Pictures from Senegal

Sunday, January 31

American Dream

Over the past few weeks I've been preparing for a speech I was to give at the local high school. The English classes were to have a special seminar with a few Western guest speakers about the American Dream. My Senegalese supervisor, also an English teacher at the school, asked me to prepare something as a guest speaker. I was asked to give my point of view as the sole American at the event in an inspiring way so that the Senegalese students would learn to dream, too.

I happily obliged. I wrote my own reflections, googled definitions and clichés, consulted family and friends, and even made notes on the perfect success story of a close friend making his dream come true. The gist of which was that "dream" is an outdated term because with hard work and dedication your dream is merely a goal yet to be achieved. And while I was working on this grand speech I was bombarded with examples of people who needed to hear it.

My brothers and their friends wanted me to do their English homework for them. One brother wants me to basically find and apply to a University in England (and accompanying scholarships) for him. Amazingly, they all seem to be so annoyed and frustrated when I tell them no. I explained that they could ask me questions and I'd explain when they don't understand. And, I would correct their English sentences or letters to University administrators. But still, they were appalled that I wouldn't just do it for them. They acted as though they didn't have the time to what's been asked of them, and it will never get done if I DON'T do it. Perhaps you can understand why I was tempted to invite them to this event.

The day before, however, when I call my supervisor to confirm place and time, he told me they were going to rest and NOT have the event on the scheduled day. What happened? Are we rescheduling? When were you going to tell me?

At this point, I reference Senegalese culture in the art of not answering a question. If one doesn't want to say, they will answer a different un-posed question or say they can't understand my French. I've tried to push before, but I find that when cornered, the Senegalese will lie, saying what they think you want to hear, to get you to drop the issue. In conclusion, I got no answers about what happened, only that I now have my Saturday afternoon free.

There's no saying whether or not I would've actually gotten my message across, but then I remember the fun quip "You never know until you try." Which in this case I take to mean, I can't just give in to the guilt trips and question dodging. I've got to stick it out for 2 years and try like hell to share with anyone who'll listen. At the very least, maybe I get my brother to get himself to England.

And so, when I think about why it is that I'm so upset this American Dream event got canceled, I have to admit to myself that it's not because of the time I've spent researching and writing my remarks, nor the shadiness of its' cancellation, it's because of the lost opportunity to share that part of my culture that explains to these young kids why Americans live by stupid clichés like "Nothing is free," "Time is money," "Life isn't fair," and "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need..."

Sunday, January 24

Transportation 101

The transportation system in Mboro is quite interesting. There's basically one main road that runs through town from cities inland toward the coast, then curving south to Dakar. The garage is on the far side of town, by the coast. And by garage I mean the hub of transportation and vehicle repair.

First I'd like to say that the quality of the vehicles here leaves much to be desired, as most should've been scrapped 100,000 miles ago. It is not uncommon to have a seat without a cushion, a window without a crank to open it, or a door without a hole to the outside world. A/C and seat belts are a luxury I've only had in official Peace Corps transportation. A radio, on the other hand, is almost always rewired so that wonderful Senegalese music can be played at astonishingly loud volumes in all powered modes of transportation. Curtains are also hung to block out the scorching sun. And one final note, official Peace Corps training mandates checking all 4 tires before entering a vehicle and taking down the license plate number for possible future reference.

Throughout Mboro one can find the following modes of transportation:

Sept Place: seven seats, as the name implies, for sale in a station wagon going directly to one place. Destinations are predetermined popular locations/ major cities. The car will make stops on long trips for food, gas, etc... and has been used to run errands for the driver (10 min at the pharmacy once, no joke).

Car Rapids: Also known as alhums, ndiage ndiaye, or death traps these are conversion vans outfitted to be like buses that are loaded from the back, filled to 150% capacity, and also have predetermined destinations. They are the most dangerous form of transportation and also prone to frequent accident and even tipping over. Unlike the sept place anyone can get on and off at any time making a simple 40 minute trip by car take nearly 2 hours by car rapid... which begs to inquire about the name, but we'll let it go this time.

Clandos: A roving taxi of sorts or trolley in the states; it has one fixed route that it circles. The taxi drives up and down the main route in town and one can get in or out at any point for one fixed price of 100 CFA or about $0.22.

Taxis: The actual kind that will drive you anywhere you want to go. However, you're likely to get ripped off unless you know the local price.

Dad's Car: Like most Senegalese people, my host Dad dreamed of having a car of his own. And his dream finally came true just around the time I got to Senegal. Buying an old BMW (as in so old you'd probably scrapped it in the States but someone threw it on a boat and sold it to my Dad), with failing interior parts that accompany all the failing parts under the hood, my Dad has spent unknown sums continuously trying to fix the contraption. It has spent more time at the garage then outside our house, of this I'm sure.

Chariot: Over glorified name for a cart made of planks of wood thrown over a pipe "axle" with two wheels and pulled by a miniature donkey. Mostly commonly used to haul product across town, but people have been seen catching a slow ride from time to time.

Bike: Peace Corps issued at 2 inches too short for my body... I feel like an adult riding an over sized kid's toy. Not to mention it doesn't exactly work in the sand. This object sits sadly in my room.

Foot: This is provided by yours truly, but must be fed protein and kept hydrated.

There is also one common myth I'd like to clear up: there are no elephants in Senegal. It seems a bit hard to push out of the mind, but elephants are typically found as transportation in Asia. Camels do exists, though not in Mboro.

I'll leave you with one final thought. The number one cause of death in Senegal is car accident. Not Malaria, AIDS, or any other horrible health consideration. And not death by political unrest of any kind either. It's car accident. This is probably why on nearly every car rapid the word "allhumdulylah" is painted as often as decoration is appropriate. This is Arabic for "thanks be to god." I can only imagine they wish to say thanks in advance for a safe trip to any destination, because that's what I do every time I get back to my house safely.

Sunday, January 17

A Family's Parasite

I got in a fight with my brother over fish. I adapted the policy to tell the people of Senegal that I'm allergic to fish- because it just seemed easier than explaining that every time I eat it I become violently ill. So from the first week I moved in, I worked out an agreement with my host mother that when the meal included fish she would tell me in advance and either I or she would make something separate for me to eat in my room.

My eldest brother, thinking anything from 'why should she be so special' to 'perhaps she's just too weak and if we continue to feed it to her she's get over it' has never been keen on the idea of a separate meal for me. And in the times when our family doesn't have a maid, the afternoon meal generally becomes the responsibility of said brother to prepare it after he gets home from school.

Well, this week I walked into the kitchen while he was preparing the fish... and he told me he'd be making vegetables for me separately. Great, that's something Mom does too. Except, when it came time to eat, there was clearly no separate plate, no Mom to explain, and a house full of men confused as to why I wasn't sitting down at the lunch bowl. Awesome.

Three bites into the fish dish and sure enough, I was started throwing up. Angry, hungry, and nauseous... I hid in my room for the rest of the afternoon. Later in the evening, when my brother got back from school he came to greet me, but I told him I was angry because he'd made me sick. He said nothing and left.

Two days later I still wasn't talking to him, and got the impression he didn't really seem to care. So I confronted him about it. I told him I wanted him to apologize. Why? Because you fed me fish when you said you were making me something else. No, I said I made the vegetables in a separate pan from the fish. Well as you can see, if they all end up together in the end then I still get sick. That's not my problem. Ok, well why didn't you tell me there was soup in the refrigerator that Mom had left me. Why did you let me just eat the fish. That's not my problem. Ok, forget the fish. How come when I got sick, you didn't care? Doesn't it bother you that I was sick because of something you'd given me? That's not my problem. Awesome.

That's the moment when I realized that I'd been taking the term "family" a little too literally and had begun to lose the context. These people are my HOST family. They are here to pretend to be my family, to host me in housing and food, but they have no obligation to actually act as my family. Especially since I pay them rent and food allowances to cover the aforementioned.

It may seem irrational that I'm upset, but that doesn't mean I'm not. I care about these people because they are the closest thing I currently know to a family; like living family organism. I pretend to be a part of the colony because it makes me feel better. And in so pretending, if something happens to disrupt the function I am concerned and immediately seek remedies to rectify wrongs. When someone else is sick, I bring them water or make hot tea.

But looking at it from their point of view, I'm temporary. Volunteers may come and go, but they, the true members of the family, remain... and therefore I can't really be counted on. So, given that, why should they bother putting more effort than necessary into a relationship with me. It's not their problem, just as my brother said.

On top of feeling like a parasite to these people, I've now lost the ability to talk to the person I felt the most comfortable with, by brother. The crappy part is that he seemed to be the only person who understands the concept of "homesick" and he was the easiest to talk to (although admittedly that could be because he's got the best English skills).

As it stands, though, I think I'll choose to keep pretending to be part of the family instead of a parasite. That just seems more livable.

Sunday, January 10

Lait Caille

I'm not sure I entirely understand what goes into lait caille, or sweet milk, but I am starting to familiarize myself with all its uses. A spoiled yogurt that's been sweetened so that people will actually eat it, this product can be sold in plastic pouches or by the tub. Its typical uses are a) frozen and later eaten like ice cream and b) poured over hot millet and eaten for dinner on Sundays.

Occasionally with the latter option, called ngallah (spelling not guaranteed), other fun items are added to the milk, such as pineapple, raisins, or coconut shavings. Ngallah is traditionally served on Easter in Catholic Senegalese households, but as my host mother says, it's easy to prepare and that's just the type of meal she wants to make on a Sunday night before a long week of work starts. Given the amount of vitamins in both millet and lait caille, not to mention the different ethnic stores in the states, I recommend everyone try to make this dish. Therefore, I submit the following website recipe for more info.

Most recently I've attempted to use lait caille to make my own version of ice cream. My family has an ice cream machine (who knows why or how) and so I spent a day researching recipes, and appropriate substitutes for those recipes, in order to create the perfect mixture. Actual yogurt is an option here, but it's very expensive. Whipping cream and half and half are rumored to be in larger towns, but not actually in mine. Thus sweetened condensed milk, whole milk, lait caille, eggs, and flavoring syrups became initial attempt. I tried two flavors on my endeavour; chocolate and vanilla. Curiously, both ended up tasting very similar to Pink Berry (yum, right?) although not my intention.

In future, I'm thinking about searching trading out ingredients and trying recipes involving gelatin, real yogurt, whipping cream and other milk options if I can find them. As far as flavors goes, coconut milk is available, other flavor syrup types (strawberry, pistachio, orange, etc), and perhaps even smashing up some of my precious stash of Oreos. I'll also try to experiment with stove top cooking techniques before the freezing process. My host mother's challenge is to find a good recipe that can be made in bulk for parties (and because when don't the Senegalese share?) for a low cost of production. If I didn't know better I'd think she was a) testing me and my purchasing skills and b) looking to open an ice cream shop. Which to tell you the truth, both of those ideas sound awesome to me. If only I could find a bored entrepreneur with awesome worth ethics...

Sunday, January 3

New Years

New Years was great; different from all the rest, yet the same in so many ways. The holiday wasn't just the one night, so you're better off hearing about the whole experience.

I headed for Dakar on the 30th where I put in some quality time by the pool and went shopping at what can best be equated to a "mall." The place had Diesel, Guess, and a few other places connected to the largest grocery store in country (curiously named Casino). Going to Casino is much like going to Target in the states. One goes for a few specific items, perhaps some spices not available in village, and walks out with two weeks' worth of allowance on random foods that are missed but not needed (coconut yogurt, a bar of chocolate, and red bull to mix in New Years cocktails). I don't know why this happens, but it's really like when I was bored at home and would wander through Target, becoming mesmerized by it all, and walk away with things I don't really need. Come on, how many times have you bought a DVD you half-liked because it was on sale- and you went there for shampoo which is located on the other side of the store? Yeah, don't judge. In the evening we enjoyed a truly authentic Chinese dinner. We went to the type of place where you need to speak Chinese in order to get the good stuff- and it was probably some of the best I've had.

On New Year's Eve we sat around in the morning like it was a typical Sunday at home (vegging and generally doing nothing) and I got my first hair cut in country. In addition, I was finally able to do laundry with a washing machine- first time in nearly 5 months. In the evening a few of us went downtown to do some pre-party shopping. I got a much needed belt to hold my now way-too-big pants up, and a pair of earrings to dazzle up my party outfit. From there we went to a friend's house for dinner/ appetizers and cocktails. The apartment is amazing by Senegalese/American standards... and from now on I'll be calling it "84." Anyway, Christine and I borrowed the bathroom and when we were done she actually said to me "There's the Alys I recognize from the Facebook pictures." It felt great to get cleaned up... so naturally we took a lot of pictures of our eyeliner, earring, and high heal clad selves.

Just after eleven we set out on the town. We passed by a club that was strangely empty- they actually said they weren't opening until after midnight. That's how serious the Senegalese take their parties; the party doesn't start till after the holiday and goes all night! Anyway, we went to the apartment of another volunteer... and nearly a third of the volunteers in country were there! Dancing, more cocktails, champagne, and pictures are all that I really remember. Just after midnight a few of us wanted to go back to the club and check it out. Though the cover was expensive (about $30), you only live once right? However, our plans were derailed by the men in our small group. The only true inhabitant of 84 got sick and after we took a taxi back there and put him to bed, the rest of us felt too tired to continue on. We all passed out too early.

The next morning was a little fuzzy. But after watching video of my amazing dance moves and getting some food, a small crew of us went back to 84 to lie in bed and watch movies for the rest of the day. In the evening we were kindly invited to partake in the Korean New Year festivities. In Korean culture, everyone becomes a year older on New Year's Day. They make a special meal (soup I have no idea how to describe) that after finishing, one is said to have grown one year older. The soup was accompanied by a noodle dish and chicken dumpling soup that Christine had made. Desert was yogurt and fruit. We went back to the Peace Corps house after and I quickly passed out... I really needed to catch up on sleep.

On the 2nd, we had another day by the pool. This time we had beers and girl talk. In the early evening we went back to 84 where Indian food was served for dinner, and the drinking began again. This time we were celebrating a friend's birthday. We did special shots at midnight and then left for the infamous monthly ex-patriot party downtown. After more dancing, meeting new people (mostly- ok, all- men), and some debauchery we made it to bed by 5a; not that we really slept.

Next, enter day two of recovery... accompanied by a return to Mboro and the end of a long weekend of celebrating. There are a lot of inside jokes that accompany this weekend, but it just seems wrong to explain them. However, they made the whole event a million times more worthwhile than the story above depicts; from renaming the cat, to redefining Wolof verbs, to learning about George Adamson... it was all too great. Thanks to club 84.