2008 January : focus to infinity

Forget pedestrian friendly streets—how about foosball friendly?

January 31, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 1 Comment 

Here’s the thing about Senegal: 45% of its population is under the age of 14. That means there are children EVERYWHERE. It really livens up the neighborhood when there are constantly children running, eating, laughing and playing in the streets.

So Tuesday on my way to work in the morning I saw two men carrying a foosball table down the narrow street. I wondered, “What in the world could they possibly be doing with that?” as they placed it at the very end of our lane (which is only walkable—no cars—pedestrian friendly!).

When I came home from work I found about 10 young girls huddled over the table, flailing their arms as they spun the poles back and forth to make their little soccer statues kick the ball. The foosball table had become a kid magnet, naturally. So what was it’s purpose? I’m pretty sure just plain fun.


To get an idea of my neighborhood, my house is down this lane behind the girl, on the right. It’s basically motorcycle alley, because there’s a tiny little motorbike repair store on the left. So there’s always about 4 or 5 motorbikes lying out.


As soon as the boys saw me taking photos, they ran over to get some of the spotlight.


Sunday Soccer

January 30, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 3 Comments 

On Sunday, I went to watch my little brother Mousa’s soccer match. He’s on the “petite” team, which plays the “grande” team. I’m not sure what the basis for those names are—I think it might be age, though Mousa’s 23—but it’s basically a bunch of neighborhood boys who play each other each week.

Here’s a pic of Mousa (he’s the one in the forefront, kicking the ball), as well as some other photos of the match:


The game made me a little nervous, because the ball would go into the street a lot, and the boys would chase right on after it. Occassionaly a taxi or a bus or a horse-drawn carriage would narrowly miss them.


The field is also a big sand pit basically, and it was a really hot day, so a lot of the time I sat across the street under a big tree, beside another brother (Little Mousa), and we watched from the coolness, and away from the sand that was flying. Good thing for long lenses.

Mousa’s team won 2-1 that day (here’s a pic of them celebrating their first goal):


Soccer (Le Foot) is a national event in Dakar, and now that the Africa Cup is on, there’s a huge big screen in one of the downtown roundabouts that plays all the Senegalese games for the public. The Soccer matches and the Call to Prayers are two of the most reliable events in Dakar, so I thought this photo, of the soccer ball flying above the peak of the mosque was appropriate.


Unfortunately Senegal lost it’s match in the Africa Cup on Sunday, so that was a bummer (but they play again soon). The Africa Cup is a huge deal over here, and every time there’s a big game, everyone crowds around the few TVs in the neighorhood to watch. On one corner shack/store, there’s always about 5 elderly men, all dressed in the traditional wear of Senegalese Muslims—long, colorful boubous and round little caps on their heads—huddled around a six-inch by six-inch fuzzy TV watching the game as women sit around them cooking and selling small bags of peanuts. So yeah, Le Foot is a big deal in these parts.

The Door of No Return

January 29, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 4 Comments 

This Saturday I went with one of the student groups around here to Goree Island.


It’s known as a jumping off point for the slave trade, and before we all went we got a two-hour history lesson on the island. The lesson was entirely in French, so I understood about half, but the gist of the history is that for many centuries Goree served as a trading post among Africa, Europe and the Americas.

Goree’s located just off the coast, so we had to take a ferry to get there.


Once we arrived, there were fishing boats and children playing in the water. The fisherman were singing, and the children swam around, asking for ‘pieces.


Goree is probably one of the most physically beautiful places I’ve seen in Dakar, but it’s also known as a site of one of the most tragic legacies of the human race. The House of Slaves was first built by the Portugese in 1536). Below, is the “Door of No Return” where slaves were marched out onto the boats, most likely never to return to Africa.


Many of the slaves who left for this door went to either Brazil, Haiti or Louisiana. Goree ceased being a slave trade point in 1815, but there still lingers a lot of European colonial influence in the architecture.


Besides the House of Slaves, we also visited a museum that told of women’s history in Dakar. The women are so vitally important to this society, yet their role is often underplayed. (Just spend one day watching my 50-year-old “mama” do all the cooking, cleaning and taking care of 9 children, and you can realize how women raise the country). At the women’s museum there was this great art piece that I thought accurately portrayed many women’s (not just Senegalese) roles..


And of course at lunch there was a musician serenading our group (Oh! and I got to have my FIRST salad since I got to Senegal for lunch! It had been 13 days since my last salad…If you know me at all, you know how big of a deal this was :)


    After Goree, I went home and later that night I was sitting with a bunch of Toubabs at the Youssou N’Dour concert. One of the Toubab’s “cousins” (Senegalese host cousin) was at the concert with us. He asked me what I had done today and I told him I went to Goree.

    “Oh, such a sad, tragedy about that island,” he told me.

    “Yeah, I felt guilty as an American walking through there,” I confessed to him.

    “No!” he said with a huge Senegalese smile. Then he said something about Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a Dream Speech,” about the part where King had hoped one day that black and white men could sit at a table together as equals, and he spread his arms out huge around the table, encompassing three or four white students, and declared, “See—the dream has come true!”

    Band Practice

    January 28, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 2 Comments 

    This weekend was full of music, soccer and history. I’ll start with Friday night for now, though.

    My neighbor, whose name is Mousa (not to be confused with my 2 bros named Mousa), invited me and my friend Brighton over to listen to their band practice.

    They’re band is kind of a Reggea/African ensemble, and they’re really laid back, so we just hung out and listened and danced in their backyard. Most of the words were in Wolof, so we couldn’t understand a lot of it, but I do know they were making up some of the words for us, because they kept saying in French something about Welcoming the Americans to Africa, and then they’d throw in Brighton and I’s names.


    During the middle of the rehearsal, the Mosque bells went off, and so the band quieted down for the call to prayer. We asked if they were Muslim—they were—and they asked us what religion we were.

    “Are you Muslim?”

    “Are you Christian?”
    I believe in God, but it’s more complex than just “being a Christian exactly”…

    “Oh, are you Catholic then?”

    In the States when this conversation comes up, I usually give some lengthy explanation about how I view life, that I try to take in a little bit of everything, blah, blah, blah.

    But with a lack of words and vocabulary to explain, I just blurted out all of a sudden:

    “Je suis juste Ricci.” — loosely translated—“I’m just Ricci.” That was the only response I could think of.

    It’s funny how when you only know so many words in a language, you must resort to the simplest way of saying something, and in doing that, a certain truth that wasn’t there before becomes clear.

    On another musical note: Saturday night we saw Youssou N’dour play at his club down the street. Youssou N’dour is basically THE BIGGEST musician in Africa, and he’s very big all around the world, but he’s from Dakar, so when he comes back he plays these little shows at the club he owns. I went with a bunch of other Toubabs (foreigners), and we all danced until 4:30 — Youssou didn’t even come on until 3 AM. The nights here start very late, which I’m pretty sure is due to the heat.

    (Note to Tammy: This was one of the “To Do’s” in that book you gave me. One down — 24 more to go!)

    Malaria Pills.. morning or night?

    January 25, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 1 Comment 

    I’m not feeling so well today. This morning, my malaria pill decided to come back up after I took it, and ever since then I’ve been pretty nauseous.

    Foreigners often get a little sick after their first week here, many people have told me, because of the food. But Valerie at the Baobab Center also told me that I should take my malaria pills at night and on a full stomach (I’ve been taking them in the morning, right when I wake up.) I didn’t even think that might be a problem (there was no “when to take and when not to take our malaria pills” section in my health class back at MHS ?).

    So due to slight illness, I’ll just post a quick pic of my home here today. But this weekend is looking to be jam packed with activities (so far I’ve got a historical island visit, a musician’s get-together, the beach and a soccer match planned), so I should have plenty to post next week.

    In the meantime… here’s the door to my room at the house – exciting, yes?


    Those who dance…

    January 24, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 2 Comments 

    Yesterday was officially “Dance” day for me—I got to photograph two dance events—one was a school for children and the other was a “Dance Spectacle,” as Pape Samba called it. Pape Samba is the Cultural Guru at the Baobab Center. He knows everything about music, dance and theater in Dakar, and if you’re in search of some entertainment, he’ll let you know when and where to go and get it.

    The dance school I photographed was some extra volunteer work. I’m taking photos for the woman who runs the school so she can make a proper brochure, because she focuses on bussing children in from the more impoverished outskirts of Dakar for dance lessons to help with community morale. I’m going to that area—from what I can gather it’s called Pekin—with the woman and a few other Baobab volunteers soon. So that’s an ongoing project I’m very excited to help with, but the photos and such will have to wait until later.

    For now, I’ll just post some photos from the Dance Spectacle—a group called “Cie de la 5eme Dimension.” There was a lot of “jimbe” (drums) in their routine, which lasted about 45 minutes. There was also some French rapping involved, so definitely all in all a good time.


    The Market

    January 22, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 8 Comments 

    Saturday I needed to go to the market to buy a towel and some sandals (I had been using my friend Leita’s (thanks!) the first few days, but I wanted some shoes to walk my own Senegal memories in), so one of my ‘brothers,’ Mousa, said he would take me to Centre Ville to barter with the vendors.

    Around noon, we walked to the corner to catch a taxi—there are SO many taxis in this city, there is a constant stream of yellow in the cluttered and busy roads. The first taxi that stopped did not give Mousa the price he wanted. Here in Dakar, there are no meters, but instead you tell the driver where you want to go before you hop in the cab, and then barter the price (this is how it SEEMS to work anyways, just from observation).

    Three taxis later, Mousa still wasn’t satisfied (he thought it should cost 1,000 CFA, but every driver insisted on 1,300), but we settled on the price and hopped in. I was excited, because this was my first trip outside of the surrounding neighborhoods.


    There was so much to take in on the ride—the most overwhelming thing about Dakar for me so far are the sounds—there are more sounds here than anywhere I’ve ever been. On the ride there, the taxi driver was playing some Afro-Regeea hybrid mix of music, there were cars blaring, goats bleating and I could hear the driver and Mousa speaking in Wolof over all of these noises. These noises don’t even compare to what I hear when I lay in bed at night—right now as I type there are people in the street speaking Wolof, children laughing, American music playing from the boys’ room next door, there are goats mewing to each other, Mosque prayers chanting overhead, neighbors singing, car and motorbike engines purring, the slipping slide of sandals on the tile outside of my door and the swooshing of one of the girls sweeping the floor with the handmade brooms they use everyday—ANYWAYS, back to the market journey.

    Shortly after we arrived at the market, we run into Mousa’s friend, Aman. Aman works in the market (or he actually owns a shop—I’m still not sure—the translations are broken most of the time). Aman offers to show us around and make sure we get what we need—my sandals and towel. This Saturday the market was less busy (because of the New Year holida), but there were still plenty of vendors on each corner, and the vivid colors of Senegal were in full display as the people who did venture out went about their business. (Photographing in the market is interesting, because people think Westerners will sell the photos as postcards, so usually you should ask first. I got yelled at twice.)




    As we walked, Aman, who is all smiles, asks me—
    “Do you like Senegal?”

    I assured him I did.

    “The Senegalese, we are very proud of our hospitality,” he said.

    I have to say they have reason to be proud. I doubt you will ever encounter a more hospitable country (as a whole) than Senegal. And almost to prove Aman’s point, as we were walking along in the market, I thanked Mousa profusely for taking me to the market and told him I hoped I hadn’t impinged on his Saturday plans.

    “It is no problem—you are my sister.” There it was again. No matter how much I hear it, that I am considered ‘family,’ it always makes me feel tremendously welcome.

    And without Mousa, I would have overpaid for my towel and my sandals. He bargained those vendors down in Wolof, while I stood there with a dumb look on my face. As he haggled, he would shake his head at the vendor, and each time they wouldn’t go down to his price, he would say,

    “On y va, Ricci.” (We are going, Ricci.”)

    And inevitably, the vendor would come down in price. After we bought my sandals and towel, Aman took us to his shop to proudly show off his wares. Inside the corner shop, brightly colored cloths lined the walls as a few workers sat at sewing machines, creating voluptuous shirts and dresses. I told Aman I would return there to buy a shirt before I left Dakar. Afterward, I was thirsty (the air is very dry here—not like my humid Midwest and Florida days), so I bought a Diet Coke for myself and Cokes for Mousa and Aman. Then Mousa and I hopped in a cab and took off for home. I had shoes, a towel and an even better appreciation for Dakar.


    Meeting the Host Family

    January 21, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 4 Comments 

    This Friday was the Muslim New Year. Here in Senegal, they celebrate both the New Year on January 1 and the religious holiday. The best way to describe it is kind of like a Holy Halloween. I hope that doesn’t make it sound trite, but besides a whole lot of praying, that night the children run around the neighborhood, singing and banging on drums, while they go from house to house, begging for couscous. Here’s a couple of the kids who stopped by our house:


    I liked the holiday, because it was one of the only times the family has eaten all together since I arrived. For the last couple of days, Mama and the two youngest girls have been mixing gigantic bowls of couscous and mashing onions and tomatoes by hand—all in preparation for the New Year’s meal:



    My first day at the house (Thursday), as I waited for Mama to bring me lunch, I asked if I could help. She gave me a large bowl of garlic cloves and had me peel and cut them into their respective pieces. All of this preparation takes place in the main room of the house, which is actually an outdoor area, surrounded by walls. It’s really cozy, but because it’s outside it’s also refreshing. It reminds me a lot of something that might exist in Sarasota. Probably my favorite part of the architecture is that there are random trees that sprout from the tiled floors.


    On Friday night, the family asked me if I would like to have my own plate, or if I wanted to eat with them. I asked to eat with them, so they gave me a spoon, and we all sat down to a large bowl of couscous in a rich sauce. It was definitely difficult for me to eat out of the same bowl as a bunch of other people, but the Senegalese have a very ‘structured’ way of doing this, so that each person has their own space they eat from.


    It also allowed me to get to know the family a lot better. They are used to “Toubabs” (foreigners) staying with them, so they are both warm and familiar with Americans. They insist that I am part of the family while I stay with them. The second day I was there, Mama said I was her, “American fil,” which means American Daughter. Last night, I was sitting next to the youngest girl, Aamy, of the family (here she is cleaning up after New Year’s Dinner):


    I told Aamy that I was said, because I missed my family back in the States:
    “Je manqué ma famille aux Les Etats-Unis,” I told her.

    “Nous pouvons ta famille aux Afrique,” she responded, as she flashed me a broad smile, which means: “We can be your family in Africa.”

    My first day in Dakar

    January 18, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 4 Comments 

    My first day in Senegal. I awoke to prayer chants around 5 am. There is a mosque right next door:

    caveat: I was warned not to be too obvious while taking photos. And until I become more friendly with people in the neighborhood, I’m trying to be very quick about photographing. So these might not be the BEST photos I’ve ever taken, but it will give you an idea…


    For some reason, the prayer chants made me happy. I guess I knew I was finally here, because it reminded me of what Leita had said about Dakar. Leita said these chants would occur a few times throughout the day. Though I haven’t noticed much of a response from the people when they do occur.

    After the 5 am chants, I went back to sleep, and I didn’t awake again until Gary knocked on my door at 10 am. We ate breakfast together—bread, butter and two eggs—while Queen Latifah and Diane Keaton discussed their new movie with Larry King. Gary has a South African satellite dish he explained, which means he gets some American stations. Thus my first morning in Dakar was spent discussing what I was going to do at the Baobab Center, while Diane Keaton and Queen Latifah told Larry that, “No, Katie Holmes didn’t bring baby Surie to the set EVERDAY.”

    After we ate a quick breakfast, Gary and I headed next door to the Baobab Center.


    There I was introduced to more than a dozen people, all of whom couldn’t have been more welcoming and warm. “Bienvenue, (welcome in French)” they all said after an EXTREMELY lengthy greeting.

    The common greeting here in Dakar is longer than many conversations in the States. First of all, they mix two languages: Wolof (native African language) and French. A typical hello goes something like this:

    Mousa: Salaamaaleekum
    Me: Maleeekum Salaam
    Mousa: Naka nga def?
    Me: Maangi fi rek
    Mousa: Ca Va?
    Me: Ca va. Et toi.
    Mousa: Ca Va


    Mousa: Peace be upon you.
    Me: Peace return to you.
    Mousa: How are you?
    Me: I am here only (I am fine).
    Mousa: How are things going? –(this time in French))
    Me: Things are going fine, and you?
    Mousa: Fine.

    This might sound complex and laborious (which it kind of is), but it’s also extremely friendly, and it makes you feel welcome and better acquainted with someone right away.

    The first day I also met my host family—and they are so wonderful! But more on that later… for now, here is one more pic from the area where I live and work


    4 Planes, 3 trains and 2 cab rides later…

    January 17, 2008 | Filed Under Uncategorized | 2 Comments 

    I’m officially in Senegal. It’s dark, so I can’t really tell you much about Dakar yet. But I did take a photo of this cool carving of Africa that’s in my room:


    I’m staying with Gary, who runs the ACI Baobab Center where I’m volunteering, for this first night. Tomorrow I go see my family.

    Just two updates about my day. First of all, I was looking for the train station in Brussels, when I stopped to ask a passerby for directions. The guy gave me some directions, and I asked where he was from. Of course, he was from Dakar. That’s gotta be a sign, right?

    On a less happy note, the Royal Air Morac lost my luggage. I’m pretty sure they’re somewhere between Amsterdam, Casablanca and Dakar. So that really narrows it down. The luggage people at the Dakar airport assured me I would get my luggage soon. C’est la vie.

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