Sunday, December 30, 2007


The latest post showed up under the old one by accident, so scroll down!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A new threshold

I think one of the best things Africa can do for a person is increase their tolerance.

At first, when the power goes out, you get really angry. Your North American productivity pressurer kicks into gear, reminding you of all the things you have to do and all the things you won't be able to do now that there's no electricity. When I first arrived, in the dead of summer, when there is high demand for electricity because of the heat, and never enough supply, this frustrated me alot. But gradually, you begin to accept your new realities of life, and it has gotten to the point where a power outage is almost a relief because it means time to just relax or read quietly by candlelight.

Another example - appointments. I just stopped by a restaurant to try to book some space for a goodbye party with some friends. The owner wasn't there. They told me to call him. So I went back home, called him and he said, "stop by the restaurant and we can talk." WELL I WAS JUST THERE! WHAT A WASTE OF TIME. That would normally be my reaction. But here, you're forced to accept and return with a smile. It's a lesson in not being so obsessed with time and productivity. The pace of life is, as you would expect, slower. But the beauty is coming to accept the good in that.

It's been a gradual process for me, but I think I can see a marked difference. Having no water to shower with in the morning, sitting in the midst of flies, dealing with the men who are constantly hitting on you, accepting when the internet is down - it is all a question of your tolerance threshold, and luckily, I think mine has risen. It has to, otherwise you go crazy.

ps. i posted an album of pics on facebook if you want to have a look.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Mouton Business

The biggest Senegalese holiday of the year comes down to an animal: the sheep.

It is tradition in Islam to sacrifice a sheep for Eid Al-Adha, known locally as Tabaski. Still, I had never seen anything like this. For the first Eid, Korite, most families bought and killed a sheep. But it's a small affair. For Tabaski, it is no small affair.

About two weeks before Tabaski, sheep markets turn up at every corner. Herders bring sheep from around the country to sell in the capital, where they can apparently make up to 2 million CFA francs ($4,400) for ONE SHEEP! Imagine paying $4,000 for something you will eat in one day. But just as we have status symbols in Canada (clothes, cars, etc), the quality of sheep you bring home for Tabaski is a status symbol in Senegal.

You can also make money by buying and reselling sheep. Little boys are paid to wash and clean them. At the sheep markets, people sleep outside all night beside the sheep, and they even have guard dogs! When a customer comes looking, they whip the sheep to stad up tall and straight and they show them off like at a dog show.

One day Atoumane and I took a stroll around the sheep market that formed three metres in front of his door. He told me if you bring home a sheep that only costs 30,000 francs ($60), the neighbours will talk condescendingly. (Even though the smaller, younger sheep apparently have more tender and thus tastier meat). And they don't only buy one sheep. Both Atoumane's family and the family I live with bought three sheep each - far more than they would eat that day - but seemingly for the status and the fun of killing them. Also, once you reach a certain age, you are expected to kill your own sheep (or have someone kill it in your name) - I suppose as a way of personally marking the sacrifice Abraham made so many years ago.

For Tabaski, girls spend weeks preparing - getting their hair done and getting new boubous made, finding matching purses, shoes and jewellery - but all that is for the visiting of friends and family in the evening. (The fabric market was apparently open all night the day before Tabaski. I was there around 11pm and there were girls getting their nails done, people buying shoes, everything! It was packed!) But for many people, the climax of Tabaski is the prayer in the morning, and then the process of killing, skinning and cooking the sheep.

For both Korite and Tabaski, I missed the actual slaying, but Drew showed me a video and it was slow cutting of the neck, as if you were cutting thick bread that you really had to force your way through. Then they make a slit from the neck to the bottom and start skinning the sheep. They hang it on a hook and pull out its insides, letting the intestines flop onto the floor. Then they rip bones apart in order to break the meat up into smaller peices. As they skin and hack, blood spills everywhere. At our house, they killed at least 6 (for various families), and the whole driveway was covered in blood and various sheep parts: skin/head/feet/etc. I stuck to non-meat related preparatory activities - such as grounding the pepper.

What's neat is that if you walk around the morning of Tabaski, you won't find anyone on the streets. They're all inside preparing the sheep. But at every corner, someone is squeezing the poo out of intestines or dealing in some way with buckets of meat.

We ate lamb for the next 4 days - twice a day. On Tabaski, we even had lamb for breakfast. I told you last time about the intestines. This time, I learned that some people also eat the feet!

At Atoumane's, they had no hook to hang the sheep from as they cleaned it out. They used rope and a tree instead. He used the sidewalk to sharpen the knife, and I even saw his sister using the front tiles of the house as a cutting board for raw meat - yummy!

After the big day, I found sheep skins drying all over the road. That's another business - the reselling of the skin. 500 francs (just over $1) per sheep's skin.

All this to say that is really is an affair. It's funny. People look forward to Tabaski so much, but really most of the day is just preparing food. When they ask me whether we kill sheep in Canada, I laugh and say "no, we pray and then go out to a restaurant" - a concept they cannot understand!

After all the blood, people get clean and dressed up. Here's me with my big brother, Kalz.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Dancing with the Demons

One of Erin's blog postings on voodoo in Benin reminded me that I should inform you guys of a certain event I attended last week.

It's called the Ndop. And it is meant to heal people who have gone crazy. It's a four-day thing, kind of like Indian weddings. And it consits of several steps - mostly though, it's about getting the bad spirits out of you.

The whole neighbourhood gathers, and the person in question, and her entourage, dance around in a circle while the men beat the drums. Every once in a while, the demons take over someone's spirit and they start acting crazy. Pouring water on themselves, rolling around in the mud, falling over unexpectedly, demanding random objects - milk, cigarettes (these are 60-year-old women we're talking about), and even ripping off their shirts. (Almost as if the demon in the crazy person is spreading to the others at the ceremony). Sometimes, they get onto their knees and just beat their chests to the sound of the drums - as if trying to beat the spirit out. [In fact, if you see the "crazy person" after the ceremony, she seems quite normal. And I think they're definition of "crazy" is quite broad).

On day #2, they kill a cow and pour its blood on the crazy person. I saw these women pouring bottles of milk on themselves and then throwing the bottle away as if they were drunk. You'd think it would be a very serious affair, but all the kids laugh. Even the marabout (religious leader) who is there to guide the ceremony and heal the woman laughs and smiles from time to time.

It's a certain ethnicity that performs these ceremonies, which end in a big celebration with food, etc. But most Senegalese are scared of them.

When I told the women at work that I had gone to a Ndop, they said "oh"... and their eyes opened wide. I told them it seemed almost like theatre, because once the night was over, the women all went back to normal. And they laughed (as if to say you foolish little girl) and then got very serious. "It's not theatre."

When I told them I was a bit tired that day, they said it was because of the Ndop. You see, the spirits can affects some of the people in the crowd as well, and apparently they're attracted to "toubabs" - white people.

In fact, one of the other girls who had gone with me - Courtney - was also feeling sick the next day (although I think that was due to an unrelated hangover). And the mom at my house said we really shouldn't go back to the Ndop, for our own health.


It's amazing what people can believe in. But as Erin says so eloquently, "Voodoo, animism, paganism, whatever -- THESE are mankind's original religions, existing thousands and thousands of years before Judaism or Islam were even specks on the horizon. No matter how many times they cross themselves in church, kneel down to pray until their knees bleed, or fast until they die during Ramadan, the Beninese person accepts his voodoo ancestry as a matter-of-fact reality of life and will slash a scar on his every child's face to protect them from it."

There's no scar-slashing going on here, but there are certainly strong beliefs that continue to exist despite Senegal's rapid modernization. And if you ask me, that's a good thing. Everyone needs something to believe in.

Sorry, no pics! That was, understandly, forbidden.

Monday, November 26, 2007

How to be a guy in Senegal

Any time you see a white girl, follow these instructions, exactly.

1 - Ask her her name.
2 - Ask her where she comes from.
3 - Ask her if she is married.

Seriously. That is the systematic order. Without fail.

"No tudd?"
"Fo joge?"
"Am nga jeker?"

I've mastered the system though. My answers are:

Eva. (that's all they can understand. There is no 'h' in Wolof, and the 'b' is a bit unusual)
Man waa Canada la.

I'm from Canada.
And yes, I am married.

That's how to keep them away.

Even better: "My husband is Senegalese." Then they really like you.

But lately, I've decided to have a little fun. When the taxi man asked me to marry him the other day, I said, "Sure, we'll go to the mosque this weekend. But as long as you kill 3 sheep." He answers: "Three? I can't afford three." I say, "Well I'm sorry; I can't accept any less." It's quite an enjoyable game.

Except when it came from the 103-year-old on the bus. (so he said anyway). Then I wasn't so much in the mood to joke. I said yes right away!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

"C'etait chaud a Dakar hier"

Litteral translation: It was hot in Dakar yesterday.
Actual meaning: Things were heating up in Dakar yesterday.
That's what everyone was saying today, after the worst riots this city has seen in years. Here's how it all unfolded:
I'm in the office, when around 1:30pm, my boss comes in announcing there are demonstrations downtown and that we should probably leave early so that we make it home before they get out of hand and reach our office (about 20 minutes away), just to be on the safe side. A march by union workers protesting the high cost of living had been planned for that afternoon. But separate protests had spontaneously started that same morning, sparked by a presidential decision to clear street vendors from the sidewalks in order to improve traffic flow. (Dakar's streets are clogged with people selling everything and anything, because it's the only work they can find. The president's decision meant thousands of people had just lost their livelihoods.)

I ask my boss is this isn't something we should be covering. She says, yah, actually you're right. The rioters had already reached my neighbourhood anyway, so I was going to be amongst them no matter what. So off I head to where the march of union workers was supposed to take place. It's calm, but people have begun gathering and police trucks are already stationed.

The march begins like any demonstration in Canada would - people holding signs, whistling, filling the streets and walking in groups. I find a big truck driving along blasting music, so I hop on to get a good vantage point for pictures. I interview people who complain about different things: teachers who have never received the extra money the govt promised them; journalists protesting the arbitrary arrest of their colleagues by the authorities, men who make $20 a month; get no medical insurance and can't afford their rent; others whose tiny salaries are expected to sustains dozens of family members (because unemployment is so high here, if one family member gets a job, he/she is expected to take care of everyone else - including distant relatives - who cannot provide for themselves).

So, I'm walking and interviewing people in the crowds, when all of a sudden people start running in one direction because the police have fired tear gas. Eventually, the crowds disperse enough for me to see the dozens of riot police that are now confronting the protesters head on. I walk off to the side a bit, trying to get pictures, conduct interviews and at the same time, be aware of where I should and shouldn't be to avoid trouble. Police push people in certain directions, and if the officers face any resistance, they don't hesitate to beat people with their rubber truncheons. From what I can see, it's often the police instigating the aggression. An old man, who must have been 70 years old, shows me a bloody cut on his arm.

Then, another tear gas grenade. This time, I get a good wiff of it as I hurry along with everyone else trying to escape the smoke. It hurts a little to inhale, but I'm far enough away that it doesn't really affect me. At one point, as I take out my camera to take a picture of the police, and I realize my hand is trembling! I never get too close, but it's still enough of an experience to make you slightly nervous. Every now and then, the crowds come together again, until a warning shot or tear gas force them to separate.

Within half an hour, the police have basically shut the whole thing down, clearing the main street and threatening to hit anyone who doesn't move where they tell them to. When you do as they say, you find yourself getting pushed into side streets, and the road you would take to get home is blocked. Police trucks have parked in the middle of the intersection and are guarding every corner. As my journalist friend Cyr says, when I run into him, "It's like a civil war zone here." It's a bit of an exaggeration of course, but it was certainly an experience.
Still, the afternoon march by the trade unions was nothing in comparison to the riots of that morning (when I was safely in my office). Young street vendors burned tires and cars, pillaged the mayor's office, threw rocks at police and shattered windshields. I stopped by the hair salon where my friends work on my way home after the afternoon march. They said they were forced to close their shutters because the mobs were throwing rocks at the store windows and burning the wooden tables people use as stands.

The street vendors got some concessions from the government in the end - new places in the city that would be reserved for them. The streets were empty as I walked home from Wolof class today. Even the lady who normally sells peanuts outside our door wasn't there anymore.

It's the street vendors' riots that made the front pages of the paper today, eclipsing the wider and more far-reaching problems of lack of jobs, low salaries and high cost of basic commodities. So the government solved one problem, but it certainly won't be able to solve the other anytime soon. People are sick and tired of being poor and jobless. And there is certainly mounting dissatisfaction with this government. I'm sure some component of these riots was just kids looking for an excuse to cause trouble. But there's no denying that people are frustrated and increasingly unwilling to tolerate this situation. The city was basically back to normal today, and I don't think we'll see riots like these for a while, but when this kind of tension exists, it doesn't take much to unleash people's anger.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

What do you mean please?

I started taking Wolof classes a few weeks ago. It's kind of pointless now since I'm leaving so soon, but it had just gotten to the point that it was embarrassing and I coudn't converse fluently with some of my best friends. I should have done it a long time ago, but better late than never, as they say.

Wolof is the dominant language in Senegal. Even if they are from a different ethnic background(Puulaar, Sereer, Jola, etc), virtually all Senegalese speak Wolof. As do all the Gambians, Guineans, Ivorians ets, who come to Senegal to work. While in Dakar, most everyone speaks French, in the villages there are some people who know nothing but Wolof.

Anyways, what's interesting about the Wolof classes is what is demonstrates about Senegalese culture. Here are some examples:

A French girl in the class (most of the foreigners here are French) asked how you say 'please' in Wolof. The teacher said there is no such word. Why?

When you say please, or 's'il te plait' in French (the direct translation is: if it pleases you), you imply that the person you are asking has the option to refuse. When in fact, in Senegal, if you ask someone to do something, they are obliged to do it. I always used to yell at my 'grand frere' Kalz during Ramadan, because when we were all hungry and breaking fast, he would ask me to stop preparing my own meal in order to prepare his, or to bring him water before I've even had a bite to eat - without even saying please! I always felt the urge to tell him to get it himself, but for him it was perfectly normal to ask me to do it and no please or thank you necessary. But now I understand why.

There are actually many arabic-based words in Wolof. All the days of the week for example: Altine is Monday (from Al-Itneen), Talaata is Tuesday (Al-Talaat), etc. That's because when Islam arived, Arabic words replaced the Wolof ones. French is having the same impact now as some words have no real Wolof version, but some amendment of a French word. Watch is montar (montre in French), fan is wantilaateer (ventilateur), etc.

Wolof names are also reflective of casts. Certain last names are part of the "entertainer" cast I talked about in an earlier post: les grillots - dancers, singers, drummers, storytellers. The name "Thiam" (the name of the family I live with) is supposed to belong to the bijoutieux (jewellers). Carpenters are a cast, tailors another, etc. The nobles are the non-casted. But the cast system is falling apart, and as such, so are the assciations. People's names and professions no longer correspond to their casts, and people are intermarrying between casts (formerly it was dishonorable for a noble to marry a casted person, or even open a hair salon. Because the nobles weren't supposed to work).The Thiams with whom I live with are nobles, not jewellers. I imagine in half a century, Senegalese will not know casts ever existed.

My last point on Wolof classes: It is incredible the amount of time we spent learning greetings. And here, learning greetings means learning how to say "How are your goats doing?" ... That's because greetings are about 10 minutes long and include everyone and everything. Salamu Alaikum. Nangadef? Ana ma wa kerr ga? Naka affairee. Namoonala. 'Hello? How are you? How is the family? How is business? It's been so long since I've seen you.' Before leaving of course, you must ask the person to greet their family for you, wish them off in peace, etc. It sounds very nice indeed and is heart warming that they care so much about personal relationships. But it becomes a little difficult when you're in a rush and you have to spend 10 minutes greeting each of the three regulars you pass around the corner from your house. If you say hello quickly and keep going, you're being rude.

Ok, until next time. Ba benenn yoon!

The path to foreign corresponding?

I've always been so intimidated by the process of becoming a foreign correspondent. How do you do it? Where do you start? Some start at a news outlet in their own country and work their way up from general city news, to provincial politics, to national politics, to international news. I imagine it would take years and is never for sure. Others just implant themselves wherever they want to go and start building a reputation for themselves bit by bit. But there are so many questions...

How do you get plugged into the news world to know what's going on when?
How do you coordinate different buyers for your stories? Can you work for a wire like Reuters while at the same time pitching to the CBC or are you going to piss them off?
Who's out there and who wants what?
And if you work or a wire, they expect you do be ready to cover any breaking news in the region you're in. In Chad, that can range from business stories on the oil pipeline, to environmental problems in Lake Chad, to the new European mission there, to conflicts with neighbouring Sudan, to poverty. You have to be ready to write serious for the serious papers, and tabloidy stuff for the tabloids. You have to be persistent. You have to take every story you can get. Attend every event. Get to know people. Make yourself known.

It can be real hard. People only have so much appetite for a central African country like Chad. And as a freelancer, there is never a guarantee of work or a good rate for your work.

So to address some of your comments, I'm not doing this trip to kill my 10 days. I'm doing it because it is a very narrow opening of the door into this world. IRIN is willing to pay me for reports from Chad in those 10 days. Agreed, 4 of them wil be spent travelling probably (and you can't imagine the hassle of trying to organize flights in Africa. You assume you can book a flight anyday to wherever you want, but either the airline doesn't even go that city and there are no flights for three days, etc.) but that leaves enough time to do some decent reporting, especially if I know what I'm looking for. Once I have some reports written on the ground under my belt, it will be a lot easier to approach Reuters or Agence France Press or anyone else, because I will have somethng to show them. Even to get on the UN plane to the humanitarian hub in the east, Abeche, (apparently the UN is the only institution that flies there) you have to prove that you are writing a story for someone. ie. You have to already have a committed buyer that is willing to vouch for you.

Plus it will allow me to do this first trip with the support of the UN (in terms of permits, authorization, etc) and give me a hang of how things work before I try to do it on my own.

In Chad for example, you need a visa to enter, you need a permit to travel within the country, you need a permit to work as a jouranlist, you need a permit to visit refugee areas, you need a permit to take pictures, the list is endless.

Bottom line, it's quite compliated. Basically, this gives me a chance to see if I can do it on a small scale before trying it all out. I'll go for a vacation when I get back to Canada!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

What Next?

My biggest fear in coming here was that I would do my six months, go back to Canada, and return to my old life - reporting about Larry O'Brien (Ottawa's mayor) or garbage collection (no joke, I have done several stories on this) or some woman who lost her parrot (again, not joking). These are, indeed, important stories that someone has to tell and that many are interested to read - but it's just not what interests me.

On top of that, my time at IRIN has been incredible in terms of orienting myself to the humanitarian issues in West Africa, but for the most part, I have been reporting from my desk in my air conditioned office, next to a Frenchie, a Brit, an American and an Australian. (p.s. What's the noun for a French person?)

So... I've been thinking of what to do next. And I've come up with two options, and I'd like your votes! I'm still planning on going to Egypt in the month of January to study Arabic, but I have about 10 days between finishing at IRIN and starting my Arabic classes, in which I would like to visit another country in the region and set the framework for returning as a freelance journalist. Then the plan is to come back to Canada for a while - enough time to see my wonderful friends and family! - and then eventually head back here (I use "here" very broadly - meaning, Africa, Middle East, wherever I see fit!)

Option 1 - Niger. (not to be confused with Nigeria)

Rated the world's poorest country by the UN. Mostly desert, lots of nomads - and a whole lot of complications!

You guys are always asking for my articles, so here are a couple that give you an idea of what's going on there:

A quick summary of Niger is basically this: It is a mix of complete poverty, foreign companies exploiting uranium, a semi-rebellion by Touareg people who say they are being discriminated against and that the government is not redistributing the revenue from the uranium extraction, and a government that refuses to negotiate with the rebels, and is instead arresting people and journalists who it believes are sympathetic to the rebel cause. Voila.

There is a state of emergency in the north of the country, where the sporadic rebellion is taking place; foreign journalists have been barred from entering; and movement is quite difficult because of landmines.

So if I went, I would probably be stuck in the capital (far from danger mother, don't worry), and I'm not sure how much I would be able to accomplish, other than to orient myself a little to the country, make some contacts, etc.

Option 2 - Chad.

I'm sure you've all heard the story of the French NGO accused of child trafficking for trying to "save" Darfur orphans by taking them to host families in France. Yup, that's Chad. (Here's another taste of my journalistic adventures: But apart from that, there is lots going on there and apparently a complete lack of reporters (other than the ones who have flown in to cover this scandal and will leave as soon as it's old news). In the east of Chad, about 450,000 people are in camps - they are either refugees from Darfur (in neighbouring Sudan) and the Central African Republic, or they are internally displaced people, because Chad itself has been home to fighting between government and rebel groups, cross-border raids by Sudanese militia, and interethnic fighting. A European Union force is going to be deployed there in a couple weeks to stabilize the eastern region.

Nick, from the office, says that while Chad is a "very unpleasant" place to be, it is far easier to operate in than Niger, and apparently Associated Press is looking for a stringer there.

Either way, I'm kind of intimidated by the idea of being a freelance journalist in an area I don't know (how to make contacts, be in the loop for press conferences, understand the complicated politics, and avoid dangerous situations), especially when I don't have the backing of an organisation. Having a media outlet behind you not only gives you a name when you approach interviewees, but also connects you to a whole structure set up to help you (contacts, resources, people with experience, etc) ... I imagine even something as simple as a cell phone or connection to internet can be difficult in these countries when you're on your own.

Still, no media outlets have the money to permanently station people in some of these countries, so a stringer can be very successful by writing stories for all sorts of different outlets. And I guess once you make friends with the local journalists, you can connect yourself to the media scene. I've already got a good starting point (all the phone numbers I've gathered over my time here of president's spokespeople, etc) and I can almost definately string (journalistic term for "freelance or write") for IRIN, at the very least.

Really I think the only way to ever get to where I want to be is to just plunge right in! You never know what you're capable of until you're tested, right?

And Mom, at least Darfur is not on the list! Wish me luck!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Unsustainable Charity

Juxtapose what I’m about to write with my last entry and you will get a glimpse into how confusing it is living here. It mixes you up and sometimes you really don’t know what to think.

Basically from the moment I got here, my Senegalese friends have asked me for money. Kalz asked me for 2000 francs ($4, but worth more here obviously) within days of meeting me. I gave Lamine 10,000 once, which was supposed to be a loan but apparently loans don’t exist here. Blondin asked for 2000. Fatou, another 2,000. Atouman’s Mom – yes, his mother – asked me for money. His sister, himself. After a while, you just want to scream at them, “I’m not a damn bank!” But part of you is embarrassed to say no because they know you have the money, and you know you have the money. If a friend in Canada told me they needed 20 bucks, I wouldn’t ask questions. I would just give it to them. So why should it be any different here? Plus, they do so much for me; they’re so kind. I feel bad not returning the favour – albeit financial – when my turn comes.

But several things make me uncomfortable about this.

First of all, I find myself asking whether they really need it. Atouman’s family for example - they all wear gold jewellery: rings, earrings, necklaces .. things that I don’t even wear. Lamine smokes a pack of cigarettes a day. It’s a question of priorities, I suppose, but I’m sure not sure when they ask for money that’s it’s really a desperate situation.

Second, sometimes I think kids here are raised to beg and it bothers me. It’s almost shameful and I feel bad for parents who have to watch their children act that way. There’s this one kid near my house named Diallo, who I've become friends with. But now everytime he sees me, he tugs at everything I’m wearing – my watch, my purse – asking for money. He almost rips things out of my hands if I have anything. Today, he followed me into my house because he thought I had bananas in my bag. It seems his mother is embarassed every time he clutches at things - but where did he get that habit from, if not from the people around him? Part of me just doesn't want to encourage such "desperate, undignified" behaviour (ie. Don't they have any pride?) and part of me hates myself for writing those words and asking that question.

But my biggest problem with this money thing is that it’s so unsustainable. You give them money today, they need more money tomorrow. The need never ends. And they can’t constantly depend on someone's charity to fill that need. They have to find ways to generate it on their own. I think of the little beggar boys on the streets – here begging is actually entrenched in a system. The Talibe are young boys – sometimes orphans, sometimes from poor families who give them up - who live with a marabout (Most Senegalese Muslims have religious leaders called Marabouts, who they believe give them advice, guide them, etc. “My marabout told me this or that”). The arabout teaches the kids Qu’ran, feeds them and gives them some place to stay. In exchange, they have to beg on the street for money which they take back to the marabout - supposedly in order to pay for everything he does for them, but in reality it all oes to the marabout. It's common knowledge that the kids are badly treated by the Marabouts ie. not fed enough or clothed well. Many walk around the streets of Dakar all day barefoot, with dirt on their faces and ripped clothes. The Talibe are recognizable by their tin cans. The fact that people continue to give them money – people incluing Senegalese – only encourages them to maintain this system, in which they spend every day of their lives begging for money. These are young able children who could be doing so much more. And sometimes it makes me think I shouldn’t ever give them anything, because it only keeps this system alive. I suppose it’s the same question international donors ask themselves on the broader development scale.

It's also a question that I think every foreigner asks him or herself when they get here. Check out my friend Erin's thoughts on this topic if you're interested. She's teaching English in a village in Benin. (Choose the Nov. 1 post)

I've stopped letting it bother me too much. When I feel like it, I give. When I'm tired of giving, I stop. But it's definately an issue that has many implications on the wider scale, and I hope that eventually, as a global society we find the right balance.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Mine and Yours

The other day, I was walking home from a day out with Drew, my Canadian friend who is working for the UN's Youth Employment Strategy, when I passed a Boulangerie and thougt I'd treat myself to a cream-filled donut! (they're delicious). I bought it, walked out of the store, and was about to bite into it, when I saw a begging Talibe boy on the street. Embarassed, I put it back in the bag, and kept walking.

The fact that I didn't feel comfortable eating the donut in front of him made me think long and hard about why I was eating the donut in the first place. How can I refuse to give him 50 cents while I eat a completely unnecessary donut?

(the pic is unrelated, well sort of - it's a bunch of kids who swarmed me the night of Korite asking for money: it's tradition to give children money at Eid)

My friend Kalz, who lives at the house, joked with me once that I should buy him a boubou for Korité (Eid) because he had nothing nice to wear and had no money to buy anything. I laughed and didn’t take him seriously. But then went ahead and bought myself a new boubou, on top of the two I already had. Why should I buy myself new clothes when I’m surrounded by people who can’t have that for themselves?

I guess what I’m saying is that being here really makes you re-evaluate possessions. If you feel bad for having/eating certain things, they why have them/eat them? And if you have extra, why not spend it on others so that they can enjoy the same happiness you do. Enjoying the happiness by yourself (when you have to hide to eat the donut or you're the only one in a nice boubou) isn’t all that fun.

I mean, look at this picture. This is one of my best friends' house.

I don’t want you guys to think I’ve gone all communist (although I've never really been against communism), but we should be asking ourselves serious questions about the way we live.

We’ve gotten so used to completely satisfying ourselves in all aspects of our lives, but that’s not necessarily healthy. In Canada my mentality has always been – I’m in the mood for a chocolate bar, and I can afford it, so why not? But here, instead of thinking why not, I ask, why should I?

Which brings me to another point. Ramadan. I think Ramadan was so much harder than usual for me this year, because I actually noticed a change in my consumption. (Hence the weight loss you've all commented on. My arms are not actually that skinny - it's the camera playing tricks). Normally in Canada, we consume so much at night during Ramadan, that it really doesn’t feel like you're learning anything. You fast during the day only to gorge yourself at night. Here, our meals were so limited at nighttime, that I really felt the difference. I was tired, felt weak sometimes. But I got through it just fine. And that’s the point. We don’t need all that we consume in Canada. And I don’t want to be the preaching girl who went to Africa, but this time around, Ramadan actually made me question my habits. Normally, as soon as the month is over, you go back to everything you did before. So what’s the point? The goal of Ramadan is to make us think about what we have and appreciate it. I also think it should teach us to limit ourselves to what we need. Now, every time I eat till I’m full, I ask myself why? And when I eat chocolate or pop… why? If you can survive on so much less, and everyone around you has so much less, why are you gorging yourself? And what's so bad about feeling hungry anyway? Life here teaches you how much less you need. I rarely eat candy or chocolate. If I get cucumbers at dinner, I’m lucky. But does it make any difference to my life? No. I'm perfectly happy. Ok, my rant is over!

Sunday, October 21, 2007


So, Eid in Senegal… Well, for about 10 days beforehand, people started talking about the big party, la Korité - that’s what they call it here. “Are you getting ready?” people kept asking me. I said “What do I have to do to get ready?” The answer included a new hairdo and a new outfit. At first, I thought I wouldn’t bother, but the hype was too strong to resist. The fabric markets and hairdressers were jammed packed for a week beforehand as people tried to do their last minute preparations. The picture here is of Marché HLM, the biggest fabric market. You pick out fabric that you like and take it to a tailor to have it made. I did that the day before of course, and somehow still managed to get it on time. I think no tailor slept the day before Korité, except beside their sewing machine.

My dad arrived in Senegal for a visit the night before the party. I picked him up at the airport at about midnight Friday night. He came bearing gifts! A whole bunch of things I had requested from Canada – from Clean & Clear face wash to Extra gum – plus some gifts from my mom and from Egypt, where he stopped before here. My grandma sent me kahk! (Egyptian dessert).

In the morning, my dad wore the boubou and slippers I bought him and I wore a boubou as well and we headed to the mosque to pray with some of the folks from the family. They were surprised that as a woman I was going to the mosque, and when I got there and found only men, I thought I might have to cause a fuss in order to be able to pray with them! But eventually I found a section with some women and all was well. It was nice just to be outside, because everyone we passed on the street was dressed in a nice boubou, with a prayer mat in hand. After the prayer, strangers shook each others’ hands, the way we do in Canada.

Then we headed back home, where an extravagant breakfast was ready. On the roof, where I normally do my laundry, two professionals were killing a sheep. I went up there afterwards to find everything – the intestines, the poo that was inside the body, the horns – all over the bloody ground. We ate the lamb that afternoon. It tasted great. But when they brought out a soup made of the intestines, I just couldn’t touch it.

Most of the day, we spent eating and chatting with everyone. A lot of family friends had come by the house, and it was just a nice feeling of getting together. There were nice drinks too, like bissap and takh, made from the boiled leaves of fruit trees.

At night, most Senegalese visit their family members to ask forgiveness if they have wronged them in any way. In fact, the whole day, people you see shake your hand and say “Bal ma akh” – forgive me for my sins.

Late at night, I took my old man out dancing, Senegalese style. I bought these bright blue shoes to match my new outfit – I’d never be caught dead wearing these shoes in Canada, but here, it just seemed to work! – and we went to a ‘mbalakh’ concert (Senegalese pop). You should have seen Atouman trying to teach Dad to dance!

Anyways, it was a great ending to what had been quite a long and difficult month of Ramadan (harder than usual this year I think). It felt nice to be surrounded by people, to have a feeling of community and togetherness.

After the party, the city sort of shut down for a few days as people recovered from the strenuous preparation and extensive fete. Markets weren't up and running as usual, and the streets seemed a bit empty. But unusually, in a 95% Muslim country, they only get one day off for Eid and 10 for Christmas (the French made their constitution), so things were back to normal before long!

My first visitor

So, I had my first visitors!!! Celine and her boyfriend Danilo came from Spain, where they live, for a 3-day visit. (Celine and I went to highschool together and travelled to Spain together a few years ago). It was great having them here ... we went to the markets (that pic of me sitting on the ground is when I was resting while Danilo - the ultimate bargainer - was going at it), they spent time with the sheep on my roof, the Independence Monument near my house, Atouman's twin sisters in their matching boubous

As was necessary, of course, Celine dressed up in a boubou at night and we went to a religious ceremony (they were here during Ramadan) where people danced and chanted "La Illaha illa Allah" to the beats of drums.

We visited l'ile (island) de N'Gor, after almost a day-long ride (what would otherwise be 20 minutes) in a Ndiaga Ndiaye, the white mini-buses that stop for anyone that flags them down.

Celine picked up the "salamu alaikum" easily, and Danilo being a natural bargainer, they fit right in. The tricky part was the languages. Danilo is Brazilian, and thus speaks Portugese. But he and Celine speak together in Spanish (that's their common language). He speaks some English and no French. Celine speaks French, because her mother is Swiss, but I normally speak with her in English. I speak rudimentary Spanish, and no Portugese. And the languages in Senegal are French and Wolof. So, there were so many langugages mixed in my head - I would open my mouth to speak Spanish to Danilo and french would come out. I'd try to talk to the merchants in French, I'd get English instead. It got to the point where before talking, I would have to stop for two minutes and think - ok, who am I talking to, and what language are they expecting!

Anyways, it was a great few days... reminded me of our adventures in Spain. Thank you my love!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Toubab Diallio

I decided that I had become too reliant on other people to keep myself busy and interested, and that I was sick of the city, so a couple weekends ago, I took off - on my own for the first time - to a village about an hour and a half south of Dakar on "la petite cote." Toubab Diallio aka. Heaven in Senegal. To get there, I walked to the Colobane station (not really a station but a bunch of taxis on the side of the highway) and took a sept-place (station-wagon like car with 7 spots) most of the way. It dropped me off in the middle of the highway, at the intersection of the road that leads to the village. After close to three months in Dakar, being in the middle of nowhere was quite refreshing. I flagged down the first car that drove by and gave the driver the equivalent of 60 cents to take me the rest of the way.

Toubab Diallio is this beautiful quiet town along the water, mostly made up of fishermen and vendors who sell to the tourists. It's got narrow streets, lots of greenery and wonderful people! My plan was a get-away weekend where I would read, reflect, keep to myself.... but within 5 minutes of being there, I had plans for dinner and a handful of new friends.

That's what's so beautiful about Senegal. The people are just so social and ready to befriend you. I made friends with the women selling earrings and necklaces and did a little selling myself! I met a group of young girls on the beach who taught me to dance Senegalese style. And the first person I met on the island invited me to dinner with his friends!

Let me tell you about the dinner. I was at the beach playing soccer when some fishermen came in from their day's work. Villagers swarmed the boat, trying to get first crack at the fish. They scoop out the fish and bring them to the women on shore who buy them from the fisherman. The women clean them up a tiny bit, and then sell at the marketplace to the villagers. That night, I was one of those villagers. Moussa (a guy I met on the island) and I and some of his friends bought some fish and prepared a traditional meal from the Casamance, where Moussa is from (south of Senegal). The fish was cleaned and cut by hand, the rice was sorted by hand, the pepper ground by hand, everything fresh! It was amazing to see the fish come in and eat them the same night.

Friday, October 5, 2007

A different reality

At the house where I live, you know someone is sick when they don’t show up to eat for a few days. (I’ve explained before that the house is home to many people – extended members of the family, friends, etc – who don’t actually live here, but just come to eat). One week, Alioune Sow had not shown up for a few days, and le vieux (the father of the house) said he must be sick. Sure enough, when we finally saw him days later, it turned out he had had malaria.

For a disease that kills more children in Africa than AIDS, people treat it so casually! “Yah, I had malaria….” If it wasn’t so sad it would be funny. But it is so sad – because this same disease which is easily treated in a few days is one of the top killers in Africa because so many people don’t have access to the treatment, or aren’t even educated enough to know they need it (they think malaria can be healed through traditional means).

I've been sick the last couple days with a cold... let's hope it's not malaria! (joking Mom, joking)

I think also of the flooding in West Africa. This rainy season has been the most damaging in years, and flooding has affected close to 700,000 in the region (destroyed their homes, washed away their livestock, submerged their farms, etc). Close to 200 people have died in West Africa alone… imagine, DIED… from the walls of their home crumbling on them, or from drowning. In Canada we would never see rain as anything more than an inconvenience. Even here in Dakar, there has been heavy rain, but nothing like in other countries – but it easily could have been. Two years ago, Dakar saw horrible flooding. This year, it’s elsewhere, but it still hits pretty close to home. And people here just see it as a regular part of life. ‘Yup, there’s gonna be flooding. We might have to move to higher ground for a while, and then we’ll come back to our homes.’ (This touches on a whole other issue, which is that people in the region have not yet realized the seriousness of these floods, and have not begun taking preventative measures to deal with them). I have written so many flood stories for IRIN, it’s kinda become my beat. So I have a lot to say on the subject!

Anyways, all this to say that this continent lives a completely different reality.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Unexpected Face of Poverty

Poverty-stricken Africa.

We’ve all seen the images of malnourished children, overcrowded refugee camps, nomads foraging for food in the desert.

The thing is – poverty in Africa hits at a much deeper, less obvious and widespread level. Everyone here is concerned about money. There are no jobs… and I’m not talking about McDonald’s not hiring the 15-year-old who wants an after-school part-time job. I’m talking about 35-year-olds who can’t find work. Men who remain single well into their thirties because they know they couldn’t support a family.

Most of my friends have no regular income…they spend all day doing god knows what – nothing really… because there’s nothing to do. They manage to scrape together a few francs here and there when they need to – people help each other out – but doing things that require money – going out for dinner, to the movies, etc – just isn’t on their radar. Those who do find work don’t make that much.

Take my friend Ndiéme, who works at the hairdresser’s. She takes the bus for two hours a day to get to work (because she can’t find work in her neighbourhood) and works at least 9 hours a day, six days a week. She makes 30,000 CFA francs a month, the equivalent of just over $60 dollars. Of that, she sends $40 to her mother in a town a few hours away, to help raise her siblings. She lives off of the $20 that remain. And these aren’t poor people… this is the average. These are average people, who look normal on the street. They’re not beggars or dirty or badly dressed. But every day, they struggle to make due with what they have. Ndiéme told me she cries at night because she can never give her mother enough.

Then there’s Cheikh. He’s a cameraman for ATN, an agency that sends reports to international media outlets for broadcast. I met him on an assignment, and we became friends. A group of us had gone out a few times together. He dressed nicely, paid for cabs, dinner, etc – seemed in a reasonably comfortable financial situation. And so the first time I saw his living arrangements, I was a bit shocked. (I don’t think I hid it too well either). He and his friend share a room that they rent for the equivalent of $50 a month. They sleep on the same bed, share a mini fridge in the corner of the room and a dresser. They sit on their bed to eat and the door to their room leads directly to the outdoors (homes in Senegal are often built in courtyard format. There’s an open space in the middle, with rooms along the perimeter). When it rains, it feels like you’re in the middle of the storm. When the family makes noise in the adjoining house, you can hear it all. This is how a young professional lives, and it’s totally normal!

It becomes depressing after a while because everyone you talk to talks about money problems and you feel you want to help everyone, but you know you can’t, and besides that wouldn’t be sustainable. Many say it’s up to the government to invest money into the economy and create jobs instead of filling its own corrupt pockets. Others talk about the need for the rich Africans – and there certainly are many – to reinvest into their continent instead of spending their money in Europe, etc. (I don’t want to give the impression that everyone here is poor… there are people who are well-off, as there are everywhere. There are Senegalese driving SUVs and wearing $200 shoes. All I’m saying is that the average person has difficult choices to make – puts things in a bit of perspective.)

Friday, September 21, 2007


Many of you have asked about Ramadan in Senegal. The truth is, it's not that different. I was expecting lanterns and decor... but in all honesty, Mom's decorations in Kanata are more than anything I've seen here!

There is a difference though of being in a country where you're surrounded by other Muslims. First of all, the Adhan (call to prayer) sounds five times a day, not just during Ramadan, but always. Secondly everyone around you is fasting, waking up early in the morning, praying, etc. The scene outside isn't anything spectacular, but you will see people preparing food around eating time. The traffic is either really bad, cuz everyone is rushing home to eat, or the streets are empty, cuz everyone is already home. The other day, I saw a police officer patrolling with a cup of coffee in one hand and a piece of bread in the other, so that he would be ready to eat when the time came. No one looks at their watch to know when to eat, they just wait for the Adhan. And they do things a bit differently here. In Canada, we break our fast on a date or something, pray, and then eat a big meal right away. Here, they break their fast on dates, coffee (they love their coffee), and bread and butter. Then they pray. Then they wait about half an hour, 45 minutes before eating. It's actually a great system, because your body digests the snack and you feel more full, so you don't over-eat and shock your empty stomach. (Apparently the reason we don't do this in north america, one of the guys at the house told me, is that we have no time. we are always rushed. But in Africa, "we have all the time in the world!"

They wake up at 5:30am here for suhur, just like in Canada, only the food consists of rice and meat (the leftovers from the day before). A little too heavy for me first thing in the morning!

I've gotten into the rhythm of praying five times a day. The other day, Atouman's sister and I went to the mosque after eating to pray 'isha (the evening prayer). It's so hot (and i imagine crowded) inside the mosque that most people line up outside the mosque. We just brought our prayer carpets and prayed on the street. Even with the wind, it is sooo hot under the tarha (head scarf). The one I wear was made in Saudi Arabia, where I thought they would know to make heat-sensitive garments. But obviously not. I was sweating like crazy! And the imam was going so fast that it was really like exercise, which only increased the sweating!

They call Ramadan the Karem, and everyone always asks "et comment va le Karem?" so you feel you are participating in something with everyone else, which is nice... The American girl staying here now, Chandy, did it for the first few days. Very impressive i have to say, given the heat. It's not the hunger that's difficult here. It's the thirst, because it is so hot, that if you're out and about under the sun, all you want is a glass of water. The first few days, I drank so much when it was time to eat that my stomach hurt!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Go Senegal Go!

Saturday September 8th. The big match. Senegal vs. Burkina Faso in the final qualifying game for the Afican Soccer Cup. If Senegal wins, they're in!
Guess how much tickets were? less than $3. Amazing. The Leopold Sedar Senghor Stadium (named after Senegal's first president) was almost full. The atmosphere was amazing. But first, let me tell you about the entry.

The game started at 5pm. We got there at 4:20pm and the lineup was maybe 2km long, for people who already had their tickets. Police officers on horseback and with unloaded guns and some tube-like thing to whip with run up and down the line making sure no one sneaks in. Everyone who is not already in line stands around the line, hoping to sneak in when the officers aren't looking. If they get caught, they get dragged out, only to try again two minutes later. It's quite entertaining actually. We snuck in with some friends before the police got really vigilant, so we made it in before the start of the game.

The stadium was not much smaller than the Corel Centre, although with less levels, and people were hyped! There were people in the crowd with drums and whistles. There was dancing, of course. And there were people selling things in the stands - just like at the Corel Centre- except instead of popcorn and nachos and beer it was water and cigarettes and peanuts - oh, and this wonderful slush type thing, basically a banana/coconut smoothie, frozen. Except they sell everything in plastic bags. You cut a whole in the bag with your teeth and suck out the wonderful snack!

Senegal ended up winning 5-1. Great game, everytime they scored, the whole crowded roared. They've got the wave down here too! And I find there's serious serious pride for the player. El Hadj Diouf is the star. They call him the Senegalese Ronaldhino. He has amazing ball control and sets up almost every goal. Then there's Henri Camara, the star forward. He didn't play the first half because of an injury and when the second half started, everyone started chanting "Henri! Henri!" to get him on the field. The moment he and another player were subbed in, the tide totally turned. From 1-1 to 5-1 !!!

Anyways, the African Cup starts in January. I should be in Egypt at that time. May I remind everyone that EGYPT eliminated Senegal from the last African Cup in the semi-finals and went on to win the whole thing. Sure, I'll cheer for Senegal, but as soon as Egypt and Senegal go head to head, my allegiance changes!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

White girl can't dance

So first of all, here is the long awaited booboo.... I have a little trouble walking in it because my adoptive mother Betty made it a bit too tight in the skirt, but that's a minor detail.

And here is the booboo in action at my friend's wedding - yes, my friend (Ndeye Cisse - middle) got married, can you believe it? It was basically arranged two days before, in a haste to get the couple married because they had had a fight and weren't speaking. Betty (the groom's adoptive mother - Betty has "adopted" a lot of children) thought if she married them quickly, there would be no chance of the relationship ending. It wasn't the big Senegalese party (that is yet to come) but it was the more formal thing when the men go to the mosque (the women stay home and prepare the donuts) and then everyone comes by the home to congratulate the couple. Only the groom wasn't there because he was studying for an exam! Weird.

Now, for the point of this blog. I was going to a concert with Atouman and his friend at a nightclub here. I didnt really feel like doing my hair, so I figured it would be "cool" to wear the scarf of the booboo - I tied it differently, and I thought cooly, but as it turns out, no one wears those scarfs in that kind of context. The scarves are to be worn with the rest of the ensemble when you're going to the market or whatever. They are appropriate for casual outings, but they are not considered chic.

So you remember the scene in "Save the Last Dance" when the girl walks into the club and she's the only white girl and she's totally out of place. They had to take her to the bathroom and turn her shirt into a scarf... Well, I needed someone to do the opposite...That scarf needed to come off ! But in any case, the club had a stage and a huge open space which was full - from the beginning - of people dancing. There may have been chairs and tables somewhere, but I don't even know because I couldn't move there were so many people. They don't grind like in North America. Everyone stands in circles and they dance as a group. Although, the girls certainly have an amazing ability to shake their booties! But actually, there were more men dancing than women! I need to learn how to dance to mbalach (Senegalese pop) NOW because really, it's becoming a huge embarassment to be anywhere where dancing takes place and stand around like a white girl with no rhythm!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

House of Slaves

Two Saturdays ago, me and my journalist friend Cheikh and his roommate Alioune took the ferry to the island of Goree, just about 20 minutes from Dakar's port, considered a borough of the capital. It's a beautiful island where about 1,000 people now live. It has its own schools, police station, medical centre, etc. And many of the people there are artists - who paint and make statues to sell to foreigners who come to visit, or to take to other parts of Senegal to sell.

But the main attraction to Goree for many foreigners is the fact that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site - why? Because it was a main point of shipment for the slave trade, and still has a "House of Slaves" which now serves to document what took place on this island. It's a small home, where slaves used to live on the bottom dingy floor and the Europeans on the top floor. There were separate rooms for men, women and children - certain jobs in the fields and mines children could do well. Plus if your parents were strong, they assumed the children would be too, so they would take them early. Finally, young girls were often used for sex. And if a young girl got pregnant by a European, she would be set free, so often girls would have sex with them, in the hopes of getting pregnant to get out. There was also a room for the temporarily weak slaves - where they would be fed and fattened before being sent back with the others. If slaves got sick, they were thrown into the ocean. If they tried to escape, they were shot and thrown into the ocean, so sharks started getting attracted to the blood and the area became full of shark. I divert. Anywyas, the rooms are as you would imagine them - well you dont' have to imagine, look at the pic. Dark, dingy, 2.6 x. 2.6 metres, (with a narrow slit in the wall of about 2 inches by 2 feet) where about 15 grown men would live while waiting to be sent to America - chained to the wall, allowed out once a day to take care of their needs. When they ae allowed out, they are chained to a heavy ball so that they can't get away. Obviously, slaves were chosen for their strength, and the guide joked that that's why all the best basketball and sports figures in the States are black. They were traded for as little as a gun or tabacco... A child could be traded for a mirror.

This is the door through which they were loaded into the boats. Up to 15 million slaves left to America through this port alone. Six million of them are estimated to have died in the journey. If felt so real being here, on the exact soil that there were on, in the same rooms. All you can do is feel pity and disgust for humanity that we are capable of such things. Lots of the visitors are foreigners, but I would say the majoriy were Senegalese people who never want to forget what happened here. (FYI - Slavery continues to this day in West Africa. Here's an article I wrote recently about the situation in Mauritania: So that was pretty heavy and hard-hitting, but the rest of the island is beautiful. Here are some pics.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Senegalese Infrastructure

I've been meaning to do this post for a while, but I had to prepare all the elements! Anyways, here is a look at how things work here.

1 - The Cab.

When you take a cab here, you have to be ready to negotiate. Of course, the prices are dirt cheap, but there is no meter, you just decide with the driver. So when you hail a cab, you stick your head in the window, tell him where you're going, and then suggest a price. He counters, and you keep going until you reach agreement. Often pretending to walk away helps. They'll say, 'ok, ok, i'll take it'... because there's way more supply than demand when it comes to cabs here. When I was in St. Louis, the system was even more relaxed. You just get in, go to your destination, and then basically give the cabbie whatever you think it's worth - or give him a bill and wait and see what he gives you back. I guess there's just a level of trust that doesn't exist in Dakar.

Check out this taxi repair/washing stand ...

One thing I found incredible, is that the price of gas is nowhere near as cheap as I expected. It's more than a dollar a litre. Yet a cab ride that would easily cost $20 in Canada, would cost $3 here.
The driving is of course, uncontrolled. But amazingly, I have yet to witness a traffic accident here. It's not just that there are no lanes and very few traffic lights, its that everyone thinks they have the right of way, and often, it's only at the very last minute that one of two drivers heading into an intersection from opposite directions will decide to slow down.

2 - The Bus.
Here is the luxurious bus stop I wait at on my way home.

I've talked about the busses before - the fact that the system is quite effective. But there are of course, some things you should do to master the system. First of all, there are two bus lines - the white busses and the blue busses... In many cases, they pass along similar routes, but they have different bus stops. So when I go to work I can take the blue #9 or the white #31. But the stops are abou 100 m apart. And if I wait at the blue stop, and the white one comes, I have to run to catch it in time. So now, I stand in between both stops, and when I see one coming, I get to the appropriate stop on time!

The other thing about the bus, especially when it's crowded, is that you should always aim for a spot near the door. The ideal spot, is right on the step with the door open, that way you get all the wind that passes by. Otherwise, sometimes it can be HOT...with so many people crammed beside each other.

3. The Coffeeshop.

Coffee is big in Senegal, and specifically Nestcafe. It has a monopoly on this country - seriously. Little vendors walk around with hot water, nescafe packets, and cups, and sell you hot coffee for 50 cents...

4. The Hairdresser.
Of course, there are the salons, but there are also stands on the street where men can go to get their heads shaved. It's basically a chair, a mirror, and a little countertop. You sit down in the middle of the street, get your head shaved, and keep on walking. Wish I had a pic.

5. The Fly Killer.

Seriously, I have never in my life seen flies so big. They are everywhere and they are huge. So in the office, we have this weapon to try to kill them. (p.s. I killed my first fly today, it was so exciting!) It's a gun wound on a spring with a flat end. So when you see the fly, you line up the gun and fire... it's quite entertaining actually.

6. The Heat.

When the electricity is out, it is almost impossible to sleep because it becomes so hot. The thing is that outside, it's not hot. It's nice and breezy. But as soon as you get into an enclosed space (bedroom, bathroom, etc) you start sweating almost instantaneously. So, one night, I told myself I just couldn't lie on my bed in distress as the heat overcame me. So I took a straw mat, lay it on the roof, hung my mosquito net fromthe clothesline, stuck my earplugs in, and swept peacefully.

7. The Garbage

I suppose some of the folks here haven't had exposure to environmental education. So some of them get rid of their garbage by stacking into piles on the side of the road, and burning it. Often on my way home, I walk by three or four piles of garbage with smoke coming out of them. They have no idea how harmful it is, I imagine!

8. The Recycling.

There is no formal recycling program in Senegal, but there is an unofficial network of people who make money by going through garbage at the dump, collecting all the recyclable metal and selling it. Can you imagine? Some of them even have little shacks at the dump where they sleep.

9. The Cemetery

This hole in the wall - literally - is the door to a cemetary in Dakar's Medina neighbourhood. The cemetery is falling apart, covered in garbage, etc. It's quite sad. When I was in St. Louis, Lamine and I went to visit his mother's grave. It was really hard to watch. The grave was marked by a piece of wood with her name written by hand, just resting on the sand. She is in a plot with others from the family, and each body is identified just by a lump of sand. Lamine spent a good 20 minutes digging up the sand with his hands to try to maintain each body's shape. In the next plot over, another young guy was sweeping leaves and dirt off his family's grave. Then Lamine prayed for her and ran his hands through the sand a little. It was really... difficult. I can't imagine having to do that. (I love you Mom!)

10. The Little Extras

So guess what they have even all the way in Senegal? RED BULL! Can you believe it... and it's chepaer than in Canada. And I even see the Red Bull car driving around. And... this is the sad news, they now have pop in plastic bottles! I think they will slowly phase out the glass bottles, which is so depressing, because there is nothing I love more than a cold Fanta Orange out of the glass bottle....