Thursday, June 30, 2016

My Fulbright Experience Coming to a Close: Final Work Projects & A Fulbright ETA Portfolio.

It is amazing how nine months can just fly by, especially in a place you've grown to love so much.  Completing my Fulbright fellowship in Dakar, Senegal has allowed me to grow both professionally and personally.  Being able to collaborate and work with people so interested and invested in the English language, in the promotion of language learning in general, and cross-cultural education has been a dream for me.

A number of events/trainings were held that reaffirmed my love of language learning and working with teachers (a few pictures below):

For ATES' English Language Day, Michelle and I were asked to conduct a training on Instructional and Management Strategies in Mixed-Ability Classrooms. 

One of my last meetings with one of my favorite Dakar English teacher cells.  They decided to break out into song, singing John Legend's "All Of Me." Hahaha! 

I was asked to help coach and judge a competition for MYouth Mobile Camp Senegal.  Six teams were chosen to participate after vetting of their applications, and they were asked to pitch their mobile app (on education, commerce, environment, health, etc.) to a group of judges in both French and English.  These were some incredible apps!  Ultimately, an education app won, and they were given the opportunity to compete in another global competition. 

ATES also hosted the Dakar Students' Day, where Michelle and I helped out with the Spelling Bee. There was so much buzz around this whole day, and it was great to work with students! 

One of the biggest projects we at Senegal's Ministry of Education's Bureau d'Anglais (Office of English Teaching) wanted to accomplish was a Central Region Teacher Training.  Ngouye, my boss, identified a couple of areas of Senegal that requested and wanted more professional development training due to a lack of resources, etc.  With generous help from the U.S. Embassy, we were able to plan and execute this Central Region Teacher Training with much success!

For a week, we traveled to four specific areas/towns: Diourbel, Kaolack, Kaffrine, and Fatick. The teachers in each of these towns/regions requested different professional development themes and we wanted to make sure that we were able to understand their teaching context, address them, and provide appropriate strategies that they can implement directly in their classrooms/in their professional careers.

Some of the topics/themes addressed were: Project-Based Learning; Strategies in Preparing Students for the BFEM National Exam; Incorporating Culture in English Language Teaching; Teaching Grammar Communicatively; and Teaching Vocabulary Communicatively. 

Because we were heading to the central region of Senegal, it was very hot and the schedule was quite grueling, but we kept pushing through.  In total, we worked with about 120+ English teachers who effectively disseminated the information they gained with their respective English teaching cells.  As is customary in West Africa, Certificates of Participation were given as a token of our appreciation for their attendance and participation -- and hopefully to encourage them to use these strategies soon!

I will say that I was impressed with the caliber of English teachers, their passion and drive, and their active participation.  I almost wish I recorded all of the discussions to be used in some other way for future professional development trainings!  But this kind of zeal motivates me...and makes me wonder if I should come back again soon in another capacity...

Ngouye and I, stamping and signing the various Certificates of Participation for our 120+ English teachers! 

Our first training in Diourbel. 

We were lucky enough to stay Adjana Hotel, a new complex in Kaolack.  The rooms were absolutely beautiful!  A nice little break from a busy day of teacher training. 

Ngouye and I about to start our training in Kaolack. 

Some wonderful participants in Kaolack! 

Kaffrine had some great discussions on incorporating culture in English language teaching...and I forgot to mention that the U.S. Embassy provided us with prizes to give teachers.  We used them at the end for mini-quizzes to see if teachers were paying attention during our presentations, haha! 

Our last group in Fatick was very dynamic and had some of the best discussions.  If only we were there longer to keep it going! 

Saying farewell is never easy, but it eventually needed to be done at the Ministry of Education, my work home for the majority of my Fulbright fellowship. 

Since formalities are essential, I had to say farewell to Mr. Joseph Pierre Ndiaye, Director of the Cabinet of the Ministry of Education (second in line after the Minister of Education).  A very funny and intelligent man! 

As I had mentioned before, my last thing was to create a sort of institutional memory piece so that future Fulbright ETAs can continue the work and collaboration with the Ministry of Education's Office of English Teaching -- and also so that we're not constantly reinventing the wheel.  For my last few weeks, I worked on creating and compiling a Fulbright ETA Portfolio: Professional Development Presentations & Other English Language Activities.  It felt like quite the accomplishment and great to put this all together!  

Friday, June 10, 2016

Exploring Senegal: Kedougou, Touba, Saint-Louis, Cap Skirring & Ziguinchor.

With the constant busyness of work -- working with teachers, collaborating with folks at the Ministry of Education, observing classes, giving classes -- I can get caught up in everything, especially since a nine-month fellowship can fly by quickly and it's important to make the most of every moment.

But there should always be a work-(social) life balance, and when living abroad, seeing the actual country where you're living should be a priority!  So for the past few months, we've made the most of it -- traveling around Senegal for pleasure but also for work (with a couple of side trips as well).

In April (before our Guinea-Bissau and South Africa work trips), we (Michelle, Kaylin, Eura, and I) decided to explore the other side of Senegal -- specifically, the eastern side where Kedougou is.  It's a lot greener on that side but also very long and difficult to get to.  I would highly recommend asking Peace Corps Volunteers for advice, places to stay, and things to do, as they are very knowledgeable since they live in these areas.  Another great resource are the Bradt Travel Guides, which I live by!  Incredibly detailed; just double-check and call ahead for accurate information (as you would with any guidebook).

Niokolo-Koba Park is the highlight of this part of the southeastern region of Senegal, where we spotted some lions, warthogs, antelope, water buffalo, monkeys, hippos, and many other animals.  It makes you rethink how we view zoos back home, and how animals are truly meant to live out in the wild.  We also got to see Dindefelo Falls, which seemed to come out of nowhere as we were hiking (though you could hear the water from a while away).  It looked like Frank Lloyd Wright had constructed something like this!  I can only imagine what it's like when there's more water.  And of course, we hiked...a lot (which I loved but also realized how out of shape I was).  I had to channel my inner Peace Corps Volunteer again!  All in all, a great trip with dusty bus rides, great company, gazing at the stars, and getting my tan on because the sun was a-beaming!

All of us at Nikolo-Koba Park.  Too bad you can't see the hippos in the back (wayyyy in the back). 

Dindefelo Falls in the background.  Can't believe something like this is here in Senegal! 

Hiking in this blazing suns with nature's toothbrushes.  

When you make it to the top -- sweaty and full of bugs around you -- it's well worth it.  Especially with a beautiful sunset! 

To travel to this part of the country, you need a driver/guide to take you to certain places.  We were recommended this guide by other friends and it was quite incredible.  We stayed on top of a plateau,  and I remember bucket bathing and sleeping underneath the stars.  Really takes me back to when I lived in Burkina Faso au village...

In the beginning of May (after South Africa), we took a day trip to Touba, a town about four hours away from Dakar.  This place is of particular importance because it is the host of an annual pilgrimage (called the "Magal") for the Mourides, one of four Islamic sufi orders in Senegal.  We needed to see this mosque because it is one of the biggest in all of Africa and quite a site to behold!  As a non-Muslim, I've gained a great appreciation for Islam and all its intricacies.  

The Grande Mosquée de Touba, which is in Senegal's second largest city. 

In the middle of May, we killed two birds with one stone and made our trip up to Saint-Louis in the north of Senegal.  This place is of particular importance because of the remnants of French colonial architecture.  Isabella, another ETA, works at the all-girls' high school on the island of Saint-Louis, and the teachers there wanted to do a professional development training on teaching writing and assessments.  They invited Michelle and I to conduct this, which was great, as we've done these trainings before and were excited to see yet another part of Senegal.  

Fortunately, it became a sort of mini-reunion for some of us Fulbright ETAs but also for some of our Dakar friends as it was the annual Saint-Louis Jazz Festival, an international event that attracts folks from all around the world.  The city of Saint-Louis itself on the island is quite charming and it was interesting walking along the dusty road lined up with old French colonial architecture.  We also got to take a day trip to Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary/Park, though there weren't many birds due to the time of year. 

The teachers and us at the end of a successful professional development session.  Super receptive and they had some great ideas! 

On the boat before heading through the Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary/Park.

Dakar's finest (with our signature pose) along our makeshift Senegal/Mauritania border (that's how far north Saint-Louis is!). 

Obligatory jumping short along the beach.

We decided to take a 4x4 along the beach from Saint-Louis to Dakar.  About 30 minutes in, we were so cold that we wanted to just stay inside, haha! 

In the beginning of June, with our time in Senegal slowly coming to a close, we realized we didn't get to see another part of where our fellow Fulbrighters live: in the southern part of Senegal of Ziguinchor.  To get here is quite the journey: you often have to take a boat that takes about a day OR you can fly (which is what we did).  This part of the country is south of The Gambia, and takes significantly longer to cross via land.  

Two of our Fulbright friends, Eura and SJ, have tried to convince us to come down and visit, which we've been wanting to do for the longest time.  And we finally found the time and money to do it!  After flying in, you could see the landscape change dramatically.  Greenery everywhere, it almost felt like a different country.  It was much more humid but there was a more relaxed vibe compared to the busy city life of Dakar.  We spent a couple of days lounging around the beach in Cap Skirring and made our way to Ziguinchor, where we got to experience life down there, hoping to see some dolphins (we didn't, sadly), and enjoying the calmer pace.  We also got to see their schools (they work at a middle school and high school)!  Because there are more Christians down there, the drinking culture seemed much more relaxed.  Quite the adventure! 

When we got off of the plane and landed, this tiny airport greeted us in Ziguinchor. 

Arrived in Cap Skirring to a wonderful dinner (and drinks) with friends.  Mmmmm! 

The water was so refreshing! 

Stray dog lounging on the beach chair next to me in the shade.  He knows what's up! 

SJ took us on a tour around Ziguinchor.  We were at the Centre Culturel Français, which had some incredible painted walls inside.  

The gang on the rooftop of Eura and SJ's apartment building.  Panoramic views of Ziguinchor! 

Taking a rickety boat to try and see the dolphins.  No such luck, but it was beautiful regardless.  Though I'm pretty sure there was one time where I thought we'd have to call for help because our boat got stuck.  

Mafé, their cat, being her cute self.  They recently adopted this cat and she was just too adorable! 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Senegal: An Experience for Every Taste Palette (FOOD, both local & international).

If you know me, you'll know that next to travel, meeting new people, and spending time with my loved ones, food is right up there.  It brings people together.  It allows you to get a literal taste of the culture.  It opens up conversations.  It allows you to try new things and make conclusions from it.

Senegal, but specifically the capital of Dakar, is quite the melting pot.  Of course, you have the gamut of (wonderful) traditional Senegalese dishes.  But being an international city with people from all over the continent (and the world), you're bound to find something that suits you.  

Below is a collection of pictures of various dishes I've had (local dishes mostly cooked by my host sister, Arame, and my host mom, Mama Soda) and some recommendations for places to eat around this beautiful city of Dakar -- and in no particular order.  I want to preface: this post, by no means, does not give justice to the culinary scene here in Senegal.  There are many Senegalese dishes I did not include but do know I found all of them tasty and delicious!

Bon appétit! 

Thieboudienne: One of the most iconic Senegalese dishes.  It is made of fish, rice, and tomato sauce with many other ingredients such as carrots, onions, cabbage, etc.  The green side dish on the top often accompanies it, which I absolutely loved.  I believe they were bissap leaves with mixed with lemon and few spices.  Absolutely delicious!  This is best served in a large platter for everyone to share by eating with their (right) hands.  

Yassa Poulet (variation) & Haricots Verts: This is another iconic Senegalese dish, though a variation of it.  The chicken is marinated in lemon juice and other spices for quite a while, and top with grilled onions.  Arame would often accompany it with a delicious green beans side with black pepper, carrots, and bell peppers. 

Poisson Rouget: I don't know if this is the exact name but this is what Mama Soda would always call it.  They served it with fries but this fish was seasoned in a way I've never quite experienced.  And I realized it was only with my host family that I ever had it this good!  Often times, they would accompany it with salad and a homemade dressing. 

Poisson Daurade: When I was working at the Ministry of Education in downtown Dakar, there was a place we would always go to in the same area as the Ministry of the Interior.  Nothing super fancy but the food was cheap and pretty god.  You'll notice that Senegalese cuisine often involves lots of seafood because of the proximity to the water.  

Bar Mermoz (Mermoz, Dakar) - Fataya avec des Crevettes: One wouldn't expect this neighborhood dive bar to have much, but their fataya was on point and the best I've had in Dakar.  Fataya is like a deep-fried empanada stuffed with a variety of things -- onions, fish, tomatoes, etc.  This one was particularly great because they seemed to make the bread themselves.  And the fact that this came (randomly) accompanied with shrimp was great! 

Au Marché: This isn't quite at one of the many bustling markets of Dakar but just around the corner from my house.  Vegetables and fruits are often sold on sides of the road and you can select what you want.  I just love all of the colors (which became a recurring theme during my time in Dakar). 

Restaurant Le Zaouli (Plateau, Dakar) - Foutou: This Ivorian restaurant in downtown Dakar (Plateau) is quite good and is across from a Dakar institution, Chez Loutcha, a Cape Verdian restaurant.  When I was living in Burkina Faso, my neighbors would often cook foutou, which easily became one of my favorite West African dishes.  Foutou is usually made from plantain, cassava (manioc), or yams.  They are boiled and then ground with a mortar/pestle with warm water until it becomes a sort of ball.  It is served with a variety of sauces and is very filling! 

 Praça Do Império (Bissau, Guinea-Bissau) - Caldo: Michelle and I went here when we had our work trip to Guinea-Bissau.  It's at a restaurant along one of the main roundabouts in Bissau.  Caldo is a stew dish, often served over rice.  Quite delicious! 

Simone Café (Mermoz, Dakar): This is one of my most favorite places in Dakar -- not only because it was a mere three-minute walk from my house, but because the atmosphere was so calm, the food/drinks were so delicious, and the owners were absolutely lovely.  I really felt at home there and often would 'escape' here from the hustle-and-bustle of Dakar.  It's a Brazilian café owned by a wonderful couple (the husband did most of his schooling/growing up in the U.S.) and they have some of the best treats.  I'm not a huge coffee drinker but their Brazilian coffee was divine.  They also have your classic Portuguese favorites!  A must try! 

 Le Jardin Thailandais (Point E, Dakar): I believe the only Thai restaurant in Dakar.  It can get pretty pricey (as is the case in Dakar for ethnic/international cuisine) but it was good Thai fix, especially their pad thai. 

Feel Juice (Plateau, Dakar): When I wanted a break from Senegalese cuisine for lunch, I'd often walk around Plateau (downtown Dakar) and see if I can find a new place.  Restaurants/cafés are opening up everywhere and this one fit the bill.  Smoked salmon wrap and a strawberry smoothie.  Refreshing on a hot day! 

La Demeure (Almadies, Dakar): This is somewhat hidden in one of the neighborhoods of Almadies, an area where many expats live and where the U.S. Embassy is located.  This restaurant/hotel isn't too far from one of my good friend's place, Tiyok.  They have a wonderful spread for brunch and is great to have after a long night before! 

EspritSushi (Plateau, Dakar): This sashimi bowl was everything I needed at the time, with avocado to boot! You'd be surprised at the number of sushi/Japanese restaurants in Dakar. One of my good friends, Violette, and I made it our (expensive) mission to try as many sushi places we could find (and even created our own ranking system).  EspritSushi was quite good, though the best was Fuji in Plateau as well.  Not surprising that Fuji was also the most expensive! 

La Royaltine (Plateau, Dakar): You'll note that many of these restaurants are located in Plateau, the downtown of Dakar. One institution, especially for sweets, is La Royaltine.  And trust me -- it delivers!  Cakes, pastries, and the like of every kind.  Their 'croissant aux amandes' (almond croissant) is to die for! 

Pause Douceur (Plateau, Dakar): This place just opened during my last couple of months in Dakar and it is quite the café.  Another quiet spot to escape the hustle-and-bustle of Dakar, they have fresh and tasty food -- like these fluffy quiche with salad.  Top it off with one of their fresh juices or smoothies, and you're good to go! 

Presse Café (Plateau, Dakar): If you're looking for a café that's equivalent to Starbucks (where you can get work done, use the WiFi, etc.) but with better coffee, this is the place to come to!  The drinks are quite good and it's a great place to get some work done.  Whenever I need to work but wanted a change of scenery from the office, I would come here.  And the people watching is great, too! 

 Ndougou (Breaking of the Fast for Ramadan/Iftar): During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims all around the world fast during the day.  They break their fast when the sun sets, and in Senegal, they would often break it with tea, dates, and something small like sandwiches.  They would pray, and then have their full meal.  It was a great time to reflect and just be a part of this very important cultural experience. 

Had to end this with Linda (cat in the background), eyeing my oatmeal.  This was when I was housesitting for a friend and just reminds me of the simplicity of enjoying a meal. 

Like I said, this is by no means an exhaustive list of the food in Dakar/Senegal or the many restaurants I was lucky to try.  Go check it out for yourself, and I think you'll be quite surprised!