Friday, June 28, 2013

Grace for Grace

So I'm back in the States now-- I flew in several Fridays ago with an airlines that apparently doesn't feed you on the long flights unless you are willing to pay. My new friend in the next seat shared her sandwich with me, a real blessing for a hungry stomach. At the time of the flight home it was hard to really comprehend what that meant for us to be flying "home." And what did "home" mean anyways? I had spent my semester making Dakar a sort of home, being at home in the previously unfamiliar. I had made friends and family there, people I didn't want to forget. And then I had traveled in Europe, making new "homes" along the way with people we only stayed with for the max of a week.

I think the whole idea of "home" has been a tricky one for me. The hardest question to answer is, "Where are you from?" This is pretty typical Third Culture Kid, though, and you learn to say that home is where your family lives. Home is wherever it is that God has you. According to "Lion King", "Home is where your rump rests," and I see a lot of wisdom in that. Because life here is transient. Because in the end our homes should not be found on this Earth. So going back to taking that last flight of my semester abroad: I couldn't help but feel a bit bittersweet about it all. Yes, I was going back to the familiar. I was going back to the world in which I have a job, in which I get to cook for myself again, in which I can drive. I was going to people who know my story and don't need the same 2 minute explanation about who I am and what I am studying. And I knew I was starting a whole new adventure by boarding that plane. I knew I was walking into a busy summer and a senior year filled with new challenges and joys-- I was ready for it. But I also knew that this new beginning meant an end to the sort of adventure I had been living since January. Time to go back to the life that had seemed so far away. Like I discovered when I got to go to Thailand last summer, a certain part of me really comes alive when I am overseas. But God loves to adventure with us wherever He leads us, and the very nature of this adventure is shifting and forming as you go.

Like a river. The same stream but different water. The same all-knowing and loving God, but He moves different ways at different times. The water keeps flowing but the stream stays the same. I recently read the book "If" by Amy Carmichael (really good-- go read it!) and was very challenged by my limited understanding of the love of God. She talks about the idea of "grace for grace" and relates it to that river. Grace instead of grace. A supply of grace that constantly replaces the present grace. Life is like that- you need different grace, different direction and wisdom at each corner of the path, and yet God is the same unchangeable God who never ceases to pour out his Love on us as we wait for Him.
I've missed having mountains to hike (this is Mt. Si)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Trail of Teranga

Learning to make attaaya (the tea)
It has been a while since I've posted, and I'm gonna just blame it on the speed of time's passing. I'm no longer in Senegal, though every day I remember where I was the past 4 months. God really blessed my time there. From the friendships I formed with others on the program to the daily interactions and friendly banter I had with the vendors on my street, I made some very special memories and experienced some really incredible things. Alxamduliaa for everything!

18 Mai: My Last Day in Senegal
Some of my family: me, Lydie, Bébé Co, Herbatin, Marie
My final day we participated in the "Dakar Semi-Marathon" to which my group showed up about 10 minutes before the supposed start of the race, only to get yelled at by the registering officials about how we needed to learn to show up on time (we were actually scolded by Senegalese for being late-- it felt a little ironic) and handed the remaining shirts (all sized XL). The race began another 40ish minutes after that. Most of us ran the 5k, with a few doing the half-marathon. As I ran down the street, jumping curbs, dodging car rapides and street vendors, and nearly getting hit by a bus in front of the main university in Dakar, I realized that I was glad I was only running the 5k. That had to have been the hottest 5k race I have ever run in my life, made slightly better by all the people in the cars and streets yelling words of encouragement and pity after me. My red face must have made a pretty great contrast with the white shirt (though the shirt got darkened some by the coating of exhaust and dust I got running down the streets). Since this was only a couple hours before I was getting picked up to go to the airport, I "hurried" home on a car rapide and spent some time with my family (I ended up on the rooftop chatting with one of my brothers and found myself wishing I had more evenings to spend up there with them). My final dinner, though rushed, was delicious all the same-- peas from a can with "yapp" (some kind of meat) and bread. Leaving the house that night was more emotional than I was anticipating. Saying goodbye to Marie and to Lydie (my host mom) were the hardest farewells, and I had to hurry away to make it easier on all of us. The van was waiting when I walked up the street with my host dad and another friend from the program, Camilla. My last purchase on the way was a bag of thiakry (the yogurt millet stuff) which I accidentally sat on and therefore popped in the airport about half an hour later (I was hiding it in the pocket of the coat I had wrapped around my waist). At the van was a crowd of Ouakamites from our program and some of our Senegalese friends there to say goodbye to those of us getting picked up. It was a really special moment, though sad, saying a "ba beneen, inshalla" (until next time, God willing) to all our friends gathered. Driving away and entering the airport felt surreal, and it is taking me a while to realize that that whole chapter of my life is actually over.

I flew through the night to Madrid with two other friends from my program to meet up with my friend Becca from my university back in the States (she had been studying in Seville). Mike was one of them, and we had a great time chatting up in Wolof the grumpy Senegalese man trying to sell wooden carvings on the street side. I soon found that every time someone tried to speak to me in Spanish I answered in Wolof. This was a problem. I never got to the point where Spanish came out, though this could be aided by my inability to speak Spanish. Some culture shock happened wandering those streets, and I am still caught off guard by the easy accessibility of public trashcans. We spent two nights in a cheap hostel-- a good experience for me after all the horror stories I had heard from friends. Living in Madrid is spendy, thus, we walked everywhere we could and I was forced into buying a McDonald's value menu burger one night for dinner. We saw famous art at the Prada and ate tapas in a large square filled with street entertainers.

Greenwich Meridian Line!
Becca and I met up with a family friends' family in London and stayed with them for 3 and 1/2 days. Their generosity was incredible and their jokes were hilarious. I got a lot of great laughs out of all our conversations, especially since the man seemed to think that my British accent is actually an Australian accent (personally I have spent my whole life thinking I was incapable of speaking in an Australian accent). Apparently it needs some work ;) I loved being back in a place where coffee and tea are drunk on a regular basis, and the first half day we were there I drank a total of 4 large cups of tea. We saw so much during our time there, from Big Ben to the evensong service at St. Paul's Cathedral (and at Westminster Abbey). We went for a walk our first evening there with the couple we were staying with and came across the Queen's barge in this little harbor on the river! We took a healthy number of pictures of red telephone booths and we even got to meet up with an old friend of mine from high school who is from London. God gave us good weather, generally speaking, meaning we only really had to deal with the rain our last day there, the day we had already designated a coffee-shop day. Becca and I kept having to remind ourselves that we were actually in London, that we were actually riding that red double decker bus, actually watching the guards at Buckingham Palace change their posts, actually standing on the Greenwich Meridian Line. A beautiful city to be sure with a lot of history attached. And the family we stayed with was so generous. Teranga has really marked our trip-- teranga being the Senegalese cultural value of hospitality.

Ireland: (so far, Limerick)
Cliffs of Moher
We are now staying with one of Becca's extended relatives. To get to the first family in Limerick, we had to spend the night in a London airport on the cold stone floor (all the transit chairs were taken by 11:30pm). We didn't sleep very much, but managed to make it on our 6:40am flight. Her family picked us up and fed us an incredible breakfast of sausages, bacon, fried eggs, toast, and cereal. After stuffing our bellies we slept till about 2pm, at which point we got up and ate lunch. We saw an old castle that day and went to the Cliffs of Moher the next. Really gorgeous countryside here and more green than I have seen in ages. I'm realizing you don't see real grass in Senegal. They don't have it (at least not in dry season). You see sand and the occasional desert-like brush and baobab trees. Here you walk outside and are engulfed in bright greens that seem to dance across the rolling hills. Rafet na (it's beautiful)! Becca's family really spoiled us and even took us out places, paying for everything. There is no way we can really pay them back for their kindness. Teranga. Something I thought of is that this is a bit of how it is in our relationship with God. He has given us everything, unfathomable blessings and love, and yet there is no way we can ever pay him back. We have to live each day in a state of thankfulness, knowing that we are incredible debtors to his grace and yet He gives it to us so freely because of His love. When you can't physically pay someone back a great  debt, you have to thank them in other ways-- in your actions, in your words. A state of perpetual thankfulness.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Beauties of a Single Light Bulb

Sine Saloum (April 26-28):
Our whole program took a trip down south to stay together in nice campements for the weekend, enjoying each other's company, riding in pirogues (the canoe-boats), touring the town in sharetts (horse-drawn carts that are really just a platform that you sit on), eating delicious food, drooling over Tuareg jewelry that was 10x out of my price range to buy, and experiencing a night of village lutte (the Senegalese wrestling that you witness both on the streets and on every 3rd billboard- the other ones belonging to tomato paste companies and MSG-packed buillon cubes that form the secret ingredient in every meal here). So basically, a wonderful bundle of great things all packed together into a weekend away from the smog of Dakar. You had to take pirogues to reach the island we stayed on, and once you were there, the modes of transport consisted of your own feet and sharetts. Not that we felt the lack of car rapides or crowded buses-- it felt great to stay in one place and read in the sun on the beach. A gorgeous location for sure with lots of mangroves lining the shoreline. We took a "mangrove tour" by pirogue and saw the sacred baobab of the island where the villagers offer sacrifices of blood and milk to the spirits. Our island tour by sharett caused a lot of excitement in the villages when we stopped and spent some time with the children on the shore of the island.
Lutter doing psych-up cultural dance

Our second night there, we were invited to a lutting match in the nearest village and witnessed the pre-match ceremonies of stepping on special leaves, picking up dirt, and pouring liquids over themselves. There was one light bulb for most of the night, giving the makeshift lutte arena a certain mysterious glow as the sand was stirred up by many wrestling bodies. They gave us the opportunity to enter the arena and lutte against each other, an opportunity that a number of us seized very eagerly. I discovered the pure adrenaline that hits you when your one task is to bring your opponent to the ground in view of over a hundred people, dust flying, cameras (from other toubabs) flashing in  your eyes as you battle to keep your feet under you. I LOVED IT. Not the cameras or the audience so much, but mostly just the competition of it. As soon as I had finished my first round, I was hungry for another match. Guys and girls from my program lutted, and my friend Ethan who was undefeated from our group took on a couple Senegalese lutters. At first no one wanted to challenge him-- probably more than his impressive lutting skills, it was the fear of humiliation if by some chance he beat them at their own sport that, that held them back. He won his first match and lost the second. I wanna bring lutte back with me to the States (minus all the rituals with the liquids and leaves).

L'Ile de Madeline (May 1):
We climbed out on the rock cliff-- naturally.
A group of 13 from my program took pirogues out to l'Ile de Madeline on the Senegalese equivalent to Labor Day. I had heard tale of my friends making the infamous pirogue journey in the past and spending the whole time in a reverent fear for their lives bailing water out of the boat and getting drenched by the waves. But the island itself, uninhabited, was supposed to be gorgeous! Needless to say, I had some high hopes going into this one. Turns out the rumors were true about getting an unwanted shower on the way over and about the beauty of the island. It felt like a bit of a rocky island paradise with a great swimming alcove and some rocky cliffs perfect for climbing. Such beauty God has created! It felt a little surreal. Some friends and I got together before heading back from our lunch spot and prayed together for the rest of the semester in Senegal, that God would guide and use us according to His will. Just about every day it strikes me how blessed I am to be studying here in Dakar.
My friends on the ride back to the mainland

The Great Green Wall (May 4-5):
My Environment & Development class took an overnight field trip up north about 7 hours, the last few hours of those in the backs of pickups bouncing down roads that our bus couldn't drive. We had been learning about a project called the Great Green Wall, a tree-planting project that is supposed to span Africa someday to prevent further desertification. It still looked pretty desertified to me, but they had planted a lot of trees already and we spent the night at some sort of military facility next to the giant well that supplies water for thousands of livestock and people daily. They have community gardens going as well, to provide a hopefully sustainable income for the community. It was so good to see onions being grown here in Senegal, as we each consume at least 2 onions a day in various sauces and almost all of those onions are imported-- Senegalese staples: baguette, rice, onions. Senegalese imports: wheat, rice, onions.

Women travel hours each day to get water from the well.
We saw their projects, "helped" plant some seedlings, then returned for dinner. Some ladies had cooked the goats we had bought (some of our group were disappointed they didn't get to do the slaughtering themselves), so we feasted on ALL parts of the boiled goats, hacked into pieces and placed in the communal bowls. The one light bulb gave us perfect lighting for the occasion-- just enough light to see that we were eating meat and onions, and just enough darkness to not see exactly what that meat looked like or where it was from. I know I ate some intestine and liver, but there were some other things I ate that I still haven't identified. A very filling delicious dinner, alxamdulilaa! We stayed up by the fire late into the night lounging on cots and mats on the ground (though our prof had strictly warned us against the snakes that were going to come for us-- we didn't have to worry about the larger animals that could wander into our little compound), making and drinking attaaya (the strong tea), and star gazing. We engaged in some waxtaan (discussion/conversation), taking turns telling legends and tales from our past and/or our region of the world. My class now knows about Kaldi (who discovered coffee in Ethiopia) and the reason why dogs chase cars, goats run away, and donkeys don't care. We relived tales of selfish tortoises, leopards getting spots, the Alamo, and John Henry. C'était parfait!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


Sometimes it is in the little things:
-Making tribal sculptures across from a man with dreads while drinking strong tea and listening to the Civil Wars, conversing with random people in Wolof. 
-Holding a hold a 3 minute conversation with a stranger man before he asks about becoming your husband. 
-Feeling like I'm walking on a very sandy beach just walking down the street to the boutique to buy my breakfast baguette from my shop owner friend (the streets in my neighborhood are made of sand).
-Sitting next to a woman on a bus with a Catholic bracelet who pays a stranger's fare because he doesn't have change and then gives up her seat to an elderly woman who climbs aboard the bus.
-Stepping into a "car rapide" and getting to sit down by the next round-a-bout.
-Taking an extra 20 minutes to walk home because I run into "friends" who work or live along certain streets.
-Sharing dinner around the bowl with around 6 of my family members, all of us reaching in with our hands, trying to avoid dropping onion sauce or fish on the person next to us.

On the 21st of April I went on a field trip with my Environment & Development class to Mbeubeuss, the Dakar city dump. Each day about 130 trucks deliver garbage of every nature (including the illegal dumping of heavy metals and untreated toxic waste) to this growing "plateau" of trash, picked through by over a thousand workers. Many of those who work in this inevitably health-risk-filled environment live in a small slum right at the base of the plateau. The shelters in which they live are literally built on and of the garbage collected nearby. The suburb that hosts Mbeubeuss is home to the majority of those who work in Dakar. An enormous health and environmental risk, the toxins in the garbage that is dumped have contaminated 50km on either side of it through the air and through the underground rivers that run just meters below the ground underneath the dump. Vegetables grown with this water pass on the toxins to people in all parts of Dakar, and respiratory diseases, cancer, and birth defects are common in Mbeubeuss' proximity. The ocean is less than 2km away-- a distance that is closing with time.

Neighborhood of Mbeubeuss workers
The stench immediately hit our senses when we stepped out of our bus, following the sights we had seen driving into the dumpsite-- the smoldering fires, the heaps of sorted and unsorted trash, people walking around with pieces of curved rebar for picking through the garbage more easily. As we watched 2 more trucks of garbage drop off their contents, people swarmed through the haze to get first dibs on the new mounds left behind. When unemployment rates are high and money can be made by selling sorted garbage, the many who work there strongly oppose the closure of Mbeubeuss, dangerous as it may be to them and their country. People need to eat. They need jobs. And yet, there was something about watching a little girl with smudges all over herself and a dirt-crusted dress play with a headless doll as she sat on garbage, next to a woman sorting garbage, next to a woman selling coffee to those who were taking breaks from sorting garbage. We were not allowed to take pictures of the people there or I would have captured that moment in more than just my mind's eye. To grow up like that! For that to be your life. And how wasteful we truly are. How little we think about what we throw away. How different it felt to step on the air-con bus after that, pull out a sandwich made from uncontaminated (possibly, insh'alla) meat, and drive away from the reality that swallows thousands of people each day. To be able to shower when I got home and wash away the black dirt and grime that was coating my skin and clothing. Not everyone can escape like that. How blessed I truly am! To wake up each morning in a clean bed, with birds singing outside instead of dump trucks, with tap water to wash off with instead of dirty water retrieved from who knows where. With clean clothes, with a family that is not ashamed of what I do during the day, with the knowledge that I will not go through life with my face covered against the fumes and my hands wrapped to prevent injury from the garbage contents. How blessed we are.

Plastics: about 14 cents/ kilo

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Turns Out I'm a "Water Spirit"

When I think of a typical beach party, the consumption of fish heads is not typically part of that mental image. It felt and tasted very real the other day, however. I had been invited by a Chadian friend of mine to go to a beach party with people he works with and students from Gabon. I really enjoyed being away from "toubabs" (foreigners) for the day, catching the flavor of a real young adult party in Senegal.  Only the guys played beach volleyball, and I nearly joined but for the crowd of people sitting around watching. I decided it would be a double spectacle-- a woman and a toubab. I settled with watching, swimming, and eating grilled fish and bread with my friend. He noticed that I wasn't touching the head of the fish, however, and asked me why I wasn't eating it. My response: I've never eaten it before! I didn't really know how to say that eating fish head is a nasty business that I wouldn't even know how to commence. So he walked me through it anyways. Since I ate a fish eyeball within my first two weeks in country, I told him I didn't need to eat the eyes again. An experience, for sure. I cannot say that I would choose fish head as an everyday sort of snack. The party ended with my friend's group dancing on stage. They insisted that I join them up there-- so I did. The dance was definitely choreographed. Good thing they didn't tell me that ahead of time!

I've discovered a food item that I am pretty passionate about, however: thiakry (pronounced, "chalk-rie"). Rolled and steamed millet flour in a yogurt-like substance. SO good. You can buy it at stands-- just tell them how much you want to pay, and they scoop the "soow" (yogurt) out of huge buckets and into plastic bags that have millet in them. This quickly became a favorite after class snack for me. You can buy it in little sealed cups and bags in stores, but I prefer to buy it off the street. I like my food better that way. Tastes more real for half the price.

18 avril:
Today I was called "une esprite de l'eau" (water spirit) by one of my friends from Chad. Apparently if I went to his village, they would all be afraid of me because of my blonde hair and blue eyes, characteristic of water spirits. They are jealous, and once they choose a man, that man has no choice but to only be with the water spirit. I guess if my plans of getting a doctorate fail, I could always go to Chad as a water spirit! Quelle chance!

As I was walking through the market in my neighborhood on my way home from the study center, I met a fabric vendor who wanted to sell me some that caught my eye---15,000 CFA (approximately $30) for 5 meters. My response: "Déedeet" (no). We then chatted in French and Wolof for a good 10 minutes, beginning with how many years of education I have left (leaving me with no money to spare for fabric), progressing to talk of husbands (when he asked me if I have a husband-- I told him: "Am naa juroomi jekker," meaning I have 5), and drawing to an end when he told me of his undying love for me. My response: if you love me, you will give me the fabric for 4,000 CFA (all that I "technically" had) instead of the 5,000 CFA he was finally asking. I walked away telling him "ba beneen Insh'Alla" (next time, God willing) and feeling like I should look for fabric elsewhere next time. I've gotten a good number of laughs when I tell these guys here in Wolof that I have 5 husbands. They never understand when I tell them I don't want one yet, so this is almost easier. You have got to just embrace it with a sense of humor sometimes or you go a little crazy. A typical conversation with a Senegalese man:
First question: How are you?
Second question: Are you having a good time?
Third question: Do you have a husband?
Next statements: I love you. Be my wife. (I only have 2 already.)

20 avril:
We walked into the church close to midnight and I was immediately struck by how many people were present. I have never been good at estimating numbers of crowds, but this had to have been about 70 people of various ages and African nationalities, sitting bowed over on wooden benches praying to the Lord. This was a night of prayer at the French church I have been attending-- it started at 10pm Friday night and was supposed to go until 6am the following morning. The two coffee breaks filled with fellowship and friend-making broke up the hours of prayer and worship that followed. It was incredible to add my voice to the many others belting out songs in French to the God of the Universe and whispered prayers to the Almighty. I didn't know the songs, but could pick up most of the choruses (there was no powerpoint for lyrics). Rich words. We prayed for our nation, for the government, for the future generation in Senegal and in the church, for church ministries, for the persecuted Church. For other countries that are war-stricken, and for believers who are in chains. What a blessing that we could gather like that without fear of singing a note too loud and being arrested for our faith. It made me think of the call we have as believers to live lives worthy of the calling we have received. To have a faith as precious as the faith of those who have gone before us, who have given all they had to pursue the Kingdom of God.

I wasn't sure if I would be able to stay the whole night, and going into it, I was kind of thinking I would leave about halfway through so I could get sleep before our tree-planting project (cooperating with a neighborhood environment group) the next day at 10am. Within the first hour, however, I knew I was staying the whole night. And God gave such joy in His presence! I never fell asleep, though a couple times I was praying and realized I didn't know what it was that I was whispering to the Lord. They had breakfast bread for us at 6am, yet another joyous occasion before my friend and I walked the 20ish minutes to our study center to crash in the stairwell for an hour and a half (before the tree-planting). God provides strength. Alxamdulilaa.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Days You Just Can't Plan

Lunch with a man who randomly accosted us in the street? Six hours' worth of ataaya (strong sweet traditional tea) at his house afterward and a political discussion? Dinner with his family followed by a Senegalese dance party in his room? Oh and then go with him to the outdoor concert celebrating Senegal's independence that didn't start until about 11pm? Sounds like a day. It was definitely one of those days that you just cannot plan no matter how much you might hope for the unexpected. A group of 6 of us from my program had jumped on a "sept-place" (Peugeot with 7 spots for passengers) that morning bound north for St. Louis. At first we weren't sure if we were gonna make it to our destination as our driver sped out of the "gare" barely avoiding 3 collisions in the first minute of travel. Turns out he knew how to cut traffic lines by driving in all the wrong lanes or creating his own, so we did not get too stuck in traffic trying to leave Dakar.

Our group with Malik, his sister, and the English teacher
The man we met in the street, Malik, was definitely looking for some help in getting his jewelry business going but never asked us for money and his family was very welcoming. He called over a Senegalese English teacher to join in the conversation, and we taught each other tongue-twisters and played question games in Wolof and English quizzing each other. Placed beignet bets on the first women's lutting match shown on TV (lutte= Senegalese traditional wrestling). The fresh air of the concert was welcomed after all the tea-sitting, but with that fresh air came a couple frozen limbs. Turns out St. Louis is FREEZING at night with the coastal winds. Even so, we got to watch a few artists lip sync to prerecorded songs while shaking their dreadlocks all over the stage before we got too cold and retired at midnight to the hotel's huts in which we were spending the night.

Pirogues for fishing and transport
The following day was filled with wandering around the island of St. Louis on a self-guided tour-- pretty historical and definitely European architecture. Fueled by street food and "café touba" (kinda like a spice coffee) we saw a lot of the island, surprised by the plethora of unobserved children running around playing, begging, sitting. They had this week off for break, though it really made us think about how young Senegal's population is as a whole. The English practice sentences on the chalkboards of the vacated school we explored were very different from the type you would see in the States. One of the sentences was "Not once did he allow his wives to join the women associations." (Remember that polygamy is perfectly acceptable here.) After running into our friend Malik again, randomly, we decided to go to the rugby tournament we had heard about. This was one of those times when we sat down and thought to ourselves, "what are we doing here again?" The pitch was swarming with young boys, some racing around on broken-off palm fronds (looked like they were playing Quittage), some playing soccer, some being "organized" into rugby teams by a couple of adult men. The stands being empty except for us lasted about 2 minutes, at which point they were flooded with little boys shaking our hands and asking us for "cadeaux" (gifts). The rugby never really happened while we were there, though we saw some form of toss-the-ball-and-tackle-eachother.

Along the road near our first overnight spot
Our plans to spend the next night out of St. Louis at a remote campement called Zebrabar included buying cans of beans and corn, baguettes, and chocolate spread-- we heard that dinner at the campement was $12 a plate, an amount we certainly hadn't factored into our budget. To get there, we stuffed our supplies, bags, 10-liter jugs of water and the 8 of us into a normal 4-passanger car with the promise that we would meet up with the driver's brothers partway and switch into two cars for the rest of the journey. You knew our first chariot was a good one since we had struck up this bargain in a repair-lot where most of the cars had no wheels or had the hoods up getting fixed. We had a natural sun-roof, created by the rust of time for no extra charge and the natural air conditioning of only a couple windows. I was pretty excited when the doors actually stayed shut as we drove! Zebrabar reminded me of Jurassic Park, complete with safari vans painted with zebra stripes and a nice bar and restaurant with lookout tour. Right on an inlet, we had chosen this place for its kayaks-- free to overnight guests. We slept in a tent with 6 double beds packed inside, perfect for what we were looking for.

Sunrise view from the tower at Zebrabar
Saturday (the next morning), we got up early and climbed up the tower to watch the sunrise over the land and water. I was determined to get my kayaking in, and ended up going with my friend Ethan. Turns out that one of the kayaks was good for the water we were kayaking in, and one of them was not. By the time we were past the dock I knew I was in for a treat with my kayak, and between that and the homemade paddle I was using, I didn't stand a chance against getting soaked. Honestly, I don't know much about kayaks, but what I can say is that this one barreled instead of glided. On the way back I kept getting pushed around by the currents of the water, even against the direction of the wind. I still don't really know how this happened, but I would be paddling for all I was worth on one side and still be turning the wrong direction. There reached a few points when I was so tired of putting all I had into rowing that I would release the kayak to the will of the water (and promptly get turned around backwards). It was a pretty good image of how I have felt at a few points during this semester. But you get stronger for paddling against the currents. You can't simply make them go away, but life isn't about just making challenging situations disappear. God equips you in each case to continue moving forward even when you get turned around and feel like you are going nowhere. Amen to God knowing what He is about in our lives!

Oh and Zebrabar also had a slackline-- definitely not a feature I was expecting out of a campement in Senegal (even one run by a Swiss couple). So I was able to kayak, slackline, hike out to main roads, and journey across the country by "sept-place" all in the same day. I didn't mind it. ;)

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Life of a Street-Side Sap Seller

My little friends
Rural Visit. One of the main reasons I wanted to study abroad in Senegal. One week of living in a rural village, the purpose of which was to experience and learn about life without electricity, running water, and internet. To taste the life of those who rely on the rains, who have cultural traditions that dictate responsibilities around the village, and who have possibly never seen a white person before. And let's just say that I did scare some children, especially babies. [Poor Moustafah is probably still hiding behind his mother's skirt at the memory of that white face looking back at him.] It was not much of a culture shock for me, I must admit, growing up as one of the first foreigners villagers had seen (in southern Ethiopia). I had forgotten how it felt to have kids sidle up next to you just to touch your skin then dash away, how it felt to walk around and have everyone call out after you. I was glad I chose to introduce myself by my Senegalese name: Mariama Kabou. I would have been sick of my real name by the second day if I had used it instead! Everywhere I went, "Mariama! Mariama! Toubab!" (Toubab= white person/foreigner) It seemed like everyone knew my name, as in small towns word of a stranger travels fast-- especially if that stranger is white. I stopped wearing my watch on the second day, as I discovered it attracted too much attention. A sign of wealth. As did my cheap Old Navy flip flops-- top quality. My anklet was also an area of curiousity. My maman asked me which marabout had made it for me (as a protection against evil) and found it hard to believe that I just made it for fun.

Maman and Assi (the 3 of us shared the room)
The cultural value of Teranga (hospitality) was huge in my town, and a combo of that and the money my host was being paid created a week filled with sitting and eating. I went with a Senegalese-run organization for the empowerment of women called APROFES and was placed in a small town called D'Inguiraye with one of the Chief's wives. She is the president of that town's APROFES group and is an incredibly strong woman, well respected in the community. We lived in a compound shared by about 8 or 9 other women and their children, and slept in a one room place (furnished with a bed and a small table). She gave me her bed and slept on a mattress on the floor at nights, a girl she is taking care of temporarily taking another corner of the room on a mat. We shared our room with a whole pack of mice I saw running along the rafters and heard at night scurrying around my bed. Because we lived with the chief and it was a town instead of a truly rural village, my household had electricity (and that fan got us through many a hot night). Cooking was done outside, and the bathroom consisted of an area out back walled off by compact dirt blocks and some tin. Showers at night were spectacular, possibly the most scenic real showers I have ever taken! Bucket shower, of course. There is nothing quite like washing away the dirt and sweat of the day with well water while star gazing right next to a long-drop. All you need in one location. With the refreshing wind, the clean skin, and the light cast by the moon and stars, I came to the realization that I want an outdoor shower of my own someday.  My town was Wolof-speaking, almost exclusively so. This meant that any time I found someone who knew some French it was like stumbling upon an oasis in the desert! All of a sudden I could communicate with words and be understood! I knew enough Wolof to make it around, but I wished I knew so much more. I couldn't hold conversations with my family there, and did not always know what they wanted me to do or not do. It was a challenge that was good for me, and it definitely showed me the importance of what I am learning in my Wolof class. I was glad I knew enough to be able to say, "begguma jekker" (I don't want a husband), as this seemed to come up a lot (like usual here). I decided I need a shirt that says that to save people the trouble of asking me to marry them on the street.

I ate really well. Too well. Multiple women of the compound cooked for us, and one night I had the equivalent of three dinners served to me! My last night there, my "maman" decided to cook us up some red meat- a real specialty. This deviated greatly from the typical staple of "ceere" (sort of a ground up millet? I honestly still don't know exactly what it is), and she was pretty excited to prepare it for me. As its cooking was nearing a close, she gave me some to sample. Fat and gristle are welcomed in this society's palate, but I was able to eat my way through what she had handed me. What remained, I realized after eating away the interesting textured meat, was a goat tooth. She had cooked up part of a sheep skull for me. I chose to eat dinner that night outside under starlight, better lighting than a light bulb if you want to enjoy a meal that has potential to trigger the gag reflex. This may sound unappetizing, but really, the food was delicious and I ate way more than I needed!

My maman: Fatou Ndeye
My maman ran a boutique and a random spices and veggie stand during the morning. I would often sit with her at the stand and help her bag tree sap and peanut paste while practicing my Wolof numbers and munching on some kind of root they eat with their rice. It was an excellent people-watching location, on both ends. I watched all the happenings around me, and many of those around me watched my every move. There was the man who was not right in the head who wandered in nothing but briefs and a dirty black vest, hair pointed to every corner of the earth. There was the ladies with the bread stand who started out under the mango tree, only to move over next to us when the sun rose higher in the sky shifting the location of the shade. There were the children who would walk past me staring over their shoulders, wait about 10 seconds, then walk back the other way for a second look at the toubab. There were always minivans coming in with passengers packed inside and belongings (and goats) strapped on top. I sufficiently enjoyed my time as a road-side seller.

Our "back door": the cookfire is to the left of the tree
The final day in D'Inguiraye broke the normal schedule of wake up, eat bread, go to the boutique/stand,  return for a nap with maman in the heat of the day, eat lunch, nap and read some more, socialize, go back to the boutique, socialize, eat dinner, star gaze, go to sleep. We had a town newcomer: the peanut roaster. Placed in a small, horribly ventilated room and fueled by a gas canister, we soon found the roaster to roast more than just the peanuts. We took turns entering the black smoke-engulfed room to turn the crank that rotated the peanuts. You could really only do a couple minutes in there before it was necessary to switch people. I made them let me do it with them-- I wanted to truly experience their life (though they seemed certain in just about everything that I would hurt myself or get blisters or get too hot). But they had told me "sit" too many times, and I refused to just watch this one. When I blew my nose after, all that came out was pitch black, similar to my skin color after the roasting was done!

I felt a sort of spiritual wall during my time there.  I am pretty sure that I was the only Christian in the village, and I got used to my maman getting down on her prayer mat each day to pray towards Mecca. It was interesting, though, that every time I was about to or did pull out my Bible to read I would promptly get interrupted. I tested it sometimes, and would head over to my bag to pull out my Bible, only to have someone show up right then to stare at me, try to talk to me, play with me, or bring me somewhere. I kid you not, about 9 times out of 10 this would happen. And so when I did read, there was almost always someone there watching me or having a conversation around me making it difficult to focus on the French text I was reading. But God is faithful and I pray that I was somehow a light to my family there regardless of my inability to talk about my faith with them for lack of vocabulary. I can't help but think, though, about how many villages are like that in the world, complete people groups  without a single believer in the One True God. And we are happy just sending a dollar here or there to help the spread of the Gospel? We are happy pursuing comfortable lifestyles and job security, knowing that at least we have a church? "Oh those poor people in Africa, starving physically and spiritually who have never heard of Peace in God. That's just too bad! Someone should help them, surely. But not me. I'm called to that which I know." But isn't that the whole point of trusting God? I hope and pray we don't miss the reason for our existence on earth. La vie est courte: for us and for those who have never heard Jesus's name. I'm praying that I will follow God wherever He leads. I want Him to teach me to go to the broken places, knowing that it will be hard but that in that difficulty God will be there. And that sweet communion with God is worth any sweat and tears shed along the way.