That’s right, my sister came to visit me in Senegal! Her flight arrived last Wednesday morning at like, 5am, and I was planning to take a bus to Dakar around 10pm to get there just in time. So, I went and stood outside the university, but after waiting for 45 minutes with no bus in sight, I headed to the garage to get a sept-place, getting there around 11:15. Unfortunately, a sept-place to Dakar pulled out just as I pulled into the station. On the plus side, this meant I was the first one there for the next sept-place, so I got the suuuuper (comparatively) comfy front seat. On the down side, this meant I was the first one there for the next sept-place, so I had to wait for 6 more people to show up wanting to go to Dakar. So I waited. And waited. And napped a little. And talked to a nice guy waiting with me for a bit. And waited. By 1:45, there were 5 other people there, and we were waiting for just one more, but I was FREAKING OUT that I wasn’t gonna get to the airport on time, and Emily was going to be stuck waiting there not knowing what to do and not speaking any french. So, I got the nice guy I had been talking to to explain my situation to the other passengers, and they agreed to chip in to pay for the extra seat so we could leave right away – I paid for most of it, but it was still super nice of them to help out. My friend also explained to the taxi driver that I needed to be in Dakar by 5:30am, and miraculously, he actually got us there in 3 1/2 hours – I’ve never had a trip of fewer than 4 or 4 1/2 hours before.
I got out of a taxi at the airport 10 minutes before Emily walked out – pretty perfect timing if I do say so myself! And a huge relief for me, because I would have felt absolutely horrible leaving Emily stuck at the airport.
I won’t go into all the details of what we did for the week, but here are the highlights:
- Hung out at the university in Saint Louis making tea (Emily helped!)
- Went to good-bye parties for both Eveline and Erik, who left that weekend (come baaaaaccckkk, Erik, it’s not the same here without you!!!)
- Visited the city of Saint Louis, and ate delicious yassa!
- Helped record English sentences for an online English class designed by some friends of mine.
- Went to the beach with friends
- Spent the night in Lompoul Desert in a Mauritanian style tent. Rode camels in the desert (The fulfillment of my failed Mauritanian camel riding dreams from my Sahara trip), awkwardly danced to live drumming in the desert.
- Made it to Dakar in one (hot, sweaty) peice after a few squichy sept-place rides
- Visited Île de Gorée
- Ate Dakar’s best ice cream (I miss ice cream a lot)
- Went to three different markets in Dakar
- Went to the Dakar zoo (I had no idea there was a zoo!) and saw animals in the saddest cages ever
It was a great week, and although she had to rely on me to translate everything, I think (I hope!) that Emily had as good of a time as I did! Now I’m feverishly working on my research paper in an attempt to finish it before my parents get here on June 20th. My time in Senegal is quickly winding to a close, and I have very mixed feelings about it.
It’s been awhile since I wrote (Or, that’s what I’m pretty sure I just wrote in Wolof as the title of this)! I feel like I was really busy between my trip to Niokolokoba and now, but for most of the time…I wasn’t. Because classes weren’t happening, I mostly sat around and drank tea with friends, watched movies, and read a lot. Here’s some quick updates on things though:
- The first round of Presidential elections happened here at the end of February, but there was no outright winner, so then-President Abdoulaye Wade and candidate Macky Sall faced each other in a runoff election at the end of March. Thankfully (Alhamdulilah!), Macky Sall won the second round, so Senegal now has a new president!
- I took a weekend trip to Dakar with my friend Ryan, where we dealt with annoying bueaucracy to get Mauritanian visas, in preparation for…
- A3-week, 7,500km(roundtrip) overland journey through the Sahara desert in Mauritania, Western Sahara, and Morocco, to meet my lovely friend and fellow Pacifican, Heather, where she’s studying for the semester in Rabat. We visited Marrakech, Rabat, and Tangiers in Morocco before jumping on a plane to spend Easter in Madrid, Spain! At one point on the trip back, Ryan and I took a 26hour (yes, twenty-six hour) bus ride, to top the 20hour bus ride we took on the way there! We spent a lot of time wandering around beautiful and bustling ancient markets, got scrubbed squeaky clean at a hammam (public bathhouse) in Rabat, drank Moroccan mint tea on a cliff overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar, saw a Good Friday Parade in Madrid, saw Picasso’s Guernica in person, ate a lot of tapas (which just a little bit of sangria on the side), almost touched a camel, and overall had a ridiculously fantastic time!
- I turned 21!
- I registered for fall classes at Pacific without having any idea what I might get credit for from this year of strikes…
- I was invited to join Pacific’s chapter of the Mortar Board honor society, a senior honor society for scholarship, leadership, and service.
- I was hired to be an ARD (Assistant Residence Director) at Pacific for the 2012-2013 school year, and will be working in the PWF (Price, Werner, Farley) community!
- My sister is planning to come visit me here in Senegal at the end of May!
- As soon as I returned from my epic travel adventure (last Friday), classes started! I’ve been running around like crazy all week doing actual WORK! It’s weird after 4 1/2 months of sitting around waiting for the strike to end, but I’m definitely glad that classes have started again. There’s still the possibility that the strike will start up again if new President Macky Sall doesn’t do anything, but I think it’s unlikely.
- It’s Mango season! Mangoes might become about 1/2 of my diet pretty soon – just over $1 for 1 kilo (2.4pounds) of delicious mangoes – how can I say no??
- I bought my plane ticket back to California! Though it’s still far away, I’m definitely starting to look forward to being back on Pacific’s campus on August 7th!
There’s a nice quick update on my life in Senegal for the past couple of months. I’ll try to update more often from now on!
I’ve never felt like more of an awkward toubab than I did this week. We left early Monday morning for a five day trip to the Southeastern part of the country with an English professor, Mr. Barry (his name doesn’t sound it, but he is Senegalese). The drive was much more comfortable than taking public transportation, since we had only five passengers in a 7-place (3 row station wagon), and we could stop whenever we need to go to the bathroom or anything, but it still took 12 hours to get to the Parc National de Niokolokoba (Niokolokoba National Park). It was only once we got there that the awkward toubab tourist experience set in.
Niokolokoba has one hotel in it, and several campground type places made up of huts. We were staying at the hotel, which was REALLY fancy by Senegalese standards. Located right on the Gambia River (which flows through Senegal also), with a pool, showers and toilets in every room, and a restaurant serving 3-course European style meals. As the only female on the trip, I got my own room in the hotels for the whole week – wouldn’t want to be improper! The most ridiculous meal we had there was salad (I ate it all, and boy was it delicious! And no resulting digestive complications!), followed by duck (yes, duck – I’m not a fan), peas, and bread, with crêpes served for dessert – so decadent! All the other guests at the hotel were toubabs as well, all Europeans I think. You have to have a guide with you to enter the park though, so every group had their own Senegalese guide as well.
We went on a driving safari through the park the next morning, where we saw tons of baboons, as well as warthogs, antelope, guinea fowl, and other stuff I don’t know the names of, followed by a boat ride on the river, where we saw some crocodiles, but unfortunately no hippos! This whole time in the park was nice though, and not too awkward, because outside of the hotel area, there were no people, just cool animals. I did notice an awkwardness during lunch on Tuesday, when our professor and guide were served plates of delicious looking Senegalese rice, while the four of us toubabs were served the meal I described above. Aside from the salad, which I greatly enjoyed, I (and I think Erik, Neal, and Ryan also) would have much preferred the rice! We asked Professor Barry why they had gotten rice, and he said they had asked specially to have what was made for the staff. We got the European meal because we were toubab guests. The rice would have been way tastier than weird duck.
After we left the park on Tuesday afternoon though, we went to the city of Kedougou, which is the last major city before the border with Guinea. Here we were staying in what’s called a “campement,” which turns out to be a hotel made up of cute little thatched roof cabin/hut things. I got one all to myself! There were actually Senegalese staying at this hotel too, and they served Senegalese dishes (couscous one night, mafé for lunch one day!). We had a guide in Kedougou also, and on Wednesday he took us to les chutes de Dindifellow (Dindifellow waterfall), which was absolutely GORGEOUS. Neal, Ryan, and I followed out guide Ibrahima along a rocky ledge so we were standing right under the freezing cold spray of the waterfall, and jumped in! It was absolutely the coldest water I’ve ever felt in my life – I couldn’t take full breaths for at least 30 seconds after I jumped in because it was so cold! Totally worth it though, it was so invigorating!
Thursday is when I felt really like an awkward toubab tourist. We went to visit a Bedik village located on the top of a mountain. Speaking of which, I had no idea there were mountains in Senegal before this trip! I thought the whole country was completely flat! I can now assure you though, after a horrendous 30minute climb up a mountain, that it is not flat. The Bedik’s are an ethnic group that relocated to Senegal some 500+ years ago, and now practice an interesting mixture of Christinaity and Animism. This particular village we went to relies largely on tourism, and are therefore fully accustomed to toubabs coming through. The chief of the village explained the history of his people to us, and give us a brief tour, including showing us the huge sacred baobab tree in the middle of the village – apparently if you cut it, it screams. We also saw men weaving long strips of cloth, using thread that had been spun and dyed by villagers, after growing and picking the cotton themselves – it doesn’t get much more organic than that! I bought a huge length of it, though I have no idea what I’m going to do with it yet! The village was really interesting, and a few of the little girls attached themselves to me for the whole time I was there, but I sort of felt like I was in a zoo the whole time, looking in on this quaint little village, like I was somehow objectifying the beautiful people who lived there, and disturbing their everyday lives.
The visit to this village is exactly the kind of thing I wanted to avoid by coming to study abroad for a a year. I’m here to actually try to learn about the culture from (sort of) within, not just to observe people as if they’re on a stage.
Friday we headed back to Saint-Louis, leaving at 6am, our luggage increased by 2 marble tiles, a length of steel cable, three green parakeets in a cage, and four large bags of charcoal. Let me tell you, a 13 hour drive in the 3rd row seat of a station wagon driving over incredibly bumpy roads in 85˚+ weather is made significantly worse by a parakeet chirping induced splitting headache.
We stopped in Touba on the way back. Touba is the holy city of the Mourride brotherhood of Islam in Senegal, and home to the largest mosque in Africa outside of Morocco. We got a tour of the mosque (the parts non-Muslims are allowed to visit), which was quite interesting. It’s an absolutely gorgeous mosque, all made of marble, with fantastically tiled ceilings and such. I had to cover myself pretty much completely to enter the outer wall of the compound – ankle length skirt, all the way up to headscarf. I did feel out of place here, as the only group of white people there, but somehow less awkward, because at least there, I knew that I didn’t belong.
I didn’t fully grasp the total toubab tourist-y ness of this trip until I talked to my German friend Christa on Saturday though. It turns out she had gone on literally exactly the same trip the week before us, visiting the exact same thing. I guess every single tourist who visits that area of the country visits the same waterfall and the same little village. But, Senegalese people never visit these places. It’s only for foreign tourists. I think the difference between the park/waterfall and the village though, are that the park and waterfall, you’re looking at nature. It seems significantly different to be goggling at baboons in the forest, then staring at women preparing lunch for their families in a village.
I think it’s impossible to get this same sense of awkward tourist-yness in the U.S., because most tourist attractions in the U.S. are visited by other Americans as well as foreigners. And they usually don’t involve watching people going about their everyday lives. I do hope to go back to this part of the country when my parents come to visit though, to Niokolokoba and the waterfall. I will definitely be avoiding that village though, beautiful as the people were. That feeling of prying into their lives is not one I ever want to feel again.
The political situation here in Senegal is going CRAZY.
Senegal has long been considered one of the most stable democracies in Africa, since it has not had a coup since it’s independence in 1960. The first two presidents stayed in power for 20 years each, but relinquished power peacefully after those 20 years. They were from the same party, meaning that one party was in power for the first 40 years after independence. In 2000, Abdoulaye Wade (Wade is pronounced like “Wad”) took power, initiating the first transfer of power between parties, which was peaceful. He served his first 7-year term until 2007, when he was re-elected. However, the consitution was changed to make presidential terms 5 years long instead. The constitution was also changed to impose a 2 term limit on presidents. President Wade is currently at the end of his second term, which should mean that he can’t run again. But is that stopping him?
Of course not! Despite that fact that he’s 86 years old (EIGHTY-SIX YEARS OLD!!!!), and the fact that the constitution forbids more than 2 terms in office, President Wade is running for president again. He claims that because the 2 term limit was imposed while he was in his second term, and is not a retroactive law, he can serve for one more term. Amazingly, a constitutional committee agreed with this, and Wade’s candidacy was officially sanctioned on January 27th, sparking widespread (and I think, rightful) outrage.
Members of opposition parties have been staging violent protests in Dakar and other cities around the country, protesting the decision of the constitutional committee, but they have steadfastly refused any appeals, leaving Wade a firm candidate for the presidency. One of the main opposition groups is known as M23 (Mouvement de 23 Juin), which came to be after the June 23, 2011 protests against Wade’s attempt to change the constitution to allow him to name his own successor. He wanted to name is son, Karim Wade, who is STUPID. He’s currently a “Special Minister” in his father’s government, and is in charge of the only power company in the country, which experiences daily power cuts. Can you say failure?
Four people have been killed so far (to my knowledge) in the protests against Wade (1 police officer in Dakar on Friday, 2 people in the northern town of Podor on Monday, and 1 University of Dakar student on Tuesday), and they show no sign of abating. But neither does Wade. He claims that he needs 3 more years in power to “finish his projects,” which many people think means setting his son up to take over for him. For info and videos of what’s going on here, I suggest checking out Al Jazeera English: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2012/02/20122115155570395.html
So, despite Senegal’s history of peaceful politics, it is clearly sliding backwards, and potentially heading for a large problem My prediction for the upcoming February 26th presidential elections:
No candidate will gain the 50% vote threshold to win outright, but Wade and one opposition candidate will have the most, and will therefore compete in a run-off election in March. Then it will be necessary for all of the opposition parties to work together to support the one candidate left. If they don’t manage to do this, I think Wade will win, and the violence will increase to a really dangerous level. Inshallah, this doesn’t happen, but we’re all holding our breath here in Senegal…
Don’t worry, I’m staying safe here, staying away from anything that could potentially turn violent, and continuing my sitting practice! The professors have no finished up their 8th week of strike, and our director here, Baydallaye, says the union is “slowing down,” whatever that means…it can’t be good.
I’m HORRIBLE at remembering people’s names. Even in the U.S., I have trouble with names. But in the U.S. I find it a lot easier to tell people apart, based on skin color, height, hair color, hair style, body shape, etc., etc. Here, most of those indicators that I’m used to are of no use. Pretty much all the young men here are relatively tall, they’re all very skinny, and they all have close-cropped black hair. The women range in height, but are almost all relatively thin, and with their braids, weaves, and wigs, change their hair style so often that I can’t use it as an identifier. It’s really awkard when someone knows my name (It’s impossible to not remember the ONE toubab girl on campus), and I don’t remember theirs. Sometimes I can skirt around actually saying their name, but sometimes I can’t, and they get offended that I don’t remember.
Luckily, there are a few REALLY common names here, so if you guess, you have a good chance of getting it right!
For women, you have about a 75% chance of guessing correctly with: Astou, Fatou, Mariame, or Aminata. To illustrate: Both of my roommates are named Astou, though one of them goes by Mamy (more on the nicknames later). I have three women currently helping me with my research project here. All three of them are named Fatou. Two of those are named Fatou Binetou. There are at least three Aminata’s, and two Mariame’s living in my building.
For men, you can’t go wrong with: Mohamed, Mamadou, Amadou, Abdoulaye, Babacar/Boubabcar, Samba, Cheikh, or Moustapha. I have at least two or three of each saved in my phone’s contact list. I usually guess Mamadou or Amadou first if I have to guess though.
Then there are the nicknames. Mariame can become Marie, Aminata become Amina. Mohamed can become Moha, Babacar becomes Bamba, Samba becomes Bacch (that one’s a little weird), Moustapha becomes Tapha, Abdoulaye becomes Abdou. Those are all pretty normal. But then we turn to an interesting cultural aspect of names: everyone is named for someone else, usually a relative, and there are nicknames, or more like pre-names that go along with this. So, if a girl is named after her mother, she adds “Mamy” to the beginning of her name. Likewise, if a boy is named after his father, he adds “Mame” to the beginning. So my roommate Mamy is actually Mamy Astou. If a girl is named after her grandmother, she adds “Ndeye” to the beginning. If a boy is named after his grandfather, he adds “Pap.” Technically, my other roommate is Ndeye Astou, but I just call her Astou. We call my Wolof teacher Pap Laye (shortened from Pap Abdoulaye). It’s actually probably even safer to guess one of these pre-names, since literally almost everybody has one, though some choose not to use it all the time.
I do make a huge effort to remember people’s names, and to pronounce them correctly. And while pretty much everyone here remembers my name, nobody pronounces it right. When I introduce myself with the correct pronunciation of my name, I get blank stares, or botched pronunciation attempts, so I usually pronounce it in the French fashion, which they can immediately say (usually). Unfortunately, the French pronunciation of my name sounds a lot like “ça va?,” the French “how are you?,” which people say all the time, and which I confuse with people calling me name, causing me to look around stupidly for the person who called me, only to find that it was nothing.
Erik, Neal and I went to the Gambia for Christmas this year! The Gambia is a small sliver of a country surrounding the Gambia River, which is located within Senegal. Not very far at all.
We planned to leave campus Thursday night at 1am on a student caravan bus to the city of Kaolack, Senegal. But, around 11pm, the guys running the caravan called me to tell me they were postponing until the next night. We didn’t want to wait, so we headed to the public transportation station (not sure what a good English translation for the French “gare-routière” would be) to get a sept-place taxi to Dakar. Amazingly, there actually was a sept-place going to Dakar at 1am, though we got stuck with the uncomfortable 3rd row seats. Five freezing cold, windy hours later, we arrived at the gare-routière in Dakar, where we unfolded ourselves from our scrunched seats, only to get right into another 3rd row sept-place seat, headed for Banjul, Gambia behind two very, very large bou-bou’d women chattering nonstop in a fascinating mixture of Wolof and French.
It turns out there’s no road directly from Dakar to Banjul, so we drove from Dakar inland to Kaolack, back towards the coast to the border. The taxi let us all out at the border, where we were immediately accosted by about fifteen women who wanted to change our Senegalese CFA’s into Gambian Dalasi’s. We did our best to avoid them, and headed to the Senegalese side of the border, where our passports got exit stamps, and we were directed to the Gambian border post 50 feet away. There, we got shepherded from room to room, eventually paying 20,000CFA ($40) each for a Gambian visa, having our names and passport info written down in a very official and modern looking giant ledger book, and being sent on our way.
We were stopped on the way out of the building by a guy wearing normal street clothes, who showed us his ID card identifying him as a Gambian narcotics officer. We followed him to his very dimly-lit office, where he asked Neal to open up his suitcase, and had a look around, asking occasionally what something was. But, he believed us right away with explanations of what his plastic baggie of malaria pills and vitamins were. Neal and Erik both had to empty their pockets and get patted down, but neither Erik or I had to open our bags, and i didn’t have to empty pockets or anything. Not a very thorough narcotics check. Note: if you ever want to smuggle drugs into the Gambia, put them in a a woman’s baggage, or just tell the officer that they’re vitamins!
Across the border, we got in a gelli-gelli (The Gambia’s version of a car-rapide here in Senegal) headed to the ferry crossing, where we spent two hours on the ferry, going a very short distance across the river, because only one of the ferry’s two motors was working that day. Clearly. Once across the river in Banjul, we got a taxi to our hotel in Fajara. All in all, it took 14 hours to get From Saint-Louis to Fajara, a total of about 550kilometers, or 341 miles. Whew!
On our way back from the Gambia yesterday, we started in Bintang, a little ways up-river (East) in the country. We left our hotel at 8:30am, and walked 5km (3.1miles) along a deserted dirt road to get to the main road, which took about an hour.
At the main road, we caught a gelli-gelli going to Soma, further East. The road was beautifully paved for the first hour or so, and the seating was surprisingly comfortable despite being packed in with a traditional Gambian band on their way to a festival with all of their large instruments. But, after that hour, the road became a highly potholed dirt track for the last hour. For some strange reason, the windows of the gelli-gelli had all been closed on the nicely paved road, but were opened once we hit the dirt road, letting all the red dust in. By the end of that hour, I was CAKED in red dust. I looked like an Oompa-Loompa. Somehow, Neal avoided most of the dust!
Once in Soma, we got a taxi heading the short distance North to Yellitenda, where we were going to get the ferry across the river. We happened to meet a Senegalese guy there who was taking a bus to Dakar, going through Kaolack. So, we hopped on the bus, took another nice, slow ferry ride across the river, then drove to Farafenni, to cross the border back into Senegal.
I had been wondering how this bus full of people was going to cross the border, and found out when, on the Gambian side, an officer boarded the bus, and everyone held up their ID cards or passports. We followed suit, but he picked us out as toubabs (obviously) and asked one of us to come with him. I took Erik’s and Neal’s passports with me into the Gambian border post, where they were exit stamped, and I got back onto the bus, climbing over about 20 people to get back to my seat. We drove 50 feet across the border, and the same thing happened on the Senegalese side. This time though, all three of us had to climb out of the bus, so our named could be recorded in another huge ledger, and we could get our entrance stamps. One more climb onto the bus, and we were off.
The road to Kaolack was horrible for the first hour or so, and the bus stopped rather frequently to let people off, and take on other passengers. While talking to the guys sitting around us, they suggested that it would be easier to remain on the bus all the way to Dakar, to get a sept-place to Saint-Louis there, rather than getting off in Kaolack. After a lot of discussion, we decided to go along with this, since they said it would only be 2-3 hours more to Dakar. That was a lie. We spent 6 1/2 hours on that bus, finally getting to the outskirts of Dakar where we got off at 8pm, having not used the bathroom or eaten anything other than a few snacks since 8am.
We found a bathroom in a gas station (alhamdulilah!) and were immediately approached by about ten people asking where we were going. We said we were looking for a sept-place to Saint-Louis, and were promptly informed that there were no sept-places going there, but there was a bus leaving right away, so come now! We managed to buy some oranges, and little cake things before getting on the bus, but that was it for dinner. Luckily, this bus wasn’t nearly as full as the first bus, and I was actually able to stretch out and sleep for a lot of it! This bus stopped a lot too, so it took us 5 hours to get from the outskirts of Dakar to Saint-Louis, and we finally arrived back on campus, tired, hungry, covered in dust, me with a horrible knot in my back from sleeping on lumpy bus seats, but incredibly glad to be back, at 3am. 17 hours of traveling this time, to go 626 kilometers, or 388 miles.
My amazing sitting skills are proving their usefulness! During all that travel, I sat, quite contentedly doing absolutely nothing (no reading, no listening to music, nothing) for the whole time. Someone find me a sitting contest!
Some musings on academic life at UGB:
- Classes don’t start when they’re supposed to. The official start of the fall semester here at UGB was October 17th. I didn’t even get to Saint Louis until October 23rd, and didn’t even think about starting classes until the week after that, but only one of them started before November 10th. It’s now December 7, and I still haven’t started my two econ classes. First, the professors were all in Madagascar getting re-certified (or something like that). Then they came back, but needed to take a vacation. But they didn’t bother telling the students, so we’ve all been getting up for 8am classes that don’t happen. My favorite thing to do!
- When classes do happen, they’re really lax. My classes all meet once a week, for 2 or 3 hours. Only one professor has given me anything resembling a syllabus, and even that was not really useful. There are also no course descriptions in a handy course catalog like there are for classes at Pacific, because students here don’t really have any choice in what they take. Combined with the lack of syllabi, this means I really have no idea what my classes are supposed to be about, aside from the titles of the courses.
- No homework. I have yet to be assigned any reading, and there are no books to get unless you’re in a literature class. Without reading or other assignments, it’s pretty much impossible to have a discussion in class, so the professors lecture, but then also expect students to contribute…confusing.
- Dictation is considered a legitimate teaching style here. I have one professor who only does dictation with us – she even dictated the bibliography on the first day. With my somewhat limited French skills, this is difficult for me, because it’s necessary to hear and understand every single word, because you’re expected to be able to regurgitate it later at the professor’s whim. Some of my other professors do dictation as well, but not as their only method. Neal has told me that his African Literature professor does only dictation, and does it to the point where he specifies when to put in periods, commas, parentheses, etc.
- When you do get an assignment, it’s a doozy! After doing nothing, nothing, nothing, all of a sudden last week, one of my professors assigned us a 10-page group research project. To me, the topic doesn’t seem like it could possibly take up 10 pages (especially 10 pages of 11point font, 1.5 spaced, on size Double A paper, which is bigger than paper in the US). Also, I have to find a group that will let me join them, and then try not to bring their grades down with my oh so quality French writing skills.
- Professors go on strike. Yupp. Today, after an already extended weekend (5 days), the professors have gone on strike (une grève), for a reason unknown to me. But again, not knowing this beforehand, I got up for an 8am class that didn’t happen. I’ve now heard that they might be on strike for 3 days, meaning a whole week without any classes. But, not all the professors are on strike, it’s just he unionized ones. And I don’t know which ones those are. So, I don’t actually know whether or not I have class for the next two days. Strikes here are common, both by students and teachers. For students, it’s usually because they haven’t received their bourses (scholarships) on time. Last year there were two months of student strikes because of their bourses! For teachers, I have no idea. My French exchange student friends here have told me that strikes like this are normal in France too, so I guess this isn’t just a Senegalese thing.
- Most of my classes haven’t done anything useful yet, and I just found out that they’re supposed to be over in the middle of January. Assuming that the grève doesn’t last longer than this week, that means for more class meetings. I don’t feel like I will have learned anything in these classes…
Some musings on University housing at UGB:
- There aren’t nearly enough rooms on campus. Rooms in my village are supposed to be doubles, but pretty much everyone I know has at least one extra person living with them, sleeping on a mattress on the floor. I’m pretty sure that none of the new freshmen this year were able to get their own rooms, so they’re all sharing. The university is supposedly in the process of building a new dorm that should be finished in January, but I think that really means next year, on a Senegalese time schedule.
- There are no RA’s or anything like that here. There is a “Chef” (bossman) for every village, but it’s just a random older guy. In Village G, we have Chef Wade. He’s very nice, but not very helpful at all. I’m supposed to have a key to my armoire in my room, so I can lock my stuff up, but I don’t have one. Every time I see him, he says he’s looking for the key, but after a month and a half of “looking,” I don’t think he’s going to find it.
- We have a shower and a sink in our room, but they never work for their intended purpose. It is still nice to be able to brush my teeth and bathe in my own room, and not have to walk down the hall, but it would be nicer if my shower actually produced water. We all have to walk down the hall to the bathroom to fill up buckets for bucket bathing, and, more often than not, there’s no water on the second floor, so we have to walk downstairs to fill up our buckets there, then lug them back up the stairs for a shower. At least it’s good for building muscles, and those cold morning showers wake me up much faster than caffeine ever could.
- My “mattress” is about the same quality as the squishy foam mattress toppers that US college students buy to put on top of the 8-inch thick mattresses provided to them, except it’s laid on top of wood. While it’s not memory foam, it certainly remembers that it’s been used by many people before me – quite a nice person shaped indent in the middle, rendering the sleeping spot even less comfortable than it could be. The pillow they provided was a piece of the same foam, stuffed with paper. Yes, paper. I bought myself a new pillow.
- There’s no such thing as a laundry room here. Only the wealthiest families in Senegal have washing machines, let alone university dorms. Laundry is washed by hand in buckets, and hung out to dry on the lines outside every building. So far, I’ve been paying a local women to do my laundry for me, but I actually don’t think she does a significantly better job than I could do, so I might start doing my laundry myself. Although it does take a long time, it’s not like I have anything else to do, what with all those very, very difficult classes I’m taking…
- The food. I know I’ve talked a lot about the food before, but allow me to reiterate: CARBS. Nothing but carbs, all day, every day. It’s no wonder the students here (including me) are always tired – we get no significant protein or nutrients.
I guess this is all justified when you consider the fact that it costs students $30 US for tuition every year, and $8 US for the dorm every year. Yes that’s right, students pay $38 US in total, for the whole year. Plus, they get their bourses from the government every month, which they can use to pay for meals. If they ate all their meals at the dining halls, it would probably cost about $250 US for the whole year, meaning that students here can study, live, and eat for an entire year, for less than $300. Most students in the US pay more than $300 just for lodging every month. Is it worth it? For the quality of education, I think it’s worth paying more to not have strikes, and to guarantee that your classes will actually happen. For food, I will happily pay more for vegetables and protein, though dining hall food in the US is overpriced. For living, I don’t know. While I like my comfy mattress and my hot showers, I’ve been doing okay without them here. Maybe I wouldn’t mind paying less for a little less comfort at home!
p.s. Good luck on your finals Pacificans!!!
Slowly slowly, one catches the monkey in the forest. A traditional Wolof proverb, which I’ve come to realize is applicable to almost every situation I encounter here in Senegal. This is especially true when it comes to my classes here.
Officially, the semester was supposed to start on October 17th. The fact that I didn’t even get to UGB until October 23rd is the first clue that this is not like the U.S. By the time I got the course schedules so I could start thinking about what classes I wanted to take, it was at least October 28th. Then we had one week when classes had supposedly started, and I went to classes as scheduled, but only one of them actually happened. For the others, the professors just didn’t show up. Boy do I love getting up for 8am classes that don’t actually happen. There are also some departments (econ and poli sci, at least) that took their final exams from LAST SEMESTER in October before Tabaski, which pushed the start of their classes for this semester back.
Classes here only meet once a week, so if the professor isn’t there, you don’t have class again until the following week. But then the following week was Tabaski, so we had a long break. Although classes officially started again on Thursday, November 10th, pretty much nobody was back for that, including the professors. Then finally on Monday, November 14th, most students came back, ready to start classes. Yet most of them still didn’t happen. I’m planning on taking six UGB classes this semester (they’re only 2 credits each), and although the semester officially started over a month ago, I have only been to three of them.
In the U.S., every school/department in a university starts their classes at the same time. Not the case here. Like I said, some departments were still taking their exams from last semester (this is unusual actually, they did this because there were 2 months of student strikes here last year, which really messed up the semesters) at the official start time this year, so they were late. Also, professors here can pretty much start their own classes whenever they want. For example, I’m planning on taking an international economy class, and the first class meeting should have been this past Friday (already a month after official start date). But, when I went to class, we were told that the professor is away doing research, and won’t return until the week of November 28th, which means our first class meeting won’t be until December 2nd.
While some of you reading this might be thinking that it sounds great to not have classes regularly, I don’t think so. For one thing, I don’t have much to do to keep myself entertained. For another thing, classes will be a good way to meet other students here, but I can’t do that if I’m not having classes. It’s also just really messing up my brain that it’s almost the end of November and I haven’t really started school yet. That combined with the fact that it’s still 95° out every day makes me feel like I’m still on summer vacation.
I’m also not sure how we’re going to get the right number of hours for these classes if they’re starting so much later. The semester is supposed to be 12 weeks long – is the end of the semester going to be as fluid as the beginning, or are professors going to schedule make-up classes, or what?
Even the classes I have been to are slow to start themselves. I’ve only gotten one syllabus type thing (it explains the general goal of the course, and has a list of suggested – not required – reading, but no assignments or anything), and no homework assignments or reading to do. So weird.
On an unrelated note, I discovered a large cultural faux pas yesterday. In the morning, I told my roommate Mamy that I really liked the breezy, turquoise pants she was wearing, just meaning it as a compliment, to tell her they were pretty. She said something about how she would give them to me, but I though she was joking, and sortof laughed it off. I found out she was not joking when I got back to my room later that afternoon when she actually gave me the pants. I tried as hard as I could to refuse them, but she wouldn’t let me. I feel really bad about it, because I didn’t mean for that to happen. I’m definitely going to give her something in return, or do something nice for her, or something, because that is just too nice of her! Note to self though: don’t tell people you like something of theirs!
If I ever felt like I was lacking male attention, that feeling is long gone. While the women here are friendly, they’re a little standoffish, and I can’t seem to get past the “hi, how are you?” stage. The men on the other hand, all want to get in my pants (excuse my slight profanity there, but it’s the best way to describe it).
Some of the guys here are incredibly forward, and I can immediately tell what they want. For example: Erik’s roommate, Mara (Mah-duh). The first time I met him, he was fine. We said hello, all the pleasantries, etc., and I left. Totally fine. Then 2 days later, Erik and I were invited to hang out with some people in someone’s room, and Mara was there. Immediately after our pleasantries, he asked if I have a boyfriend. When I said no, he asked if I would go talk to him privately later. I awkwardly said I didn’t know, and started talking to someone else. He continued talking to me, telling me in English that I’m pretty, and am “a very nice girl.” 10 or so minutes later, as Mara got up to leave, he asked me to go to his room to talk privately right then. I said no, I was going to stay there and hang out with people. He let it go and left. A couple of days later, Neal and I were in the courtyard of Village G, where we live, and there comes Mara. We do the standard hand shaking, but when we shook hands, he kept mine, kissed it, and said “Tu es ravissant” (You’re ravishing). AWKWARD. I struggled not to laugh, because that statement would be awkward in any language. Luckily I haven’t seen Mara since then, but I’ve been trying hard to avoid Erik’s room, in case he’s there. At least I know exactly what he wants though!
Then there are other guys that at first just seem really friendly and nice, but then do something that makes me wonder what their real motives are. I’m currently dealing with three of these guys: Alou (Ah-loo), Maxime, and Ibrahima. Alou is a master’s student studying English, who we randomly met in the hallway one day. Maxime is a 2nd year sociology student from Haiti, and Ibrahima is a 1st year sociology student. Erik and I met Maxime and Ibrahima when we attempted to go to a sociology class, that the professor didn’t show up to (that’s apparently normal here). The day we met Maxime, he invited us to hang out later, so we went to his room, where he served us pineapple juice and cake from a nearby boutique (I felt like I was at a tea party or something!), and we played bananagrams. He invited all three of us to lunch at a little restaurant on campus the next day, which we later found out meant he was going to pay for all of us. Now, it cost just over $1 for each of us for a meal, but still, that’s a lot here! So, he was super nice. But then yesterday I saw him again, on my way to another class, and he said he wanted to see me later so we could discuss something about sociology, and he was clearly flirting with me. I didn’t know what to do, but when it came to “later,” I said I was tired, and we could talk another day.
Alou is super nice, and we all had attaaya in his room on Saturday night, with a bunch of his other friends, and on Sunday afternoon he and his friend Moize (Mo-ease) showed Erik and I around Saint-Louis a little bit. But now, he’s texting me all the time. Texting me in the morning to ask how I slept, texting me at night to say goodnight…to me this is weird. Maybe it’s a normal cultural thing here, but I don’t know, and I don’t know who to ask. I know he’s not texting good morning/good night to Erik and Neal! Ibrahima has also texted me good morning a couple of times, and I never really know what to say back.
None of these guys (except Mara) has actually made it totally clear that they want something other than the platonic friendships I’m looking for, but they make things a little uncomfortable for me. I don’t like the feeling that I can’t get to know someone one-on-one (aka, without Erik or Neal), because I don’t want to send the wrong message. Though then again, just the fact that I hang out with Erik and Neal all the time might be sending the wrong message to everyone already…oh well. I wish I could figure this out though – I want to be able to be independent here, and not always have to be with Erik or Neal!
Bureaucracy and paperwork can be crazy in the U.S. too, but registering (registration in French is “inscription”) myself as a student here has been a RIDICULOUS multi-day process, and some of it was even done for me, by Ousmane. Let’s start with Wednesday afternoon.
Ousmane was getting stuff ready for our registration, and he sent me a text asking if we could bring him our ID’s. We thought he meant UGB ID cards, which we don’t have, because we’re not registered yet, and he never texted me back to clarify. So, when we met up with him and he explained that he needed copies of our passports, we had to go back to our rooms to get them, then meet up with him again. He made copies, then we got our pictures taken at a very classy hallway photo operation – aka, a guy with a camera and a white sheet that we held up behind each other as a background.
On Thursday afternoon, Ousmane and I went to the building where registration is done (I don’t know what the building is actually called) at 3pm, which is what time it opens – it’s only open from 3-6pm. But, it wasn’t open right away, so we were waiting outside the front door with about 10 other students, when a security guard told us that we had to go around the building and wait by a side door, where we would be let in soon. So, we waited there for about 10 minutes, before moving inside and waiting there. When it was finally my turn, Ousmane explained to the man a little bit of what I was doing there (I assume, it was in Wolof, so it really could have been anything), then left me to answer questions. The man entered info from my passport photocopy into the computer then asked me: if I’m married (no), what my e-mail address is, what my Senegalese phone number is, what my U.S. phone number is (Mom and Dad, if you get a call from UGB, that’s how they got the number!), what major (filière) I’m in here (I put myself in sociology – more on that later), what level (niveau) I am (they put us all in License 3, which is the 3rd and final year of undergrad here), and what series my baccalaureate was. This is where it got confusing.
In Senegal, as in France, the baccalaureate (bac) is like the high school exit exam, and you have to do really well on it to go to college. When I tried to explain to him that I hadn’t taken the bac, because we don’t do that in the U.S., he was totally confused, probably wondering what I was doing trying to register for college if I hadn’t taken the bac. I had to call Ousmane back over to explain it to him. It also didn’t help that throughout this whole process, the man was speaking really quietly, so I had to keep asking him to repeat his questions, which he took to mean I didn’t understand, not that I just couldn’t hear him. Then we paid a different guy my tuition for the year (15,000CFA = $30. Because of our program, we’re considered the same as Senegalese students. A normal foreigner would have to pay the exorbitant sum of 150,000CFA = $300 for the year). Unfortunately, we couldn’t finish the registration then, because I hadn’t had my medical exam.
So Friday morning, Erik, Neal, and I met Ousmane at 8am, and he took us to the student health clinic, where we filled out a sheet of paper with name, birthday, place of birth, etc, and handed to a woman at a desk in the hallway. Then we walked down the hall to another room and filled out another paper (billet d’aptitude = ticket of (medical) apititude) to hand to another random woman. We then paid for our exam (50CFA = 10cents each), and sat in a waiting room. Then we got shepherded to a different waiting room. Once we actually went in for our exams, a man asked us (again) for our major, our year, our age, then whether there was a family history of diseases like diabetes, or a personal history of those things (no), and wrote it down in a GIANT ledger. Then a woman took our weight, and another man took our blood pressure, and looked at our eyes. Then the first man stamped “apte” on our billets d’aptitude, and we were done with that.
This afternoon, with billets d’aptitude, receipts of payment, and copies of passports in hand, we went back to the registration building from the day before, and talked to the same guy. He took another picture of me (who knows what these pictures are for??), typed some stuff in the computer, and sent me across the room to another woman. She typed some more stuff into the computer, and sent me back to the first guy. He explained to me that they were having problems with copies (I think he meant printing the ID cards) for new students, so they couldn’t do it right now. He told me to leave the copy of my passport with him, and come back Saturday morning, when the problem should be fixed.
So, maybe by tomorrow morning, I might actually be registered as a student here. Maybe. Assuming the registration office is actually open tomorrow morning, which I find hard to believe. And who knows which awful picture of me they’ll put on the ID card, but of course, that doesn’t really matter.
I’m pretty sure I’ve looked like a chicken running around with its head chopped off these last couple of days, running around trying to figure this out, while all the Senegalese students seem to know exactly what they’re doing – I need to figure out where they learn this stuff!!