Hello again! Last post I shared some pictures of my trip to Touba at the end of November. It was really incredible walking around the huge mosque, the largest in West Africa. In order to enter, everyone has to take off our shoes and women must cover their heads. We had to leave before the afternoon prayer, and afterwards we visited a Quranic school. We got to see the kids in the process of memorizing and reciting different parts of the Quran. Memorization is something used way more in schools here than in the states, especially in Quranic schools. At the primary school level, kids learn the Arabic alphabet and then begin memorizing the Quran, without even knowing the significance of the words or passages they are memorizing. The comprehension comes later.
After a week full of work on my final papers, I was able to relax this weekend. Friday night I went out with a group of American and Senegalese friends, which was fun. We may or may not have still been awake when Ellen’s host dad left in the morning to go to pray at the mosque… Saturday morning Grace, Ellen, and I headed to our Wolof professor’s house for some Wolof conversation while learning how to prepare ceebu jenn, a dish of rice, fish and veggies that is a lunch staple. It took from 10 am until 2 pm to go through the whole ceebu jenn process, but it was delicious. Right from Oumoul’s house we went with another professor, Professor Diallo, to a traditional medicine hospital located right outside of Dakar. It was really neat to see, the grounds were covered with gardens and all sorts of different trees with fruit, leaves, and roots used for medicine of all sorts. Traditional medicine has a strong following in Senegal, and often times even if people can afford to use modern medicine, they’ll also use the herbal remedies. I guess it goes along with their superstitions.
From the traditional medicine hospital, Professor Diallo dropped Ellen, Grace and me off at a “garage” in Rufisque for the night we had planned on the Petit Côte of Senegal, the area south of Dakar along the coast. A garage is a place where cars called sept-places stop to collect passengers and from there head to various locations. Sept-places are appropriately named… they are station wagons that have seats for 7 passengers. From Rufisque, we paid the driver 500 cfa each ($1) and got taken right to the little hotel win Toubab Diawlo, a little town on the Petit Côte. In the car we got to practice our Wolof with the other passengers, which was fun.
Toubab Diawlo was gorgeous. The town itself is pretty simple, but we found a cool little hotel in my guidebook which has a range of rooms, from ocean front houses you can rent out for a night, to a hostel-type room for about $8 a night. We opted for the cheapest option, and it worked out great. Saturday night we went to bed pretty early, and got up early to make the most of our day along the coast. We sipped our coffee while looking out over the rocky shore and Ellen and I went down and sat on rocks in the water for a little while. Crazy that I was enjoying the waves and sunshine in December!
After breakfast we decided to take a batik class, which is like tie dye, but using wax. We each made a batik, and the 3 turned out looking very different, which was cool. It was a lot of fun and it was neat to see how the batiks are made, because I often see them sold in markets and shops. We spent some more time at the beach and headed home after lunch. Friendly people in the village helped us find our way to the garage in Toubab Dialow, which turned out to be one store parked outside a little shop. A man told us he wasn’t sure if any cars would be going to Rufisque since it was Sunday, but he told us to wait 5 minutes to see. Sure enough, a few minutes later, a car pulled up and he quickly ushered the three of us into the car, along with 8 other people. Sept-place turned into an onze-place… it was a liiiiittle crowded. I felt bad because my hip was digging into the man next to me, but I was already half sitting on Ellen’s lap and there wasn’t much else I could do. After the car, a friendly lady helped us find the bus that goes from Rufisque to Dakar. Our total cost of transportation per person was less than $2 to get all the way from our hotel back to Dakar. Not too shabby. But the bus was even more crowded than the sept-place had been…everyone stands pressed against each other and the ride was more than an hour. We got home a little before dinner and I spent the evening hanging out with my host family.
Monday morning I went to the fabric market, HLM by myself to get some fabrics I want to try to use to make a quilt when I get back to the U.S. I was a little nervous to see how I would do with the market chaos on my own, but it turned out to be fine. The vendors in the outdoor part of the market were much less aggressive with me than they are when I’m with a group of toubabs, even when it’s just Ellen, Grace, and me. They must figure if a toubab is alone they know what they’re doing on some level and aren’t just a random tourist. I explored the parts of the market I had been to before, but somehow got lost inside the interior of the enclosed market space, and ended up in this little area of thin hallways filled with tailor shops. I don’t think they see many toubabs… I got more marriage proposals in those hallways than I have in my whole time here. Buying fabric I used some of my Wolof to talk to and bargain with the vendors, which turned out to be pretty successful. I got some pretty fabric for good prices.
Tuesday was a holiday called Tamharit. It represents the start of the new year of the Muslim calendar. To celebrate, families eat a traditional couscous dish for dinner. After that, similar to Halloween, kids dress up and go out in the streets. Boys dress up like girls, and boys dress up like girls. It’s mostly little kids that dress up, but it was strange to see some cross-dressed teens walking around at night. Grace invited a few of us over to her house, and we ate more couscous, made attaaya, and hung out there for the evening. I have a picture of Mage dressed up in a little tuxedo… it is too cute.
Tonight (Wednesday), I’m getting on a bus to head to Kedougou, which is in the southeast corner of Senegal, right near the border of Mali and Guinea Bissau. It’s the most mountainous and lush region of Senegal. There’s a huge waterfall in a park nearby that I’m hoping to hike to. This trip came together kind of last minute when I asked if it was possible to go to Kedougou for my rural home stay arranged by ACI instead of one of the villages on their list. I don’t want to leave Senegal without having seen much of the south or the east of the county, and this will accomplish both of those goals. The bus ride should take about 13 hours, but I will be there until Sunday night, so it should definitely be worth the long trip.
I doubt I’ll have internet while I’m there, but I’ll be sure to put up lots of pictures when I get back! Talk to you again Monday, inchallah (God willing, a phrase that everyone here uses all the time. Ex: “I’m going to school, see you at lunchtime.” “Inchallah.”)