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?"

Saturday, February 14, 2009


ok so I know I said I would blog more often the last time I posted, but I guess I lied. So here is an update of some of the things that have been going on over the past two weeks.

1. Bienvenue Toubabs

The new American students arrived on Jan 28th. They are as follows:

Pete (Bouba)
Cody (Medoune)
Benson (Bamba)
Sydney (Maimuna)
Charlotte (Fatou)

Yes that's right, my entire study abroad consists of 6 American students, including myself. Everyone is really cool so far and we pretty much all get along well. I think we are really benefiting from the small group. I'm sure in a few weeks with will be bickering like a married couple.

In addition to the American students there are also 8 Senegalese students from the University Cheik Anta Diop.

& Soda

They are hysterical. I think about 90% of our day is spent making fun of each other, singing, dancing and just having a good time.

2. Remember that time we were illegal immigrants??

So we have just returned from a week of living in the village of Guédé Chantier. It is a village of about 6000 people in the north of Senegal near the border of Mauritania. This is the village in where we're going to do our development projects for the semester. Although it is in the desert, Guede is an oasis and they have one of the last existing old growth forests in northern Senegal. The village is on the river Duane (?) a tributary of the Senegal river. The people there are primarily Pulaar and don't speak a lot of french, but I've found that body language goes very far here. On top of that, there is always ALHAMDULILLAH. (Thanks be to God). In Guede you say alhamdulillah to everything. How are you? I'm fine, alhamdulillah. How is your family? They're fine, alhamdulillah. How was your day? It was pleasant, alhamdulillah. You get the idea. Anyway, by the end of the week we resorted to answering every question with some type of mumbling with random insertions of alhamdulillah. Either it worked better than we expected or people just stopped caring. Either way, I think we won't be fluent in Pulaar any time soon. One thing I love about Guede is the fresh baked baguette in the morning. It was the best bread I have ever eaten.

We were in the village primarily to start up our projects and make contact with our village partners who will work with us throughout the semester. However, we did get in a little sight-seeing. We travelled around to a few tiny desert villages where children burst out in tears at the sight of a toubab (something many of them had never seen). It was so dusty riding in the back of the truck everyone ended up wrapping their entire heads with scarfs and we looked like a group of maurides or touregs cruising around the desert. By far my favorite part of that day was illegally crossing the border into Mauritania. It is not a simple task such as, one foot in Senegal, on in Mauritania, oh no, this was a life-risking, adrenaline-pumping experience. To get into Mauritania you have to cross the Senegal river, so we did. All of us, in one canoe. I think this canoe was supposed to hold maybe 5 or 6 people at a time, well, we sqeezed over ten people in, and with the water lapping dangerously an inch below the rim of the canoe, we only hoped that the crack in the side wouldn't send us to Davy Jone's Locker before we got to the other side. Crocodile dinner? Not today, thank you. Needless to say, we made it across safely. And guess what? Mauritania looks just like Senegal. The people, the language, the landscape. Yea, it's pretty much all the same. Surprising? Not really.

So we finally figured out what our semester projects are going to be and I'm pretty excited about mine. I am working with Pete (Bouba) and Alassane. The ultimate goal of our project is risk mitgation for the herders and farmers in Guede. So we were thinking about how to do this, and we talked to them and the principle problems were that they have no access to credit, and they also complained about high costs of chemical fertilizers, as well as the health risks associated with them. So after a little brain-storming we came up with a three-part bombshell. The goal of the project will be to create a small savings and loans bank in the village for the farmers and herders. It will work like a tontine, where people who put money in can get money out in small sums on a rotational basis, and if there is an emergency an individual will be able to take out a micro-loan. But to start a bank you need money. So here's the plan. My sector is in the creation of a source of natural compost to replace the chemical fertilizer. I will be working with the herders to collect manure and the villagers to collect food scraps and creating a village compost. I have to research the needed inputs, how to construct the site where we will make it, and also the best methods of distribution in the village. But here's the hard part. Many of the villagers are hesitant to adopt new things until they know how it works, they need proof. So what are we going to do? The second part, which Alassane is in charge of, is the creation of an organic teaching garden, to show the farmers how to use the compost, the explain why it is better (cost, health, etc) and to provide them with tangible results. Pete is focusing on the bank part. I think the project really embodies all the aspects of the sustainable ecovillage design education that we have been learning, and if we are successful it will have enormous ramifications for the villagers in Guede. I am really hopeful that we will do a good job but I know that I have a lot of work ahead of me.

3. Hi Mom?

Yea, you read it. My mom and my sister arrived in Senegal yesterday morning and are staying here for a week with me. More updates to come. Their Senegalese names are Binta (Holly) and Mika (Mom).

Many kisses. Everything is good here, alhamdulillah.

- Jessie Nafy Lo