Monday, January 16, 2012

Namnala Senegal (I miss Senegal)

And do I ever.  Now that I am back in the swing of things at school, my time in Senegal almost feels like a dream.  At least once a day, I have a vivid flashback of a moment, a person, or something I did.  It makes me smile but it also makes me sad.  I have been hesitant to post to my blog again.  A follow-up post, like this one feels to me, is indeed a form of closure, but it is more so for you readers than it is for me.  I would much rather share stories in person!  Thank you for reading and following mon sejour (my stay) in Senegal!  Hearing how much you enjoyed reading my blog means more to me than you know.  At this point, I am looking into how I might possibly be able to go back to Senegal, but at the same time THE WHOLE WORLD IS OUT THERE TO EXPLORE!  We live on a pretty incredible planet.  Thank you again for reading and following!
jamm ak sopp
(peace and love)

Monday, November 21, 2011

was that a cool breeze?

At night, it is cool enough to use a sheet now.  I can't believe it.  And to think, the heat is on now for most of you in the U.S.  I still want to write some updates even though I have just been working on my project for the past two weeks.  Here are some fun facts about Senegal that I have failed to mention in the blog thus far.

- My Senegalese name is Sokhna (pronounced Sorna).  Everyone calls me Sokhna.  I am named after my host mother's mother.  A week into my time here, I realized Merrill is just too hard.  It doesn't roll off the tongue nicely with a French accent.

- The Senegalese LOVE sugar.  The average cup of coffee has 5 sugar cubes in it.  Onion sauce has sugar in it.  Ataya (the popular tea) is one part tea, one part sugar, three parts water.  My family still asks me, "are you sure you want to drink that coffee without sugar".

- Bargaining is part of everyday life.  All taxis, all street vendors, and everything at the market is up for negotiation.  I have to say I've improved a lot.  The other day I bought some sunglasses.  The vendor's starting price was 4000 CFA, and I walked away with the shades for 1500 CFA.

- Senegalese men are incredible dancers.  It is comical, though, because all dance venues have mirrors and no one hesitates to dance for oneself in the mirror! Or, when a group of friends is sitting together, one friend will be dancing for the rest!

- My host mother returned from her pilgrimage in Mecca early yesterday morning.  She brought tons of gifts home for her family and friends, but more importantly, she returned with sacred water from the holy city.  As dozens and dozens of people filtered in and out of the house yesterday to welcome her home, she offered everyone a tiny glass of the water.   Tomorrow or the next day, there will be a huge party at our house to formally welcome her home.  I know it will be a big event because a similar occasion occurred at my neighbor's house last friday.  The house was PACKED with people, overflowing even.  It is also an all day event.  They served lunch and dinner to their guests.  On Friday, there were three semi-famous Malian singers belting songs through megaphones at the party.  At one point, I was sitting alone and the three women cornered me and sang me a song.  I was loving it, until they demanded I pay them.  Lucking I had some change to give each of them because it is rude not to pay them.  Everyone does, but everyone is also more skilled at ducking out of the situation I found myself it.   I learned this as several onlookers laughed.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

...and what a day it was

I woke at the normal hour, 8am, and made my way up to our roof where my sisters, aunt, and maids were already preparing food.  Joining right in, I began cutting onions and potatoes.  My dad and brother were already at the mosque--all men go to the mosque for morning prayers on Tabaski.  As soon as they returned, everything happened very fast.  Two of our neighbors came over (two young men), they led the mouton over to wash basin (as you can see in my photo from the last post), and held it down with the help of my brother.  My dad had the small knife in his hand at that point, and took it to the mouton's throat. The 2nd mouton followed right away.  I won't go into too much detail here, but there was a lot of blood. I heard them take their last breaths.  As painful as it must have been for the sheep, their lives ended swiftly.  To be honest, I was not as affected by the killing as I thought.  Everything happened so fast, I didn't have time to sit there are really think about what was happening.  I had to remove myself at a few moments, but my host dad was very professional and matter of fact about the whole thing.  IT was not a celebration of brutality in any way--very peaceful. Before I could blink, two teenage boys began skinning the moutons, cleaning them and butchering the meat (this took about 2 hours).  I received a complete lesson in sheep anatomy.  We grilled all the meat, and I do have to say it was absolutely delicious.  I ate grilled, salted, sheep liver, and I enjoyed it (it was way better than Henry's chopped chicken livers...sorry dad).
Apparently mouton has triptophan (spelling?) in it just like turkey does, because everyone napped after the meal.  When I woke up around 6, we all started getting ready for the night's festivities.  Here I am in my outfit, specially made by my host mom (who is a tailor), with my little sister Naimarie and Nogaye, one of the maids.

The night's activities consisted of countless visits.  Family and friends filtered in and out of our house, and we did the same, hopping from house to house in the neighborhood.  I saw all of my friends who live in my neighborhood, Mermoz.  Here is a pic to my friends Lauren (middle) and Rachel.  It was so fun being all dressed up and parading around--everyone wants to show off their outfits.  

My night ended at a Youssou N'Dour concert! For those who don't know, he is the most famous Senegalese musician: a world renowned artist! He usually plays on the night of Tabaski to a sold out audience.  Imagine Aerosmith playing a sold out show in Boston in their hayday...but Youssou Ndour is at a national level.  In typical Senegalese fashion, it was hot, loud, and packed, but I loved seeing everyone still dressed in their finest Tabaski attire.  Everyone in the crowd knew every word to every song.  The last song of the night was "Birima", the one song I really know! 

What struck me most on Monday was my conversation with my host dad before I left for the concert.  He had been MIA for most of the evening, and when I asked him where he had been, he said he went back to the mosque.  He needed to pray for the moutons because it is so hard to kill him.  He told me he wasn't going to be able to sleep that night.  Not once before Tabaski did he mention any reservations about killing the moutons because it is a responsibility he naturally assumes as the oldest man in the family.  I was touched by the humanity behind this difficult aspect of Tabaski.  It changed my perspective of what it means to be a good Muslim.  

Tuesday marked the start of a month long research project I will be doing. Classes are over, I'm on my own time now.  I will be studying the Car Rapide--a funky mode of public transportation in Dakar.  I'll be taking them around the city, interviewing lots of people, and learning about the origin and significance of the art adorning the cars.  I chose the cars as my focus because I believe they are the most symbolic image of urban Senegal.

Friday, November 4, 2011

moutons, moutons, moutons

This coming Monday is the Muslim holiday Tabaski, the most important day of the year in Senegal.   Many things are going to happen on Monday.  Everyone will be dressed in their absolute nicest attire (outfit's made especially for Tabaski this year) families and friends will visit each other's homes throughout the day and night, and every family will kill a sheep as a sacrifice to the prophet Mohammed.  Yes, a sheep is going to be killed at my house, wait not one, but TWO goats. Here they are.....hanging out on the roof

I have been asking my family questions about Tabaski since I learned about it in September.  They know I am nervous since it will be my first time seeing a live animal die, let alone be killed.  However, part of me is also excited because this is going to be a profound cultural experience. Maybe the most cross cultural experience I will have in Senegal.  I will have so much more to tell after Monday!

This week has been insane with everyone getting everything ready for the holiday.  My friend Rachel's host sister is a tailor, and she has basically been working around the clock this week to finish the boubous (traditional outfits) for her clients.  EVERYONE has an outfit made for Tabaski.  Including me.  The market's are a mob scene.  I went with our maid, Nogaye, on Tuesday, and there were so many people it was almost impossible to walk.  Music was blaring over the speakers, vendors were yelling out prices through a loud speaker, I just had to laugh it was so overwhelming.  Nogaye was leading me through the market by the arm.  I felt like a lost little kid.  It was like Black Friday on steroids. 

Also, most of the streets look like this:
Mouton's have crowded the streets for the past two weeks.  Farmers bring their herds to Dakar to make their biggest profit of the year.  It is a strategic act--buying a mouton (which is French for sheep).  You don't want to wait too long because they get too expensive, and you run the risk of not getting one at all. But at the same time, you don't want to buy it too early because it is hard to keep a mouton in your home for a long time.  My family bought our moutons last Saturday.

Monday will be an amazing day.  I look forward to writing about what I see, hear, eat (after killing the mouton we will prepare a delicious feast!), and do.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


My village family in Nathia.

Our faithful bus left the campment (a rural African hotel composed of huts) last Monday afternoon to drop all of us off at our respective villages.  We would spend the next 4 days living with a family of an ethnic minority group in a small village surrounding Kedougou.  While all of my peers would be living in a village with one or two others, I had learned a few hours earlier that I would be ALONE in a NEW village! (they have never hosted a student before).  My village is called Nathia, and the people are of the ethnic minority Peul Bandee.  Their language is Pulaar.  Part of me was honored to learn this news, but part of me was nervous.  The butterflies in my stomach intensified on the bus ride because my village was the farthest away and I was dropped off first!  The road to my village was too rugged for the bus, so I had to get out and walk with one of the locals the rest of the way.  I said my goodbyes and began to follow this guy into the bush.  I looked over my shoulder a few times, happy to see my friends still waving to me from the bus.  Then it came to the point when I looked back, and the bus was out of view.  Holy shit, I’m in the middle of Africa, walking down a trail with grass up to my chest on either side. I have no idea where I’m going.  What’s going to happen??!? I’m not going to see anyone I know for 4 days ahhhhhh. Basically a million questions raced through my mind.  A few anxious minutes later, I saw a cluster huts peeking over the grass.  Then a pack of children came running toward me, smiles smeared across their faces.  They grabbed my hands and dragged me into the compound.  I immediately felt welcome and my worries vanished. 
            My host family, the Ba family, is headed by Boubacar Ba: the director of the local school.  He lives with his two wives, Maimouna (whom he has 9 children with), and Fanta (whom he has 7 children with).  My family lives in a compound of 9 huts removed from the rest of the village.  Only 200 people live in Nathia, and my family accounts for 20 of them!  Living in a polygamous setting for a few days was a completely new experience, to say the least.  Bouba and I had a few discussions about marriage, and while our opinions differ greatly, I have to say having many many hands sure does make light work, and there is LOT of work that has to get done every day in a village.  Gathering food for 3 meals a day, retrieving water from the well, cooking, doing laundry in the river, cleaning up, taking care of the young-ins, and the women do it ALL! 
            I felt very connected to the earth while in the village, because all of the food we ate was harvested right before the meal: the rice, the corn, the gumbo (a vegetable), the spices (like little spicy peppers), the peanuts (I ate more peanuts than I ever thought I could).  It was also enjoyable to be away from money for the week.  I can now say that I have hearded cows! My family has 27.  They go out and graze in the bush all day, and before sundown, we went out acted as any good sheep dog.  Condensing them into a group, then guiding them back to the village.  At that point, we would drag them by the horns to their posts where we would tie them down by the horns.  It was hard, it was impossible not to step in pile of poop after pile of poop, but it was so fun.

Some of the other things I did last week:

Busted a tire en route

climbed a gorgeous mountain!

the view of the mountain range between Senegal and Guinea is phenomenal AND we were up there at sunset!

visited the Dindefelo waterfall. It was breathtaking. I'd say it was over 300 ft tall.

We swam in it too!

This is my host father, Boubacar Ba, with the briefcase.  I took this on the walk to his school one day.  The other man, with the bike, is the chief of the village.  He has been chief for over 30 years. 

Here are all (well, some) of my sisters in the peanut fields.  Peanuts are a huge source of income in villages.  I ate some right from the ground.

My family compound. It's like a living organism.

My host brother Abdul pouring Ataaya tea.  It a ritual, the pouring of this tea.  The Senegalese drink it every day after lunch, and it is always served in the same 2 little cups.

This is some of us surrounding the biggest baobab tree in Senegal! It is over 300 years old, and it took 23 of us, hand to hand, to reach all the way around it. Pretty cool.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The eve of another excursion

Tomorrow I leave for a 9 day excursion to Kedougou, a village 10 hours inland.  Check it out on the map below.  I will be staying a family of an ethnic minority group BUT we will be able to communicate in French!  We will skirt the Gambian border driving to and from Kedougou, and I can't wait to finally see some wildlife.  A large portion of the drive is through a national parc.  Many pictures and stories to come upon my return on the 22nd! Ba baneen yoon! (= à la prochaine fois = until next time!)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

art class

Last week was full of art.  Monday- Wednesday I had a bronze sculpting workshop class.  The art of bronze sculpting is a fascinating and intricate process.  First, one sculpts a piece out of wax (it needs to be hollowed out if it is really thick), then we cast the wax in mold of cement and sand.  This is as far as we got in three days.  After the mold is solid, it is placed over a fire so the wax heats up and drips out.  Then, liquid hot magma...just kidding, liquid hot bronze is poured into the mold.  Last, you crack away the cement, and the final bronze sculpture comes to life!

A bunch of pictures from my bronze experience.  Above is the studio.
I ended up making some jewelry, a fish keychain, a mini baobab tree, and a meerkat.  As you can see here, the professional sculptors attached all of our pieces together with pieces of wax to create a web of our personal creations.  This allows the wax to drip out of the mold.  After the bronze hardens, they cut the individual pieces apart.

One of the artists melting our pieces together.

Some of my pieces.  The pointy part on top will stick out of the cement mold.  Since all of the wax is connected, when it liquifies, it will have a way to drip out.

A professional piece. It was amazing, and scary, to watch the pros hollow out the pieces.  They do it by sticking a hot poker into the wax, and the inside melts out.  This trumpet was solid at first, and even though you can't see it here the walls are only a quarter-centimeter thick.

The molding process.

Thursday-Saturday, our entire group participated in a batik workshop.  Batik is the art of dying fabric, but the kicker is... WAX.  The first step in this process is making your design on the fabric with wax.  Wherever there is wax, the fabric will stay white because the wax resists the dye.  There are many methods of applying wax.  Drawing with a foam "pen", painting over the whole thing to create a crackled effect, dripping/splattering little droplets, or (my favorite) using big wooden stamps called tampons.  (I guess we're not mature adults yet because we all giggled when we learned they were called tampons.)  I would dip the tampon into the liquid wax, then stamp it onto the fabric. The dying process involves some heavy chemicals--we had to wear gloves and masks.  The craziest part of batik were the colors of the dyes.  The yellow dye is deep purple in the bin! Only by drying in the sun does the fabric slowly transform to yellow. 

Me and one of my pieces-

All of our designs hanging out to dry!