So I realize that I have not really been a good blogger over the last few weeks. I mean not really updating on the things I am doing, what I like and dislike, and the quirks of everyday life. To be honest, I have never considered myself to be someone who likes to write about my experience. I have always been content enough to know that the experience is in my head. But I guess that is being negligent of you guys who are stuck state-side, and my friends who are abroad too (who I miss!). So I am going to try and write more consistently. Fair enough?
So here are some things that you shouldn't miss out on:
First of all my homestay family is amazing. I already wrote about them a little bit, but Fatou Lo, who works at GENSEN (where I take classes), she is really crazy. I mean certifiable, like me, and we get along great because of that. I never really told you about my apartment though. I am not living in the same house with the family, my guess is that they are rather affluent for a Senegalese family, as I am housed in my own apartment with 2 bedrooms, a living room, kitchen and bathroom. (WOO!) I was sharing the apartment with 2 American girls, but they left yesterday at the end of the January program. On Monday and American intern is moving into the other bedroom. It is nice to have someone to keep company with. My house is somewhat far away from the other homestays, about a 15 minute walk. I have made really great friends with one family, which has 3 sons: Lamine (19), Medoune (27), and Mattare (??). They also host Americans during the program. I often go to the beach at Yoff with them.
The beach at Yoff is not what you would expect. First of all, the beach is not for swimming or sunbathing; it is for playing soccer. In the early evening hundreds of young men gather on the beach to train for wrestling and play soccer. It is really funny to see. They gather in large groups and do squats and pushups and run backwards, it is like watching bimbos in the gym - they are incredibly hyper aware of their fitness - and one of my favorite things to do. The waves here are incredible, and I have seen a lot of "toubabs" (white people!) surfing as well as kite surfing. Unfortunately it's not a great swimming beach, very shallow with strong currents, but I go anyway.
The school is a 20 minute walk from my house. The best park about walking to school is running across the 4 lane highway and jumping the divider in the middle. Mom, you would KILL me. But it is the Senegalese way. Working on the J-term program at GENSEN was interesting, as you can see from the projects below, but it ws kind of disorganized and I'm not sure that everyone got the most out of it. Regardless of organization or tasks, the best part, by far, was being able to meet and work with Senegalese students. We had so much fun, and the most valuable part for me by far, in terms of learning, was just the cross cultural exchanges between us and them. Part of being Senegalese is possessing a great sense of humor. The Senegalese make fun of EVERYONE (Matt, you would fit right in). I've noticed that some of the Americans get easily offended by this, jokes like "I think you ate too much rice" don't really go over well with most American girls. But they learned quickly to just relax.
The village visits were interesting. Mekhe the first one was more like a town, I think 15,000 people, and we had access to everything we needed. I got bitten by a bazillion mosquitoes the first night because we were too lazy to put up the net - oopsies. Gotta love Malarone. We took horse carts everywhere, naturally I loved it and wanted to buy one and drive back to Dakar with it. The Senegalse kids I was with taught me some Wolof, including how to say butt (khotutat) as well as giving me a nickname "Sai Sai", which is usally said to little kids meaning bad girl. My daddy said it was appropriate, haha. Then we went to Mboul. Mboul has maybe 200 people and is in the middle of the desert with no electricty and no water. They have to purchase their water 12km away and haul it to the village on horse cart. I ended up not eating for three days, since it was the Muslim holdiay of Tamaharit (the New Year) and everyone was fasting during the day and dinner was intestines, sour milk and sandy millet, so that kind of sucked, but it was a more realistic vision of Africa outside the city. We all kind of went stir-crazy while there, with nothing to do (thank god I brought On The Road) and I realized that I could not live in a tiny village like that and do development work without going insane.
I also got really fed up with GENSEN and the NGO while I was there. At the first village meeting, a young guy stood up and pretty much reamed us out, asking why we were there since the loans they requested two years ago still hadn't been filled. He said the village was sick of promises and white people coming in with their money but never really doing anything. It was really difficult to hear since we though we were really doing a good thing. But we realized that there were communication problems between the NGO/microfinance and the villages (this also happened in Mekhe on a smaller scale) and that there was a great need to increase the transparency of the loan process and expectations for the villagers. It was a really big task for us to overcome, as the students including myself were really angry. We decided that we would reccomend to the comittee not to send students into villages where the loans have not already been funded. It is not fair to us or them. Other than that there were no other big problems. I did puke my brains out for three days at the beginning of the trip, but I'm not sure it was related to the travel.
So everything is pretty good. I have like 20 Senegalese "boyfriends". i.e. boys who tell you they "love you since the moment they saw you" and then ask to come to america...but I mean it is kind of flattering right? If not a little overwhelming too. You have to be cautious about being nice to boys, Medoune told me not to smile or they will think I like them...that is going to be a bit difficult. I'm going to have dinner at a friend's "toubab" house tonight in the "nicer" part of Dakar. Should be fun. The other American students coming for the semester arrive on Saturday and I'm going with my friend Cisco who works at GENSEN to pick them up. I think it will be less overwhelming if a toubab picks them up.
Ok that's all for now. Love and miss everyone!
- Nafy "Sai Sai" Lo