Thursday, May 8, 2008

Asalaam maalekum!

This is going to be my last blog entry. 4 months already... it's kind of hard to believe.

I've finally finished with all of my final exams and papers and the reality that I'm leaving in two days is starting to really sink in.

Lots of you have been asking me how I'm feeling about leaving/ coming home - well that's exactly it...

I'm leaving sama waa ker (my family), some amazing friends, and just so much more that I can't even begin to explain. There's a lot about Senegal that I am going to miss.

At the same time I'm coming home and I'm so excited about seeing all of you again.

I've been doing a lot of self reflecting lately and am beginning to realize that I've changed since being here (in big and small ways).

Some things I've learned about myself from these past 4 months in Senegal (these are in no particular order):

I like tomatoes now.

I no longer find it strange to eat a fish that still looks like a fish (IE head and teeth still in tact).

I've learned that it's okay to ask a lot of questions.

I'm becoming more outgoing.

I'm much more conscious about how much electricity/water I'm using and am trying to be more environmental friendly.

I have a newfound love of reggae and r&b music (not to mention mbalax!).

I've learned to be 'maangi fii rekk' and to stop worrying about little things that you can't change.

I've learned that I have good friends (and family) who love and care for me and a looking out for me.

I've realized how much I love Senegal and I hope to come back again someday - Inchallah.

If anyone ever has any specific questions or just wants to talk to me about my trip PLEASE do not hesitate to contact me. I'd love to talk to you :-)

Jamm ak jamm,

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Asalaam maalekum!

Where on earth has the time gone? It's so hard to believe that it's May already.

I've been really busy with school lately (lots of final exams and papers to write).

I've been trying to take advantage of the little time I have left to spend time with my host family and go out and see/do things downtown.

Yesterday was my last CIEE class ever. After class I went with some friends to go visit Ryan in the hospital.

Yes, hospital. Ryan broke his leg during the weekend - but he's improving very quickly and is in very good care. His mom came to be with him and they are headed home this weekend. For those of you who pray - I'm sure that your prayers for a quick recovery would be appreciated.

Today some friends of mine came over and we had a dance party. My dad DJ-ed for us (he has an enormous cd collection - as well as a really nice sound system). It was a lot of fun.

That's about it for now. Not a whole lot planned for this weekend besides preparing for finals.

Jamm ak jamm,

Monday, April 21, 2008

Asalaam maalekum!

Before I give an update of what I saw during my trip to Touba here’s a little background information for you:
Sufi Islam is common here in Senegal – and in Senegal there are what the locals call “confreries” or, brotherhoods. These brotherhoods have leaders called Marabouts who are supposed to help lead and direct their followers (talibe) in their relationship with Allah (god).
Probably the most common confrerie here in Dakar are the Mourides. Mouridisme was founded by Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba. (pictured below – and believe me this picture is EVERYWHERE in Dakar).

Touba is a village that was founded by Ahmadou Bamba in 1887. Ahmadou moved to Touba in order to re-discover peace and to strengthen his fellowship with Allah. His idea was to renounce the world and focus only on God. He chose Touba because at the time there was no one there and he was tired of war (against colonialism) that was to be found throughout Senegal – especially in Dakar and the region of Kajoor.
Mouridisme is run by a heirarcharical system. On top you have the khalif general, and under him you have a few khalif’s. Under the khalifs there are marabouts who are in charge of the representatives who are in charge of associations who are in charge of talibe (the followers/devotees).
Long story short Ahmadou Bamba founded mouridisme in Touba and built a mosque and when he died he was buried there and each year during maggal (a religious holiday) there is a huge pilgrimage to Touba and thousands of people all gather there for the weekend to pray and pay homage to Ahmadou Bamba.
If you’re interested in more info you can check out these sites.,_Senegal (sorry, this one’s in French)

So with all that in mind this is my adventure to Touba:
Saturday morning my History of Islam classmates and I took a four hour bus ride to Touba. Upon arriving we met up with our guide for the day (who just happens to be the old History of Islam professor for CIEE). He took us to the mosque there – which just happens to be the biggest mosque I’ve ever seen in my life.
Here are some pictures for you:

This picture is where Muslims can perform their "abolutions" before praying. (They have to purify themselves by washing their hands and feet and face before going to pray).

This is the inside of the mosque where people can get holy water – we weren’t allowed to go inside because we were tourists, but we were allowed to stand at the door and take pictures, which is exactly what I did.

Women have to wear head scarf in order to enter and no one is allowed to wear shoes inside of the mosque.

The part with the green dome on top is where Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba is buried. The blue/purple-ish one behind is where the first khalif is buried.

After taking a tour of the Mosque we went to a female Marabou’s house and talked to her for a while. She prayed for us before leaving.
Then we went to our host’s house for lunch. There was SO much food – it was incredible. We had a mixture of pretty much every good Senegalese dish ever made – ceebu jen with balls of fish, as well as actual fish pieces, along with yassa (onion sauce) and all sorts of good vegetables. It was delicious and we could barely move afterword because we had eaten so much food. Once we could move again we got back in the bus and drove for another four hours back to Dakar – it was a long day to say the least.

Yesterday some of my friends and I went to the “Parc National des Iles de la Madeleine” – a national park on an island here in Dakar. It was a beautiful day and we spent the day there on the rocky beach and then took a tour around the island (which I did barefoot for some reason…) It was really pretty though and the view was incredible. See for yourself:

(if you look closely in the picture above you can see the city of Dakar in the background)

Oh… and we climbed a baobab tree – wouldn’t you if you had the chance?

That’s it for now. Thanks for your comments!
Jamm ak jamm,

Friday, April 18, 2008

Asalaam maalekum!
Namoon na lanu. (I've missed you)

Again I must apologize for not updating this more regularly, but as the semester is drawing to a close things are getting more and more hectic (especially with school - papers to turn in, tests and what have you).

I believe that when I last posted I was getting ready to leave for rural visits.

Let me begin by saying that it's misleading to say that I went on a rural visit - there was not really anything rural about it at all (the family I stayed with had running electricity, a fridge, tv, faucet with running water, etc...)

I went to the town/city of Kaolack for the week (about a 4 hour ride south east of Dakar - depending on traffic).

Marianne, Edwina, Wendell and I spent the week working with an NGO called 10,000 girls.
They have received English textbooks from the States and are currently working on organizing and distributing these books to local schools (specifically the English classes).

In short - I spent the week packing and unpacking and attempting to organize about 5 rooms filled with boxes upon boxes of books (all while wearing traditional Senegalese clothing! - because apparently wearing a tank top and capris is considered too risque here).

It was a lot of fun though - and it was nice knowing that we were doing something productive. It was REALLY HOT though... temperatures were around 42*C ( 107*F - thanks Dannielle!)

We also lived with different host families. I've been blessed yet again with having an amazing family. I spent most of the time talking with my 18-year-old sister Moussou. She's in high school and wants to become a doctor someday. (Cancer specialist if you want to be precise about it).

Here's a picture of us - we got all dressed up to have our picture taken at a local photo shop. **PLEASE NOTE** I do not own this outfit - she let me borrow it. (I do however own the teal dress that's in the above photos) :-D

Towards the end of the week we got to go to some of the schools where previous books had been delivered. It was really interesting/a lot of fun getting to talk to the English teachers and some of the students.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that while we were unpacking some boxes and moving things around we found a family of cats - Mama with 4 or maybe 5 kittens. They'd been living behind one of the piles of boxes in one of the back rooms. They were really cute, but we were careful to keep our distance.

On another note school is starting to get busy. Lots of end of the year quizzes, tests, and papers to complete.

Tomorrow my History of Islam class is taking a field trip to Touba - the "center of the world for the Mourides" as my teacher calls it. (Mouride is one of the more popular sufi brotherhood (religious sect of Islam) here in Dakar.) Hopefully I'll have a lot to tell you all about that when I get back.

Until then PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE post comments. I love hearing from you guys (plus it reassures me that I'm not writing to an empty audience). Jerejef!

Okay, ba beneen yoon!


Sunday, April 6, 2008

Asalaam maalekum!

It's been a busy but good weekend.
Thursday night I went downtown to the French Cultural Center with some friends to see a Senegalese rap concert. There were several different artists there and it was a great time. Lots of good music.

Friday was the celebration of Senegal's Independence Day. They had a parade downtown, but instead of going I decided to sleep in and watch it on TV.

I watched Pan's Labyrinth with my family - which was interesting because it's a Spanish film with English subtitles... and they mostly speak Wolof and French. However, they know a little English and were able to follow along well enough with the subtitles to understand what was going on (or so they said).

Later on that night I ended up watching Vantage Point (In French) with my brother Issa and my sister Mama. It was a really good film - I highly recommend it if you haven't seen it.

Saturday I helped clean the house a little bit and then my friend Natalie came over and we watched Stardust with my family.

Then we went over to my friend Sarah's house (along with several other people) and we watched the Newsies!

(It was a BIG movie weekend...)

Then Saturday night I went out with my brother Issa and a bunch of my friends to this big party downtown. It's called Koolgraoul (sp?)and it only happens the first Saturday of every month. It's basically a big dance party outside under the stars behind the presidential palace. It was a great time.

Tomorrow I'm heading out for my rural visit. I will be staying with an NGO called 10,000 Girls in Kaolack.
I'll be there with three of my classmates - Edwina, Wendall, and Marianne.

I should be back next Sunday InchAllah. So until then Nu yendoo ak jamm. (let us spend the day in peace).

jamm ak jamm,

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Asalaam maalekum!
Lu bess?

So much has happened lately - I'm not really sure where to begin.

Last Thursday my brother Issa and I went out and bought ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies. They turned out surprising well considering that I couldn't find any brown sugar, I used baking powder instead of baking soda, and I guestimated the quantities of the rest of the ingredients.

Friday my whole class headed off to Les Isles de Saloum for the weekend.
We started off by taking a pirogue tour around the mangroves before arriving at our hotel.
Dinner was AMAZING. We had an appetizer of tomatoes and then the main course was Shrimp pasta, and for dessert we had flan.

Saturday morning we took a charet (horse cart)to the local village. The ethnic group here is mostly Sereer (and they tend to be Catholic) so we got to see the local church. Then we took a charet tour around the island and saw a bunch of baobab trees and more mangroves. It was a lot of fun.

Saturday afternoon I read 'A Wrinkle In Time' (somehow I escaped reading that in middle school...) and I learned how to play Spades. Spades is a fun game, but I still think I prefer Euchre.

Saturday night was so much fun. We went back to the village where we were able to see a Wrestling match. Some of my classmates even got to participate! I didn't wressle there but later on that night back at the hotel a few of my friends and I decided to try it out.
We had a jembe/dance part back at the hotel that night in celebration of my 21st birthday. It was SO much fun.

Sunday was my actual birthday and we headed back to Dakar in the morning. That afternoon I went to lunch with some of my friends at an Indian restaurant (Yes - they have Indian food in Dakar... I'm as surprised as you are). It was really good though.
Upon returning to my house my whole family broke into singing 'Happy Birthday': First in French, then in English, then in Wolof. It was quite a memorable experience.

Also, I now have Senegalese clothes!
I got my outfits back from the tailor and they turned out great. I'll be sure to post pictures soon.

Oh, and my hair is braided again. :-D

That's it for now. I'll try to post pictures before I head out on my rural visit. (Next week all of us CIEE students are being sent to different villages in Senegal and we're going to live there for a week just to see a different perspective of what living in Senegal is like... because Dakar is defenitely not like the rest of Senegal).

Bachikanam (until next time),

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Asalaam maale(kum)! *They leave out the ending when they say it in Gambia for some reason.

Gambia? Gambia?!? What's that? Why is Kelly talking about the Gambia?
Well I'll tell you...

But first let me apologize for taking so long to update this. I've been crazy busy.

-Talent Show/Festival at my host brother's school
-Daara (Islamic school) field trip
-Weekend trip to the Gambia

Last week I had the opportunity to go to my youngest brother Dame's primary school. The children performed skits, recited poems and sang songs for the parents. Each class had something different to contribute to the festivities.
One class had a sort of fashion show competition where all of the students dressed up in the traditional clothing of different ethnic groups (Wolof, Pulaar, Mandinka, Ghanian, etc...) and a panel of judges (parents whose children were not in the competition) decided who was the best-dressed and thus King and Queen of the school.

My brother took part in a skit where they taught children not to play soccer near the street so as not to be hit by a car.

Another class presented a song where they talked about stopping the spreading of AIDS and ending war/violence in countries such as Sudan and Congo.

I had another very educational experience last week as well when my Education Class took a field trip to a Daara.
So what exactly is a daara?
A daara is an Islamic school where a Marabou (religious leader/teacher)teaches students the Koran (Islamic holy text). Each child has their own tablet (sort of a miniature chalkboard) where they have a lesson written down.

They spend several hours a day memorizing this one lesson and at the end of the day they recite it to the Marabou. If they have successfully completed their lesson it gets erased and a new lesson is written on their tablet. If they do not successfully complete their lesson they are punished and have to spend the next day making sure they memorize this lesson.

All of the children were crowded into a small square space where they recited their lessons.

In this particular daara there seemed to be an equal number of boys and girls (which was very interesting because I thought that mostly boys went to daaras). However, the Marabou did explain that boys and girls were usually taught in separate spaces within the daara.

It was a very interesting experience and I'm hoping that I can learn more about daaras before heading back to the states.

Now, about the Gambia...

What happens when your Thursday classes get canceled and you don't have any classes on Friday or Monday because it's Easter weekend?
Well my friends Debby, Morgan, and I decided that it would be the perfect opportunity to travel to the Gambia. Yes, it is its own country in spite of the fact that it is surrounded by Senegal.

Here's a slightly more detailed map that shows all of the places we visited:

Thursday we got up at 4:40AM and headed found a 7-place (taxi with seven seats) to Kaolack, Senegal where we waited for 2 hours to find another 7-place going to Farafenni (A town near the border of Senegal but technically in Gambia). It was quite a hassle once we got there because we needed to change our money (They have their own currency - the Gambian Dalasi).
Normally changing money wouldn't be a problem, except that it was a holiday and the bank was closed. So we ended up going into the local market and found some people to change money for us. (We knew the rate ahead of time so we had a pretty even exchange). Plus, most people in the Gambia speak English (since they were colonized by the British - not the French, like Senegal) so it was a lot easier to communicate with people.

Then we started looking for a way to get to Georgetown (which the locals refer to as JangJang-Bureh). It was at this point that we met a really nice/helpful man named Jatto. Jatto was headed to Georgetown as well and so we all got on a bus together. The bus driver tried to overcharge us (because it was obvious that we had NO idea how much anything should be) but Jatto came to our rescue and made sure we paid the same amount as everyone else.

On the way to Georgetown Jatto informed us that his brother was the manager of the camp we were planning on staying in. Darboe (Jatto's brother) was very nice, generous, and knowledgeable about the historical background of the area. He was kind enough to take us around to see a stone circle (I'll explain more about that later), the freedom tree and the slave house.

The camp we stayed in was absolutely amazing. Beautiful. Peaceful. In short - it was paradise.
It was located right on the river - but the water was very calm because we were so far upstream. Plus, there were monkeys EVERYWHERE. We even got to feed them bread at one point.

These are some various pictures taken around the camp:

Now about these stone circles... There's a big touristy one located in Wassu, but that was too far away so Darboe showed us a smaller one located closer to the camp.

The stone circle is what it sounds like - a big circle of stones.
On these big stones there are several smaller stones and tradition holds it that if you hold one of these smaller stones while standing in the middle of the area around the big stones you can ask God for anything and he will give it to you.

We also got to travel around and see the slave house and the freedom tree. Supposedly if a slave touched the freedom tree he was able to sign a book and be declared as a free man from that day forward.

Darboe surprised us with lunch which we ended up eating around the bowl like we were family. Debby got to carry the lunch back to the campsite like a real African woman.

After spending a couple of nights in Jangjang-bureh we left for Soma. We spent the night there and then took a day trip out to Kiang West National Park. We didn't really see any animals there, but we did have a nice long hike and we got to meet a peace corps volunteer there.

Overall it was a great trip. We got back to Dakar Monday afternoon after a very long bus ride (7 hours).

I'll try to be better about updating this more often.
I'll post pictures soon.

jamm ak jamm,