Tuesday, October 7, 2008

St. Louis, SENEGAL…who does study abroad in Missouri anyways?!

(10/5/2008) We left at 8AM this morning, or I should say we were supposed to leave at that time…we actually left around 8:40AM. This morning we got off to a late start; someone in the group (Nadia) woke up at 7:55AM, so we had to wait for her to get her items together. It didn’t take us long to get out of Dakar, I mean with there only being one exit out of the city it didn’t take that long. For the most part there were mixed feelings about leaving Dakar…I personally was excited to see something different and have a change of pace, but at the same time I was leaving behind (for the month) a host family that I had formed relationships with during my entire stay in Dakar.

The trip from Dakar to St. Louis took us about five and a half hours; it wasn’t too bad. We drove from Dakar to Rufisque to Thies to St. Louis, stopping in Thies for breakfast and coffee. The ride itself was not as bad as I think many people were anticipating…we had an air-conditioned bus, we weren’t crammed like sardines, and the roads were in pretty good shape. The landscape was filled with lots of baobab trees, after we left the Dakar/Thies region, and there were plenty of small rural communities scattered along the “highway”…FYI: to the best of my knowledge, I am going to be doing a weekend rural visit in November! When we started to approach St. Louis there was a lot more water and we could tell that we were in the Senegal River Valley, but it was no more lush or green than we had seen in Dakar. We arrived safely at around 2:30PM…and were moved in with our host families immediately, at around 3PM.

The host family situation is different for our one-month stay in St. Louis; I am living with two other students on the program. In St. Louis, the whole group was divided into pairs (except my group) and then dispersed across seven “families d’accueil”. Daniel, Anna, and I live with Marie Gaye and her children Dieylani 28, a teacher, Bamba 21, a student currently in Dakar taking an exam, Thiane 11 and Moustapha 4 (actually the maid’s kid). The family is Muslim and Marie is a widow and retired teacher. The house is extremely spacious with a beautiful courtyard filled with exotic tropical plants and a nice terrace on the third floor, which they use to cool off at night. When we arrived at Marie’s house, we were greeted by Moustapha and taken to our rooms. Daniel and I share a room, it’s like a dorm room with two twin beds, a desk, and dresser, and Anna has a suite style room with her own bathroom and double bed…hardly fair!?! Actually, it’s okay because during our first meal with Marie she insisted that Anna serve us our food and clean up after us…she explained how women in the house are suppose to serve the men. Anna is catching on…she has taken dishes into the kitchen, served us yogurt and watermelon, and has started to understand that she will be “working” for her suite! It is quite amusing!

After our first meal, which was beef with rice and beans, we headed into historic St. Louis as a group. Historic St. Louis is filled with brightly colored, French colonial architecture and looks like the French Quarter in Louisiana. We had a horse drawn carriage tour, and it made me think of what it would have been like to live in colonial Virginia (St. Louis edition)… The only thing was that it was dark when we had our two-hour tour, so we were not able to appreciate the architecture and culture as much…plus we were all extremely tired from our journey. The highlight of our tour was visiting La Maison Rose, an old colonial house that has since been turned into one of the nicest hotels in St. Louis…rooms start at 3,200 USD per night and are as expensive as 9,500 USD per night!!! We are all thinking about splitting the cost of the low-end room among fifteen of us…it will only about 215 USD per person that way! The hotel had a beautiful bar terrace that we went up to and could see Pont Faidherbe (designed by Gustav Eiffel…not!) as well as both the north and south ends of St. Louis; as a group we want to head back to that terrace for ONE drink (seeing that it will probably be quite “cher”). We got back to our house at about 8:30PM and had dinner at around 9PM. Dinner was so good, we had one of my favorite meals…FRIED EGGS and FRENCH FRIES!!! I was in bed by 11:30PM.

(10/6/08) The first “official” day of our “La Vallee du Fleuve, lieu de Culture et de Developpement” Course began today… “official”, in the sense that we basically introduced ourselves to the Senegalese students who are in the class with us and had a cross-cultural session on American customs and values. It was a really good discussion and helped to further define some of the many dos and don’ts in both Senegalese and American cultures. We were also able to discuss not only differences in our cultures, but also the values of each of our cultures. For example, the idea that individuality is valued in American society/culture was extremely shocking to the Senegalese students. The idea of an individual, in Senegal, is someone who has no family or friends and is essentially unwillingly cut of from a society. In Senegal the teranga concept, which I talked about before, reinforces why the students thought of individualism this way. In a society where there could potentially be three or four generations of a family in one home, the idea of branching off to become who you are is slightly inconceivable. We concluded our discussion with lunch (yassa poulet), watermelon, bananas, and lots of delicious fruit juices!

We left around 3:30PM and Daniel, Anna, and I headed back to our house. We all rested for a bit, or at least tried to rest…Anna was able to “escape”, but Daniel and I played with Moustapha on the terrace and in the courtyard. A four year old, who doesn’t speak French, can be a handful to play ball with! The three of us then left the house and did a short walking tour of historic St. Louis, we walked for about two hours and were able to see more of the historic colonial architecture on the north end of the island…we will complete our walking tour later on, it was just getting late and the heat, heaps of trash, and dry air were all getting to us!

jamm ak jamm ci St. Louis! ALEX

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