Saturday, January 03, 2009

Senegal Trip June 14-26 2008

Senegal Trip June 14-26th 2008
Now that my busiest summer on record is coming to a close, I am finally getting around to sharing my trip to Senegal with you.

Early last fall, I found out about an organization called Worldview. I was instantly drawn to it when I heard that this year's trip was going to be to Senegal! Senegal was next on my list of Francophone countries to visit. I just had not figured out a way that would work for me to travel there. UNC Worldview was the answer. I contacted Regina Higgins, the Program director and explained my interest in the country and inquired about the process. She explained that I simply filled out an application and waited. School systems that were partners with the organization had priority and unfortunately my school district was not a partner. One benefit of being a partner is that the school district PAYS FOR THE TRIP! $3300 to be exact. Those that were not partners could apply, and would simply hope to be chosen. I was one of these persons hoping persons. I made efforts early on to share the importance as well as my desire to travel to Senegal with Regina. I invited her into my 2nd grade classroom to share how I was exposing my second graders to Senegal. I also attended the Worldview conference in October, as well as participated in a curriculum writing project on Islam and Africa in the Winter of 2007. In late December I got a long anticipated email from Regina with this picture:

The email stated that I was accepted to be part of the teacher travel visit. This picture was immediately posted next to my desk to serve as a constant reminder that I would soon be traveling to Senegal. The next step or reality check was the fact that I had to come up with $3300 by the end of February! It was at this point that I considered grant writing opportunities through the Public School Foundation. I attended a workshop offered by my school system, free of charge. I was one of four participants, and the only teacher. I took advantage of this on-on-one opportunity to work with the grant writing experts that could offer guidance to someone who had never written a grant before! I wrote a draft and was provided with with feedback. I asked for $3200. In late March I received a letter stating that the Strowd Roses Foundation, a local foundation that supports the school system offering an annual sum of money to the school district via the Public School Foundation accepted my proposal. I was awarded $2000. I was thrilled, especially considering this was the first grant I had ever written. The Spring came and went and I went to the doctor to discuss any medications/vaccinations I made need. According to the CDC, there were no vaccinations that were mandatory, only recommended, so I opted out. I did get malaria medicine which was a pill taken once a week for 7 weeks. I was packed weeks in advance. I had one carry-on with newly purchased Ex-Officio clothing that was quick drying and therefore packed light. About half of my baggage was gifts purchased for teachers and other locals that I would meet throughout the trip. I had several yearbooks, children's books of games, southern candy (pralines and Peach Budds), some UNC pasta, and for the kids many packs of Pop Rocks. I left RDU two days after the school year ended. I was with 34+ teachers from all over North Carolina, two being French teachers and the rest teaching a variety of subjects, at all levels, from both public and private schools that are pictured below. My mind was racing on the 24 hour trip! I had several assumptions. I thought Dakar would be like other large cities congested with both people and an assortment of transportation. I thought that the food would be spicy according to American standards, but would be toned down for us. I also thought we would be pegged as tourists due to our large number, a significant portion being white, and the fact that we had two chartered, air-conditioned buses.

DAY ONE: We arrived in Dakar in around 3pm. We got off the plane on the tarmac. The airport reminded me of some of the airports I have been in when traveling to islands. There was a small baggage claim and porters ready to make a buck off the tourists by offering to cart their luggage. I declined the offer and begin to appreciate my ability to communicate in another language, French. We were greeted outside by our guides, Mariane and Josephine. We were also divided into two groups because we were staying at two separate locations. Mariane Yade, 28, worked for WARC, The West African Research Center which was a center for international students who did research or were studying abroad to learn about West Africa. Me and 11 other group members: Ann-Marie, Emily, Lauren, Brian, Mike T, Michael B., Felix, Mark, Steve, Keith, and Marguerite. Mariane informed us that there would be a reception at 7pm at Le Mini resto Camerounais with Professor Ousmene Sene, a professor of English at the local university. The dinner menu items included: Cassava, Rice, onion sauce, and fish. I spent some time getting to know Mariane and utilizing my French skills. After dinner, we called it a night and got ready for Day Two. As mentioned earlier, we stayed at university housing for professors. It was apartments with the basic comforts of home pictured here:

I had my own apartment by request. I chose to do this because I figured that I would be spending a large portion of each day with my group and that I would benefit from so alone time in the evening to re-group.

DAY TWO: We had breakfast at 8am which consisted of baguette and Nescafe. We then headed to meet the other group at their place and then headed out to Cathedrale de Notre Dame Dakar. In Senegal there are two seasons, the rainy season and the dry season. The rainy season begins in June and ends in August. While inside the church, there was an intense downpour, the 2nd rain of the season.

The 2nd stop was the bank. I really wish I took a picture of this, but I will do my best to describe the scene. Imagine two tourist buses unloading 30+ American tourists to an ATM. We are now prime targets for any and all vendors. Also, the fact that there was only one ATM lead us to spend about an hour there, some opting to exchange US dollars inside. We ate lunch at Chez Latta: Our group had reserved tables in a section of the restaurant. Each day Mariane would "take orders" for lunch providing us with a list of options so that when we arrived at the lunch destination, our food was ready. I had Yassa Poulet, yogurt and a Biere La Gazelle (a Senegalese version of Budweiser). Our third stop was at Le Marche Soumbedione. We were the only shoppers, which made us easy prey and this is where we got our first taste of Senegalese "salespeople". You are approached and if female the term My Sista is used to steer you into small stalls filled with a variety of products. I purchased a batik fro 4000CFA and a car rapide and a deux cheveaux 6000 CFA. This second picture you see me, down and dirty with the sales people and some of my group members watching from afar.

That night, and almost every night after, we were on our own for dinner. Mariane recommended a couple of restaurants within walking distance. My group chose Brioche Dore. I was the elected translator and ordered for everyone. I had a schwarma sandwhich consisting of a tortilla, ground lamb, tomatoes, onions, parsley and a horseradish sauce. We headed to the patiesserie next door, something a can never pass up in any country, where I got a flan and a pain au chocolat for breakfast. We headed back to the hotel, where it took me many hours to fall asleep. I was just too excited about being in SENEGAL!!!!!!!! I could not think about sleep, just about what I could do next.

Today we headed to Ile de Goree. We took a ferry over and Marguerite and I seized the opportunity to distribute some of our candy to some boys. Once there we visited: Le Musee des Esclaves, the Door of No Return, Le Musee de la Femme, and Castel (the highest point on the island). Goree was a double-edged sword for me. I was moved by the Door of no return, but annoyed by the many vendors who took advantage of any and all opportunities to sell their products approaching us with an unforgettable term "My sista..". We had lunch on the island at Chez Tonton Place du Port. I had fish, rice, and bissap (a popular local drink made from dried hibiscus flowers, water, and lots of sugar). A highlight for me on this trip was a conversation I had with some school kids, swimming at the beach. They were visiting the sites and swimming as part of an end-of-school year field trip. I found their professor and asked for permission to interview and video them playing hand clap games seen here:

We took a ferry back to Dakar, a thirty minute ride. I continued my networking with some of the school kids who taught me a few songs. I met up with Mariane after we returned to our apartments. She took me to her aunt's house, upon request to see a typical home in Dakar. We sat and chatted with her aunt for awhile on the porch. Unfortunately, the house was being cleaned so our visit was contained to the porch outside. I was just happy to have the opportunity to meet some "locals", speak French, and catch a glimpse of daily life. Due to my "carpe diem" nature when traveling abroad, I already negotiated another authentic experience with Ousseynou for the next day. He was going to take me to his village near to our apartments.

Today, we visited a high school Lycee Seydou Nourou Tall and Institut Superieur de Management. The students ranged in age from 11-20 at the high school. We were greeted in their teachers lounge by the assistant principal who gave us an overview of the educational system. One struggle mentioned was the fact that the system was French and that the Senegalese culture/Wolof language was lost at school. There was a question of how to integrate Seneglaese culture into the system. One quote mentioned by Leopold Sedar Senghor was: "Culture is in the beginning and end of everything." which I found to be very interesting.
A lot of the discussion pertained to resources or the lack thereof and five major problems facing the Senegalese educational system:
1- The day a Senegalese child enters school they give up their culture.
2- There is limited access to education.
3- The system is not working in it's current state. Students are retained a higher rates and cannot pass the exam that allows them to move into the next grade
4- Financial Constraints
5- Teachers are not paid well and in some cases don't have contracts, work with too many students, and do not have enough teaching materials.

After the school visit we went back to the WARC, where we had lunch and an afternoon lecture about the Senegalese educational system as well as some Wolof lessons. Senegalese educators are very up front about the issues facing their educational system. There are not many easy answers, but there is the common concern of how to implement Wolof into the educational system. Though they have gained their independence from the French for decades, the French educational system is still in place, and not working for them.

Later that evening I went with Ousseynou to the village where he grew up, Ouakami, per my request to see some local culture. I was thrilled. I got to take a car-rapide and a ndiaga-ndiaye, two major forms of transportation. We visited his mom's house, stopped by a local convenience store to meet his uncle,and hung out briefly with his friends Pape Wama and Penda his wife. Ousseynou also offered me some fataya which is a meat beignet. I also had the thrill of giving kids Pop Rocks and taping their reaction.

Here are some pictures of the homes I visited:

This was one of my favorite days because I was in my element, an elementary school. We visited Saint Bernadette an elementary Catholic school.
VIDEO coming soon
I used up a significant portion of my memory cards taking videos that I am using in my classes. The students were very polite and I was very impressed with recess. 1500 kids go outside, at the same time and play. You see no fighting or chaos. Teachers can also leave their classrooms and rely on a student monitor!

I learned how to play the game 3 Pions seen here:VIDEO coming soon

We also visited College Abdoulaye Mathurin Diop. We then visited Institutut Superieur de Management, a higher education institution.
I also met Rosalie Helene, one of the teachers and presented some gifts to her class including: Pop Rocks, books of American games, a Webkinz and a Flat Stanley. That evening we went to a reception at WARC to meet with the professors. I met with M. Yade, Mariane's dad at principal of St. Bernadette.

Touba bound. We packed into our buses and headed several hours away. Touba is a holy city (equivalent to MECCA in Senegal). We visited a Center that studied and practice Muridism. Because it was a holy city, we had to dress accordingly. This has to be one of my favorite, really capturing how we all felt at this point, fully covered, in 100 degree heat.

We also visited la Grand Mosquee, where Emily snapped this great shot!

After the mosque, we got back on the bus and headed to Toubab Dialaw for the weekend. Imagine, total darkness, dirt roads, dodging livestock and then stopping literally at the end of the road. We then took part in a midnight buffet which included FLAG beer. We could not fully appreciate where we were until the next morning...Just check out this view!

A mini paradise in the middle of nowhere. I shared a room with Emily and got my first taste of sleeping under a mosquito net. Pictures speak volumes:

The weekend continues with a dance lesson. But wait, it's hot, we're in a small arena with the Worldview Paparazzi, and people took video footage too! I did learn a few moves, but felt it the next morning.

In the spirit of living like the locals, and trying no too take up too much of Mariane or Ousseynou's time, I made some other friends. Moussa Doiuf was our bus driver. I made one enemy, the batik instructor because I traced some of his cut-outs and he said it was like stealing. I guess bringing his craft to the states and sharing it with hundreds of kids is not what he considers a compliment. I also, by accident, met Alpha Diallo, one of the young dance instructors that night. The dancers and band members put on a small concert. It was kind of hot in the room they were playing, so they moved out to a patio overlooking the ocean! The next morning I met up with Alpha once again and he took me on a tour of the town before saying good-bye and heading back to Dakar.

That evening, I hung out with yet another local friend, Demba Diouf who worked at the front desk of our hotel. He was my French-speaking outlet most evenings, and agreed to go shopping with me on the last day I was there for all those items I needed to get at a Senegalese discount. Marie-Therese, another teacher from St. Bernadette invited me over for dinner. I learned that Seneglaese time is a bit less prompt then US time. We had agreed on 8pm. She picked me up at 9:30pm. This was the most adventurous part of the trip. I agreed to meet her at the end of the street, where she and her husband picked me up. Bear in mind, I met this woman briefly at the school, and emailed twice. I also found out that getting/giving directions is somewhat of a skill that foreigners can't master overnight. There is no "address" just a description you give like, on the corner of the McDonalds and the Shell station. So I asked Demba to write down this description in case I may need to take a cab home. Marie-Therese was very kind, gave me a tour of her home, and I got a chance to see a Senegalese home, which was great. She lived in Dakar ville quartier H L M grand Yoff with her husband Roger and four children: Mariane 15, Nathalie 13, Josephine 8 and Georges 2.

DAY NINE: Today we visited three schools. First was the equivalent to a Pre-K called Case des Tout-Petits Ouest Foire. The children we adorable, ranging from 3-5 years old. We then went to a school for street children called Empire des Enfants which was a temporary school/home for children who stayed anywhere from one week to three months. Mme. Antambo was the founder and converted an old cinema into a safe-haven for kids ranging from 4-18 years old. The school is non-profit relying exclusively on donations. I bought a great sous-verre for 25000 CFA created by a nine year old boy named Kalidou Seydi from Guinea Bissau. He arrived April 2, 2008 after being beaten by his teacher, an imam that was supposed to teach him the Koran. The design shows his deceased father and his step-father, two brothers, and a friend. The sun is protecting him on his voyage by car on his way home.

The last school we visited was an Ecole Franco-Arabe. Students there prepare for an Arabic of French degree. That evening I had dinner with Rosalie-Helene at her daughter's restaurant in the Quartier Liberte 1. I had Thiof Braise (an enormous fish), Aloco (des bananes frites) and my new favorite drink, buoy. Buoy is a cold beverage made from dried baobob fruit, that is soaked, and then milk and sugar are added. It tastes similar to a pina colada without alcohol. After dinner she gave me a sarang, a dress, a necklace, a bracelet, and two bottles of juice concentrate (1 bissap and 1 ginger). Bissap is made from dried hibiscus flowers.

The day of mosques..We visited La Mosquee de la Divinite in Ouakam, La Grand Mosquee de Dakar, and finally la Mosquee de Fass.

Marguerite took both pictures which are two of my favorites. The first at the Divinite mosque on the beach and the second next to Mosquee de Fass made us laugh because we did not realize this woman had twins until she turned around.

For this last night in Dakar, I planned nothing. I went to the supermarket for some last minute local pleasures Liptonic and Panache (both French) but available in Senegal, got some local fast food for myself and Demba then headed back to Mermoz just to hang out. Demba and I planned the next morning. I had to mail postcards, visit Sandaga market, and some bookstores

Day Eleven/Twelve: I met Demba in the morning and we headed out We walked to the bookstore then took a car-rapide to the Sandaga Market. He was a real sport and understood the meaning of the expression "shop til you drop" after spending several hours with me
It was so nice have a local friend to help negotiate prices One funny thing that happened was that the locals we encountered assumed we were married. Keep in mind that Demba is 25! I was flattered and a certain I got great deals on the batiks, mini sous-verres, and earrings I purchased on my last day in Senegal. I treated Demba to lunch and headed back to Mermoz via taxi
Once back at the apartment, I re-packed my things and got my djembe drum from Ousseynou (his brother hand-made it!) and we headed to our farewell dinner It was bittersweet.
The experience was unforgettable and I was sad to go, but took enough pictures to fill four memory cards.

I hope this blog provides you with just a small taste of what I took away from the experience.


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