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!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

it's been a long time comin'

Today, I can say I've been in Senegal for a month! (well technically a month and a day...I wrote this yesterday but couldn't post it).  I was away all of last week (hence the lack of posts) experiencing Senegalese life in Thies, Touba, Tassinere, and Saint Louis. 

We left on Friday, September 23, headed to the city of Thies, the second largest city in Senegal after Dakar.  On our way we stopped at the Kermeussa monastery to observe the Friday afternoon mass.  While 95% of Senegal is Muslim, there is niche of Christianity.  It was similar to Christian services in the states, but it felt like an intimate choral and orchestral performance thanks to the combination of Senegalese monks and hymns performed with traditional African instruments (the kora, djembe, and calabash).  I was a big fan. This is the inside of the mosque: 

Our one day stop in Thies included a visit to the artisanal village where the artists were especially testy bargainers.  I have learned that I am not the best bargainer.  Making a living as an artist is hard in any country, so I feel like they could use the extra 500 CFA and throw in the towel.  My strategy has become: they say their price, I say mine, they lower theirs a bit, I stick with mine, and when they are unwilling to accept my price, I say for example, “2000 CFA or I leave”.  They stare at me blankly, I start to walk away, then they call out, “Ok, 2000 CFA”.  It seems to be working.  Too bad we don’t bargain for everything in the U.S…by the time December rolls around I’ll be pretty good at it!
Next we headed to a sous verre (glass painting) studio.  On the way, one of our professors, Linda Robinson, on the bus pointed to an old man on the street and yelled to the bus driver to stop.  Turns out they are old friends! He is Ablaye Ndiaye Thoissane, one of the most celebrated Senegalese painters.  He has an exhibit right now at the Institut Francais du Senegal! Ablaye accompanied us for the rest of the day, which was so Senegalese.  It was a total coincidence we saw him on the side of the road, let alone Linda knows him from year ago.  He just hopped on our bus—his afternoon plans becoming our afternoon plans.  This just goes to show how free flowing life is in Senegal.  People want to be together and share experiences.  After the sous verre studio, those of us who were interested visited Ablaye’s workshop (picture below). 

And here is a fresh sous verre piece.  The artist did this in literally 4 minutes, it was amazing.

En route to the villages in northernmost Senegal, we stopped at the Touba Mosque, the 2nd biggest mosque in the world!  The moment we arrived, I became fully aware that I am in a Muslim country.  As a woman, I had to don a headscarf, and we weren’t allowed to even enter the mosque because we are not Muslim.  On Fridays, Touba becomes the 2nd largest city in Senegal.  Thousands and thousands of people flock to Touba to observe the Friday afternoon prayer in the most holy space in Senegal.  What I found fascinating about the Touba mosque is that it provides water, and water purification to the masses that worship there.  In a time and place where water difficult to come by, Touba’s commitment to the people’s wellbeing is especially admirable.

Then we left.  I felt a bit like I was taking a tour bus around the country.  Before arriving in the villages we stopped to see a sacred baobab tree on the side of the road.  Not only is this baobab HUGE, there is a griot (a Senegalese storyteller) buried IN the tree.
Me climbing the tree:

Finally after a full day of travel we made it to the villages where we spent the next four days.  My legs appreciated the opportunity to stretch.  We were spilt up between three villages: Mouit, Mumbai, and Tassinere.  I stayed in Tassinere, a village of 3,000 people located 18km south of Saint Louis.  The family I stayed with is heavily female dominated.  Miriam Diallo (probably about 65) lives there with her husband, her two daughters Fatou (in her late 40s) and Almata (in her 30s).  Fatou has an 18 year old daughter Yaram whom I bonded with, and Almata has a gaggle of kids under 5.  They greeted me with hugs and kisses on the cheek, and within minutes of my arrival, I was de-scaling fish and chopping onions.  Food preparation is a major part of village life.  A typical day in the village went like this: wake up around 8, breakfast, clean up, some type of activity like a walk, or getting henna on my hands, prepare lunch, eat lunch around 2, clean up, lounge/nap on mats outside for the rest of the afternoon, prepare dinner, eat dinner around 9:30, clean up, talk while lounging on mats outside, go to bed.  The life style if very much day to day, meal to meal.  There is anxiety about the future or dwelling on the past.  They went to the boutique (little food shop) before each meal to buy only what was needed right then.  My time in the village was “living in the moment” in the purest form.  There is no pressure to entertain or be entertained.  Being with family, neighbors, and friends is all that matters.  Not once with my family did I feel like a student, visitor, or volunteer.  They opened their life to me for four days, and that’s just what we did. We LIVED together.  If you take away money, geography, race, religion, and everything else that pulls us apart on this planet, we are all humans and we are all alive.  I truly felt connected with my family in the village.  We lay out under the stars with an evening breeze blowing in off the river, having conversations in broken French and Wolof.  Fatou called me her sister, her friend.  I will definitely be going back for a visit in November.

Here is my house in the village, you can see Fatou on the left preparing food.
A woman in the river, a common sight in the village:

The village stay was by in large the highlight of my time in Senegal so far.  Here is a picture of my, Yaram, and her friends at the Sabar dance.  All of us students gathered with our village families for a traditional Sabar dance.  The 21 of us were the worst dancers there, but it was so much fun to see each other in African dress and jump around in the sand. Here I am, all dressed up, with Yaram (just to my right) and her friends before the Sabar dance.

An action shot from the Sabar:

It was very sad to leave Tassinere, but Saint Louis came as a welcome return to some of the comforts of home, like showerheads, air conditioning, and sleeping with covers!  Saint Louis is the oldest and northernmost city in Senegal, basically on the border of Senegal and Mauritania.  It was colonized by the French and was the capital of West Africa in the 1800s.  The Frech influence is evident in the architecture.  I was happy be spend time in a historically rich city, it reminded me of home.  The city is partially on an island between the Senegal River and the ocean.  Our hotel was on this island, which is navigable by foot, so I got to know the neighborhoods.  This was the biggest difference between Dakar and Saint Louis.  Walking around in Dakar means getting honked at by taxis, dodging motorcycles, goats, and begging children.  In Saint Louis, I could walk in the middle of the street and not encounter a moving vehicle for minutes at a time, yet the city doesn’t feel empty. 

Here are some pics of Saint Louis, including the Bou el Mogdad (the boat).  I did a small research project on this boat, on old ferry that now offers 6 day cruises down the Senegal river.   

Coming back to Dakar last weekend, I felt like I was coming back to a city that I now know.  I know how life works here, and when I walked to school alone on Sunday, I felt like I know exactly what I was doing, and it felt great!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ile de Gorée & Mbour

Last Friday, we visited l'Ile de Gorée (Gorée Island).  It is a small island right off the coast of Dakar, about a 20 minute ferry ride.  Gorée was the intermediary point for slaves in transit from Africa to the New World.  The first slave transport across the Atlantic was in 1562.  Between 12 and 15 million slaves passed through Gorée until the mid 1800s when slavery was abolished.  In the photo above, you can see a door at sea level on the red building in the middle.  That is "the point of no return"--where the slaves boarded ships, parting with their freedom forever.  The building is now la Maison des Esclaves (the House of Slaves), open to the public.  I felt an overwhelming connection to the past despite being in an atmosphere where so much brutality against humanity took place.

We also visited the Women's museum, which is housed in a gorgeous 1777 mansion (below), and a naval fort that is now a museum of Gorée's history.  All of the architecture on Gorée is beautiful.  The brilliantly painted buildings made me feel like I was in the Caribbean.  I can admit that I have become obsessed with the chaloupe, the small wooden Senegalese boats.  Even the engines are adorned with designs.  There were hundreds zooming around Gorée all day.  
la Musée des Femmes

The entire island was this vibrant:

Des chaloupes (I took at least 60 photos of these boats...)

On Sunday, our group traveled to Mbour, a coastal village about 2 hours from Dakar.  We spent a few hours on the beach, then visited a lush, serene hotel for lunch.  It was a very relaxing start to the day, but the best part of the day was, by far, participating in, and witnessing the Kankourang tradition in the residential part of the village where the Mendinga people live.  The Kankourang is a sacred, animist tradition that occurs every Sunday in September.  At the beginning of the month, 3-10 years boys are circumcised by sages, wise elders.  Physically and spiritually, these boys are in a vulnerable state.  The Kankourang, a spirit (but really a man in a full body costume made of tree bark, with a machete) comes to the village to ward off evil spirits.  He was dancing to pounding drum beats, totally in a trance.  Literally thousands of people were circled around him, and when the spirit lurched toward the crowd in a certain direction, everyone would run away.  It was the craziest experience of my life, no lie.  I was scared, yet giddy, with adrenaline rushing through my veins, and I could not wipe the grin off my face. My words cannot even begin to adequately describe this experience.  We drove into the village in a bus, and kids began hitting the bus, still moving, with sticks.  Some even stared us down and passed their hand across their throat, telling us we were dead meat.  There was a Mbour native on the bus with us who explained it was all because they thought we were going to take pictures, which is strictly prohibited.  I felt very unwanted and unwelcome, an outsider intruding and invading their space.  As soon as we got off the bus and promised to leave our cameras behind, everything was ok.  In this day and age when everything is made instantly available on the internet, it was so powerful to be part of something so preserved and still so sacred. It has remained unchanged since the beginning of civilization.  The Kankourang has been the best part of my time in Senegal so far.

Here is photo of where we had lunch at the beach in Mbour...not too shabby

And here are some of my friends (Kathleen, Erica, Megan, Kayla, Lauren, Rachel, Simone, and Claire) at the old fort on Gorée. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

des photos

I've included several photos here to help illuminate the past days over here in Senegal. I have been very busy, and this post has been postponed a few times due to power outages.  Power outages (and water) are real issues here.  There has been at least one power outage (panne d'électricite) every day, and it doesn't phase anyone. It's just part of Senegalese life.

This is a photo of a group of accomplished Senegalese musicians who came during my Arts and Culture Seminar to open our eyes and ears to the "rhythms of Senegal".  The man on the far left is playing the kora, a cross between a guitar and a harp.  Moving to the right, there is a man playing the djembe, then some bongo-esce drums played with drum sticks, another djembe (2nd from right)...this man is actually an incredibly famous djembe drummer and teacher.  According to his jam sess-mates, he taught every young djembe drummer everything he/she knows.  Last, on the far right is a tama, or talking drum, player.  This drum is played with a form of mallet, and the sound changes as the player moves his elbow up or down--like an armpit accordion.  They sounded amazing, and we were all dancing by the end.

This photo was taken at La Village des Arts, an artist colony supported and promoted by the government! There are probably 20 artists who have their studios here. There is also an amazing gallery. We met a glass painter, a ceramicist, a batik artist, and a few bronze sculptors.  Batik is the Senegalese art of making designs on fabric with wax, and dying the fabric.  Wherever there is wax, the fabric will not dye.  I will be doing batik myself in a few weeks!

This is Séa Diallo, a famous glass painter (and regular painter), in his studio.

Here are some cows on the highway.  They cross at their leisure. They are everywhere, along with horses, dogs, and cats.  You can also see the trash in this picture.  Waste management is a problem here.  There are usually trash piles burning on the sidewalks.

Below is a picture of the National Monument of Senegal: L'essence du Senegal. Not only is the biggest monument in the world, but it cost the country a fortune, and it has stirred up much controversy.  It depicts a father, mother, and child pointing and looking into the distance--toward a hopeful future.  The people who denounce the monument believe it represents President Abdoulye Wade (who funded it), and I have learned there is much resentment of the current president.  He is getting very old, and he just decided to run for a 3rd term.  We will see what happens in the coming election, but right now, the country is polarized regarding his reelection.

I am proud of this next photo.  You can see some classic wooden Senegalese boats.  They are painted with very colorful designs, and they are primarily used for fishing.  The beaches here are gorgeous, and the surf is huge (very hard to swim in, I have found out!).  There are some spots where swimming is prohibited due to strong rip tides.

I took this photo last Sunday at the Parc Forstier de Hahn, a HUGE park right in the city with lush forests, ponds, and miles and miles of trails like this.  There is also a small petting zoo, which I did not go to.  It is absolutely beautiful, and so serene and quite despite being surrounded by a bustling city.  So unlike parks in the U.S.

Here is my Senegalese family (minus my brother Cheikh, pronounced Cher, 19)! From left to right is Mari (9), Aida (21), my father Babou, Fabintu (15), and Mama.  They are all wonderful!

Last but not least, a picture of Aida and me.  We get along really well.  She helps me with French and Wolof, and I help her with English.

À bientot!