Saturday, September 13, 2008

First days in DAKAR!!!

Well, I am finally in DAKAR, SENEGAL…I made it here safely without any problems!!! My first adjustments will be getting over the heat and humidity… :)

FYI: This is going to be a lengthy blog entry…potentially covering 4-5 days of my time thus far in Dakar! You all might want to read pieces, or one day, at a time. I will try to update more regularly now that I am officially moved in with my host family and not living out of a suitcase in an apartment! I have internet access here, but it is very limited and unreliable. If any of you need to get a hold of me…E-MAIL me at, or write on my facebook wall!

I arrived on MONDAY, September 8, 2008 at 5:30am at the airport in Dakar. The flight was about 8 hours long, but there was nothing that was too unbearable. The food was incredible and it was my first time on an AIRBUS! I was seated next to a Senegalese family who had a daughter around the age of 7; they had just gotten back from a two-month visit in the states (Rhode Island) and it was an absolute pleasure sitting next to them. I was able to practice my French and, at one point, I was the translator between them and the stewardess. When we landed in Dakar only the group of people with their final destination as the city got off, the others had to remain on the plane for an hour. Dakar is the refueling stop for what is a 17-hour flight to Johannesburg, South Africa (for what appeared to be for about 90% of those onboard). When we all (the other 10%) got off the plane we (Americans) were slightly shocked with the heat and humidity at 5:30am; we had just been on a freezing plane, where the blankets were not enough.

At the airport in Dakar, we gathered our bags and went through customs. Customs consisted of getting our passport stamped and having our bags rescanned (by a man who seemed to be potentially inebriated); it took about 20 minutes. We then proceeded to get onto a bus that would take us to our apartment that we were going to live in for the next two days. The eleven of us piled our luggage into a bus and headed to our apartment in Grand Dakar (S.I.C.A.P. Amitie 2).

Our apartment consisted of three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, a dining/living room, and a wonderful porch looking onto the street. It was a long first day for all of us, considering it was 1:30am in the states. There was breakfast waiting for us in the apartment when we arrived, it consisted of seven baguettes, “faux-telle”, spreads, nes-café (powdered coffee that is REALLY good), and lots of water. OBVIOUSLY WE’RE NOT FASTING! We were all so hungry that we ate so much and didn’t know what to do with ourselves when it was about 8:30am. We all sat around talked about who we were, what we study, etc….there are five people from Kalamazoo, two people from Smith, two people from Earlham, one from Swarthmore, and myself. There is also a group of four girls from Beloit who are on their program, but take classes with us…it is a Kalamazoo-Beloit collaboration.

Our day consisted of getting over jet-lag, walking around Dakar, and sitting for what seemed like weeks (really hours) for a 1pm lunch, napping, napping, and more napping. However, the highlight of my day, besides the delicious beef-like stew for lunch, was getting lost in a sandstorm/rainstorm at 7pm. Amelia (Kalamazoo), Daniel (Earlham), and myself decided that it would be a good idea to “explore” Dakar on our first day sans identification, addresses, phone numbers, etc…needless to say, we had a wonderful walk, met a wonderful women who sheltered us for about 30 minutes, and had our first set of what could potentially be “mangofly-infected clothing”…ask my mother if you want to know what that means!

Day two, TUESDAY, September 9, 2008 began with me opening our apartment door at 7:30am to let in our maid. She cleaned the apartment, brought us food, and washed our dishes from dinner! How I am going to go back to the states after having this treatment, not only for these first two days, but also with my host family for four months is unthinkable.

We began our orientation program today at the Baobab Center (the Baobab Center has helped facilitate ACI Programs, like mine, transition into living in Dakar for an extended period of time). We were given tours of a very small part of Dakar by tour guides and had an introduction to the program by discussing stereotypes and perceptions of Africa and the Senegalese people. FYI: Senegal is NOT as impoverished as I thought it would be, there is A LOT more green than one would expect, the heat is NOT unbearable…its just something that we all will get used to, people DO stare at us for being “toube” (foreigners), and little children come up and ask us for anything. We all ended our last night together with a little celebrating in the apartment (Euchre…yes mom, other games, and of course a little drinking...)

Day three, WEDNESDAY, September 10, 2008 has to be one of the HOTTEST days I have ever experienced…for those that think it sucked not to have AC in Italy (cough….cough….Jackie), imagine having the power go out about once a day…it just went for the second time today… and walking around in jeans and long sleeve t-shirts! BUT, I LOVE IT HERE and would not exchange this study abroad for anything!!!

Also, we started learning Wolof today at the Baobab Center; it is definitely not an easy language to learn, let alone learn in FRENCH! Anyways, here is a little taste of what I have learned thus far…my first set of greetings/responses:

ASALAA MAALEKUM May peace be with you (hello, greeting)

WALEKUMSALAAM And peace with you (response to above)

NANGA DEF? How are you?

MANGI FI REK. I am good.

ANA WAAKER GA? How is the family?

NUNGA FA. The family is there/good.


In addition, I have started to learn the numbers, introductions, and presentations…in only TWO HOURS! By the end of this program, I will have been in Wolof classes for about 100 hours! However, THE BEST PART ABOUT TODAY was that I am officially moved in with my host family! I live with Mme FATOU SYLLA and her family in S.I.C.A.P Mermoz with lots of young children and grandchildren! I played so many games today and talked with my little host brothers and sisters! My host family’s children were adorable and asked me to play games the entire night, until I went to sleep.

The first meal with my family was wonderful! We ate dinner at about 10pm and broke the fast at 7:30pm. Dinner was fish and rice; it was very good. We ate dinner out of the same bowl and only ate with our right hands…this is a common practice in Senegal, but more importantly in Islamic societies.

Day three, THURSDAY, September 11, 2008 was our culture session day; we went over proper eating etiquette, cultural norms and taboos, and other things that we may have already done wrong on our first night. Our cultural session started after Val (Beloit) and I walked from our homes (we our neighbors). The walk to the Baobab Center is about a 5-7 minute walk from our homes and involves walking over a highway called the VDN and past a mosque and police training station.

The cultural session’s best part was the meal that we ate. We divided into four groups of six and ate fish and rice with tomato sauce; it was delicious! We started our cultural eating session by washing our hands correctly and having all the females wrap themselves with cloth, so that they would have on long skirts. There is a proper way to do everything in an Islamic society, from eating to talking, and I love it! I ate with a woman who is an English teacher at the local high school and it was great to talk with her about her teaching and the clubs that she runs. I think that I might go and help her in an English class or with a club. After our meal, we had some of the best fruit I have ever eaten, from mangos to papayas to bananas to oranges! In addition, we had about 7 fruit-like drinks to try, my favorites were a fruit and peppermint drink and a very strong, cold ginger tea. I hope that I will get to eat more fruit at a later time…this lunch was definitely a fiber-overload, but I shouldn’t complain about it.

I am going to stop here for today…but I will pick up with more about my host family, power outages (have had one every single day), potable water, Ramadan, and more SENEGAL in the next blog!


(I am doing well. I am a student in Senegal!)


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