Friday, May 18, 2007

Ziguinchor, Tonsillitis, last days in Dakar

The past two weeks have been uneventful in Dakar, except for the occasional (and that means every day) losses of power. My family immediately blames Wade whereas Senelec, the company that controls the power, blames it on the heat. Ironically, when all the Americans leave, the temperature skyrockets. This isn’t the first time there were power cuts in Dakar; I did a project last spring on the same problem. Of course, this pales in comparison with the twice weekly six hour power outages of Ghana, but it’s still annoying nonetheless.
I had a sore throat for about two weeks, which then turned into an extremely painful one and brought with it a steady fever. Go figure…I have a throat infection, Tonsillitis. I can’t swallow anything, which ruins my last few days in Dakar because I can’t even eat Ceebu Jen.
On the 13th, I flew to Ziguinchor in the Casamance. Why? “Deemed the longest running conflict in West Africa, the low-intensity conflict in the Casamance region of southern Senegal has raged on for more than two decades. Appearing initially as a separatist conflict with ethnic overtones, the Casamance conflict is also inherently a geo-political and socio-economic struggle as well. Separated from the rest of the country by the former British colony, The Gambia, the Casamance region has very little infrastructural ties to Dakar. Attempts by the central government to increase rice yields in the region as well as the movement of non-indigenous Muslim farmers from the north has fostered resentful accusations of “land despoilment” and the destruction of Casamancais resources with the permission of the central government. Once the country’s breadbasket, the Casamance is now the poorest and most deprived region of Senegal. The Movement of Democratic Forces in the Casamance (MFDC), the rebel movement in the region, initially fought for independence for the entire Casamance region. However, recent conflicts within the organization have fostered a split between the predominately Diola, more radical and more militaristic southern group and the northern group who is more inclined for peaceful measures and more cooperative with the Senegalese government.” I am currently working on a research project specifically looking at international aid organizations’ support of women’s peace organizations during the conflict. I have been researching for months, so when I came to Senegal and was told by the CIEE director I wouldn’t be able to travel to the region because of safety reasons, I was a little upset. Nonetheless, I was granted permission at the last minute, and I took the safest route: plane.
I stayed with the Soumare family, which made for both an interesting and rewarding experience. I was lucky to stay with Lamine Soumare, the brother of my host mother in Dakar, because he works on a female literacy class project and knew exactly where I could find the offices of all of the organizations I needed to speak with. The family was way too kind and they wanted to make me gain weight (shows they gave me a good welcoming, I suppose), so they kept giving me cashews, mangoes, bañyes (fried doughy balls with sugar), and making me eat by myself with a huge plate. I didn’t gain weight though, because I told them I can’t eat that much. The sad thing about the Casamance is it really is the breadbasket and the most beautiful part of the country. Cashews in Dakar cost one dollar for a small bag, whereas in the Casamance one has only to climb a tree, grab some cashews and their fruit, and roast them. The same thing with mangoes, probably the most expensive fruit in Dakar. The Soumare family had a huge mango tree in their yard that we used for shade most of the time and it was weighed down with all of its delicious, green fruit. There were trees everywhere, the river was beautiful, and the people entirely too nice. It’s a shame that the conflict has destroyed so much for the region.The Soumare family was enormous; I can’t even count everyone. They were spread out between two houses and included at least 3 generations. I spent most of my time with Lamine, but I got to know the others little by little. They kept telling me they were poorer than the family I stay with in Dakar, but they were richer in so many other aspects. They loved having me as a guest: touring me around town, cooking special meals, dancing and singing for me. And it was the first time I have ever been called a Toubab. One of the younger girls kept yelling, “Toubab, xoolal!” (White person/Foreigner, look!) I kept telling her that I wasn’t a Toubab, but it didn’t stick. Maybe she hasn’t ever seen a white person (a real Toubab) before… Lamine blessed four pens for me and my brother to write our exams and blessed me as well (his father was a marabout), which made me feel particularly special. I was sad I only stayed for three days, but I made promises to return, inshallah. Photos here:

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

It's been a long time...

I just realized that I hadn't written anything in almost a month. And a lot has happened since rural visits, so bear with me.
I will start with this past weekend and go backwards.

Cinco de Mayo fete on ile de Ngor: Since everyone is leaving this weekend (except a few of us) we decided to have a large party for 5th of May and also as a going away ceremony. We made mexican food (as mexican as we could get without tortillas or taco shells) and I made a well praised mango cobbler. The house had two bedrooms and there were more than 35+ of us who were intending on sleeping there, so to say the least we stayed up really late and had to get creative on sleeping situations (I slept on a couch frame...without the cushion...ouch) then we had french toast for breakfast and chillaxed on the beach until it was time to go home. Making the cobbler. yum.

Friday, final CIEE dinner: We had dinner as a group with all of our professors and directors of the programs at a restaurant called Gormondais Africanes. Serigne, our awesome director, even hired the best band in town, Orchestra Baobab, to serenade us. We danced up a storm (and so did our crazy profs), showcased our student talent (dancing, drumming, singing) and then went out for ice cream afterwards. It was really sad though because Serigne and Victoria were talking about how we were the best group and were such good students and people and it made everyone sad.
Me and Victoria at the dinner.

Tuesday, May 1 TOUBA!!: Touba is a religious town that is really significant for the Mouride brotherhood. Their spiritual leader, Cheikh Amadou Bamba, lived, worked and died in this village. He was exiled by the French colonial government because of his anti-colonial stance, but this had little negative effect on gaining devout followers. Baye Falls, a sect of Mourides, can be seen all over Dakar and Senegal (they wear multi-colored quilted outfits; they are hard to miss). Every year, 48 days after the Islamic New Year, there is a huge pilgrimage to Touba celebrating the day Bamba returned from exile. Millions upon millions of people crowd into Touba to celebrate (I referenced it during my spring break blog; it was the reason there were no cars going anywhere in Senegal except Touba). Touba itself is an interesting ville…the Senegalese government does not regulate the city, the current Marabout owns all of the land and distributes it only to Muslims, there is no drinking or smoking or dancing, and no hotels or French schools. And it is home to the largest Mosque in West Africa. Babacar (Andrew) and I got dolled up in our best Senegalese attire, headed to the gare routiere at 7am and took a sept-place to Touba (a little less than 4 hours). When we arrived, Andrew swore he could see the mosque “just ahead” so we started to walk. Of course, I wasn’t wearing appropriate shoes for walking long distances and the mosque was not just ahead not to mention the lack of sidewalks in this country (just sand). We finally got to the mosque, took off our shoes, and commenced to wander. Since we are not Muslim, and Andrew stands out like a sore thumb, we were quickly stopped before entering rooms we were not allowed to go. We found a tour guide who took us around to the various parts of the mosque. There is a well, the spring of Mercy, which we drank from despite warnings about drinking un-treated water. It was salty. I think our tour guide took us into parts of the mosque we were not allowed to go, because there was one time in the grand library that he tried to sneak us in and a man already inside started yelling that Andrew wasn’t Muslim and the guide was yelling back, yes he is because look he changed his name. And they were pushing each other and there was a lot of yelling. It did not really involve me because, as a woman, I was not allowed to enter. That was frustrating…Everywhere we went I had to enter through another door, or walk in another direction that the guide. I couldn’t shake hands with any of the men and had to keep my hair covered at all times. The mosque itself was incredible. I was awe struck by its beauty and intricacy. Every room was elaborately decorated but not overly done like some Catholic churches I have seen. The mosque is over 100 years old, but it looks shiny and brand new. Beautiful Arabic scrolled across ceilings and doors and the serenity of people in prayer or meditation was touching. It was an amazing experience. We hooked up with the Islam class from CIEE for lunch at one of the Marabouts’ house and free transportation home. More pictures:

April 20 – 22, STOP BUSH FIRE!: Our environment class went on an overnight weekend excursion to Toubacouta to examine the effects of bush fire on the area. We visited three villages and talked to the locals about their use of fire for agriculture and whether or not they believed that they were the reason for the destruction of the environment. Many of the villagers “swore” that they didn’t use bush fire, but how ironic was it to walk outside the village and see burnt ground? They did know that un-controlled bush fires destroy the food for their livestock, kill valuable trees necessary for shade, and ruin their attempts at raising bees for honey production. We taught some local kids who wanted to tag-a-long with us our mantra that we stole from a Gambian film, “STOP BUSH FIRES!” Inshallah, they will take that home to their parents and actually will stop destroying the landscape. Pictures:

April 19, Daara: With the education class, we went to a daara in Pikine. A Daara is a Islamic/Arabic school, but here they are sort of a money making venture for the Marabouts who run them (now of course, this is not always the case; there are decent daara’s but our teacher wanted us to see one that was far from decent). Half of the students hit the streets in the morning to beg for rice, sugar, and money. The other half stay to recite and memorize passages from the Qur’an. They can write in Arabic and read it, but they do not understand the context of the passages. They only learn the Qur’an and nothing else, which is sad because many of these students will never have the opportunity to go to school and learn science, geography, history or math. They slept on mats outside, rarely bathed, and descended on food as if they did not know where or when their next meal would come. The Marabout would keep the majority of the money earned and give the kids about 300 CFAs of it (a little more than 50 cents). Many of the children were ill and had skin disorders, but the Marabout said he could not afford to take them to the hospital. If they did not study or if they danced, the talibes were beaten by the Marabout. We asked them if it hurt and if they cried and they responded in the affirmative. All of the talibes were far from their parents who were in Touba. But this Marabout wasn’t bad at all; his brother, who had worked at this daara before, had tied up a talibe for more than two days and was run out of Pikine by the neighbors. A question I had that was never adequately answered was how this Marabout, who was proud to announce that he had four wives, supported all of those in his family and the children if he supposedly only kept a little of what the children begged? He didn’t appear to be hungry like his students…
I am done with classes, exams and papers Alhamdulilah. Now, I am just preparing for everyone leaving and the two trips I am making before I finally return to the U.S. I am going to Ziguinchor, Casamance (Southern Senegal) the 13th through the 16th and then Cape Verde to meet my mom, grandmother, and cousins May 19th through May 29th. I bounce back to Dakar for 24 hours and then depart for les Etats-unis May 30th.