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: http://elon.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2047028&l=ecc00&id=18203484

1 comment:

AnnaD said...

I really liked that story...nuf said.