Thursday, December 31, 2009

VISIT TO: Yara and Ouakam fishing villages with Amadiou Diallo

Gary Engelberg (Director of ACI) contacted the man that supplies him with his fish, Amadiou Diallo, to take me around a couple of fishing villages in Dakar, Senegal. Gary gets his fish (thiouf, shrimp, etc.) from Amadiou about once a month and freezes it so that he will have the supplies he needs for preparing dishes (i.e. yassa poisson, chebujen). Amadiou is originally from St. Louis, where his mother, as well as younger brother and sister live. He has a wife and two kids (three and five years old) that live with him in Dakar.

Amadiou was extremely gracious for taking the time out of his busy day to take me to two fishing villages in Dakar. In Dakar there are a handful of fishing villages, which include: Ngor, Ouakam, Soumbédioune, Yara/Hann, and Yoff. Amadiou works at the Yara fishing village, located on the eastern coast of the Dakar peninsula. He is no longer a fisherman himself, but he mostly sells fish instead to locals. He explained to me that he has been in the fishing industry since 1986.

My journey started at about 11:30AM today. We took a taxi (1500 CFA) from SICAP Baobab to the Yara fishing village. In the village, Amadiou showed me the factories that make the ice, so that the fish will stay fresh; the market area where his friends and he sell fish; the beaches that women and children buy fish that are coming directly off the pirogues; and the gros bateaux that are from European countries like Switzerland, France, Spain, or n’import ou. Amadiou said “il y a toujours un mélange des pays qui font la pêche au Sénégal, il y a des Chinois, des Français, des Américains, et bien sur des Sénégalais.

My initial observations of the fishing village were how large it was and how much it did not smell of fish. When I was in St. Louis (the first time that I came to Senegal), I visited a fishing port and there was a very bad fish smell. Also, at this fishing village, every part of the fishing stage seemed to be present—from pirogue to fishing vendors. I saw men descending from pirogues selling fishing directly to women, whom would then resell the fish to others, as well as men taking Styrofoam boxes filled with fish to freezer trucks that would be taking fish into the heart of Senegal. There were small children gathering small fish that were falling out of fisherman’s hands and boxes; these small children were trying to sell these fish too. Amadiou told me that “des pêcheurs a fait la pêche depuis six heures du matin jusqu’au onze heure, et après le déjeuner, il y a des pêcheurs qui retournent à la mer pour faire la pêche encore jusqu’au le coucher du soleil.” Amadiou wakes up at 6AM every morning to get to the fishing village.

At the Yara fishing village all of the fisherman use pirogues. Most of the pirogues are smaller and go on daily fishing trips into the Atlantic Ocean; however, there are larger pirogues that will go on one to two week fishing trips, as well. Amadiou explained to me that on the smaller pirogues, there are usually 4-5 men that will use nets to catch smaller fish. he explained tha the most effective way to catch a lot of fish is with nets, though the fish are very small. I asked him if fisherman throw back any fish that are too small, and he respond by saying “il n’y a pas de type de pêche qui est plus petit à vendre. On vend tous les types de poisons et on utilise tous des tailles.” This is a huge difference from fishing practices back in the states, but it gets at the idea that in Senegal nothing will go to waste if it can make some money. The idea of making money to live was a very important insight that continually came up during this day visit. On the larger pirogues, there are as many as 20 men that will use nets, but also fishing rods to catch very large fish. Amadiou explained to me that “on doit faire doucement la pêche avec la canne à pêche, doucement, doucement, parce que si tu fait comme ça (making a jerking motion with his hands), le filet va casser.” He explained to me that the most effective way to fish is with a fishing rod because you can get the biggest fish and the biggest fish mean “tu va gagner plus d’argent.” I asked Amadiou how much a big fish would cost and he said that it depends on the type of fish and the size. He said the larger the fish, the more money that you will get. He also explained that the gros bateaux from other countries catch the biggest fish, but that it does not affect them too much. He said that as long as they can catch the amount of fish that is necessary to make enough money then everything is okay.

I asked Amadiou about the international fishing presence in Senegal, and he told me that there are a lot of international companies, but it is not a problem as long as they have a permit. Once they have a permit they are free to fish “comme ils veulent, sans problèmes.” He also said that they have limits on the amount that they can fish, but he had no idea about what the limits were set at. He alluded to the idea that international fisherman can fish as much as they want; however, they do not fish seven days a week, 365 days a year like the Senegalese. He said that foreign boats come and fish for one to two months and leave. Amadiou said that in Senegal there are times when fishing is the best; he said that in the winter months, like December and January, the fish come to the top parts of the water making it easier for fisherman to catch larger fishing stocks. In the warmer months, the water is too warm, so the fish go deeper in the water. However, in the end, he said “c’est la chance avec la pêche; il y a des jours quand j’ai plein des pêches et d’autres quand je n’ai pas des pêches…c’est la chance.” He made no reference to the fact that fisherman were over-fishing or that people were having trouble getting fish because there were lower levels of fish in the ocean. He simply believed that some days were just better than others for no particular reasons.

While I was at the Yara fishing village, I had the opportunity to speak with one of Amadiou’s friend (another fisherman). During our brief discussion, we spoke about the international community and the effects that other countries have on the Senegalese fishing industry. He spoke about previous incidents with China and the Soviet Union and how they would overexploit fish, but, he said that what the Chinese and Soviets used to do no longer exists. He told me how the Chinese and the Soviets would bring their large industrial boats into Senegalese coastal waters and leave them their for the entire year. He said that they would use large fishing nets and check on them every so often. He said that while the Chinese and Soviets were in the coastal waters that “ce n’est pas bon pour des Sénégalais et des pêcheurs.” He mentioned that the current trend is that Senegalese fisherman will bring fish from their pirogues to the large boats every so often. The fish is then taken directly to Europe after being chilled.

Furthermore, at the Yara fishing village, I had the opportunity to observe the way that fisherman sell the fish to the local women and the trucks that bring the fish into the interior portions of Senegal. Amadiou said that there is no fixed price for fish in Senegal, and that fisherman usually make about 20000 CFA a day by selling their fish. He said that fisherman split what they make from selling the fish. He also said that women and others who sell fish away from the coast make a decent amount of money as well. But, again, he stated that there is no exact amount because everything in Senegal is negotiated. Some large fish will sell for 50000 CFA or more.

After my visit to the Yara fishing village, we went took a taxi (2000 CFA) to the Ouakam fishing village. This fishing village is a lot smaller than Yara and is limited to smaller pirogues that go out and fish for a couple of hours and then return. This fishing village is located in a small alcove nestled between cliffs and La Mosquée de la Divinité. At this village there was not as much commotion and it appeared to be a lot more low-key. In the distance, there were no large industrial fishing boats and there were no vendors or women selling/buying fish. I had the opportunity to watch fisherman bring in their boats, as well as younger boys make the nets that are used for fishing. Amadiou told me that in this fishing village, they just use nets and fish for smaller fish. Since there are no large pirogues, the fisherman cannot go on weeklong fishing trips. However, it was interesting to go to this village because I saw a fisherman that was using a spear to fish. Amadiou told me that “c’est homme là-bas, il fait la pêche dans une manière la plus dangereuses.” He said that many men who choose to fish that way get their ankles bitten by fish. He also said at smaller fishing villages like this one, fisherman will not go out for two trips in one day like they do at the fishing village in Yara. Amadiou said that they go out in the morning or in the afternoon.

At this point in my day with Amadiou, I again tried to approach the idea of sustainable development in Senegal. It was interesting because “développement durable” meant nothing to Amadiou. I attempted to explain to him the idea of sustainable development and being conscience of the environment and future generations, but he simply responded, “ici, il n’y a pas des problèmes, au Sénégal, pas des problèmes.” I continued to explain to him that from an outsider looking in, that it appeared that fish were being over-fished in the region. I said that much of the world knows that the West African coast is one of the most plentiful fishing stocks in the world and that with all the fishing activity there could be problems in the future. He again said, “au Sénégal il n’y pas des problèmes.” He said that the sustainable development did not matter; he said “c’est la commerce, oui, c’est la commerce.” He said that everybody is in the commerce sector now because that is where all the money is. He even said that if you do really well in the commerce sector, maybe after working two to three years, you could be set for life. At this point, I had been with Amadiou for quite some time to understand that he, as well as every other fisherman, worked for the next day, not for five or ten years. He made it very clear that he worked to make money and never made any statements about not having fish in the future to eat or to fish.

Our conversation continued about how rich the West African coast was with fish. He told me that “Nous [des Sénégalais] sommes les meilleurs pêcheurs sur la cote, mais à la Mauritanie, il y a plusieurs de poisson. Plein de Sénégalais font le voyage à la Mauritanie à faire la pêche. C’est très bien là-bas.” From this point, I asked him about whether or not other countries besides Senegal fished off the coasts of Mauritania too. He said that yes there were, and began to speak more about the international presence in Dakar. He told me that “Nous faisons la pêche comme nous voulons, des pêcheurs internationaux comme ils veulent. Il y a une relation ici entre des Français et des Sénégalais, des Chinois et des Sénégalais, des Espagnols et des Sénégalais. Des Français aident des Sénégalais et des Sénégalais aident des Français. Il y a des Sénégalaises sur des gros bateaux de la France. Il y a des Sénégalais qui paient des Français pour assister à faire la pêche, mais bien sûr, il y a des pêcheurs français qui paient des pêcheurs sénégalais.”

I further probed this relationship with Amadiou and asked about whether there were any formal agreements that were made with these countries that established these interactions. He said that there were no formal agreements and that the only formal thing with fishing was getting a permit to fish. Though, Amadiou also stated that there are fishermen that fish for themselves. He said that it is all about being able to feed your family and “gagne d’argent.” He even pointed out three small children that were helping their father move a boat onto the shore of the Ouakam fishing village. He said that “la pêcherie commence comme ça et peu à peu ils devinent des pêcheurs.” This was striking to me because there was an intergenerational emphasis with fishing, but around the idea of being able to teach kids how to fish. There was no reference to if they would actually have fish to fish though.

After this trip with Amadiou to the fishing villages of Yara and Ouakam, I had a much better understanding of whom the Senegalese fishing population was and what the process of getting fish from the sea to a market or a dinner table was. However, the best insight from this experience was that “développement durable” might mean nothing to the Senegalese. Though I cannot generalize from one experience with on individual, I have a better idea as to what really matters in Senegal. There is an understanding that people must help future generations, but there is no consideration necessarily for the environment. In countries like Senegal, it appears that people work for the next day, not the next five years. If in five years there are no fish left in the coastal regions that are currently begin fished on, then the Senegalese will most likely move to another industry. As Amadiou said, “il n’y a pas des problèmes au Sénégalandtu dois gagner d’argent; c’est bien d’avoir l’argent.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

80 days until I return to Dakar, Senegal!!!

It is official...I will be returning to Dakar, Senegal in 80 days. My Copeland Funding Application was approved and granted in full, so I will be returning to Senegal to look at the implementation of sustainable development practices. I am so excited!

So, with that, I guess that this blog is up and running again! Who knew that I would be returning to Senegal so soon!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Little Senegal in NYCity!!!

Wow, it has been too long since I last wrote on this particular blog. I have another blog that I write on now for The College of Wooster at to help give prospective students an idea about Wooster life. But, anyways, that was not the point of this blog.

I went to LITTLE SENEGAL in New York City on Saturday. It was incredible! I spoke in Wolof, ate Mafe and chaikry, drank bissap juice, went into a boutique and spoke French, and so much more fun stuff! I had one of the best days.

Well, that's all for now....just wanted to keep the Senegalese-ness of this blog going. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

What a travel “day”…Dakar, Senegal to JFK-New York, New York to Chicago O’Hare, Illinois to Cleveland, Ohio

Bright lights everywhere. Excessive advertising (that is not out-dated). Modern artwork on the walls. Huge panes of glass. Christmas music. Winter coats, gloves, hats. Shockingly cold winter conditions. Choices of food at the food court. Expensive things (comparatively speaking to what I was spending in Senegal). Too many difference.

Well, I have arrived stateside, and what an adventure it has been. I have never traveled around the holidays—going through two of America’s busiest airports (JFK and O’Hare)—nor have I been put up in a hotel by an airline.

My story begins with complete culture shock as I landed stateside in JFK with Myra after a nine-hour flight from Dakar. We weren’t ready to leave, but we had to. We had to leave family and friends behind. We had to realize that four months of memory making was coming to a halt, as we would be entering a new reality. We had to say goodbye to carrapides, goodbye to cebujen, goodbye to beautiful 80-degree weather, goodbye to so many things that would have to wait for our return in the future.

JFK was filled with toubabs, too many to be exact. I was looking around for all the boubous and wax print outfits—there were none. We made out way to immigration, then baggage claim, then customs. We took in all the different things, questioning the need of so many of the tangible things that we were seeing. It was wonderful to be able to travel back with a friend; it made it a little easier to enter the states—to go through the same things with someone else.

We arrived at about 7:35AM and after going through customs and the start of culture shock together, struggling with all of our heavy bags and random souvenirs in hand, we had to head our separate ways—Myra to terminal one, myself to terminal eight.

My flight was scheduled to leave JFK at 5:25PM…I had a ten-hour layover (or what I thought was going to be that short). I bought a double espresso (3.75 USD), a cranberry muffin (2.99 USD), and The Sunday New York Times (4.00 USD), and then just sat for a while in the terminal, talking with friends and family on the phone, reading The Times, and watching some CNN and an NFL game. I tried to take everything in, appreciating everything a little more than when I had I left; I walked around with a calabash lamp in hand and waited patiently for what was going to be an exciting departure. Well, I didn’t exactly depart on time from JFK; the cold weather conditions in O’Hare had caused problems for many departing flights to and from the city. At first, the flight was delayed 15 minutes—not a problem…then the flight was delayed until 6:35, then 6:50PM, the 7:15PM. At this point, I was extremely exhausted after a very long day of traveling…they traveling day that I thought was going to be about 24-hours…was becoming longer and longer.

My connecting flight in O’Hare for Cleveland was to leave at 8:30PM…there was no way that I would be making that flight, so I frantically called the American Airlines customer service line, my mother, father, and sister, and spoke with a representative at JFK. I explained my situation and I was told that I would most likely have to spend the night in Chicago, not exactly what I wanted to do after leaving Dakar at 3:05AM the day before. All I wanted to do was get home and see my family and friends…I now know how so many people feel around the holidays and traveling with delays and cancellations. Not enjoyable!


I was on the plane by 7:20PM…we finally took off from JFK at about 8:30PM because of so many planes on the runway. There was even a point where the engine was turned off, we were told we could use our cell phones, and drinks were served—they knew we would be waiting sometime. I slept and tried to relax after only 2-3 hours of sleep during my entire travel day.

During the landing we were all notified of our connecting flights and whether they had already departed or not. I was in luck, my flight to Cleveland had also been delayed because of weather. I had a slight chance that I would be returning home that evening…just a little bit later than expected. I got off the plane and immediately asked where the gate was and if my flight for Cleveland had left already…I was informed I had just missed my flight by 5-10 minutes.

I waited patiently in line to be helped, so that I could have a ticket booked for the following day. American Airlines was going to put up all the people that missed their connecting flights (about 15-20 people) in hotels for the night. I spent the night in a hotel and was going to fly out the next day at 6:50AM for Cleveland!

We sat on the runway for 30 minutes to warm up the oil because it was too cold to take off. I was still freezing in my light sweater and button down—no winter coat! The flight was about 50 minutes and when I arrived in Cleveland I was so excited. I waited paitently to get off the plane then head straight for baggage claim to see my mom and sister! They were holding signs that said WELCOME HOME ALEX!

Happy to be home…but definitely missing the warmth of all my friends and family from this past semester and of course the weather! Signing off for some time! ALEX 



Saturday, December 20, 2008

You know that your time is almost up when you only have to take ONE more malaria pill before you leave!

So, you’re sitting on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean right now. In the distance a 5-star Radisson Hotel and shopping mall are being constructed, there are about ten soccer players running up-and-down the sandy beaches of Mermoz, and I am sure that there is a group of talibe somewhere.

It’s hard to look back at the past 3.5 months and reflect about all the things I loved, hated, enjoyed, and wanted to do again. It’s hard to look back and remember where I was, who I was with, or what exactly I was doing everyday. It’s hard to look back an imagine day one—hot, sticky, a mentality of “Why did I want to study abroad in Senegal”! It’s hard to look back and thank everyone who made this more than a life-changing experience, but a truly learning and growth experience—the friends, the professors, the coordinators, the guards, the family. It’s going to be hard in a couple of days to think “Wow, I was just in Senegal, now I am in the states…where did all this time go?!”

I want to take so many things away from this study abroad trip—the memories, the people, the food, the occasional drunken gas station night, the tangible, the everything! I want to look back 5, 10, 15, 50 years from now, not only thanking my mother, my father, my grandparents, my sister, my college, my friends, and my everyone else who mad this trip possible, but I want to look back remembering a country that will always be home to me, a language that will always be exciting and challenging, a group of people that will always be suma waa kër, and an experience un-like any other one I have ever had.


I wanted to figure out a way to summarize my experience in Senegal without writing for hours, so I have decided to make one final list—a list of memories and the numerous things that: (1) I will never forget, (2) I will always miss, and (3) I will need to come back for!


·      Fresh fruit stands everywhere—you know you’re not in Dakar anymore when you have to get in your car and drive to buy a banana

·      Walks and runs on the Corniche with Chelsea and Thomas

·      Papa Samba and his overly enthusiastic greetings about five times a day

·      Random drunken nights at the MyShop gas station

·      Burning trash piles

·      Open sewage water everywhere

·      Wearing flip-flops in December

·      Having Junior and Samba play on my computer

·      The constant “qu’est-ce qu’est ca?” and “donne-moi”

·      Local juices like bissap and ginger juice

·      Amelia’s rooftop

·      Everyone in my family

·      Yoff, Hydrobase, Mermoz, and all the other beaches Anna and I frequented

·      Candied covered peanuts that cost 25 CFA that you can find on practically every corner in Dakar

·      Chaikry-to-go at gas stations and corner boutiques

·      The random outburst into song…of the Lion King’s A Circle of Life

·      Swinging, picking-up, and spinning Samba, Junior, and Mange when I walk in the door, after coming home from school

·      Carving watermelons

·      Walking around people that are praying

·      Marie Gaye and Mustapha and Thiane in St. Louis

·      The amazing ice cream at La Gondalebm

·      The architecture of the Grand Mosque in Touba

·      Aux Delices in St. Louis and all the delicious pastries

·      Electing Barack Obama the next President of the United States of America and my incredible election story that goes with it

·      Having little Senegalese children come up to you and shake your hands and say hello on a regular basis, just because you are white and look different

·      Talibes and other children that beg

·      Jamming to 7 Things with Alejandra

·      fixed prices on things like fruit, nuts, and cookies….bananas are always 100 cfa, apples 250 cfa, grapefruits 300 cfa, etc…

·      Professor Ba and his insults towards Anna

·      Professor Ba and his obsession with calling me Obama

·      Thomas and his constant use of the wireless at the Baobab Center

·      C’est a cause de toi que there are thorns on my trousers

·      Marche Kermel and all the vendors that think I am some sort of Asian buyer/local that can speak Wolof fluently

·      Chomping on sugarcane and riding in the back of a pick-up truck at CSS

·      Rooftop shenanigans with Senegalese students in Ross Bethio

·      Cold showers

·      Alejandra’a family

·      Walking on sandy roads

·      Getting clothes tailor-made

·      Baobab trees…why haven’t these been installed in the states somewhere?!

·      Americans/toubabs in headscarves

·      Brocage and everything else butter is good with

·      Nyum…Nyum…Nyum…

·      Erin and the fact that she breaks everything

·      Dead ram parts floating in sewers after Tabaski

·      Power outages, not just every so often, but 2-3 times a day

·      The random things that you see people walking down the street with…fake Christmas trees, balloons, plastic toys

·      Carrapides

·      Gazelle, Flag, Royal Dutch, cheap gin/vodka/rum….

·      Walking down the street and not getting looked at funny for saying hello to everyone you see

·      Shaking everyone’s hand when you walk into a room

·      Tuna sandwiches at the corner stand

·      Seeing everyone dressed up in a boubou on Fridays

·      Women in wax print boubous

·      Taking “where the flip am I photos” with Thomas

·      My little wonton soup with Myra, Alejandra, and Val

·      Bus breakdowns…happening more than once a day

·      Making attaya

·      Baobab 4 and all the other places frequented by our group at night

·      Attempting to watch the first presidential debate with Nadia

·      “A Little Christmas Magic”…a cultural experience

·      Skipping DIT for drinks at the French Institute

·      The European Film Festival and “Entres les Murs”

·      deedeet, waawaaw, am, deggna tutti, asalaa maalekum, baax na, ana _____-bi, …and all the other Wolof phrases that I know

·      Asking Marieme what the easiest way to get to point B from point A is, via carrapide or bus because taxis are too expensive

·      Having to scale a 7-8 foot wall to get into my house after I go out because I don’t have a key anymore (I got it stuck in the door and broke it…); the funny thing is I really enjoy scaling the wall

·      Waking up to prayer calls at the local mosque or trying to fall asleep to Baye Fall chants after midnight

·      Eating around the bowl with my right hand

·      ching-ching…or any other form of “classification” because I am of Asian descent

·      Being okay with wearing the same pair of jeans for 2 months, the same shirt five times before it needs to be washed, and washing underwear by hand

·      “Talking with Tricia”

·      The cost of living, the weather, the everything that is going to take a lot of adjusting to when I get back home

·      The simple luxuries that Senegal has taught me to appreciate: hot water, toilet paper, silverware…

·      The sound of the women pounding the filling for cebujen

·      Waxal-ing (bargaining) for everything on the streets

·      Broken shoes/sandals…or whatever else Chelsea claims to wear on her feet

·      Random walks to Casino Mermoz, Quatre Vents, and of course the Post Office

·      Buying stamps to send love home

·      Airplanes flying over Mermoz in the middle of the night because the only time that flights fly out of Dakar is between 12-4AM, so they can arrive in the states and Europe at reasonable hours

·      Professor Diallo…enough said.

·      Pirogue rides down rivers, through bird sanctuaries, and through mangroves

·      A beautiful view of the Atlantic Ocean only five minutes from my house

·      The bright colors and colonial architecture of St. Louis and Goree

·      Anna taking photos of herself on my camera

·      Excessive amounts of trash on the streets, in the median of the VDN, in the ocean, in the sewage, everywhere

·      The education system and the way it works here… or doesn’t work here

·      Cleaning intestines with Mami

·      The walk to CESTI

·      The constant need to buy phone credit

·      The 30 minute bus ride that give me a huge headache going downtown

·      La galette

·      Egg sandwiches for lunch

·      Breaking fast with the family…attempting to fast for a day

·      The “academic” work that I did this semester…videos, papers, presentations…

·      The “wildlife”—birds, sheep, the occasional rare goat, lizards…its very exotic here

·      Walking to class with Val every so often

·      Watching out for your bag in markets

·      Marche HLM

·      Thanksgiving in Dakar

·      The walk from Mermoz to Baobab

·      Chocopain…the real nutella-like substitute!

·      Just walking around

·      The Spanish soap operas dubbed in French, the Wolof TV channels, the Wolof soap operas, TV5Monde: Afrique

·      The fact that Senegal has taught me that I can live a certain lifestyle, and that I really don’t need all the things that I think I do.

·      Brioche Doree…and any other pastry shop that made my day over the course of my sejour here

·      Zator and his Wolof class

·      Tricia’s mom…JOAN!

·      Alejandra, Anna, Anne-Marie, Amelia, Chelsea, Daniel, Erin, Kalen, Myra, Nadia, Sarah, Stephen, Thomas, Val…THE AMAZING GROUP!

·      Erin and her constant rushes to the restroom/bathroom

·      Watermelon babies and boobies (Anna, Sarah, and Myra)

·      All the beautiful sunsets

·      Cold December mornings (65-70 degrees) that are not cold at all

·      All the construction that is around…from office buildings to apartments to houses

·      ACI Baobab Center

·      cebujen, laax, yassa poulet, yassa poisson, maffe, and all the other delicious dishes Senegal has to offer

And all the other things that I can’t remember right now, but will never forget. This is truly just a sample of so many things that I do not want to leave behind, whether likes or dislikes…this experience was incredible and truly life changing! I’M STATE BOUND…leaving Dakar in less than 

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Little Christmas Magic

Oh, Licorice sticks!

Merry Christmas Holly!

Uhh…Merry Christmas Noel…

So, what happens when Santa’s elves fall asleep after the end of the year Christmas party and do not wake up until September? There are no toys made and there might be a spy in the workshop. How will the elves manage to save Christmas in just three months?

For the past few weeks I have been preparing for my theatrical debut in Dakar, Senegal. I have been cast as Carl in A Little Christmas Magic, and star in a thirty minute children’s play with Holly (Claire), Noel (Yvette), Ivy (Chelsea), Snowflake (Ada), Garland (Andy), Joy (Sylvie), and Fruitcake (Daniel).

There’s nothing like bring Christmas to a country that is 95% Muslim…but again, the play was performed at Club Atlantique (an upscale ex-pat club), where everyone practically celebrates Christmas. We did two shows, and definitely brought the feeling of Christmas to Dakar for a couple of days. We ate sugar cookies and listened to Christmas music. We took pictures with Santa and listened to lists of what little kids wanted Santa’s elves to make. We had a faux Christmas tree with mismatched lights, a handful of ornaments, and over-the-top garland. We had almost everything…I mean except for the fact that it was 80 degrees, we were overlooking the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean, there were more palm trees with lights (than evergreens), and there was not a hint of snow (even fake snow) in sight.

Well, won’t I be in for a shock when I return to “sunny” Chagrin Falls, Ohio in less than 5 days! Wish me luck!




Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ana sa xar? TABASKI

After putting on my bright orange boubou (that looks like a well tailored inmate jumpsuit); saying baal ma aq to everyone in my family, my quartier, and pretty much anyone I came in contact with; buying 8 kilos of bread; and waiting for the men to come back from praying at the mosque, we finally sacrificed two huge rams to start the celebration of Tabaski.


It was about 10AM when the men returned from praying at the mosque, and as soon as they entered the house, they changed out of their boubous, put on shorts and t-shirts, and went to the back porch area to get the rams. At first they wanted me to slit the throat of one of the rams, but I politely refused, saying that they were not my rams to sacrifice. Each ram represents a male head of household, and it is a Senegalese tradition for each male head of household to buy a ram for his wife. We had one ram that was purchased buy Cher for Diouf and one that was from Papa Gaide Seck for Aïssatou (my host father did not purchase one for my host mother because she is in Mecca).

They tie the four legs together, and then they take a sharp knife and slit the ram’s throat. Easy as pie, right? They face the ram in the direction of Mecca, and the respective male head of household slits the throat. After the throat has been slit, the blood is flushed down a drain or put into a hole (in my house it was flushed into a drain) and then the ram is picked up and placed on the floor to be skinned. The worse part, after the throats were slit, was watching the rams twitch and move…this happened for about 5-10 minutes after they were “killed”. After standing and watching for a couple of minutes, I was told to change out of my boubou (I was still wearing it with hope that I would not have to assist). They wanted me to help in the skinning process, so I grabbed the left hind leg and watched them pull the skin off the still warm ram. It was uncomfortable to watch, but I definitely gained and learned something in the process.

In my house after we killed and skinned both the rams, we immediately began to cook the foie. It was really interesting to see where my meat was coming from, and to know that the night before they had eaten watermelon and bread. In the states, it seems that we do not really appreciate all the work that it takes to get our food to our plates. We are so caught up in getting things done quickly, that the middleman and everything before us is essentially obsolete. 


So, after the rams had been fully opened, I had the job of cleaning out the intestines with my host sister Mami. It was “enjoyable” to squeeze the intestines clean, so that they could be later filled to make sausages. Talk about eliminating the middleman in sausage making! Anyways, after a while of squeezing, I ate ribs and foie; it was delicious! I then helped in delivering pieces of the xar to non-Muslim families in the Mermoz area (people say that non-Muslims usually have more xar on Muslim holidays than do the actually Muslim families). By the time I had returned, the xars were in pretty manageable pieces and it was time to eat again! We ate and ate and ate!

After eating, I helped the family clean up the house by scrubbing the floors and sweeping up any “parts” that were left. All the left over pieces are thrown into the streets…this includes the horns, skins, and all other unused body parts. In about 4-5 days, Dakar is going to smell wonderful!

My Tabaski activities did not end there…it was about 4PM and I decided to visit all of my friends and their respective host families in the Mermoz area. It was wonderful to see a handful of the group dressed in their boubous and to see at what stage of the xar process each family was in. I met up with Val (pink Giraffe boubou), Anne-Marie (blue/green wax print boubou), Anna (blue pant and top boubou), Amelia (Myra’s pink Korite boubou), Myra (blue wax print boubou), and Sarah (blue boubou)—everyone else was too far or in another town (Kalen-Rufisque; Erin-St. Louis; Alejandra-Kaolack; Stephen, Chelsea, & Thomas-Baobab, Nadia-Sacre Cœur; and Daniel was just MIA). We are all having a “WEAR YOUR TABASKI BOUBOU DAY” this Friday, so we will all be able to see each other in our finest. 

Well, now that Tabaski is over, the next “events” that I have to look forward to are the Christmas play I will be starring in on Saturday and Sunday, all the final projects/papers/presentations I have to still do, and the fact I am leaving Senegal in less than 10 days!

See you all SOON! Inchallah! ALEX



P.S. Ask me if you really would like to see my Tabaski photos of the sacrifice…I have about 50 or so!

P.S.S. Ana sa xar?­ - How’s your ram? (Literally: Where is your ram?)