Tuesday, May 5, 2009

the first round of tea is bitter as life.

The national drug of Senegal is attayah. Usually served in liquid form, attayah is heavily sweet with hints of mint and a strength that will knock your socks into next week. Attayah is a type of tea.

Besides being the "national drug", attayah is also Senegal's national pastime. I mean, people drink tea all day. But this is not just any tea. It is made in a tiny tea pot, with strong flaked green tea, nana or fresh mint, and about a pound of sugar. The preparer pours the tea in an artistic fashion until a gentle and bubbly foam forms in the shot sized glasses, and then the steaming hot tea is poured in. Attayah is served in 3 rounds, each round with added sugar to symbolize the growing sweetness of friendship.

I was told that the first brew is bitter as life.

The second is bittersweet as love.

The third one is sweet as death.

The facts of life in three gulps of rugged wisdom.

We drink attayah almost every day. Sometimes we drink it multiple times every day. Why did I wait so long before writing about it? Because I think it beautifully sums up the time I spent in Senegal. I am leaving in 3 days, and as the time comes continually closer I feel like I am going to spontaneously combust from all the opposing feelings running around inside my head and heart.

The first round of tea is bitter as life.

Don't be discouraged by this description. While the first round of attayah is pungently strong and sometimes downright difficult to swallow, it widens your eyes. Such is life and such was my arrival in Senegal. Darting about, new smells, new sights, new people, a new way of life. Pungently strong like the first sip of attayah that sets your viens ablazing. Sometimes, it was difficult to swallow, the village, the calls of random men on the street, the longing for familiar surroundings. But it widens your eyes, and it certainly has widened mine.

The second is bittersweet as love.

The second round is my favorite. The strength of the first round is still ever present, however the addition of fresh mint dampens the bite and sweet sugary flavors compliment the bitter aftertaste just enough to leave something desired. As I gradually adjusted to my surroundings, and the pangs of what I had left behind dissipated, I certainly did fall in love. My new found awarenesses sharpened and the bite of this strange culture became second nature for me. I saw everything around me in a sugary glow, sweetened immensely by the friendships I was forging. And just like love, I was left wanting more, more of something I knew I could not have. More of this country, more of its people, and more of the way things were.

The third one is sweet as death.

The third round gives you diabetes. Not really, but it does have a hell of a lot of sugar. Death has many sides, many faces. For some it is a welcome relief, for others it comes too soon. Death is both an end, it is sad and sweet, but it is also a passing, a movement and a beginning. Such is the end of my journey here. Enough said.

The facts of life in three gulps of rugged wisdom.

Monday, May 4, 2009

i guess it's time for a food blog....

So as you know...village life was pretty slow, days revolved around meals, and if you are a woman in Senegal you spend most of your daytime hours preparing meals for your extended family. So I decided to put my gender to use and learn how to cook Senegalese style, with the intention of making a Senegalese cookbook when I return. The lack of gas stoves in the village means you have to start your wood fire early on if you expect to feed your family in a timely manner. It also means I will be coming home with a lovely case of black lung.

While most meals in Dakar consist of ceeb-u-jen for lunch and some variation of salad or fish or rice for dinner, here in the village we eat meat and potatoes. I still haven’t fully understood why almost every night for dinner we eat a goat and potatoes, when this village is considered a “bread basket” and the fields that stretch miles around us produce beautifully succulent tomatoes, corn, lettuce, squash and other yummies. But at least I’ve become an expert in cooking meat and potatoes while I’ve been here (I suppose my step-dad will be quite excited about that). We can have meat with French fries, we can have meat with sweet potatoes in an onion sauce, we can have macaroni and meat, we can have little tiny spaghettis and, guess what…meat!

So now that you know the principle ingredients here are the other indispensable items that MUST be used in every meal in Senegal. Whether you are making an omelette or a plate of ceeb-u-jen to feed twenty people you will always need this:

Lots of onions.
Lots of garlic.
A handful of whole black peppercorns.
Have on hand anywhere from 2-8 bouillon cubes.
A handful of small dried red peppers (like the crushed red pepper you put on pizza).

Making any meal starts with these ingredients. You then put them all into a giant mortar and pound them with a pestle. When they are sufficiently pulverized you add them to whatever you are cooking. If cooking meat mix in spicy yellow mustard and make a marinade. If making Nyaari Chin (“deux marmites” or “two pots”) put all ingredients into hot oil, simmer and then add water and lots and lots of bouillon cubes until you make a sauce.

Then thoroughly over-cook any vegetables you might have until they are utterly unrecognizable, add your carbohydrate of choice, and plop some deliciously gooey and piping hot dead animal on top.

And there you have it! Wash your hands and dig in, Senegalese style, using a piece of bread as your spoon or just rip that goat apart with your hands, and don’t forget to thoroughly gnaw on all the bones at the end so you don’t miss any of the good chewy bits.

I hope you’re all excited for me to cook for you when I get back ☺

Monday, April 27, 2009

i'm back....in Dakar.

So it has been a long time, huh? Well at least I have a valid reason.

For the last 3.5 weeks I have been living in the Commune of Guédé Chantier, the village that we are doing our projects in. While I must say that being in the village was quite an experience, I am still trying to figure out if that experience was a good one or a bad one. In terms of our project, we completed all the objectives, increased awareness, and got people participating, so it can be considered an overall success. But on other fronts....well lets just say that I prefer Dakar.

So have to admit I was complaining about coming to the village before I left. And, unfortunately, of my fears, dreads, etc came true, at one point or another over the course of the stay. Figuring where to start complaining is proving kind of difficult as usual but I guess I’ll tell you about my ailing health first. I was (an still am) pretty hella sick. Unfortunately for me it’s not explosive aerosol shits, no, I have a mystery disease. Woohoo! I’ve been in a perpetual state of nausea for about two weeks, before, such that before, during or after eating I have the uncontrollable urge to vomit, followed by stomach cramps that could kill an elephant on steroids. And whenever I stand up I get really dizzy and lightheaded. One day I passed out in the middle of the day, and then the day after I passed out and vomited on myself. I know what you’re thinking…”Damn Jess, you sexy beast…” but not really feeling so sexy right now. So there’s that. And I’ve taken all available meds, and visited the village idiot, I mean doctor. My only hope was that the medicine man could slaughter a chicken and bathe me in its blood and all would be well. My fingers were crossed. But unfortunately, I was informed that it was "too hot to heal". Well isn't that exciting. So I turned to consulting my friends and collegues, and we have drawn the ultimately scientific conclusion that I have some little friends. Some little friends, living in my belly. Some little, angry, hungry, friends. Thrilling.

Well at least my life in the village had consistency! While still mysteriously ill, the village was still pretty hot, and I was quickly running out of books to read. So, woo! On top of that, I had made a beautiful outline/beginning to my final research paper for the semester, with all my works cited and everything, and my computer decided that it would be a good idea to “misplace” all of the documents I worked on between 4.6.09 and 4.12.09. So bye-bye outline. And bye-bye sanity. I was going to get up one day and start writing so I could just finish the paper and then could relax once I get back to Dakar, but I am feeling a little bit of resentment for my electronic friend right now. So I am going to have to wait until I have another bout of excitement over APA citations to start it, all over again. It's been about a week since I even tried. I wouldn’t be surprised if this whole blog disappears too one day along with the rest of my life. If that’s the case I will try and telepathically complain to you across the continent. I’ve heard the power of the whine is above all other things the most easily communicated through ESP. It must be the high frequency.

One good thing that I didn’t tell you is that I now have an enormous library of Senegalese music. Everything from squishy French love songs to club-thumping fantastic baby-making music. I have a complete repertoire. And I have to say the music here is all pretty fantastical. There are those times when I can’t tell one song from another mostly a fault of the “national music” called mbalax (pronounced balakh..with that jewish ‘kkhh’ at the end), pioneered by Youssou Ndour, in which every song sounds exactly the same almost all the time. But since it is reasonably tolerable and at times downright awesome, its ok even if I think each song might be something like 300 minutes long. There is good reggae too and then some Senegalese rap which is interesting and from time to time not as obnoxious as its US counterpart. So I’ll have a lot to share when I get back and will at least be able to host a fabulous Senegalese dance party.

While in the village, I decided its on my top 5 list of things I want when I get back to the USA. That list goes as follows:

1. cheese pizza, extra cheese, extra large, NO I’m not sharing!
2. Matt (so a little creepy, but honest)
3. Coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee
4. Gary burgers!
5. cheese

This is by no means set in stone and will probably be re-arranged to include something vastly alcoholic, sushi, and also ice cream.

Surprise! I did find something I actually like about the village. I mean, yea it’s beautiful and picturesque and there are cute snot nosed runts running amuk, but you and I both know that ambiance is not always everything. Unless the power goes out…

The power keeps mysteriously, yet consistently, going out. Blame it on government malfunction or people trying to re-wire their satellite dishes, whatever the cause, over the last few days we’ve had consistently occurring black outs. You can’t really tell when the power goes out during the day, it is still hot as the dickens and everything you touch sticks to you and you lie their as your sweat pools in the small of your back, and every other nook and cranny you can imagine. But at night all the obnoxious TV programs are involuntarily silenced, all the lights with their nauseous yellow glow, all those radios blasting jarring static, all is involuntarily silenced. Even the Senegalese people themselves are quieter, more tranquil, like their plugs have been momentarily pulled. This is the time when I really love the village. And there is only one thing I do. I lie on the roof, listen to music, and let the never-ending blanket of stars suck me up in its glory. Crosby, Stills & Nash are sweetly lulling me into a stardust stupor, whispering Guinevere into my ears and the breeze sweeping off the river effortlessly harmonizes with the timber of their voice as I drift to sleep under the immeasurable sky.

Ok, totally mushy I know, but didn’t you like it just a little? Yea, I thought so.

On an equally mushy side note, it has been about 40-43 degrees Celsius here since we arrived, and it is only getting hotter. To translate that into American, it’s about 106-115 degrees of hotness. Holy sweating my figurative balls off…!

So that was, more or less my trip to the village. I only have another 12 days left in Senegal. It's not really something I want to think about, to be honest. I hope you enjoyed reading all of my complaints And in the event that you blow this off completely because it is so intimidatingly long…. well you know what I think of you.


Jessie Nafy Lô

Sunday, March 22, 2009

some pictures for you ...

Dancing at the inauguration of the Centre Culturel where I work. All schnazzed up in my Sengalese garb.
My classmate Youssouph and I. You wouldn't know it from this picture but he's the goofiest bastard.
Picture of the group in a small desert village in the north of Senegal. From left to right: Rokhaya, Namory, Charlotte, Soda, Eman & Alassane both in grey sweatshirts, Youssouph behind me, Pete down front looking like a badass toureg, Cody in stripes, Aicha in between, Sydney lookin all blonde out back, Benson hiding behind, and Marcel just to the left of the post

Night out a few weeks ago with my friends Brooke & Aissa

How to Scream Fire and Fuck for Emphasis

On other notes. The village was good. We just got back Friday afternoon. I was really pissed off and bummed out at the beginning of the week when no one was showing up for meetings, and then someone's aunt died and we couldn't do anything, and there was no progress (which you know how much i hate!). But after a few days, one of the herders took an interest and started working, and by the end of the week there was about 7-8 guys showing up, we built 3 compost bins and made 3 piles of compost. I translated the directions/instructions into Pulaar (not the language i'm studying -Wolof- which made it 10x harder - but luckily had the help of my amazing teammate Alassane). and I am hoping that they will actually do something while I'm gone. For the next 1.5 weeks I'm in Dakar I'm trying to make a laminated guidebook on composting in french and pulaar with pictures, complete directions from A-Z and a troubleshooting guide I made. So that's cool I suppose. It means I have a lot of work to do!

One of my favorite parts of my stay here is that we spend more or less every single day with the Senegalese students, especially in the village and we have all become really great friends. And of course, like any good good friends participating in a cultural exchange, we are learning various juicy curse words in each other's languages. Is it really heinous that I find some kind of parental pride well inside of me when I hear them use a well placed injure in the middle of their sentence? Most likely, but I enjoy it anyway. Our educational campaign of late we have coined as "Fuck For Emphasis". We are explaining how fuck is not just an insult, but a glorious word that can be used in a multitude of situations. It is the chameleon of curse words. When you use it, you use fuck, for emphasis. And our campaign is going quite well. We may or may not have completed and irreperably corrupted their english vocabulary. For life. And the best part about it, is that they use it in such creative ways. When I hear them curse, it is kind of refreshing. I think Americans have used fuck so much, it's just quite boring now. There is no originality in it. My favorite example of these refreshing idosyncracies was uttered by my friend Youssouph. He was being teased by a bunch of the guys, they were called him a clown. Benson repeating "Bouffon, bouffon bouffon! And he goes. "Oh yes? I am your bouffon? I will fuck you one by one!" Well I pretty much died of excitement and those achy tummies you get when you laugh to hard for too long.

Another fabulous story. I ended up passing out at the homestay in the village where 5 of the 8 boys live (we call it the Frat House, they call it the Chateau des Hommes, - it depends on how you feel about a dirty smelly room of perversion). And Benson (american from virginia always happy and goofy) and Youssouph (senegalese giant clown extremely lanky and eternally teasing) had gotten up early to meet Sydney (south carolina/new orleans firey southern blonde) so they could go to work on their school garden project. The rest of us are passed out or lying dazedly under our mosquito nets, sweating our you know whats off. And in burst Sydney, screaming. "Youssouph found his penis!" What? I think my stickyness has clogged my ears. "Youssouph, he found his prick!" Yep, I heard her right. "We were walking to the garden and Benson and I were a little bit ahead of Youssouph and then we hear him scream. And we turn around and his pants and shorts are around his ankles and he's screaming at the top of his lungs: 'There's something in there! There's something in there!'" Youssouph walks back into the room at this point, trying to explain that it was a bug and asking why we are all laughing at him. I look at him and I ask him how old he is. "25" he says. "That's just too bad." And I roll over and go back to sleep.

Also, when the children in Guédé (the village) yell "toubab!", it sounds like they are screaming "FIRE!!!". I almost shit my pants one night.

Also, I danced until 6 am last night. I am a little apprehensive that when I try to get up and go to the bathroom my legs will give out on me in protest of my antics.

That should be funny.

Much love, missing everyone!

Jessie "Nafy Lô"

Monday, March 9, 2009

Dazed and Confused and other sketches from a morning walk

I saw the strangest thing on my way to school this morning. There I was, laxidasically trodding down the sandy alley that leads from my home to the main road. I was in one of those dazes, when you wake up and the surface of everything is fuzzy, hazy, and you bump into everything. In the US I would have blamed this on my overenthusiastic love for having a really good time. But here I think it can be attributed to the wooden planks that comprise my bed. They have a mind of their own, you know. Three am? No, Jess doesn't need to sleep right now. SLAP! Being woken up by a piece of wood bitch slapping you in the face is not something I thought would happen to me in Senegal. So basically I was tired.

And there I am dragging my feet through the sand and out of the corner of my eye...no, what? I didn't see that. And I keep on walking. Slowly. And then, no really, there is a boy riding a horse around in the middle of the traffic circle.

There is a boy, riding a horse. Around the middle of the traffic circle.

I did a double take. Like, huh? And there was a boy, riding a horse, around the middle, of the traffic circle. I was so tired I thought it was a mirage. And just to be sure it existed in my hazy morning reality, I stopped, to watch. I stopped to watch in the middle of the road. I stopped. To watch. In the middle of the road.

I am not the brightest crayon in the box. Not this morning anyway.

So there I am standing in the middle of the road, slacked jawed and wided eyed and potentially drooling. And this horse is gorgeous and the boy's long legs are dangling over the side in an effortless grip on the horse's side. And they are going around the circle. And it looks like he is a member of the Spanish Riding School going through his paces. And it's beautiful.

It was not until the viscious horn of an oncoming car woke me from my staring slumber did I realize I was standing in the middle of the road slack jawed and wide eyed and definitely drooling. So I carried on my way.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Are you really really happy? And other serious things like God.

We have this thing called "Our Space" at uni. It is pretty much what any american university student would call "complete bullshit", but i guess i have always loved complete bullshit in a way, and so i kind of like 'our space' too. During 'our space' we are supposed to pick a topic and a student facilitator to lead the discussion, and then just talk about whatever we want. recent topics have included dating in senegal vs. dating in america (oh dear me) and i don't know i forgot what the first one was about. anyway it can vary to really unproductive, to incredibly interesting. this week the subject we ended up talking about was different notions of happiness. one of the americans, charlotte, read this poem she wrote to us and then we ended up talking as a group for, i think, 3 hours?!? about it. so i don't want to recount exactly what happened, but i am just going to write down what different people were saying, like a book of quotations, beause i think that's the only way to get the idea of what really happened.

1st: Charlotte Poem:

The Betrayal of the American Dream

When you feel you must escape
Or you'll loose your human shape
Buy yourself a car so large,
It even has a turbo-charge.
And tell yourself that it's so nice,
You could drive to Paradise.

When your world is too small
Encircles you within its wall
Buy yourself a bigger house
Go shopping for a sexy blouse.

When you're alone and cannot cope
But know true love is fool's hope;
Buy fresh beauty in a can
Catch yourself a brand-new man.

But when the love fades from his eyes,
And even nude, he's in disguise,
Buy yourself a fine divorce
Bring out the lawyers in full force.

When your children look at you in pleading,
Yearning for the love they're needing
Buy them countless games and gadgets,
Lie to them, say there is magic.

When there's a growing hunger in your heart
Just drive up to the Super-Mart.
Stuff yourself till you forget
Those other needs, ones never met.

When the Gods are stiff and silent
And the world's grim and violent,
Buy yourself a revelation
In 3-D color animation.
It only costs $9.95
To find out Jesus is alive.

When you feel you're standing still
Going nowhere, have no will
Go searching for a better job,
Blend into the busy mob.

It really is a huge relief
To embrace the false belief
That your business is so urgent
There's no time to be insurgent.
You'll right the world's many wrongs
And sing the rebel's stirring songs
When there's a moment left to spare.
But for right now, you needn't care.
And for the few who still feel guilty—
Its very cheap to give to charity.

When there is nothing left to see
But concrete stretching endlessly
Enhance the screen on your T.V.
In full color you can see
People fighting to be free;
Worlds that will never be.

When you're choking on despair
And wonder why you cannot care,
Get an hour with a shrink
You must be insane to think
There's a reason to be sad!
There's nothing wrong. You're simply... mad.

When endless nights of silent screaming,
Have put an end to skyward dreaming,
Buy yourself a hit of crack,
Destroy the need for coming back.

And when the money has run out,
And they no longer hear you shout,
There are pills for endless sleep,
Which take you where you never weep.

They told you it was all for sale.
And so you paid for your own jail.

Then when you ran out of things to buy,
You bought a painless way to die.
And as you drift away and fade,
Know that you have been betrayed.

2nd: Compostite List of What You Need to Be Happy:

health, friends, wealth ?, usefulness, chance to help others, growth, class mobility, work, love, companionship, understanding, power, nice car, house.

3rd: Quotations/Perspectives/Analysis - in NO PARTICULAR ORDER:

"Happiness is a long process, it is impossible. You can never be happy."

"I am completely and 100% happy with my life the way it is now."

"Progress comes from dissatisfaction."

"Right now you just have joie de vivre."

"If you're going to improve, do you need to be unhappy with what you have now?"

"Maybe our words mean different things. Happiness? Is there a language barrier?"

"If you are happy, everything is perfect. I am unhappy."

"I think, Paradise is here on Earth. Because if God does something then we have to accept it and be happy, even if it is a sad thing."

"Real happiness is eternal and a human being cannot have this."

"So, does being accepting make you happy? Jessica is not accepting but she is happy. If she doesn't life something, she changes it."

"It's the power of man's spirit that matters."

"In life there are ups and downs. It is hard to emplain happiness when you talk about religion, because what we are taught contradicts what we are living sometimes, but we are accepting it."

"Happiness now vs. happiness in the future?"

"I will be happy if i don't live like my parents had to."

"So does that mean your parents are unhappy? Are they unhappy just because we don't want to be like them? Because we want to achieve different thing, or more, than them?"

"Being happy and being sad, they go together."

"What is the difference between the happiness of God and the happiness of man?"

"Happiness is not challenging what you can not change."

"To be happy, do you have to create a chance for others to be happy too?"

"If you pray for patience, do you think God gives you patience? Or does he give you opportunities to be patient? If you pray for love, do you think God gives you love? Or does he give you opportunities to love and be loved? If you pray for happiness, do you think God gives you happiness? Or does he give you opportunities to be happy? You just have to open your eyes."

"There are two kinds of happiness, the eternal and the mortal, you can't have the eternal."

"You don't know anything about the eternal. The eternal is the right now."

"Satisfying your desires vs. happiness"

"Is happiness temporary or is it a state of being?"

"You have to be patient, endurant."

"The native americans say you are not a human being when you are born, you become a human being through your actions."

"In the end we will have to respect each other and understand that everyone just thinks about happiness differently."

"Every person has their true self within them - true, raw, uninhibited - but through life you put up your barriers to make life easier but they also inhibit you you from being your actual true self. Part of happiness / love is being able to break down barriers to get there. To do this you make yourself vulnerable - open. With anyone."

"Do we put them up because the spirit, our happiness, can be corrupted? To protect us?"

"It is a chance for your light to touch someone else. But is your light strong enough to bear exposure?"