Monday, November 30, 2009

That's all I've got right now...

Today's phone call to the embassy. Hopefully more will come out next time.

Woman in Senegalese Embassy: Embassy of Senegal. Bonjour.
Me: Bonjour. Uh... I'm calling because...

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Pouvoir- Power

Basic question: how will I charge my phone and laptop while abroad? My laptop is newish so I'm trying to do my homework to prevent any damage. You have to wade through lots of junk to figure out what you really need. Here's what I've found.

1. Voltage specs for your machine- mine is a MacBook. It is "dual-voltage" meaning it can be plugged in without a voltage converter outside the US if the voltage in Senegal is within its range.

100V to 240V AC

2. Plug type in destination country. There are lots of guides out there, but I like this one best because the plugs look like faces (Denmark seems happy). Senegal's is similar to France's. Surprise.

3. Voltage range in destination country. Found in same guides. Senegal's seems to be around 220 on all sites, but one went up to 250. Should I be concerned? Not if I have a surge protector.

Using this information, you can select a plug adapter or converter. I've used the universal adapters in the past and have been mostly happy except for their size. They usually include surge protectors. I'll think I'll stick with what I've got for now.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What's in a name?

There are several things wrong with the name of this blog, which I feel I must acknowledge before I go any further. If it is any comfort, the mistakes are purposeful.

Let's just say that Sénégalə is the correct French spelling with schwa along for a ride. This name has an unintentional double entendre (quelle surprise! français!). Schwa is both my nickname and a phonetic letter, used in linguistics, and I am going to Senegal to learn a language. Voilá.

If it was possible I would have put the schwa in Senegal, instead of on the end, but I haven't found a way to type that. So, in summary, I am sorry. The title, I know is incorrect and insufficient, but perhaps that is the troisième (third) entendre- when learning a language through immersion, failing is the best way to improve.

To make reading this worth your time, here's a link on how to type French accents on a Mac.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Oh where is my passport?

This is not a humorous posting.

I sent my passport through FedEx to the Senegalese Embassy in Washington 10 days ago. I am waiting for them to return it to me with my visa for the semester inside. Waiting.

My passport is the one thing that I am uber-conscious of while abroad and it made me very nervous to send it away. Without that, I can't get anywhere! And plus, it's got cool stamps.

Also, yellow fever. A must have for travelers to Africa, the vaccine, I mean. I spent what felt like days searching for my yellow book before going to Kenya this summer because I needed proof of vaccination to cross over the border to Tanzania. When I reached the border all they wanted was my 100 USD cash. Better safe than sorry?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Why West Africans Don't Like the French.

A great article from the Times on the post-colonial relationship between France and countries in Africa. I would highly recommend reading the whole thing. Some excerpts are below.

In Africa, “opposition to power also means opposition to France,” said Mamadou Diouf, the director of Columbia University’s Institute of African Studies. “We find ourselves in a paradox: The champion of the rights of man practices a politics absolutely contrary to its principles,” Mr. Diouf said of France’s policies in Africa.

Mr. Joyandet (France's Secretary of State for Cooperation) said that “for us, the relationship with Francophone Africa is especially difficult. When we do too much they say we’re colonialist,” he continued. “And when we don’t do enough, we hear complaints.”

“People don’t like France because France isn’t helping Africans freely choose their leaders,” said Achille Mbembe, a political scientist and historian at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. “And the democratic process is blocked, practically everywhere.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Neo-Post-Old-School-Colonialism. Also, maps.

Why are there no websites on Senegal in English? This question could begin a long history lesson, but I'll try to make it simple.

Look at a map of Africa. See which country names you have heard or have not heard. I bet those you've heard are mostly former colonies of Great Britain, or the oddball Liberia, a resettled slave colony with closer ties to the U.S. I'd also take a gander that you haven't heard of many of the 16 former French colonies. Gabon, for example. Where in the world is Gabon?

Part of the reason I'm going to Senegal is because I'm interested in Africa as a whole, not just the part that speaks my language or has closer ties to my country. Some would call the current reality neocolonialism. I guess this is an issue I'll have to poke around while I'm there.

Check out this awesome map of Africa that shows the progression of the continent through history. Here's a screen shot.

If you're into maps, you'll also love Gap Minder, another tool that moves across time and uses great visuals. This map is a great visual of the history of the HIV pandemic.

Lastly, if your eyes aren't tired yet, World Mapper is a must see. Below is a visual of infant mortality burden by country, which is a great proxy for poverty. Try looking at other indicators- demographic, economic, health, education, it's all there.

Monday, November 9, 2009

french according to my generation..

But of course, parapluie!

On Friday, I randomly said parapluie, the French word for umbrella. Needless to say, I was quite proud of my subconscious. I took French in middle school and the first two years of high school. After that I took Spanish and traveled to Argentina. I know that somewhere deep inside my brain all the French is still there and parapluie is just the beginning of that. I've also been making bad stereotypical French puns hoping that will motivate subconscious schwa.

Some great sites that have helped me in practicing my French:
1. Word Reference: The internet's best language dictionary, complete with verb conjugator.
2. UT French Grammar Site: Everyone's favorite subject explained by an armadillo.
3. UT French Verb Practice Site: Conjugate the night away.

In starting to plan the details of my trip, I've realized that there is no information (renseignements) on the internet about Senegal in English. It's all in French. That has definitely forced me to pick up the pace in my self-guided relearning. It also is indicative of the colonial divide still present in Africa, which I'll talk about next post.

Here's the best travel site I've found thus far, titled Routard, French for backpacker. Also check out the language center I'll be studying in, named after Senegal's famous tree, the Baobab.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Hi, I'm Emily or əmily or Schwamily (hence the name of the blog).

This blog will chronicle a semester abroad in Dakar, Senegal. I hope that it can be more than a description of one person's experience but rather a reflection of what it is to travel and live abroad in West Africa as an American. I hope that I can describe what it is to travel and live abroad and share lows, highs, and "best practices", if they exist.

You'll notice I'm starting two months early. In my other travels, I have only written while away which leaves out a substantial amount of the (pre)preparation and (post)processing. In any case, half my brain is already in January, so why not?

I hope that I can make these blog entries interesting, relevant to a diverse audience, at least a little amusing, and meaningful. I also hope to teach a little bit of language, which is most of what I will be learning this semester. So be prepared for the occasional French or Wolof lesson.

I also hope to perfect the art of the hyperlink. We'll see if the internet is good enough in Dakar to support this habit.