"Salaam alaikum". This is something I said a lot during my time in Senegal. Meaning “peace be upon you”, it is a greeting that truly embodies the warm and welcoming nature of the Senegalese culture.
I am so excited to be writing a post to highlight some of the memorable events from our incredible month in Senegal. My University of Western Ontario (UWO) varsity basketball teammate Laura Graham and I travelled to Senegal with high spirits and big plans. We were set to distribute 300 Days for Girls (DfG) reusable menstrual hygiene kits and planned to run reproductive health educational sessions. All of the locations we distributed in were set up alongside the UW Optometry VOSH outreach for optometric care route. We also planned to run sports clinics aimed at empowerment for girls in conjunction with the distributions. We came equipped with donated team jerseys and balls, basketballs for Malika and soccer balls for more rural distributions where courts are not available.
Our first stop was in Malika at the Aywa International compound where we spent 4 incredible days at the beginning of our journey and returned for a couple more days at the end. Here we met all of the wonderful people behind the scenes of this organization’s success. The compound had tortoises living in the garden, dogs welcoming you upon arrival, beautiful handmade items in the shop, and was filled with kindness and generosity. Our host Herma Bode made sure our stay was as comfortable as possible, and her impact within the community allowed us to reach so many girls and invite them to our DfG kit distributions and basketball clinics. And where would we be without Djiby during our stay in Malika? Djiby lives and works at the Aywa compound and he made sure Laura and I had the most memorable time possible in Senegal. His generosity showed no limits; from picking us up at the airport, showing us around the city, cutting down fresh coconuts for us to drink, and helping us put together over 100 little bags filled with treats as parting gifts for the girls (he even made sure each one was tied off with a beautiful pink bow!). The basketball court on the compound was perfect for our basketball clinic. The wonderful female athletes we met in Malika showed us the incredible power sports have in bringing communities together.
One memory that will stay with me forever was the warm-up that the girls and their coaches did before our basketball tournament. They started by standing in a large circle, their coach in the middle. He would sing and they would repeat, and everyone was dancing. This eventually turned into a conga line of singing and laughter and dance. It felt like more than a basketball warm-up to me; it was like a celebration. We were celebrating the opportunity to all be there together and play basketball. To say the least, it was definitely the best basketball warm-up I’ve ever been a part of! It was amazing seeing these girls wearing KW Lightning jerseys and Western Mustang jerseys since I wore those exact same jerseys in my own basketball career.
See a video of the warm-up for our basketball tournament at Aywa International's base: https://youtu.be/BYODm5ebXII
After a competitive day of basketball, the athletes worked up quite the appetite! So we hosted the girls for a delicious meal with help from the talented chefs on the Aywa compound. This was the first group we distributed the DfG kits to and it was a huge success! The girls were so patient while we did our best to translate our education session on reproductive health and on how to use the kits, and they loved the beautiful bright colours of the hand-sewn materials. A few of the girls even followed me on Instagram and I am overjoyed when I get updates from them about how they love their DfG kit.
But this was all just one distribution! The rest of our month in Senegal was spent in Kedougou and other rural towns and villages. While our distributions were much smaller there than in the larger city, the girls responded with the same graciousness and excitement as the girls in Malika. We were distributing kits until the very last second before leaving for the airport to come home, and this allowed us to give out 291 of the 300 kits we brought with us! I feel so grateful to have had this experience working with Days for Girls and Aywa International in a goal to increase access to menstrual care and education for women and girls as well as foster women’s empowerment through sport!
Hello, my name is Julia Curran. My roommate Laura Graham and I are student athletes at the University of Western Ontario, where we play varsity basketball.
Over this past year we have been extremely excited to be planning a trip to Senegal! We have partnered with the London, Ontario, chapter of Days for Girls, led by Jillian Johnston and her many dedicated and talented seamstresses! They have generously provided us with eight suitcases filled with Days for Girls kits, which we will be delivering through Aywa. We also plan to brush up on our basketball skills while we’re down there as we will have the rare opportunity to play with Malika’s best talent in girl’s basketball. We look forward to sharing our experiences and learning from the rich culture we will be immersed in. We may not speak the same language but I already know we share many things; our love of basketball being only one of them.
In addition, we are grateful to Western University for supporting us with their donation of Western Jerseys and London's Source for Sports for providing us with basketballs. So, as you can see, despite our huge entourage of suitcases more indicative of the Kardashian family on holidays, we will likely be cycling through a very limited wardrobe. As student athletes though, this suits us fine as we pretty much live in the same sweat pants all semester anyway.
It’s hard to imagine that in less than a month I will be in the beautiful country of Senegal, especially since I am currently in the final crunch of summer courses, which means I am four chapters and two exams away from take off!
Guest blog post from one of our interns Samantha (Sami) Nandyal
Brand-spankin-new, wax, Senegalese outfit tailored lovingly for Sami curves by tailor extraordinaire, Fatu Boye. I had been anticipating this day for so long. A friend of ours was hosting a ngente for their grandchild, meaning that I would finally get to wear the outfit I had gotten tailored. Oh and I’d get to observe and participate in this colorful, exciting event for the second time. After a couple rounds of bissap attaaya tea (pregame, what what), prepared disappointingly by yours truly, the women of the house garbed up in our wax-print best. There was an air of excitement as we chatted, snapped photos, and headed out into the sandy Malika streets for the long walk there. At the home where the party was taking place, the men were sitting outside talking in a circle of chairs. Inside the compound, children were dancing in the courtyard to mbalax music provided by a live DJ. Greeting each of the women already seated, we sat together and watched as others arrived. The night that followed was one of delicious food, traditional ceremony, and lively dancing. Although I did dance a little bit off to the side, it was beyond enjoyable to watch my friends dance energetically until their clothes were drenched with sweat in the heavy heat. We walked back as a little family, dropping each member off at their respective homes, ending the night with more attaaya and rooftop conversation.
Before I stepped into the wound care section of the clinic, Nurse David handed me a pair of scrubs, nodding knowingly. “You’re going to need these.” The experience that followed will definitely be one I will speak of fondly (or horrifically) when I finally make it as a physician. I walked into the room and was greeted enthusiastically by two male nurses, Carlos and Cher. Once their excitement about my Wolof abilities had died down, I got to explaining that I had little to no experience, I can help if they need it, but I am here today just to learn. “Metti ul! Xoolal ak ci kanaam di nga def. It’s easy! Watch and later you will do it.” For about an hour, I watched in amazement as patient after patient entered the room, toting with them gruesome gashes, burns, and welts. In one 10ft by 10ft space, I watched the administrative tasks, in-take, patient care, and dismissal happen before my eyes. What lacked in hygiene and technology was made up for in efficiency. (This statement is very questionable. Please take with a grain of salt.) Before I knew it, I was chatting with patients while cleaning and bandaging wounds under the careful eye of Nurse Carlos. The bigger, more infection-prone wounds, I graciously passed on to the other nurse. Despite the fact that my presence was probably slowing the whole process down and what I was doing was definitely inching into the gray area of my moral code, I was on a high.
Flowy, patterned, blue and white pants
When I came to Senegal, I packed only a backpack and one suitcase, which was mostly full of donated medical supplies. It feels good to have few personal belongings, but my wardrobe is pretty limited. Normally, this is no problem. I could wear the same outfit three days in a row here in Malika, and it would not be out of the ordinary. When I am choosing what to wear to go into the big city, however, the limitations cause me to have to improvise. I had already worn my one “going out outfit” every time I went into Dakar, so this time I switched it up. My one pair of jeans. A white shirt. (How do I liven this up?) A pair of pants wrapped around my neck like a scarf. I admired my creation in the mirror. No one would ever notice! I hitched a ride from a friend into the next city over, and climbed aboard a big van that would take me into the city where I would have to find my way to a roundabout my friend would meet me at. My first solo adventure. Or so I thought. The guy who sat next to me on the van and I became fast friends, despite the fact we were so cramped together that we could barely turn our heads to talk. He was going to the same roundabout, so he accompanied me all the way until I was in the loving embrace of my former roommate and resident mother, Ndeye Diallo/JoAnne. We drank tea and caught up, enjoying each other’s company and the cool of her new home. She had recently bought a big. Stainless steel bowl, so we carried it into the street in search of some food to fill it. A woman with a tangana less than a block away obliged us, filling it with an abundance of red rice, vegetables, and fish for the equivalent of less than two dollars. Ndeye and I couldn’t even finish half of it, and she stored it away for dinner. We then hopped on a bus to the H.L.M. market, a bustling section of Dakar filled with every item you could ever dream of. We walked through the stalls, chatting with vendors, and searching for houseware items for Ndeye to use in her new apartment. Something caught my eye in a clothing vendor’s stall and I walked up to examine it, greeting and chatting with the people standing next to it. I managed to bargain the dress I was eyeing down from 5000 CFA to 2000 CFA (~ $10 to $4), but not before the vendor took the end of my “scarf” in his hands. Examining it with confusion, he looked into my eyes and asked “Lii lan la? What is this?” I confessed that they were pants, and suddenly the whole group was rolling in laughter. I couldn’t help but laugh too, but walked away with a damaged ego as well as a new dress. I’d like to think that through their laughter was a baseline appreciation for my creativity. I’m ballin’ on a budget. Ndeye and I explored a few different neighborhoods before parting ways, and I met with another friend for a drink before climbing into a taxi headed home. The driver sang me an original song, inserting my name “Coumba Cisse” into the mix. It was a beautiful end to my day. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t thrive whilst wearing two pairs of pants.
Broken strappy sandals
Aminata, an awesome friend I met in Comparative Physiology class, messaged me on Facebook saying she was in-country visiting family and I promptly invited her to come visit me in Malika. She claimed to only speak a little Wolof, but I watched in amazement as she chatted easily with everyone I introduced her to, winning the hearts of my friends (especially the guys). We spent the day catching up, talking about topics I missed greatly (my Wolof does not yet extend to social justice and global health topics quite yet), and took a relaxing walk to the beach accompanied by a starry-eyed Alfred. The walk was apparently too much for my sandals, and my recent Target purchase snapped under the pressure. I walked the rest of the way home wearing one shoes which caused several different passersby to ask “Ana sa dala? Where’s your shoe?” Although I was the hostess, Ami proved to be a pro in the kitchen and ended up cooking most of our dinner that night: grilled potatoes, pasta, and salad. I made the salad, okay? I also cut the mango. Not the “hostess with the mostest”, but definitely a hostess with some. Ami headed back to Dakar in the evening, leaving Alfred heartbroken and me excited about our upcoming plans to hang out in the city.
Repaired strappy sandals
There’s not much of a story here, except that I’ve made an awesome friend named Usman who has a shoe repair stall on the same street as my home. He fixed my sandal as we chatted, and I went back home with both my spirit and my sandal feeling connected. Suddenly, my heart dropped into my gut and I all but sprinted back to the stall, at the bewilderment of the many people I passed. I arrived, panting, and sheepishly placed the forgotten payment on his counter. “Fate naa. Baal ma. Dama dof! I forgot. Sorry, I’m crazy!” Usman just laughed and tried to give me the money back saying the first repair was a gift. Then I found a hedgehog.
Broken strappy sandals Part II: Birthday Edition
My name is Coumba Cisse, and I am a birthdayphobic. All my life, I have conveniently shared the birthday spotlight with my older sister whose DOB is the day after mine, so I’ve mostly been able to avoid its harsh light. I was actually looking forward to spending day 1 of year 22 yoga-ing, reflecting, and chatting like normal with my friends here who would be none the wiser. Unfortunately, and also fortunately, I got a proper birthday weekend that my friends at home would sign off on, with nods of approval. Saturday:skyped into my sister and I’s family birthday celebration with a full heart. It felt just like I was there, despite the fact my mother was not successful at holding back tears, bless her heart. Upon hanging up, I promptly came down with some fun food poisoning effects. Sunday: Bed and frequent trips to the bathroom. Also a quick cake break, kindly provided by Esther and my housemates Jessica and David. Queue one questionable decision later, and I found myself in a Dakar nightclub surrounded by new and less new friends, dancing to American throwbacks, salsa music, Senegalese hits, and the DJ’s shouts of “HAPPY BIRTHDAY SAMI”. Monday/B-day:Hottest day of the year, or so I am told. I chug 1.5 liters of water with ease while searching for a taxi in the heat. We arrive at Aminata’s aunt’s home, a breathtaking space at the top of an apartment building with an even more breathtaking view of the ocean, the city, and nearby islands. As we talked, they gave me a delicious chepp bu jinn/fish and rice meal equipped with mango and three different types of juice, just in case my palette got bored. Before I knew it, Ami and her cousins were re-entering the room carrying a cake and singing good ole “Happy Birthday”. I hadn’t managed to let the day slip under the radar, but I was beyond touched that Ami went out of her way to celebrate with me, let alone her family (and the cake was BOMB). Overwhelmed by gratitude, I laid on their cold tile floor reading messages from my family and friends and wondering what I ever did to deserve all of you (and the fact that my sandal had just broken for the second time). The day wrapped up with a trip to the (closed) zoo, a ride home from the friendliest taxi driver ever, and some drinks on the roof under the crescent moon.
Guest blog post from one of our interns Samantha (Sami) Nandyal
...how wife-able I have become.
While reading this, keep in mind that the person who wrote these words formerly cooked eggs in the microwave and was content with having popcorn for dinner. Start saving up for engagement rings, boys, because she's now a changed woman. Some mornings, I head across the street to the market with Senebou or Niyah. There, we peruse the stalls sprawled for several blocks, covered in fruit, veggies, fish, and meat. I greet both strangers and friends, and when their faces light up upon realizing that this toubab is trying to speak Wolof, it puts a skip in my step. I hold the bucket as Senebou makes purchases and tosses the goods in. With a full bucket and a parcel of beignet's in hand that Niyah's mother gifted me from her stand, we head back home for breakfast. A few times now, I have helped in the kitchen hut to prepare lunch for the compound, in hopes that I would learn how to make the delicious dishes we eat every day for lunch. Unfortunately, it is much more complicated than microwave meals so I haven't retained much information. There is a lot of cutting, peeling, mashing, stirring, boiling, straining, and waiting involved. I do know that. I am just content to sit in the calm company of the women, brushing up on my Wolof, and asking incessantly "Li lan la, what is this?" to every strange item that is place in my hand to peel. When lunch time arrives, we set up the hut in two circles of stools, and place the big bowls in the centers, calling the crowds to "Kaay ann! Come eat lunch!"
Furthermore, every other night, with the assistance of Beyonce, Frank, and Chance, I cook a meal for my little Senegalese/Canadian/American family. Yes, it normally includes grains, vegetables. fruit, proteins, cheese, and all the fixings. And yes, cheese is a food group.
...the gifts my dog friend has bestowed upon me.
I am in a very complicated relationship with a dog named PupPup. Although he displays all the unsavory dog characteristics that push me to be a cat lover, he is very handsome and has lately been following me around everywhere, making me feel like the queen my mama raised me to be. He lays at my feet, protects me through the night, and occasionally nudges me endearingly with his head. But there is a reason he is feared by almost all that know his bark. He hates with a fiery passion, smells fear, and forgives no one. My skin is no stranger to his teeth, but that is not the point of this story: One breezy morning not too long ago, my roof yoga flow was interrupted by an eager Alfred, insisting that I come with him immediately. "Kaay, kaay! Am naa cado! Come! I have a gift!" Alfred and I love to annoy each other, so I could sense he was up to no good and I ignored him and continued to deepen my pigeon pose. "Demal. Di naa nio ci kanam. Go away, i'll come later." He continued to insist, so I begrudgingly peeled myself off my mat and let myself be pulled across the compound in the direction of the main house. During this time, I let my mind wonder as to the nature of this gift Alfred had for me. Could someone have come to visit me? Maybe my mom? No Sami, don't entertain these tantalizing thoughts. We reached the house and I waited as Alfred fumbled with the notoriously tricky lock. Five long minutes later, the door swung open to reveal...a gargantuan poop the size of a basketball hemisphere laying neatly in front of the door to my bedroom. PupPup had struck again. After choking from the stench and slapping up Alfred a little bit, I returned to my yoga session to meditate on how to improve this dog-human relationship that was clearly suffering.
...how nothing phases me anymore.
My mind and body was drained from tossing and turning in the heat of a rainy season night. The electricity had failed to rescue me from my woman-made pool of sweat through the blades of a silent fan, leaving me grumpy and craving one thing: Cafe Touba, the Starbucks of Senegal for the price of a (insert something that costs 10 cents here). It is delicious, readily available, and served in a signature orange plastic cup. I have the fortune of living right behind the best Cafe Touba spot in Malika, served hot by my friend Labott & company. As I headed out with Alfred to meet with a tailor we know, I forked over a coin for a cup of liquid love. I hadn't taken but one sip and walked but one block, when I greeted a man working on the roof of a building we were passing. We exchanged a few more loud greetings, and then he yelled down to me "Maay ma Cafe Touba, give me your coffee!" I raised my glass to him, offering a sip, not at all expecting him to JUMP down off the roof and come running to me. I laughed, surprised, handing him the cup, and he turned away and walked off with the whole thing without another word. I turned to Alfred and shrugged. He chuckled, slapped me on the back, and welcomed me to Senegal. A few blocks later, after a nice conversation with some new friends, I had another cup of Cafe Touba in my possession. I chugged it in 30 seconds flat, and Alfred found my caution hilarious. After the meeting, a few songs with some cute kids, and an errand, we began the walk home. "Muy tool. be careful" Alfred said as a horse drawn cart rode up behind us. As it passed, the man with the reins offered us a ride to the main road and casually pulled us up. We hopped off the bumpy metro at our stop, and stepped onto the compound. The super normal errand run had come to an end. If any of this had ever happened in Cincinnati, well, it wouldn't have. I love Senegal.
You know you might be too comfortable with bugs when you see an ant lingering between the bristles of your toothbrush at the end of a long day, and you shrug, apply toothpaste, and commence brushing. Signed, the world's most questionable vegetarian.
...medical school in Malika.
As my friends began their medical school journeys back in the States, so did I. However, instead of UCCOM's critically acclaimed architecture, we had a cute, little lunch hut. Instead of a degree after four years, we had a certificate after 2 weeks. Instead of plastic CPR mannequins, we had wooden ones made by the guys on the compound, Dave the nurse, and yours truly. Instead of Dr. Lieberman delivering lecture after lecture, we had an awesome Canadian nurse instruct in English, Abdoulaye translate into Wolof, and Jessica throw in some French terms when there was confusion. It was a beautiful mess, but the participants were so engaged and aware of the importance of learning first response protocol. My role was as an assistant to Nurse Dave, as well as a "medical model" for demonstrations. But really, I was just grateful to learn all this stuff alongside the participants. This pre-med graduate finally knows some "med", imagine that. My first aid knowledge was almost put to the test, too. One afternoon, I fully believed that my friend had gotten stuck in a closed garage with the car running. With a lot of screaming and grunting to get the door open, I ran through the CPR steps in my head, prepared to break some Alfred-ribs. After the fumes had dispersed and there was no Alfred to be seen inside the garage, I collapsed on a bench, relieved but still ready to break his ribs for a different reason.
...when my goosebumps came out of hibernation.
Although we were three hours behind schedule and the sun had already set, I breathed a sigh of contentment as the ferry to Goree Island pulled away from the Dakar dock. I was in the company of two friends and five new friends, all a little bit disappointed by our late departure. I had heard so much about the beauty of Goree Island, the striking colors and views, and it's haunting history. Because it was now 8PM, I wouldn't be able to visit the museum or see colors of any sort, but I would soon experience a beauty that only a full moon can produce. The night was cool (for the hot season, at least), the ocean water was shimmering, and the island appeared on the horizon, quiet and dark. We climbed off board, grabbed a drink at an empty restaurant, and wandered through the eerily silent town up to the island summit. At the top, I walked to the edge of an outlook and gasped. To my left, the ocean, dark and endless. To my right, the lights of the sleepless capital. Glowing down on all of it, the radiant moon. As one should do in all beautiful places, we sang a song and headed back down through town, stopping at a Tangana stand where I bought a hot egg. Upon finding an empty beach, the temptation was too great to resist so we ran into the dark waves, splashing and screaming like the middle school-ers we are. A few hours went by and I found myself sitting on the edge of a walkway, the waves crashing onto the rocks below me, and the wind whipping past my damp hair. Then it happened. I felt it. Like timid dandelions, my goosebumps came out to experience Africa with me. The rare feeling of "cold" was welcomed at first, but I quickly grew weary of it. My West African friends had been shivering for far longer than my toubab self. Queue a full out sprint to catch the last ferry off the island, a movie-worthy jump onto the moving boat, a crowded taxi ride, and I was back in my bed, exhausted and happily sweating.
...my completed nest.
As a dog does when she turns in circles several times before laying down, I have too found a comfortable niche to rest in. At the end of the hall in the main house, there is a tiny room that moved into for the time being. The bed is pressed up against a window that overlooks the wood shop, one wall is full of books placed on cute, built in shelves, a standing wardrobe is sandwiched between the wall and the bed, a gourd-shell lamp hangs from the ceiling, and the floor space is just big enough to allow the door to open almost all the way. It's a perfect home for me, my fan, and my mosquito net. Also, it's not big enough for PupPup to lay down in, so that's a perk as well. The little bird has found her nest.
Guest blog post from one of our interns Samantha (Sami) Nandyal
Wolof of the week: Dafa rafette- It's beautiful
I have heard many stories of the harrowing journey to the east of Senegal: hot bodies crammed into a little car, jolting and lurching down pothole covered roads, baking in the harsh heat, enduring for 12+ hours of travel with only the desire to reach the destination keeping them going. To my delight, I instead found myself in a comfortable, air conditioned SUV with Abdoulaye and a kind, Dutch anthropologist named Esther. Our journey was not at all harrowing, and consisted of long naps (at least for me), sufficient food breaks, a hotel stay to divy up the drive, and hours of 90's music provided by Esther's surviving collection of CD's. As the trip stretched on, we watched as the cement-block buildings turned into round thatched huts, the sand turned to soil with a rich red hue, grass appeared (seriously considered jumping out of the car to run around in it, you never know how awesome grass is until you don't see it anymore), giant baobob's loomed in every direction, hills rose up out of the plains, the sky seemed to stretch bigger and bigger, and soon there was green everywhere we looked. Green, green, green.
The last leg of the journey to Kedougou is a road through a national park, populated by hyenas, lions, leopards, wild boars, and baboons. Unfortunately (or fortunately), we only saw the latter two species while passing through. We arrived in Kedougou in the early evening and were greeted by our friend Peter, another anthropologist who grew up in southern Senegal and now lives in Canada, coming back a couple times a year to keep many cool projects going and to enjoy all the beauty that this region has to offer. Peter showed us around his compound, complete with comfortable huts made in a fashion unique to the Bassari people who live there. At the back of the property, Peter has his own little forest flourishing that he says is often used by his friends in the area for traditional ceremonies. Throughout my time staying there, I spent many hours under those trees, kept cool by the ceiling of leaves and branches, and content by the green glow of the sanctuary.
After settling in and meeting the Bassari family that lives with Peter, we headed into downtown Kedougou to grab some basics from the market. Before making the trek, I had been warned by Peter that we'd be staying in "bachelor conditions" and "in the bush". His warnings had me prepared for camp-style living (Prepared is a generous term. I brought sneakers and toilet paper.), but I was happy to find all the necessities and more waiting for us: beds, mosquito nets, a western style toilet but without the unnecessary flushing capability, a well to draw bath water from, and a tangana down the road from which to buy meals. We spent each night gathered around a bowl of delicious grub from the tangana, the fish and rice illuminated by either the stars or our equally magnificent cellphone flashlights. (Tanganas can be found all over Senegal. Look for a table on the side of the road, utilized as a kitchen by a kind lady willing to sell you a hot meal for less than the equivalent of 1 U.S. dollar).
I first met Peter in the communal spirit of Aywa International, the non-profit we both work with. As we talked during those first days and over the length of my visit, his unique perspective on life was revealed. He grew up in the colorful atmosphere of the Casamance, southern Senegal, and under the watchful eyes of missionary parents. His vast knowledge of Bassari, Bedik, and other ethnic groups of Senegal was rivaled only by his respect and awe for them. Peter could tell story after story of adventures he had embarked on: camping in lion-filled terrain, participating in secret traditional ceremonies, inner-tubing down a river laden with hippos, walking away from a car crash unscathed only because he was jammed between two large market ladies. My fascination with his stories was heightened by the surreal surroundings in which they were told: drinking cold beverages with our group overlooking Guinea and the river that his story had taken place on, under a night sky filled with more stars than I have cumulatively seen ever, on a beach accompanied by the sounds of waves announcing their presence. The casual manner in which he told these stories also piqued my interest, as did the fact that I sometimes had to coax them out of him, a refreshing activity for me as many people with far less interesting things to say often don't need any coaxing...or responses back...I digress. I learned so much from Peter, and I am forever grateful for his hospitality, mentorship, and patience with this inexperienced American girl who cries at sunsets.
Each night, Abdoulaye and I would join in on the kind of music sessions that fill my heart. Laye on the guitar, Barthe rapping, Alexi and I singing, and Kali occasionally chiming in on a wooden flute, all of us surrounded by their encouraging family members and friends. An afternoon was spent teaching one of the boys, Michel, English in return for a lesson in making attaaya. (Heat the coals, boil the water, tea leaves, and sugar, pour tea gracefully back and forth between two (shot) glasses until foam fills half of each glass, don't burn yourself, hand each person present a glass in order of age, repeat all steps for a few hours or until the tea is too weak). During another afternoon, we walked through a village Peter used to live in, meeting vibrant characters, gazing up at ancient sacred trees, and taking note of specific agricultural practices. A different evening, I got to meet a young chimp that thought he was a fourth grader and a cat that thought she was a dog, but you can message me if you'd like to hear that story.
Perhaps my favorite part of the trip was watching Abdoulaye take in the indescribable beauty of his own country. Clocking in in his thirties, he had never been to this corner of Senegal before the trip. The colors, wildlife, terrain, and even the culture was new to him, making him widen his eyes and occasionally shake his head in disbelief. He works hard at the shop everyday, providing for his wife and four kids, and hesitantly agreed to embark on this journey with us, knowing it was an opportunity for all of us to experience something new. An amazing travel companion and an even better human being. With his calm presence, Esther's intelligent, quiet, and graciously kind demeanor, Peter's experienced guiding hand, and my eager (and hopefully endearing?) uselessness, we made quite a ragtag group of travelers on our journey back to Dakar, stopping for a night in Saly, a touristy beach town.
Wolof of the week: Bekk na- I am happy
Greetings from little Holland! The compound here is overflowing with Dutch people. There are four adults and around 11 students here to experience Senegal and lend a hand wherever it is needed. Around the dinner table, 5+ languages are used and I understand around 10% of what is said which is a lot more awesome than it sounds. I can feel myself becoming more of a person who values actions over words to express sentiments. I feel close to so many people who I can speak very little with. I guess there is no such thing as small talk with body language. It has also been so interesting to watch the Dutch group take in and experience Senegalese life. Many of them have never been in a developing country before, and may not have even seen poverty like we have in the States (Holland seems pretty pristine, if you ask me). They are kind, eager to learn, and are driven by a strong love of God that I find endearing and confusing.
Yours truly is still steadily hiking up the culture and language learning curves. It turns out that I have a knack for Wolof, something that is really surprising for someone who speaks a grand total of one language fluently in a family that speaks six plus. The people that I am surrounded with are just so patient, interesting, and kind that I can't help but learn it quickly so that I can eventually pick their brains. This kind of environment is hard to emulate in a classroom.
Moments of note:
-Nights with the moon so bright that you don't need a flashlight to climb a steep ladder to the roof. There, people with guitars are waiting to share soft music into the night.
-Words of enlightenment from those who's hearts have been filled by Senegal's bustling environment. Words that change from discomfort and confusion to appreciation, wonder, and peace. A mother and daughter from Arizona came to visit for a few days, and their reaction to Senegal was so touching and beautiful. Kelley, the mother, spoke often of how her eyes had been opened.
-A concert, lit up on a basketball court, played by my talented friends and a few visiting artists. Knowing that this music needs to be shared, nurtured, and disentangled by the static inconvenience of broken equipment and lack of space (fundraiser coming soon).
-Deep talks about the beauty of the world, differences in beliefs, and the goodness of people with Dany and Alfred. I am so thankful to Dany for being the bridge for me to come to Senegal in the first place, and doing everything possible to make sure that I have what I need and more. Nadine, his wife, and Herma, his mother, have also been guiding lights for me and I could never stop being grateful.
-Finding myself sitting at the front of a community health program's closing ceremony. I watched as young women put on a wonderful skit detailing what they had learned about women's health, sexual harassment, violence, prevention, and rights. I got to meet a few inspiring leaders of the project at World Renew, people's who's names I had seen many times on health surveys I have been (slowly) compiling.
-Gazing out over the blue and green ocean to a lighthouse that Dany says is the Western-most point of Africa. Feeling like Rose at the helm of the Titantic/Africa (minus Jack and minus capsizing). Eating my weight in fresh shrimp and Thiouf fish.
-Moments of connection around lunch bowls, on drives to and from the airport, over attaya (sweet sweet sweet green tea), through music, on walks to the beach, on hot hot days, on hot hot hot days, while helping to prepare lunch in the kitchen hut, while slicing mangoes and fingers in the house, while sitting around a campfire, while sitting near the dying embers of a campfire hours later, in English, in broken Wolof, in broken French, in the mispronunciation of common Dutch phrases, over candlelit dinners, through prayer, through pain. I am with good people.
We had a great first outing in Senegal! After breakfast, we took a drive to see how oils are extracted from local plants like the baobab tree and hibiscus plant. While on site, we got to watch a woman soaking the dried hibiscus leaves in preparation for processing. We were then shown the machine used to press and extract oil from the seeds. The baobab oil we witnessed being extracted will be shipped to France, Spain or the US for commercial sale.
The next stop on our journey was to the village of Dany’s old friend, Ndeye. We were welcomed wholeheartedly by the entire village. After Ndeye and her family gave us a tour of their village and surrounding land, we were presented with an amazing feast of rice, chicken and watermelon. As we began to leave the village, the community gathered around us and started singing. All it took was one woman to grab a metal bowl and start drumming to get all of us to take turns dancing in the middle of the crowd.
We ended with a quiet dinner, some card games, and a Wolof/English language exchange between Alfred, Jibby and all the students.
Africa was everything I had hoped for but nothing I expected. You can study a country for an entire semester, as our class did, and still be completely blown away upon arrival. The very first group of students of the University of Cincinnati’s S-Project (Sustainability Social Entrepreneurship in Senegal) arrived in the city of Dakar, Senegal on December 12, 2013. For the next ten days, we had a whirlwind of experiences that gave us a new outlook on life, as well as the purpose of our project. I will now attempt to express what I took away from the trip into words.
1. Outdoor hanging plant
The idea of this is to draw interest to the building and add a sustainable aesthetic to the exterior. Information on the different plants could be painted behind or hung so people can learn from even just passing. Locals could also buy seedlings of plants within “pots” like these to begin growing their own produce. This has been done locally with an aquaponics method to teach locals about the benefits of cyclical agriculture systems containing fish.