us some of her boubous to wear for the occassion. It took us the better part of an hour to cross a town that should take 15 minutes because we exchanged greetings with so many people. When we got there, all of the men were sitting outside the compound and all of the women were inside (by compound I mean a number of immediate families have their houses grouped together around a central cleared area and have a regular fence or small wall around the group- like we lived in a little house and there were about 4 others like it in a sort of circle). So we sat for awhile and ate some food with the women. There was a little bit of singing but it was mostly quiet and we left after awhile.
Back home Diouma and Astu, who might be her sister-in-law gave us names- I became Soxna Mbenng (Astu's 12 year old daughter) and Sarah became Diouma Ndiaye, and it was established also that I have a jaay fonde. These names were the only ones we used all week and my fonde was also a source of entertainment all week, especially because I danced whenever asked (or not). It's easier to dance when any kind of dancing is good dancing and it's all women and kids around.
And that was usually the case. (Oh positive reinforcement!) There seemed to be many more females around than men, and most of the men and older boys seemed to leave early for the fields-which is not to say women weren't in the fields because they were too, though maybe doing slightly different tasks, on top of all the preparation and processing of the products that come from the fields, the maintaining of everything around the houses, and the children, of which there are bountiful numbers. During the week we rode the donkey carts, planted some tomatoes, toured the fields-okra, millet, corn, manioc, julip, bissap, limes, tomatoes, beans, zucchini, and some other things. We also went to the community radio station and got to be on a show about malaria-during which we talked in French and a little Wolof. Community radio stations are the best! That was election day, during which we had no CNN, but we did take photos with real donkeys to celebrate an impending victory.
We also visited a couple of health stations, a maternity center, a church, the primary school (overcrowded-it's ridiculous that kids have to learn in French right from the first day, when their parents don't even speak/read French and it continues the colonial legacy and it's a miricale so many kids get to University and then there aren't enough jobs for them when they finish. I have a lot to say about the school system here. Not to mention that English is required starting in middle school and there aren't nearly enough fluent English speakers to teach it.)
and we visited the town hall and talked with some women who ran a women's business loan-giving cooperative, which was cool. It wasn't until the end of our trip that we found out many people go to one particular family to get wounds healed (like snake bites) through local medicine. We wondered how many people go to families like this for their ailments rather than/in addition to the official health centers...
It was hott hott hott and dry so most of the time we sat on mats in the shade and cut okra to prepare it for "the machine" which makes it into a powder for a popular okra soup, we shucked corn and popped kernals off dry corn to prepare it for couscous (which I have much more respect for now-its so work intensive and there are so many varieties of it!), and we sorted beans by taking out the bad or incomplete pieces. The elderly women do these tasks, but we felt pretty proud that we could too. Hard work and a jaay fonde earned me much respect among the women around us.
The family we stayed with, especially Diouma, were incredibly generous! All of the generosity here makes me reflect a lot on how I am back home and my interactions with strangers and just how to improve....

However French class is starting so I need to bust a move, but will try and finish this tomorrow.
-Election results
-Teaching children some "American" games
-Generosity of family
-Gifts and leaving
-Other French toubabs on the car rapide home
-Another bus strike

Thursday, October 30, 2008

"What's been goin down around there?", you might be asking...
Well for starters I have a new "joking husband" who is this old guy somehow related to this lady by a tailors shop I was talking to two nights ago and then last night my host mom said "oh I hear that you are married now to Mr. Diouf!" and I said oh no no that's not true and she said "oh yes it is true! that's how we joke around here. Kodu (pointing to my seven-year-old host niece-daughter of my oldest host sister) has many husbands!" Oh okay then! All single people do it. When in Rome!
Also on Sunday night I had my first experience ever in life of being slightly grossed out by food. Now we eat goat all the time, and I'm a big fan of goat-it's great! Meat is meat. However before dinner we had what I can only describe as goat's head soup, with the jaws and a piece of the skull with the eye socket, like that, and some vegetables. I was sort of eating a bit of potato and poked at the meat and realized "oh that's the tongue there on that jaw" and stuck to the pieces of meat my host mom and sister handed over to me and then when I spit a bone out in my hand it was of course a tooth. I was not going for it. Only the two kids and those two adults were eating it. The way one of my other sisters looked at me, I realized she wasn't a fan either.
I'd eat it again.
The main course really made up for it though! It was Morroccan and was like little pasta balls in a milky sugary stew. Deeeelightful.
This week has been fairly low key because I've been at school most of the time studying/taking midterms. Now I am officially on vacation again, however because next week are our "rural visits" and my friend Sarah and I will be staying with the family of the director of our program a couple hours away outside Mont Rolland, which is outside Thies. We'll be harvesting crops, planting tomatos, helping at the elementary school, and hopefully will get to talk about the election on the community radio station.
(P.S. Obama's infomercial: kinda creepy. I'm not into the idea and this whole thing of making him an inpenatrable, sliver, packaged, changing America product. Obviously I want him to win, but I just am resentful of the way campaigns have to work today in the US and how removed and media and sound-bite and image driven they are as opposed to other countries where a candidate can have very little money behind him (usually him let's face it) and just does major footwork and gains clout with the people and even a poet can become president (think Vaclav Havel. Even Senghor-the first of Senegal-was a poet, but I'm not very into him). In any case, I will be getting election results over a transistor radio, maybe a TV, I expect to have to call my mom. It will be a late night.)

Have I yet mentioned that I think it's bull crap that all the schools here are in French? Wolof, which 80% of people speak, is never taught anywhere. It's written on billboards, but there isn't necessarily a standardized way of writing that regular people have access to. It's been an argument since before independence, whether schools should be in French, but if schools can be in Hungarian or Czech or Mongolian or Khazak or Cambodian-languages not widely spoken outside of their respective countries- then Wolof could be taught here. Only 30% of the population even reads and speaks French, kids don't speak it when they get to school at age 6, it slows down learning, it discourages kids from continuing in school if they aren't good at languages, it continues the pyschological colonialism by the French- and besides, English and Arabic are much more useful for international relations and trade.

Sarkozy had the nerve to come to Dakar in 2007 and talk about the underdevelopment of Africa, speaking mostly to Senegalese, and blame it on them for the lack of progress they've made. The French didn't even really end slavery in their colonies until after WWI (same for Britain) even though they had "abolished" it in 1848. They set up a net (trap) of beaurocracy that is impossible to navigate and is self defeating-it effects not just the government, but educational institutions and other areas of life.
Then there's the economic dependence and monoculture and then of course after Senegal was reprimanded for not being developed enough they got structural adjustment as the answer. How would you feel if the American dollar was devalued and everything you had yesterday was reduced in value by a half today? The American people would not deal with that-everyone would be in poverty- and that's exactly what happened. The promise of libralization actually lowered incomes and made countries like Senegal more dependent on loans and debt. Every step along the way, people here and other places have resisted what was being imposed on them in order to adapt (while elites within the country of course benefited/still benefit) whether it was growing millet and creating local peanut oil to increase food security in the early 1900s while the peanut price plumeted, or the first fully televised presidential election with intense youth and GOTV campaigning in 2000 after 30 years of the same party.
Stuff's crazy.

But in any case, last weekend I went a couple places. Three of us took a bus and then a taxi to see Lac Rose- a lake said to be ten times as salty as the Dead Sea, and which turns pink at certain times of day because of all the salt. It was indeed pink and we got to take a pirogue ride around the lake, and also we walked through a forest and over sand dunes to an unending stretch of beach with huge waves and no people. It made a great pitstop. After the lake we headed over to Kheur Moussa monestary, only 12km away but it felt much longer. It's a Benedictine monestary with a convent just down the road. The monks were mostly Senegalese, with a Canadian and a couple of French thrown in. Brother Andre was the housing coordinator and he was one of the friendliest, happiest people I've ever met in my life. I thought he was laughing at my bad French when I made arrangements on the phone, but I found out that everything makes him laugh. He made us dinner- potato soup, raviolis, bread with fresh monk-made cheese, and mangos. The three of us each got our own rooms and went to service in the morning. There was a lot of music-much better than the standard fare, and instead of an organ or piano they use jembes (drums), koras (like a lap guitar/harp) and a xylophone looking instrument. Its in a very peaceful surrounding, with many small farms-including their own. The monks make goat cheese, preserves, chocolates, and juices.
Muslims and Catholics seem to actually have a great relationship here. People display their religion proudly in their houses and through their clothing and jewelry, and give one another food on their respective holidays. It's an interesting dynamic that I can't do justice to right here and now, but suffice to say it's unique and refreshing after what I sometimes experience in the US (like uhh...Islamo-fascism awareness week by a couple groups at school).
(**If anyone is interested in some Catholic/Christian fabric, let me know now and I'll get you some.)

Also I've been thinking about media here, especially since we're going to a community radio station next week. Until about the 1990s most of the media people consumed, if they got any at all, was the government's TV station, the government's newspaper (in French only) or the government's radio station or the French world radio-so people were getting news about their own country from an international source. News was regulated, suffice to say. It wasn't until 1994 that radio really came into it's own and anyone could get stations. Now there are channels in every community (group of villages) that broadcast in the local language. There are more TV stations now, but the number of Senegalese one's are not so many, and newspapers are also more free and there are more of them-with strong readership- but they are mainly in Dakar and the big cities. It's interesting that here people don't have a loyalty to a particular newspaper-they just buy whatever looks interesting and it can be different day to day. It's hard for me to imagine now that information freedom has really only existed for about 20 years here. Now people can be informed about political candidates, domestic issues, and their communities. Oh how small things have big effects.

Anyway I'm off and will not update next week but will have one the week after.

Happy voting!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"everybody rides the bus"

Yo and I mean everybody. Since school started for the high school and younger kids, the morning bus has been that much more crowded. I've never been on the subway in Tokyo, but I imagine the rush hour Dakar buses are something like that only worse, because people are bigger and it's very hot-though there is equally a different idea of what constitutes personal space (in this case very little is just fine) which means yesterday when I didn't snag a seat in time I was a sardine with my stomach pushed up against a humming engine type part of the bus and had to step on people's feet to get off. They're very polite about it.

***Inserted after thought: Colin Powell=has my respect. The Senegalese media (at least TV) acts like Obama is already president! People may know McCain's name here now, but my family didn't know McCain when I got here in August. Everyone knows Obama, however-out and inside of Dakar. Watching the news here is actually a pleasant experience I look forward to here because it gives me information. In the US I dread the news because it makes my stomach hurt and my heart beat faster and makes me anxious-regardless of the story. If you've seen me in the cafeteria at school I'm usually yelling at the screen, whereas here I just watch. I didn't even notice it at first. The only violence I've seen in my two months here on TV has been from American and European movies. It's just a different approach...

Speaking of the bus, one of the daily interactions when I'm waiting in the morning are with the talibe- boys between the ages of 5 and 14 who roam around from 6am to late into the evening begging for money and food (500 CFA -a little more than $1- a day is what they aim for or else they get beaten). They're historical roots are in the Islamic schools around Senegal where boys would be sent to learn the Koran, and usually during lunch/meals they would go out and beg to be made humble and also because giving charity is an important part of the Muslim faith. Now there are Muslim brotherhoods in Senegal, the most powerful being the Mourides, who each sort of had their own "prophet" type figure and are let by various levels of "marabouts" who serve as intermediaries between Allah and disciples. This is something relatively unique to Senegal and the average Muslim in most countries will tell you she has a direct relationship with Allah and doesn't believe someone can tell her what to do. So by various processes many Marabout have become corrupt (doesn't everyone) and they run these "schools" which are basically money making machines for them and the boys don't learn much, if at all, and they spend the whole day begging. Because it is still seen as religious and because of the importance of charity, the corrupt version of the system has been slow to decline. Most of the boys come from very poor families either in rural Senegal but mostly other bordering countries from parents who usually believe they will get an education. There have been many studies of the talibe and if you actually pay attention to them they are very depressing and I have a hard time being culturally relative about them. Fortunately alternative Koronic schools are beginning to be built that teach Arabic and the Koran, as well as the standard French education in some of the regions where boys are coming from. I wish there were more of these schools! Interestingly, the talibe are the main beggers I've encountered. Yes there are occassionally people on the street asking for money who seem homeless, but there are many other people who ask for money and are clearly not homeless, which is also interesting.

Poverty. We read a bit in French class yesterday about clandestine emmigration from West Africa to Europe and the US and the different methods people use for emmigration. There have been a couple cases (one also from Colombia to Miami) of boys (18 or 20) who climb up onto the wheels of a plane and stay in the space where they wheels draw into the plane for 5 or 6 hours to get to Europe and they bear temperatures of -60 degrees farenheit! How desperate do you have to be? We deal with this a lot in the US but I guess being in a place where people emmigrate from makes me think a little harder. What does your life have to be like and what do you have to think awaits you on the other side? Inshallah I will never have a life so desperate that I would do something like that, and yet millions of people do it all the time all over the world.

On Friday there was a movie night here at school. Most of the Senegalese students in our part of the school are going on after two years to study in the US and they all speak really good English-so the movies were American. Hancock and Sex and the City. People watch European and American shows and movies all the time on TV (Actually all the most popular shows are telenovellas from Mexico) and it's easy to get a very false impression of life in those places (judging by the Mexican telenovella's I'd say they live a much more lavish lifestyle than I do). Besides the stereotypes, the more amusing thing especially with Sex and the City was the awkwardness at some moments that reveal cultural difference. Whenever Anthony and Stanford kissed on New Years, the whole audience went "EEEWWWWUGH!" and the sex scenes were more awkward than if I was watching with my grandmother (granted, she is MY grandmother) and the responses to the marriages and all that were different because you don't have sex until marriage, you marry young, and for the most part you stay married and have a bountiful family (I guess in reality it isn't so different for many Americans, but the culturally accepted standards are different).

Speaking of which, there was a marriage on my street on Saturday (I believe it was the son of our family's favorite tailor) and it was his second marriage. The drums were going all day and I chilled on the roof listening-it was great! I heard from my sisters that his first wife is Senegalese, but this wife is American, which was very intriguing. I for one could never be one of multiple wives, but it's not the same for everyone. My sisters did not forsee a good future for the marriage however (maybe it's because my host mother's family is Catholic so they're not very into polygamy. I have suspicians that my host dad has a second wife but I'm not sure.)
As far as not knowing things goes, another interesting thing here is that when someone is pregnant, you don't talk about it and don't talk to them about it and they certainly don't mention it because otherwise it could put the evil eye on the baby and something bad could happen-bad luck basically. This applies to my house because my second oldest sister is getting very pregnant with a second child (there's an adorable 1 1/2 year old girl already) but it's never talked about. Once I asked her how many children she wanted and she insisted "just one" and another time at dinner I tried to push more food her way (remember-always one big plate for everyone) and said "you need more food" and she gave me a look and insisted that she didn't. All very interesting! I wonder if she's getting any prenatal care...That's one of the problems that comes along with this system. I really hope the baby is born before I leave though so I get to experience the naming ceremony and bapteme!

Babys are given a name a week after they are born at a huge celebration when the extended family comes to eat and hold the baby and witness the naming. The bapteme (baptism) I think might be even bigger. There was one at my friend's house on Saturday and she got up at 7am to help make the food, but everyone was already awake. Guests started arriving at 8:30 and by midmorning all the women of the extended family were crammed into one room with the baby, and all of the men mingled around the house and street. There was eating, then a second round of eating for dinner, and all the men leave and the women stay. The mother of the new baby presents money to her mother in law and sisters in law who go through a ceremony of not wanting the money, and then gifts are presented to them and each gift is explained at length. (You do this for every baby, but the gifts are biggest when the first baby comes-the gifts given counter the amount of money given by the grooms family for dowry at the wedding). I guess it all ended around 11pm and at least 50 or 100 people were there from the extended family. Like I said, I'm hoping for baby 2!

As much as we talk about women not having equality to men and being unequal in health and education etc. we don't take into account often enough the power structures that women exist in and how much power they hold-at least in Senegalese society from what I've seen. The family is the center of the culture I see and vital to everything, and women run it-all the ceremonies and relations with neighbors and they do the talking and all that. Sexualization of women is different here-breasts are maternal. Period. (pretty much) and your jaay fonde is what you shake on the music videos-of course covered by a long skirt in Senegalese videos. The ideal of beauty is attainable as well-is actually healthy looking. As far as women's roles-of course there are many problems, but they are different. Women can be leaders without having to suffer trying to fit themselves into the male power structure like in the US. If you have a baby, you bring it to a meeting or an interview on television and that's completely legitimate.

One thing I think that I will miss after I leave Senegal is that there are always people around. People get up in your business probably, but they're there looking out for you. You're expected to greet people on the street and people walk up to you and have conversations and don't expect anything from you and are frindly and want to contact you in the future and have you for tea or to see their family-and it's true most of the time. Yes, I am experiencing this as a toubab-a foreigner, and there is a certain level of curiosity, but even so- strangers and regulars alike don't generally interact that way at home. At home, I avoid eye contact so people don't think I'm staring, and when my mom tries to interact with someone's baby at the doctor's office he thinks she's hitting on him and leaves the room with the baby. What's that about?

I just remembered the presidential election, but I'm going to put that at the top of this entry because if you read this far you must be my mom!


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Paved roads, electricity, clean running water, trash pickup- these are a few of my favorite things! (and healthcare, schools, housing, safety)

Bonjour! Ca va? Nanga def?
It's been a couple weeks since my last entry because I was on break from Wednesday the 1st to Sunday the 12th, and it was great! It started with Korite, which I did write about, and then some wandering around, and then the real "vacation" began on Friday morning at 4:30am when the five of us (Sarah, Tiffany, Amanda, Hannah, and myself) met at the Guare Routierre de Pompiers to negotiate the price for a sept-place to get to Tambacounda. It took about an hour of negotiating and waiting around and we were slightly overcharged, but off we went in our sept-place (a 30 year old station wagon) for a ten hour journey.
But before I go on, let me be tangential...
1) On Saturday (this past weekend) Senegal and the Gambia played an important soccer game in Dakar. It ended 1-1 so neither team has a chance at going on in the world cup (Algeria is going on). As a result, there were riots with tear gas and burning vehicles, and stone throwing. Senegal's soccer team has had 8 coaches since 2000, so there's frustration about how bad the team is, but that's not the only reason why the riots happened.
Last week while I was frollicking around the country on vacation, Dakar didn't have power for three whole days- power outages have been getting worse and prices for energy have gone up for households, all because the government has not been paying it's end for the energy. (This by the way is the same reason why trash doesn't get picked up-the government stopped making payments to the company involved.) After nearly three years of blackouts, there were riots about this last week too.
( Don't worry, I'm completely safe here- probably safer here than at home)
On the news here there are always a lot of stories about various conferences going on- to fight FGM/excision with girls, other health issues, agriculture, education, the environment, religion, etc. I was talking about this with my host dad and he was saying yea there are too many conferences! At some point you need to work! The Senegalese cannot be faulted for not trying to solve the problems facing their country, that's for sure. There are a lot of people who recognize what the problems are, talk about solutions, want to implement solutions, but don't have the means to do so.
A big part of the problem to me, from my small view of things, is not that there aren't enough "development" efforts going on or that people don't understand what's happening to them (that would mean lack of agency), but the problem has a lot to do with politics. The politics of money and the centralization of power and resources and how resources are distributed. You could call it corruption, but I don't like the connotations of that word. The legacy of how the French ran things, and the first president's (Leopold Senghor) close relationship with France ("I speak French better than I speak the language of my people" to paraphrase) and his legacy have something to do with it. There are many factors. In any case, politics and money.
On vacation this week we were in the far southeastern corner of Senegal. Tambacounda, which is really closer to the middle of the country, was the last place with a bank. Kedougou, where we spent most of our time, only has Western Union-where money can be wired out and in. There were about a million development groups in Kedougou, even the Peace Corps has their regional house there, but there aren't any banks for people to save their money safely, take out loans, access credit, facilitate opening new businesses, or access more tourist money through being able to take credit cards, etc. 10 miles outside Kedougou there wasn't any running water or electricity -however there were solar panels at our campement and there were cell phone towers 40 KM outside the city when we visited the waterfall at Dindefelo.
Also, and this goes back to the use of resources, there is the issue of paved roads. Once we got past Kaolack, the second largest city in Senegal (and a lot of fun, actually!) the road went from good to horrible. What should have taken four hours took seven because we spent the whole time swerving all over the road to avoid pot holes and rode on the edge of the road for the same reason. Many huge trucks were stopped, tumbled over because of the pot holes, or at the very least had popped tires and other niceties. At one point on our way in we saw a completely crashed truck with a person inside. We didn't see any blood. Our driver didn't notice and we didn't stop-there was no 911 to call. I don't know what we saw. Trucks drive on the opposite side of the road when their side is bad, so it could have been something like that. Apart from being horrible for safety and being very uncomfortable, roads like this prevent trade and transportation of goods. Yet, the Corniche, a decent highway in Dakar bordering some of the wealthiest neighborhoods, was just redone. It's interesting. It looked as if parts of this road are being repaired, to it's credit, but there is a long way to go, and it had to get this bad first! But, repairs are good! (The road from Tamba to Kedougou however was smooth sailing! Many tourists fly into Tamba and take that road farther east.)
Some things don't make sense. Some things are changing.
2) In completely other news, am going to volunteer at the US Embassy haloween party and am pretty stoked about that. Got to wear a costume, and get free dinner! What a bargain! Good thing Haloween is a Friday this year.
I didn't even write about vacation yet! It was entertaining- ate warthog sandwiches (saw warthogs and baboons, as a matter of fact), ate rabbit spagetti, saw a huge waterfall, climbed 2km up a 50degree hill to see a little village and the amazing view-all with a fever and dysentary, went to Madame Wade's (first lady) rural hospital outside Kedougou and met a strange French doctor (I was better by then but someone else got sick), drank some palm wine, gave away kola nuts and candies, almost went to dinner with someone who used to be in Senegalese jail, went to a 1970s Bollywood film in Kaolack, saw the milkyway, swam in a pool, shared a whole watermellon for 50 cents, (jeez I like food....) rode a bike, got some indigo fabric, drank ataya with some Guineans in the market at Kedougou, got really dusty at all times. And some other stuff.
I may or may not update this but want to give some people time with the computers.
Ba ci kanam! (See you later!)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Korite/Tambacounda or bust

Yesterday was Korite-the end of Ramadan! The moon was seen in a couple of cities in Senegal and the Khalif of the Mouride brotherhood said so too, so yesterday was Korite. It was unclear if it would be yesterday or today until late Tuesday night. Fortunately we got classes off both days and vacation has begun! Unfortunately I have a French test the Monday I return. Such is life.
Korite is a day of togetherness and celebration after Ramadan ends- we ate food, sat around, and everyone dressed up in their new boubous and kaftans and visited neighbors, friends, and family to say hello and ask after their health. All of the kids ran around in their best outfits and got pieces of change from neighbors so they collected a couple dollars worth-not shabby!
Today I'm going with a friend to negotiate a price for a sept-place to get to Tambacounda tomorrow-an 8 hour drive across the country! I already did this on Tuesday but the guy's phone number doesn't work and it was sort of expensive, so maybe second time will be the charm!
Everything takes longer to do here, such as return something at the store, obtain money from an ATM, or cook food, however it gets done eventually. I try not to be frustrated because I don't want to act entitled. I get the sense that, like anywhere else, there are many things people would like to see done differently-like not have power cuts, get the trash picked up, and see more people getting jobs-or even better-good jobs. They would take advantage of healthcare if it was cheaper and more available, send all of their kids to school if there were enough schools-and equipped ones at that, and they knew that their kids could get jobs afterwards. From what I've seen people don't want the prices of food to go up as they have been-and it would be nice to be more agriculturally independant and not get all of the rice from Thailand and everything else from France, China, and Brazil. These are only observations from my limited experience and the few people I've talked to, but they are logical enough to me.
Yesterday morning I was sitting on the roof sipping mint tea, listening to a boy and man chanting from the Koran at the nearby mosque and reading Audre Lorde's book Sister Outsider. It was very peaceful. I also highly recommend the book. Highly.
Earlier this week I read Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness-which was based on his experiences traveling into the Belgian Congo (Democratic Republic of the Congo) (I had to read it after reading King Leopold's Ghost a couple weeks ago). It's jarring to read and be thinking about a different part of this continent in a brutally exploitive context and be sitting in front of the tv in the living room in another part of the same continent that shares some similar historical exploitation watching music videos and sipping Fanta. Fanta? Coca Cola, American pop-rap music videos, French cell phone company but also Africa Cola, Senegalese music videos, Senegalese salt, EcoBank...
Bon Korite!
I will write again when I get back from break.
I finally bought myself a mango without worms in it! (I've eaten a lot of other scrumptious mangos here, just not ones I bought myself successfully).

Refer to a map of Senegal (google) to locate Tambacounda, Kedogou, and Dindefelo Falls.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Toubab Dialo-like a vacation in a vacation

I have a Wolof quiz in a few minutes, but here are some photos from this weekend. Everyone went to Toubab Dialo, a little village two hours south of Dakar. It was absolutely beautiful there! We stayed at a really cool hotel and you can see my room, which overlooked the ocean. A few of us went on a walk yesterday morning to explore the village and got invited into the house of these five artists, who gave us fonde and watermellon and played the flute and danced for us, and we talked for the morning. We all shook with our left hands because we plan on meeting again some time. You can also see the pirogues (boats) on the beach and a big rock on the beach in front of the hotel where Sarah and I posed for a shot. Also we did baticking, so I have a cool piece of fabric now.
Friday I went to another beautiful closeby beach/island called Ngor and will post photos of that later, as well as the lighthouse I climbed. I'm a little worse for the wear right now with various scrapes and cuts and blisters so I'm going to get that straighted out at the doctor first and will post again. Wish me luck on the quiz!
Ba beneen yoon

Monday, September 15, 2008

Jaay Fonde!

Jaay is to sell and fonde is millet (a grain you cook like rice, etc.) so it means to sell millet. When you boil millet and mix it with sugar and pour sweet yogurt over it and eat it for dinner it's supposed to make you fat so you get a big booty. So if you have a big booty people say "jaay fonde!" because you have so much millet you can sell some and because if you sell millet it's a win-win situation because you either make money or you eat it yourself and get a nice big butt.
One of the guys in the big Marche Sandaga downtown who was following us around kept saying that to me to which I kept responding "Je comprends!!" and then he tried to touch my butt so I pushed him away and we (five of us) busted a move across the street. You've got to stick in packs at the market.
In other news, I'm preparing the dinner for the family tonight. I hope they like it. It's a bunch of vegetables with curry and garlic and raisins. They also want me to make soul food. On Thursday we were all talking about food and I was saying how I want to make dinner. They said "you know soul food?" and I was all "Oh yea I do" and was listing off good foods so they said "you can make us soul food!" So that's what I'm going to do next week. Yankee white girl makin soul food in Senegal.
Speaking of race, I saw a guy with a shirt that said "nigga fatal"- I found it intriguing.
Another interesting use of words- I really thought I could tough it out, but I have so many mosquito bites all over my body I feel like I have chicken pox. My host sister said "Tu as beaucoup du pimps!" Yea I have a lot of pimps! Pimps being short for pimples meaning mosquito bites. I've put up the net on my bed and it feels like sleeping in a transparent coffin.
Also my host family, mainly my host mom, was discussing marriage with me a couple days ago (this subject comes up very often here-I get asked often if I am married and when I will marry and why not and what I think of marriage) and she asked "you marry Senegalese?" I said maybe "you marry American?" Maybe, again. "You marry Renee?" (my host brother!) I said well I don't know about that, maybe!" People believe that the easiest way to getting to the US, or anywhere else, is by marrying someone from there. Hence me and all of the other girls on the trip often get asked if we are married and have people propose to us and say they love us.
Healtchare: I spent twelve hours downtown on Friday, and among the many sights was a street lined with dozens of people in wheelchairs and with crutches begging for money. This was tragic and uncomfortable. Maybe since it was Friday (the holy day) and people are most likely to donate alms on Fridays, they make it more convenient for money giving. There are more people than at home walking around with knarled feet or in wheelchairs. Maybe as a result of other untreated diseases? Access to preventative medicine and healthcare in general is extremely difficult without money. Not that the US doesn't have it's own failed healthcare system- failings have different symptoms everywhere.
A friend (who will remain nameless upon her request due to mixed feelings about the incident) and I decided to check out a music store I read about a couple days ago. We set off, but predictably never reached the fabled store. First some guy from her neighborhood spotted her and was talking to us and wanted to go all the way to the music store-he asked for us at a stand and apparently it was shut down. I was feeling a bit uncomfortable so we ducked into a bookstore to gently say goodbye. Not three minutes after leaving another guy came up to us who said something about being at the university and that he was Mormon and he looked very spiffy and had a cell phone and zip drive and briefcase. Then came the catch-he had diabetes and needed us to give him medicine-it only cost 6000 CFA (about $12, but it's the principle). I said no because I wasn't buying him, but my friend gave in, so we traipsed around for the better part of an hour listening to how he has diabetes and she paid for our ride to the right pharmacy where he got the medicine. I went to make sure she was safe, but I just...am not sure because he looked much better off than many other people on the street and I didn't buy the story, but I suppose he wouldn't have asked us if he didn't need the money. I don't know. After that we started walking toward the bus and happened upon a huge mall-like structure with Casino inside-a huge supermarche a cross between Stop and Shop and Walgreens. There were a lot of toubabs there and upper class types. We didn't buy anything, but I enjoyed looking. The clinical brightness and cleanness was striking and odd compared with the rest of things outside the store.
I have much more to say but got to get home for lunch.
Ba beneen yoon!
(Until next time!)
Speaking of money: an update on the bus strike. It only lasted half a day because it's Ramadan and people need the money for their families especially right now.