Friday, April 30, 2010


A good thing to dwell on by Ron Rolheiser.

"We spend too much time and energy angry and frustrated with each other over something that basically we cannot control or change. Our differences, however much they may frustrate us and tax our patience at times, are not a crime, a sin, or indeed (most times) even anyone's fault. We don't need to blame someone, be angry at someone, or resent someone because he or she is different than we are, no matter how much those differences separate us, frustrate us, and try our patience and understanding. "

Friday, April 23, 2010

Random Observations from Today

All of the newspapers in Senegal always have a different headline. It's like no one agrees on what is important. Youssou Ndour, Senegalese superstar, is also the owner of Senegal's most popular paper- L'Observateur.

I don't know where the handicapped man that I see each day hides his wheelchair. I know he has a wheelchair and that he leaves to go somewhere else but I don't know where he goes. Today he asked me to teach him English, because all he knows is "Give me some money." I taught him "please".

There are a bunch of great Senegalese movies that are "made for foreigners" as my friend told me. There is one functioning cinema in Dakar at the moment, which is expensive. I'm going to try to buy some DVDs of Senegalese movies before I go back but I have a feeling they might be hard to find.

I talked with someone yesterday about time being more fluid in Senegal. It's true. And what's also true is that people make promises to do things that they don't keep because deadlines aren't serious. But, I have a flight out in three weeks. That's a real deadline and I'm starting to understand that some things might not happen before then. And that's okay.

But hey, I also promised to write on my blog more than I have and that's not a big deal, right? Maybe I'll continue after I get home with stuff I didn't have time to post now. We'll see. I'm not going to promise anything.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Schwa Does Desert

Welcome to Lompoul. Land of big dunes, smelly 5 minute camel rides, and awkward French tourists.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Giant Fight

If you're up for it- check out the fight from Sunday. Large men. But the fight is still very skillful. I found myself arguing with my mother, sister, and the maid yesterday about how exactly Yekini beat Tyson II. Everyone is into lutte, or lamb in Wolof. This is the superbowl.

Do yourself a favor and start at 6:00 minutes into the video. Notice screaming in Wolof. This language no longer sounds strange at all to me.

I hate holidays.

This post will certainly be unfiltered. I’m just going to tell you how it really is to do Easter in Senegal. The title is a direct quote from my host mother, on the eve of Good Friday. She said this when I arrived home from my travels for spring break and found her outside the house directing our maid and a girl hired for 4 days (for $1 a day) in the making of Ngalax.

Ngalax is a dish that all the Christians make on Good Friday and share with their Muslim friends in the neighborhood, in exchange for the sheep meat that they share with us on the Muslim holiday, Tabaski. It is a tool for neighborly and interreligious love at the same time. And it is good. It is a great example of a category of food whose texture would never fly in American dishes- the heavy sauce and rice/millet/couscous combo. Many Senegalese eat Thiakry every Sunday, which is ground millet or couscous eaten with “lait caillé” which is a soupy flavorless yogurt. Ngalax is more special, probably because it is a hundred times harder to prepare.

The ngalax sauce is made with a truly Senegalese mixture- peanut paste (Senegal’s largest product and export is peanuts) and buuy/pain de singe (literally translated monkey bread, this is the fruit of the Baobab tree). Now I want you to try to imagine a tart peanut buttery sauce (good luck, it’s bizarre). After pounding the buuy in the gigantic mortar/pestil combo that is essential to Senegalese cooking, you add the peanut butter (note giganto bucket which my host mother said would last the whole year).

I slept through the part where they cook it, but just know that they cook it. Then you serve it with Senegalese couscous, which is smaller and browner than your traditional Moroccan couscous, along with raisins. What results is a tangy, thick sensation with sweet tones from the raisins. Like I said, a weird texture that I can’t really handle too much of, but a good taste. Apparently one of our neighbors puts coffee in her ngalax, which is a travesty. Food drama.

I did get up in time to help my family share the ngalax with our neighbors. This was a process of finding all the medium sized containers in the house, filling them, then practically running around from house to house delivering the goods and bringing said containers back home and washing them. Receiving families seem to hide a huge pot where they mix all the ngalax they get and eat it for days. Other people have the option to come to your house and eat ngalax for the next few days and you’re expected to have it for them. Apparently everyone gets so sick of it that they don’t make it again for a year.

I can understand why my host mom does not like holidays. The division of labor felt heightened this weekend, as the men of the family sat around and talked and drank palm wine and the women became grumpy running around making food and serving it. I felt like I was integrating well because I got grumpy too, and my host sister got angry at me for not getting up early to help make the Easter dish. The other thing that may indicate that my family likes me is that a few of my uncles, at different points in time urged my 16-year old host brother to marry me. He somehow refused without making the situation more awkward and my host father said they’d just have to find me a husband in the village (unspecified location) and keep me here. Now that they know I can clean dishes, the next step appears to be marrying me off.

Other than ngalax, grumpiness, and arranged marriages, the big news of the weekend was church. We went on Good Friday to see the “living stations of the cross”, which was a dramatic retelling of Jesus’ crucifixion. Then on Saturday night we went to church from 9 pm to 2 am Easter morning, for the “Midnight Mass”. This mass is treated like prom. I should qualify that by saying that everyday is like prom for lots of Senegalese woman who can wear a boubou, a couple pagnes, a head wrap, heels, walk around the sand in Dakar, sweating in the 100 degree heat, and still look fabulous. So, it was quite fancy and included lots of shiny and sparkly fabric, which is really in here. I didn’t understand much of the Catholic liturgy that went into the mass, but it included lots of beautiful singing in Latin, lots of quick baptisms, two marriages, and a homily.

If you thought that the holiday was over, just wait. There was the biggest Senegalese wrestling match of the year between two gigantic men on Easter Sunday, which also happened to be the 50th anniversary of Senegal’s independence and the inauguration of the infamous African Renaissance Statue. In fact, Senegal also has Easter Monday as a official holiday without work or school so that everyone can recover. But all of that will have to wait for next time. For now, I am thankful that we have made it through the holiday, we’ve eaten well, I’m still single, and Jesus is risen.


I just finished reading a book about “story”. It talked all about how stories are important and humans love stories more than anything else and we must place ourselves in a good story to have a good life. This was rather depressing for me since I’ve realized that I cannot tell good stories in French. My host family likes me well enough, but 90% of what they know about me comes from what I do, not what I say.

On top of that, all of my stories are rooted in my own culture. We all know that in stories, setting the context is the most important thing. Well, it’s practically impossible to do. And without knowing the context, and what my culture values, and how my cultures sees people, my family can’t grasp the real meaning of my stories. And I don’t get most of their stories either, to be honest.

The best form of stories is comedy. However, my sense of humor has been reduced almost exclusively to making fun of myself, which gets old after about a day. I only get to belly-laugh when I’m talking with my real family or my American friends here.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve given up, and my family here won’t really know me, and I will live as a semi-human here because I can’t communicate and participate in life fully. It feels like after 3 months that my family should know me and everything should be peachy-keen. But adjusting to living in another cultures takes a lifetime and is really never complete. So I have to stay humble, because my French is still bad, I still don’t wash my laundry very well, and I still am lost when it comes to Senegalese culture sometimes. And even if I did understand, parts of my stories and myself that are American could never be fulfilled here because they require the American context.

Stories are the way we connect to one another. Heck, all forms of communication and language were created because we live in this world with other people who we want to know and love and hug. So I am missing out, in a way, by not being able to story with my family here. But having a shared life together and shared experiences does make up for my muteness in some cases. My family knows that I like to eat, which is a good start. My personality comes out through my actions, as does theirs.

So we are building our own new story together. It’s a strange story that is usually awkward and sometimes has to be repeated many times to be understood, but it is still meaningful. It just doesn’t flow as naturally and the plot turns aren’t as obvious as they would be in a quality American film. But I’m trying to believe that my Senegalese story is still worth living in and participating in, even if I’m tongue-tied half the time and don’t feel like my American self.