Monday, January 29, 2007

Senegal versus Ghana: A generalized comparison

Disclaimer: I am going to make a lot of generalizations in this particular blog, but I want to paint a picture of what I can see are the visual, cultural, climatic, etc. differences between Accra and Dakar. Hopefully, no one takes offense to anything I may comment on.

Climate: At the current moment, it is very chilly in Senegal (I’d say 70s, which is cold if you ask me). I have had to wear long pants and long sleeves to bed every night. I think that this is because of the dry season, but it is a lot colder here than it ever was in Ghana. It feels more beachy here than it did in Ghana. We are like right on the ocean, too. Because of this, there is sand all over the sidewalk and it feels much dryer (i.e. I have to put lotion on my ashy legs everyday) than the humid Accra.

Education systems: We visited the Université de Cheik Anta Diop (the largest one in Senegal) last week. Apparently, the school is hardly in session due to strikes by students or professors. Sometimes there will be whole years (termed “année Blanc”) where the students never go to class because of the strikes. Also, the students have to pay tuition to the university, but often they get scholarships based on their performance on the extremely difficult baccalaureate tests in high school. The test is hard because there is only so much scholarship money and/or room at the university for the students. This is quite different from the university system I encountered in Ghana. There are three large university campuses (and a host of smaller, training institutions) – University of Cape Coast, University of Ghana, and Kumasi University of science and technology. There is no tuition; instead students pay fees and have to essentially pay back the government through the national service required to be completed after the student graduates.

Dakar vs. Accra: Dakar is much cleaner than Accra. I can see why it has been called “the Paris of West Africa.” It seems like Dakar was a planned city; laid out a certain way to avoid urban sprawl and with all the government offices located together. It also has green spaces, gorgeous statues, lovely town squares (like La Place du indépendance). This is much different from Accra – open sewers, trash everywhere, no rhyme or reason to lay out, sidewalks covered in people selling their products, etc.

Political system: Comparatively, Senegal has been more stable politically than Ghana. There have only been three presidents, no coups, and for the most part, those three were democratically elected. The presidential elections are coming up in February, but they should be pretty secure and stable, excluding protests and rallies. Still, Senegal is a poor nation that sees thousands upon thousands of its young male workers illegally immigrating to Italy, Spain, France. It also still is dealing with the political strife in the Casamance region.

Transportation: There are more options in Dakar when it comes to transportation. Your choices are: a DDD (the equivalent to the metro buses in Accra; government run, large buses with a fixed rate. Sometimes you will get a seat but most of the time you are standing in the aisle), a Ndiaga Ndiaye (pronounced Jaga Jie) which is most similar to a tro-tro (a large white van with seats rigged in the aisles, a driver and a mate.). One difference is that there are no side doors on the Ndiaga Ndiaye, only front or back doors. The mates often hang out the back. The other mode of transportation is the car rapide. These are highly decorated vans (painted yellow, red, and green, with Wolof and Arabic phrases all over them, and with ribbons of various colors hanging from the back, sides and mirrors). In many ways similar to the ndiaga ndiaye, these car rapides don’t have glass in the windows, they have benches instead of seats, and every time I have seen one, there is at least two people hanging out the back door. In a tro-tro, one would never stand up. In a ndiaga ndiaye and a car rapide, standing is the norm. Also, in a tro-tro, one is guaranteed their own seat. In a ndiaga ndiaye or car rapide, someone else’s butt may be in your lap. There is also the taxi, but these are the same as taxis in Accra.

Every day life: Hawking is less prevalent in Dakar than Accra, but it is still there. Tigo, a phone company in Accra, is also used in Dakar.
In Senegal there is something very intriguing called a “joking cousin” (suma kal). These are people who essentially make fun of others, all the time. For example, if your last name is Ndiaye (which is my last name here) than your joking cousin is the Diop. When you meet a Diop it is expected that you make fun of them in some way. It isn’t serious; it’s just sarcasm and petty jokes (comme ca: "Diops eat too much, they are lazy, etc.) However, if you don’t make jokes, that is considered offensive. There are also joking cousins among ethnic groups i.e. the Peulhs versus the Wolofs. The government used this popular cultural practice when they were attempting the peace process in the Casamance, using the joking cousin of the Jola people to encourage resolution.
Many people speak English, which was a bit surprising, but if you think about it, not really. Many students learn some English in school in hopes of migrating to the U.S., teens listen to American songs and to cater to tourists, vendors know the basics (“please, miss, come look at my items. How are you? I am fine.”) The U.S. embassy is much more heavily guarded here than in Accra; tons of barriers and a ton of gendarmes (police) patrolling the area.
Stuff is a heck of a lot more expensive here than it was in Accra. (500 cfa = about 1 dollar). Juice, for example, costs more than a dollar for a tiny bottle. Fruit is a lot more expensive as well (orange in ghana = less than a nickle, in Senegal = 20 cents), but we get a stipend so it’s okay.

Interesting info: Wrestling (la lutte) is more popular here than soccer. The sport is very traditional, with sumo wrestling-esque diapers and a huge circle. Two lutteurs battle it out as such: first they slap each other, girl fight/cat fight style. then someone throws a punch, and it's on. There is a lot of grabbing,kicking, punching,and then finally the winner is able to throw the loser down on the ground. I watched a battle yesterday with my host family and they were really into it, yelling, taunting the opponents, excited.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Une Semaine et ma famille

Well I have been here in Senegal for one week. The first five days were all orientation…which was annoying in many respects because they were telling me things I already knew. Not to mention, I think learning from observation and experience is better than just being told about the culture. For example, we spent like two hours talking about the way men will approach women to express their love. I feel like once it happened to you a few times, you could figure out what men do when they approach you (i.e. “what’s your name? your number? Your address? I love you.” Etc.) But some of the orientation was beneficial, such as the Wolof sessions and the information about Senegalese values.
Friday I moved in with my family. It is a very big family:
Dio-Dio (Jo-Jo) – 25 years (ma soeur). She is studying tourism. She also speaks a little English, which comes in handy when I am having communication problems. She also knows some Italian.
Uzin – 24 years (mon frère) – makes really delicious Senegalese tea (which is very strong and has lots of sugar. It’s a cultural tradition; it takes special practice to make it.)
Ndeye – 21 years (ma soeur) – A really sweet girl who hates to follow the rules in Uno.
Souba – 18 years (ma soeur) – Also knows some English but is studying Spanish at school as well.
Samba – 13 years (mon frère) – likes football and loves to play Uno. He was able to explain the rules of the game to the rest of the family, so we play often.
Nene – 10 years (ma soeur) – Full of personality, she reminds me of a little diva.
Baba – 4 years (mon frère) – wishes he can play Uno with us, but is completely satisfied as long as we include him in some way (he loves to yell « Uno » randomly and say my name and start giggling)
And ma mère – Yaay – really kind and outgoing, always asking me if everything is okay.

There is also another girl living with us, but I haven’t gotten her name (Rabah, I think). I also met my uncle, Tonton, yesterday. My father is in the military. We have three goldfish and a parrot. It’s a very nice house, located in Comico 2, which is where military families live. I am about 15 minutes from Suffolk where I will be taking classes. And I think I can totally get used to bucket showers. ;)
All the ladies in the fam are gorgeous and the men are cute, which only goes to show how the people in Senegal are. The tv is always on: either on music videos from all over the world, soap operas from Brazil and Spain, news programs from Senegal or foreign films ( I have watched one from India and another from Japan). They also love watching movies, whether they are dubbed or with subtitles (they have watched at least three of the American movies I brought from home already). The tv is on when they clean, eat, play cards, just as background noise. This will take some getting used to, but listening to French tv all the time may improve my comprehension skills.

Yesterday we went on a tour of downtown Dakar as a group. I can’t reiterate how much I hate being in touristy groups, so needless to say, it was quite bothersome because we stood out so much. After that, I rested a bit, then headed to the Suffolk soccer field to play a friendly game of football. We, the CIEE girls, played against the Suffolk girls’ team and got beaten 2-0. Nevertheless, it made me realize how much I missed being out on the field, and I am going to see if I can train with them and play on their team. My brother, Samba, went with me to the game, so that was fun (he helped me learn crucial words in French, i.e. goal, kick, referee).
Later, I will write a blog comparing my experience here to my experience in Ghana. One thing off the bat is “la nourriture” (food). The Senegalese food actually has taste and isn’t overly spicy. They also use more ingredients, delicious sauces, and a lot of baguettes. Often they serve fruit as dessert after a meal. It was really funny when the other students in CIEE learned that we would be eating with our hands out of bowls. After various Fufu/Kenkey experiences in Ghana, I was a little doubtful about the Senegalese food experience. But, the food here is much better, there isn’t some sketchy soup and sticky, doughy material, just rice or couscous or bread. You sit on the floor, minus shoes, wash your right hand, and wait until your host digs in. Then you can eat out of your side of the bowl, making sure to not reach into the middle. The meat and vegetables are in the middle, so the host distributes these evenly to the rest of the eaters. When you are finished, you can burp to say you are satisfied, or say “Net na barima” (it was good, I am satisfied). You then get up and wash your hands (this has been difficult to do with the host family because they want you to “mangez!” a lot, so you kind have to really be firm or just finish all your food).
One thing my host sisters love for me to talk about is my “jaay fondey.” This means “big butt.” The Senegalese want us to gain weight and have a “jaay fondey.” I am going to take a dance class, play soccer, and perhaps join the local gym in order to not gain a larger “jaay fondey.”

Monday, January 15, 2007

je suis arrivee...

I got to dakar yesterday after more than 24 hours of travel. I flew from RDU to LGA taxied to JFK flew to Madrid overnight then from Madrid to Dakar and arrived after 10. Immigration was a hassle to get through, but at least all my luggage arrived with me. We were (30 something kids) all picked up and taken to the hotel where we will be staying for this week of orientation. Today we met up in the lobby then walked to Suffolk University's Dakar campus. This is where we will be taking our classes. Suffolk here prepares African students for a degree at the Suffolk in the US. Most of the students speak French as their first language, so they have an exchange program where we help them with english and they help us with french.
So you ask about French...well, to be honest, I have said very little in French. We are mostly focusing on acquiring much needed Wolof language skills. The greetings here are very elaborate. Here is an example: Justine -Saalamalaykum (peace be with you) Senegalese person: Malaykumsaalam (and with you). Justine: Nanga Def? (how are you, in wolof) Senegalese: Maangi fi (I am fine). Justine: Naka waa ker ga? (and your family, how are they?) Senegalese: Nunga fa (they are fine). and then you ask about work and other things. And its rude if you dont greet people you know, everytime you see them. You always respond in the positive, you don't rattle on about your bad day. I can't remember the greetings, so i better start practicing.
I move in with my host family on friday, tomorrow we have the french placement test (yikes), and we start wolof courses tomorrow as well. There are a lot of kids who are really good at french, but there are also alot that are on my level, thank goodness. Everyone seems really interesting and nice, and pretty genuine about their interest in french language improvement and senegalese cultural understanding. I will post again soon!