Thursday, October 29, 2015

Host family love and first impressions of Dakar.

My goal was to post at least once a week, but time in West Africa is a very weird thing -- it seems to go by quickly yet pass so slowly all at the same time.  Ironic, yes.  But for those that have been here, you probably understand my sentiment.  That said, I feel like I'm long overdue for a new blog entry.

Two Saturdays ago, all 8 of us Fulbright ETAs parted ways and headed to our respective towns in Senegal.  As sad as it was, we all realized we'd visit each other at some point during our grant periods to get a better glimpse of Senegal (especially outside of Dakar), so lots to look forward to in the coming months.

Thanks to Matthew (Fulbright Alumni from Senegal, and who I met at the Pre-Departure Orientation), he was able to connect me with his old host family in Mermoz, a nice residential neighborhood in the middle of Dakar.  Soda (host mom), Ton-Ton (host dad), and Arame (housekeeper who's also like a host sister to me) make up this very small family.

My host mom, commonly referred to as "Mama Soda," as she cooks a Senegalese dish that looks very similar to pancit, a Filipino noodle dish.  She is so warm and inviting -- and makes sure that we get fed a lot.  They've received and hosted many foreign students and young professionals! 

One afternoon my host sister/housekeeper, Arame, was explaining to me how she danced at this really fancy club a couple of years ago.  I thought I was going to die of laughter!  While there may be a little bit of a language barrier (she speaks really broken French, but speaks Wolof fluently), moments like these make me realize how important family -- in all forms -- is. 

We also have two study abroad students that are staying in the house for a month.  They're also like my host sisters and we have such a good time -- and makes me realize that for someone in his late 20's, I sure act like I'm still in college, haha!  But seriously, they're wonderful and are so future-oriented (more so than I was in college).  They're both a part of this study abroad program that took them to New York (2 weeks), Argentina (1 month), and Senegal (1 month).  Their last stop in Vietnam (1 month).  Such a cool program!

The house itself is relatively small, but I'm lucky to have the upstairs room (think 'in-law' style) with a little outdoor terrace with a view of a neighborhood and an outdoor sink.  It makes for cooler and breezy Dakar evenings, and is a great place for me to have my own space.  Who knows, I may stay her for the whole 9 months of my Fulbright grant!

So I did something like this when I was in the Peace Corps, and will do this again.  Here are some of my first impressions of Dakar organized by topic.  Would you expect anything less from me?  =)

  • Food/Drink: If you love seafood/fish, this is the place to be!  Fortunately, for me, I fall under this category and have been eating a variety of well-seasoned and wonderfully prepared dishes (thanks to Arame/host family)!  Thiéboudienne is the national dish of Senegal and consists of fish that's seasoned with lemon, garlic, onions, other herbs -- then cooked with tomato paste along with lettuce, carrots, etc., served on rice (which is more red because of the tomato paste). Poulet yassa is another dish, and it comes with this great onion-sauce side.  They have your standard West Africans drinks as well: bissap, gingembreetc.  All in all, very good food and will definitely be posting more pictures throughout my time here. 
When Michelle (other Fulbright ETA posted in Dakar) and I walked along the Corniche, we found a guy selling fresh coconut juice.  Mmmm! 

  • Transportation: Speaking strictly from the Dakar perspective, cars and taxis (!) abound.  Everywhere.  There are not as many motos as there were in Burkina, at least in Dakar.  Taxis, while everywhere, require you to haggle and bargain -- which can be fun but also frustrating if you want to get to your destination ASAP.  Fortunately, I've gotten the hang of around how much a taxi ride should cost (of course, it can go down/up by a few hundred CFA).  Mermoz to Plateau/centre-ville is between 1200-1500cfa, shorter distances can range from 500cfa-1000cfa, and Almadies to Plateau/centre-ville can be from 2000cfa-3000cfa.  Going from where I live to downtown can get pricey with taxis, so there is a relatively good public transit network; though it's really an adventure trying to figure it all out!  There are 4 main types: 1) Dakar Demm Dikk buses (blue or beige buses that are the official public transport system in Dakar; set routes); 2) AFTU/Tata buses (white buses with blue stripes on the side; set routes); 3) Ndiaga Ndiaye vans (white vans with apprentices in the back shouting the destination); and 4) Car rapides (brightly painted minibuses that are iconic of Dakar/Senegal).  They range in price -- anywhere from 50cfa to 150/200cfa.  Been trying them all out and it's quite fun, especially as an alternative to taking taxis.  This English speaking blog, Direction Dakar, is a good start to help those interested in taking public transport in Dakar! 
Car rapides that run throughout the city of Dakar.  So iconic of Senegal! 

  • LanguageFrench is the language used for administrative and educational purposes, but by far, Wolof is the language that almost everyone speaks.  Other languages, such as Pulaar, Mandinka, Sereer, and the like can be found as well.  A simple Salaamaalekum/Maalekum salaam ('Peace be upon you') is the standard greeting, and will go a long way when getting to know someone.  I originally came to Senegal with the intent of continually improving my French, but Michelle and I signed up for Wolof classes at the Institut Français and so far, they've been helping.  Like Burkina, Senegalese folks light up when a foreigner speaks some Wolof -- and rightfully so!  I don't expect to be fluent by the end of these 9 months, but hopefully have a good grasp of it.  
  • Weather: Arriving in October has its pros and cons.  It's one of the hottest months of the year (humidity...ughhhh), though I hear it gets cooler from here on out.  I've felt it more in the morning, where there's a cool breeze -- in part, thanks to the ocean being so close and Dakar jutting out as the farthest point west on continental Africa.  I imagine the rest of Senegal may be a bit hotter, though I'll let you know when I get the chance to visit! 
  • ReligionIslam is by far the most dominant religion (around 95% of the population) though there is a small percentage of Christians.  Like Burkina, one thing I love about Senegal is the amount of religious tolerance the Senegalese have for each other -- one thing we in the U.S. could learn a thing or two about, particularly given the climate nowadays.  The mosques and calls to prayer make this a place very much rooted in faith, and as a Catholic, it's so interesting to me!  
On my first Sunday in Dakar, I took a taxi downtown to visit la Cathédrale du Souvenir Africain.   Very interesting place, particularly in a predominantly Muslim country -- but the two religions co-exist perfectly, and respect each other! 

  • Housing: Again, I can't comment on other parts of Senegal but Dakar is your typical city (with of course, French and even Middle Eastern influences) -- anywhere from apartments to huge mansions along the Corniche which runs along the coast.  My host family's house is very much like a duplex/condo setting in a residential neighborhood just off one of the main avenues in Dakar.  I'm lucky to have a second floor room with a terrace-type area and outdoor sink.  Love sitting out there at night with the fresh, ocean breeze; we'll all sometimes eat dinner up there as well! 
  • Clothing: Oh, YES!  Senegalese (and quite frankly, African) fashion is all about vibrancy and color.  One regret I had in Burkina was giving away all of my tailor-made clothes.  Not this time, though!  Of course, finding the right tailor is never easy.  I was lucky in Burkina because my village tailor, Mathieu, also happened to be one of my good friends.  And of course, looking for fabric (le tissu) can be both exciting and daunting because of the many different types of fabric available.   I hope to have a traditional boubou made, along with pants (with a hipster/modern look, haha).  Will post more pictures as I get clothes made! 
Getting my first shirt made here in Senegal.  Brought in a model shirt just to show the cut I'd like.  It's so much fun getting this done! 

Back to washing clothes by hand, though this time, I'm lucky.  I only have to wash my underwear and there is running water! 

  • Hospitality: There's something to be said about the hospitality that Africans extend to foreigners/visitors.  It's something that I've especially noticed in French-speaking African countries, and Senegal is no exception.  They have this term in Wolof called "teranga" (hospitality) that is really a way/philosophy for life.  I most especially feel it when my host mom, Soda, continually offers me more food at meals -- even after I've said I'm full, haha! 
  • Work: As I've mentioned before, I'm posted at the Ministry of Education's Office of English in the Plateau neighborhood/downtown Dakar.  Work has been relatively slow (just meeting people, attending meetings, and getting a feel of the resources available here) since the school year has just started, but Ngouye has mentioned our work will really pick up in a couple of months as professional development seminars and traveling to various regions in Senegal kicks in.  Looking forward to it!  In the meantime, Michelle and I started getting ourselves involved in English language activities at the U.S. Embassy -- conversation clubs, webinars, and American film viewings/discussions.  Regardless, I can feel my network of English language professionals growing day by day, and it makes me realize that as a Fulbrighter, your professional growth depends on how much you involve yourself in both your work environment and the greater community.  
View from the office.  I'm actually in a connecting room (which has air conditioning, lol) but you can see the many English language resource books which are available to teachers.  

  • Dakar as a City: I remember living in my village in Burkina Faso and dreaming of going to Dakar.  It truly is a regional hub, and people from all over West Africa come here to study and work.  I'm very lucky to live off of one of the main avenues in Dakar where you can find pretty much anything you'd like.  As well, the Corniche, which runs along the coast of the city, has a beautiful view of the ocean and many people run and walk along there.  Working in the Plateau region/downtown area makes me feel like I am in such a big city with all of these bigger buildings -- a change from Ouagadougou.  Technology is relatively accessible here and I'm more connected to the Internet than I thought I would be -- I have an internet USB key for my laptop, and am able to use my iPhone from the U.S. with a Senegalese SIM card.  
Picture of some of the many buildings in the Plateau/downtown area of Dakar.  You can clearly see the French influence in this city. 

 Walk along the Corniche and you are mesmerized by this view.  So beautiful! 

Such an interesting feat -- le Monument de la Renaissance Africaine.  You can climb the almost 200 steps to get to the top (free!), then enter the inside the monument for a tour of how it was constructed as well as learn more about Senegalese culture (for a fee). 

This is from the top of le Monument de la Renaissance Africaine, one of the hills.  These two hills are called "Les Mamelles" (yes, you read right if you understand French!).  The other is where the lighthouse is located, and beyond that, is la Plage des Mamelles and les Almadies (where the U.S. Embassy is located) in the far distance. 

  • Expats from Outside of West Africa: In addition to many people from all over West Africa, there are plenty of expats from outside of West Africa as well -- Americans, French, British, Canadians, Lebanese, Chinese, Japanese, etc.  The list is truly endless, and I've seen more 'Western' expats here than any other city in West Africa.  It's been great meeting people of various nationalities, and hope to meet more during my time here! 
  • English Speakers: Perhaps one of the biggest surprises.  There were more Senegalese that speak some level of English than I originally thought!  Maybe it's the circles that I've been encountering, but by and large, it's bigger than I thought, especially for being a French-speaking country.  I attribute it to a number of things: many people from all over the world living here; Senegalese expats living in the U.S. and other English speaking places; and a great desire to learn the English language.  It makes me realize the work of us Fulbright ETAs is both wanted and necessary.  We're not only language resources/teachers, but are also able to share American ideals and perspectives.  The cross-cultural exchange is, by far, one of my favorite things about being here and hope it only continues to grow.  

Until next time!  Don't forget to keep checking in for updates, and commenting on these blog posts! 

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