Archive for the 'Sénégal' Category

I told you so.

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Remember the other week when I posted a bunch of news stories?  I’m too lazy to find the link right now, but one of them was announcing that the French government had issued arrest warrants for nine Senegalese over the 2002 Djiola disaster.  Remember how I disagreed with that?  Well, HAH!  The whole thing is horrible and I’m very sorry that those French people died, but uhm…Senegalese people died too.  Tons of them.  I’m sure that if certain people were to blame, the Senegalese would already have dealt with them.  I’ll be haunting the BBC to see how this all turns out.

The funny thing about fasting…

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

…is that because you know you’re doing it?  You feel the need to be pathetic.  You know you can’t eat, so being hungry is unbearable.  You think you’re extremely tired when you’re not.

At least, that’s how I felt this morning after our 6:30 AM breakfast.  It’s better for now, but then again I have about ten hours left to go.  Nine?  I should check that.

Still waiting for internet in my house…

News Day

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

Follow-up on the 2002 capsize of the Djola/Joola in Senegal

The sad thing about this story is that the attitude toward what happened is completely different from a Senegalese standpoint than what the story leads you on to believe.  While the boat was way overcrowded and probably not sea-worthy, I can’t really believe that it was anyone’s fault under cultural ruling.  Boat regulations are significantly stricter now (I promise; I’ve taken it), but if you look at West African transportation as a whole nothing has changed.  Buses are often so top-heavy that they roll.  (I’ve seen that too.  It’s really not pretty.) The French can go after those people if they want, and I even understand why.  The Senegalese political figures will line up behind them and pretend to support, but they aren’t actually behind the search.

Political tension in Senegal

(I added this one because it’s unusual for two stories on Senegal to hit national news on the same day.  By the way, no one likes Wade.)

Social change in (West) Africa

World’s rarest froggy!!

This segment from an eye-witness report on Ike:

“City officials have asked residents to write their social security numbers on their forearms (to identify the bodies). I did mine. I don’t expect to die, but it may make someone else’s job easier. ”

Sarah Palin action figure.  Shoot me now.

Like it wasn’t hard enough to get people to take women seriously in politics without the schoolgirl outfit.  (Not–even for a fraction of a second–to suggest that I think Sarah Palin is in any way worth taking seriously as a political figure.)  Almost all the news stories about her are trying to sell her.  Not because she’s intelligent, experienced, or in any other way reflective of the people or fit for the job, but because she’s “wearing a skirt”.  News stories about her glasses and hair, and how we should all dress like her because she’s starting a trend.  Uhm, how is that political??

Oh, yeah.  By the way, in case they think they can fool us, she’s NOT A FEMINIST.  So stop saying it.  Hmph.

And last but not least, because it’s just so weird.

Once I buy batteries, I’ll (finally) be back with some photos of projects!!


Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

My program ended Friday. I signed on to stay two extra weeks before going home so that I can travel. Despite having forgotten that travelling is expensive…it’s an excellent idea. There were two people who decided not to stay the extra two weeks, and they left last night.

When people leave it makes it more real that I too have to leave. D:

So…uh…why am I not travelling yet when my two weeks have already started?? That would have to be because today is the Magal. The Magal is a holiday for members of the Mouride brotherhood (it’s a Sénégal thing; Wikipedia it) where they all cram into buses and Ndiaga Ndiaye and go off to the city of Touba.

Once there I’m not really sure what they do, but from what I’ve seen so far it looks like it’s mainly a lot of sitting in circles and singing. Some of my friends went along with their families, so I’ll be sure to ask them.

Anyway. I’m a little off-track. The reason this stops me from travelling is that literally all the public transport is occupied. That’s right, there will be no leaving Dakar until Thursday unless I really wanted to pay out the nose for it. *sigh*. I now wish that I’d left last weekend, but then again I’d probably be stuck somewhere else right now where I couldn’t even work on my ICRP.

And speaking of working on my ICRP, I guess that’s really what I ought to be doing.

By the way, the billboard is for the Islamic Conference that is coming to Dakar on the eighth of March/the day before I leave. It says “Welcome to Sénégal, the land of faith and peace”. These are everywhere.
*Added later*

(Ouch, and) Referring to the last line, could someone please explain the difference between “pasta” and “noodles”? Not sure I’m quite clear on that one. Then again, I don’t see much of either these days. It’s a good thing that I love rice dishes!


Sunday, February 17th, 2008

I guess I’d sort of stopped thinking about it.  Surprising, really…

February is the coolest month in Dakar.  Temperatures have been downright tolerable, although after you’ve been out walking around for a while you still get sweaty and tired.  Yeah, I’ve been checking the weather regularly on the internet, but today for the first time since my arrival i actually thought to convert all those lovely little celsius figures to fahrenheit.

Accordingly, temperatures this week are ranging from 84.2 all the way to 96.8.  Just when I thought I was understanding my surroundings…I guess my body is more adjusted than I realized.  Wasn’t I just thinking that things were bordering on cold?  Especially at night, when the temperature drops to the 70s and sometimes even the 60s?

And then the shock hit me with the force of an overpacked Ndiaga Ndiaye.  I’m going to FREEZE when I go back to Michigan.

Unrelatedly, I’ve been “wasting” increasing amounts of time reading the news.  I usually glance briefly at the New York Times headlines, then spend a while digging through BBC.  I suppose it’s a good habit, really, and it leaves me with the urge to do this at the end of every post:





Included for the sake of its strangeness



Saturday, February 16th, 2008


It is my mission to see these places before they destroy them.)

As of tomorrow, I have three weeks left to the day. I had my first frightening dream about going home this afternoon, while I was in the process of taking a 3.5 hour nap instead of taking care of any of the numerous required assignments I should be finishing. (Not to suggest for a moment that I didn’t procrastinate before, but Sénégal has put me into some terrible habits. Fortunately I’m still excellent at stressing myself out, so I should re-adjust to college life fairly easily.)

I exhausted myself this morning by going into town to search for gifts, and not finding a single thing. It’s not so much that I didn’t see anything that was appropriate gift material, but moreso that it’s hard to be treated as a tourist. I wish I had bought tourist-y gifts before I got to the point of understanding my surroundings.

Beaded jewelry, wooden statues of elephants (which don’t live in Sénégal, by the way), and all manner of other crazy things for which the Sénégalese generally have no use.

In this particular market, you are guaranteed to pick up a man who wants to lead you to his shop within the first five minutes. If you’re firm enough to shake him off, he is likely to call you racist. And then you find a new one thirty seconds later.

Lately I’ve been conversing with them in Wolof. They’re usually quite nice, and they don’t harrass you like some of the others. I enjoy the conversations, but the unpleasant side-effect is that you usually end up having to follow along all the way to their shop and/or get lost on some wild goose chase. I’m always firm about telling them that I’m not going to buy anything, but they never believe me. Even when I do plan to buy something, I NEVER do so in their presence. I always wait to shake them off.

There is one gratifying effect of the conversation route; I love hearing the words “she’s not a tourist” coming out of a vendor’s mouth. Alxamdulilaay.

A Point of Interest

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

So.  I wanted to post the link, because it’s kind of a big scandal around here.  Also, it made the international news which doesn’t happen every day.  Then I realized that I had no idea what I wanted to say alongside the article, and decided to post the link alone until I thought of something better.

The problem is that I still haven’t thought of anything better.  Part of the problem is that I don’t know too much about the issue in the first place.  It is an extremely marginalized corner of the culture.  You just don’t talk about it.  The rough extent of what I know?

-The word for homosexual is “goor jigéen”, translating literally as “boy girl” or “man woman”.

-Sénégal is a Muslim country.  Open homosexuality is not accepted, or even acknowledged.  Ask the general population and they’ll tell you that it does not exist; “it’s unnatural”.

-Political art is one area where there is public “acceptance” (for lack of a better term) of homosexuality, e.g. a popular singer who titles himself Goor Jigéen.

-Most gays are married with families, living “normal, socially acceptable lives”.

-Not all Sénégalese are prejudiced against them; they just don’t talk about it.

See?? That’s all I really.  It’s interesting, because Western culture resists too.  It has been the work of decades to change things to where they currently stand.

So what makes the difference?  Values.  It’s the effect of a uniformly religious society.  In a way, it’s the same old fight.  It’s not Islam that oppresses women (or in this case gay people), but the practice of interpreting the guidelines and values of Islam in ways that serve men (or hetereosexuals).  It’s taking rules intended to protect the prophet’s wives, and turning them around to control women in general. Placing men, like some half-deity, between women and god rather than using the structure of Islam to create equality.

It’s the failure of religions in general to change with the times.  A refusal to adapt and modify in order to accurately reflect how the world has changed; how a culture has changed.

I’m not saying that Sénégalese culture is “behind” in some way because it does not accept homosexuality while we are moving toward it.  Simply that is different from my own. It can be difficult to escape from thinking to myself that Sénégal has not had a gay revolution “yet”.  Perhaps someday there will be a social movement that changes these views, and perhaps not.  If so I, for one, can’t say what form that would take or what that would look like.


Tuesday, February 5th, 2008



I could sit in the tailor’s shop all day and watch people sew. I can’t say my hands don’t ache to steal a machine while I’m at it, but it’s nothing a good knitting project can’t fix.

It is a very good thing that I have this happy power, or I’d never pass my ICRP…

What’ve you got against cardboard boxes??

Monday, February 4th, 2008

Spontaneous laughter is embarrassing. Unfortunately, it is also a condition of which I am extreme prone. For example, right now in the middle of this crowded cybercafé while I read all the responses to my previous post. At least I’m not laughing at Absolutely Nothing, like I usually am. It’s terribly awkward and unfortunate.

The other day I cracked myself up in my courtyard, and laughed helplessly against the wall for about five minutes before I could explain that I was laughing at my mother’s response to my threat that I might live in a cardboard box outside the library. (For reference, all she did was make a disclaimer that I would NOT, in fact, be living in a box. Funny?? Uhm, not really.) My family already thinks I’m weird enough.

Actually, in a funny contrast to my last post, my family calls me jigéen (girl/woman) fairly frequently. The context of this is that I have good “womanly skills” and/or would “make a good wife”. There are many possible political explanations of this statement, but I’ll leave it at one comment for now.

My family is well-educated, particularly for Sénégal. There are at least three doctors in the family, and everyone gets a higher education. There is a daughter living in the states, and many of the grandchildren aspire to studying there through exchange programs. My mother has hosted students for more than ten years. Through pursuit of education and spending time with students, they have a better understanding of Western culture than many (example: Taxi Driver).

They also have a broader idea of the meaning of “women’s roles”. When my family makes this type of statement they do not mean for a moment that being a “good wife” should be a woman’s only aspiration in life. It is a comment on basic cultural values and an approval of my interest in fiber arts, personal values, and pursuit of education.

Does it send shivers of righteous indignation down my spine just the same?? Uhm, YES. After a Western feminist upbringing, you never *quite* get used to it.

A Typical Taxi Ride in the Streets of Dakar

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008


Originally uploaded by mouse.courtois

M: Asalaa Maalekuum – Hello
TD: Maalekuum Salaam – Hello
M: Na nga def? – How are you?
TD: Man ngiy fii. – I am here.
M: Man ngiy dem Point E; Piscine Olympique – I’m going to Point E, to the Olympic swimming pool.
*insert bargaining here*
TD: Fan nga jog̩? РWhere do you come from?
M: Amerik la jogé. Man ngiy jàng ci Universite Cheick Anta Diop. Yàgg naa fii juroomi weer. – The U.S. I study at the University here. I’ve been here for five months.
TD: Amerik wàlla Sénégal lan moo gen? – Which country is better?
M: J’aime les deux!! – I like them both!! (Notice the lapse in my Wolof. It was bound to come soon…at this point he continues in Wolof, and although I understood what he said I do not know how to say it myself. I continue mainly in French.)
TD: That’s not what I said. I said gen!!
M: Gen?? As in sortir (to go out)? Or as in preference?? What is gen?
TD repeats himself, but changes the sentence.
M: I said I like them both.
TD: If you’re going to speak Wolof you should understand what’s being said.
M: And how will I learn if I don’t practice what I know? Tell me what you said.
TD: I said *same thing*
M: Dégguma. – I don’t understand.
TD: Well then you should ask me what I said!!
M: I did!!
TD: Don’t you want to know what I said?
M: Fine. What did you say?
TD: It’s a body part.
M: Oh. (I think I see where this is going…)
TD: You know, like arm, or head, or ear, or eye…
M: *pause*
TD: Only men have it.
M: You’re not polite, so I’m changing the subject. How was your day?
TD: Are you married?
M: (switching back to Wolof) Yes I am, my husband lives in the states.
TD: Is he Sénégalese?
M: No.
TD: You need a Sénégalese husband. Marry me.
M: One husband is more than enough.
TD: No, you should have two husbands. It’s better that way.
M: No, I don’t think so. My husband pleases me.
TD: Do you have children?
M: No. Not yet.
TD: Why not?
M: (back to French) We’re students. We need to finish school.
TD: Has your husband not had relations with you?
M: You’re very rude.
TD: I’m not rude, I’m trying to help you learn Wolof. Has he? I could please you sexually.
M: No, you couldn’t please me if you tried. My husband is better than you. You watch too many telenovelas (soap operas with white people eating each others faces on beaches/other public places), and those are not life. You need to learn to respect women. You cannot speak to us like this, what would your mother say?
TD: *giggle giggle*
M: Yeah, okay fine. Have a nice day. RESPECT WOMEN.

So, what do you think?? Believe it or not, the whole thing happened in surprisingly good spirits. I would like to proudly call attention to my personal growth in the last five months that I was able to have a civilized discussion with this man, to hopefully teach him something (which I hope I did, although it does not turn up in this conversation) and to leave without wanting to hang myself in the shower.