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,

Sunday, March 9, 2008

salaam maleekum!
Lu bees?
I'm back from Spring Break. I had an amazing time - lots of adventures and stories which I will be sure to share in the following paragraphs.
I'll give a brief overview first though, for those of you who don't like to read a lot.

Friday - Sunday: St. Louis
*flood at my uncle's house
*Parc National de la Langue de Barbarie (bird park)
*night club where we met a British guy whose name was actually Darcy. (Mr. Darcy!)

Monday - Wednesday: Popenguine
*Random guy on the beach singing "I Will Survive"
*Accro Baobab (high ropes course through Baobab trees)
*Chilling on the beach

Wednesday - Friday: Toubab Dialaw
*More chilling on the beach
*Horseback riding through the African bush

Friday - Saturday: Joal-Fadiout
*Tour of the 'Island made entirely of seashells'


Now, for those of you who love details... here's more about what happened on our trip:

FRIDAY morning we set off for St. Louis (pronounced sahn loo ee. We had the lovely experience of being crammed into a sept place (taxi with 7 seats) for 4 hours with no stops in between (unless you count the time that the taxi man 'pulled over' to get a cup of coffee - I say 'pulled over' because he never got out of the car - he just handed a woman some money and she handed him some coffee).

Once we arrived at the gare routiere in St. Louis (where the 7 place drops you off) we called my host mother's brother and he came and picked us up and took us to his/ his mother's house. We ended up staying at their house while we were in St. Louis.

Friday night we went out to "Le Biblos" where we heard some live music (an electric guitarist, electric bass, drum set, and a jembe and sabar drum) complete with members of the audience dancing (NO not me... they were REALLY good Senegalese dancers). It was at this very place that we met into a couple of European students one of who was named Darcy - which we all got a kick out of seeing as we're all huge "Pride and Prejudice" fans.

SATURDAY morning around 5am we awoke to discover that there was about an inch of water covering our entire room.
The bolt (?) connecting one of the pipes to the toilet had broken and water flooded the entire hallway and our room. It was quite an adventure trying to use a broom and and some towels to push the water outside, and then dragging everything outside so that it could dry. No real lasting damage was done though, and my uncle fixed the bolt that same day so it all worked out alright.

After napping away the rest of the morning, we decided to go to the Parc National de
la Langue de Barbarie where we took a pirogue (little fishing boat) tour around this island/inlet thing that houses tons of birds (I don't know how many, but it's a lot).
We saw a ton of Pelicans. I had no idea how BIG Pelicans actually are. They're a lot bigger then I'd ever realized.

SUNDAY we left St. Louis in the afternoon and spent most of the day traveling to Thies. We ended up taking a really big ndjay ndjay (sp?) which was sort of like a really big, white cross between a car rapide and a bus. We crammed more people than I ever imagined possible into this thing, complete with people standing on the back of it holding on to the ladder. I think at one point there were even some people riding on the roof. (Don't worry, we all had seats inside and were perfectly safe).

We had about a 3 and 1/2 to 4 hour ride on the bus. At one point we did get stopped by the Gendarmerie though, and the three of us were forced to get out and show our passports.

Once we arrived in Thies we spent the night at a really nice hotel called the Bidew Bi. We were all so tired we just crashed and then the next day we left for Popenguine.


MONDAY we arrived at a womens campement in Popenguine where we spent several hours relaxing on the beach, where we ran into a man who had an instrument resembling half of a calabash with a canvas spread out over it and then there was a little hole where 3 metal, piano like keys were. He then proceeded to sing "I Will Survive" and it was just a very hilarious sight to see.

TUESDAY we went to Accro Baobab where we spent the majority of the day on a high ropes course in between Baobab trees. It was SO much fun!


WEDNESDAY morning we headed off to Toubab Dialaw (the same place we went with our classmates a few weeks earlier). It was so nice just being able to relax on the hammocks and hang out by the beach.

I ran into the same ladies who had sold me jewelery the last time I had been there and I was really impressed that they remembered my name. I ended up buying some more jewelery from them and they gave us a bunch more jewelery as gifts in return. It was really sweet.

THURSDAY morning and afternoon we just hung out around the hotel and on the beach. However, Thursday evening Natalie and I went horseback riding. It was so beautiful and surreal riding along and seeing all of this beautiful scenery. I even got to gallop for a little bit - which was by far the highlight of my day.


FRIDAY morning we left for Joal-Fadiout which is the birth place of Senghor (Senegal's first president).
There we ran into some other CIEE students which was pretty sweet/random.
We visited the island of Fadiout which is theoretically made entirely out of shells. It's true that there are shells all along the ground, but I have a hard time believing that it's just shells.
There's a large Christian cemetery there which we spent a good deal of time in - it was up on a hill so you could see a lot of the landscape and it was just really pretty.


SATURDAY was pretty uneventful. We left our hotel and took a taxi to the gare routiere where we found a sept place to take us back to Dakar.
Traffic coming into Dakar was horrendous though, due to the World Islamic Conference that is being held in Dakar this week.
We were stopped in traffic in the heat of the day for hours. Needless to say I was very grateful to have a cold shower once I got back home.

Well I think I've written enough to keep you all busy for a while. It's hard to believe that it's already March and I'll be coming back home in a couple of months.
Time has gone by really quickly here.

Ba beneen yoon,