Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Downpour

The first big rainfall of the rainy season came today. The thunder was so strong it woke me up in the morning, and lightning at 8 a.m. - can you imagine? And I heard lots of sirens too...

A surprising number of people used umbrellas on the street, some wore shower caps or tied platic bags around their heads. Others used a towel or a newspaper to keep their heads dry. But most just used nothing at all, and walked around as normal.

The traffic calmed down. It was the first time I saw drivers in Dakar going at a reasonable pace and slowing for oncoming traffic. The bus had to take a detour because of flooded roads - it would go up one way, realize it couldn't get through, turn around and try a different route. I don't know what happens to the people on the original route waiting for the bus, but we picked up more people along the new route! (The bus driver of course, wipes his windshield with his hand in order to see)

Anyways, so the detour caused me to have no idea where we were (I only know specific routes and landmarks) so of course I missed my stop, had to get off the bus and walk for a good 20 minutes in the rain. Once I got close to the office - the whole street was flooded... literally, there was nowhere to go. The guy before me used some cement blocks that were in the midst of the puddles, in order to make it across... I got up onto one of them, stood there for about two minutes, and realized there was no way I would be able to hop from one to the other without falling off the blocks and into the water. So I chose to walk through the water instead. I awkwardly climbed down off the block, and wadded through the water, only to realize that a group of little boys who were watching me go through this whole process were getting a good laugh out of it !

Anyways, I'm glad I invested in the $100 MEC rain jacket... !

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Universal Touch

First of all, who is still.searching? I read your comments, but I don't know who you are !

So get this.
Friday night, I was standing in a sand pit watching black men in underwear roll around in the sand wrestling. Saturday, I was sitting in a luxurious garden in a Canadian guy's villa, eating bre and gouda cheese, amongst reporters/photographers from Reuters, New York Times, etc. You can have it all here, there are so many different sides to this city. It's a little destabilizing actually - because you start wondering who you want to be, and where you fit. So as I was debating these philosophical questions (having a bit of an identity crisis actually), I walked by some 7-year-old boys playing soccer on the street. I asked one of them what his name was, he said "Ronaldino" and that was it... in my flip flops and with my purse on my shoulder, i ran around with the kids, and felt great ! It's amazing what a bit of soccer can do for the soul.... No more questions of identity - i know where I belong, whether in Africa or Canada - on the soccer field !

Speaking of soccer, one of the guys from the house took me for some real soccer at the college next to where we live... and intsead of being the only white person, I was the only girl (Not so different from Canada)... and surprsingly quickly the guys got past that, and I was in there getting dirty and sweaty like the rest of them. A few notes on the soccer... the Senegalese play soccer in sand of course, with dust flying everywhere... and they play in sandals - literally plastic beach sandals... they run in them, they play in them. It's like the footwear of choice here, it's so funny ! Sometimes they have a real ball, other times it's a flat tiny thing that barely rolls... sometimes they use boulders of cement they find on the street as nets, and draw a line in the sand... anyways, it's incredible how little you need to play the game... the universal game of soccer....

A few other observations about universality... (I'm trying to make a smooth transition, but it's a bit of a stretch I know)
I remember thinking long ago how Africans have so little, but they're so much happier than we are in North America. I had this idea that in traditional societies, people have a better sense of what's important in life - they value family and togetherness, they're less concerned about money and success - and are just generally happier people.
But I think that's a bit naive. At one of the drumming ceremonies I was at, I spent some time just looking around, watching the people. There were boys bullying other boys. There were the loner kids sitting alone in the corner with no friends. There were 12-year-old girls wearing miniskirts and holter tops. There's materialism here, just like anywhere else. I guess certain aspects of human nature are simply universal.

Anyways, those are just some thoughts for the moment.
More to follow I'm sure.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Atouman's World

Hey everyone - first I'll update you on the good news, because apparently some of you are unnecessarily worried about me! Both my luggages have now arrived - the second one had been sent to Beirut if you can imagine, and was brought back by Air Italia - crazy ! And I am not malnourished! The food situation has stabilized, and I'm getting more than enough so don't worry...

Ok, onto the post:

Until recently, I had been a little disapointed that I wasn't getting as much access/exposure to Senegalese culture as I expected (and certainly not as much as when I was in Spain, where I was constantly running into interesting people and things). I attribute that largely to the fact that I don't have as much time (since I work five days a week) and I didn't know the right people....

Enter Atouman.

Atouman Gueye, 22 years old, djembe player. He lives next door to the hairdresser where I got my hair braided. He hangs around there a lot and the girls who work there know him well, so that's how I got to know him. Anyways, since then, he has introduced me to a whole new world.(Here's Ndieme on the left, who did my braids, and at the beach, Atouman and Maud (a French intern at work)

So last weekend, Atouman took me to a ceremony - well really a huge neighbhourhood party - where the young girls of the neighbourhood get dressed up in matching green sparkly dresses, do their hair and so on, and organize this big party. Chairs are set up in a huge rectangle right on the street, big speakers play music, lights are shining, etc. Then around 11pm, the WHOLE neighbourhood piles onto the street, crowding around this rectangle - it must have been like 500 people. I of course, was the only white person there. (Can you find Waldo in the picture?)

Atouman is part of a group of drummers who perform at ceremonies like these ones (this was just a fun party to celebrate summer time, but others, for example, celebrate the confirmation that a woman is a virgin after her first night with ther husband). Musicians are highly respected in Senegalese culture, going back I think to when there were (there still are to a large extent) social classes. Musicians/drummers/dancers/performers are part of the Grillo class I think. Anyways, Atouman's group wasn't performing that night, but another group asked him to play. It was about 8 guys, playing Sabars, which are like Djembes, only you play them with one hand, and the other using a little stick.
So the drummers drum for hours - and I'm talking serious drumming - to the point that sweat is just flowing from their faces. And then the girls - the dressed up ones as well as others from the neighbourhood, and some older women too - come up to the drummers, do a quick dance and run back to their seats. Their dancing is like nothing you've ever seen, and fascinating to watch. Their hands wave around and their legs are spread wide - it's almost like a gorilla jumping around, but faster and very intense! Often the dancer will match herself to the drumming, adding a little shake of the bum as a finale.

Then came the chanting and singing, because the drummers only get money by having women drop bills into their hands, so they chant to the women .... including me... All of a sudden I hear the word 'Toubab' which means foreigner... And they started chanting in Wolof/French 'Hey foreigner, give us money!' ... everyone was singing and looking at me and it was so funny !

So this was an incredible experience for me...

The next time I hung out with Atouman, he took me to meet his father's wife's family (not his own mother, but they are still close). Off the street, there are a number of clay buildings and alleywalls. When you go down those alleyways, little curtains in doorways lead directly into people's bedrooms. It's crazy. Imagine having your bedroom lead right onto the street! Anyways, so in one of these bedrooms, there were like 15 people crowded into the room watching a TV report about the big wrestling match over the weekend. Wrestling - or 'la lutte' - is the national sport in Senegal and a huge deal. This weekend was an important match, and featured our very own Gris-Bordeaux (from my neighbourhood of Dakar: Fass) against a big hot shot, Bombardier, from elsewhere in Senegal. So everyone was very excited. (Gris-Bordeaux won, but I think he just got lucky)... Anyways, as we're watching, people jump in from the alleyway to grap a peak, and everyone knows each other of course.

At one point, a girl handed me a plastic sack with some liquid inside and a knot at the top keeping it from leaking. I didn't know what she wanted me to do with it. It turned out it was some kind of food - like couscous in a sweet milky liquid - and she wanted me to try it. I had no idea how I was supposed to consume it. Atouman poked a whole in the bag, put it to his mouth and just sucked on it. I of course had to do the same, and then pass it around. Tasted pretty good, I guess!
Anywyas, so Atouman seems to be my key into a whole other world. He's determined he's going to teach me how to dance, drum and speak Wolof. A little too ambitious if you ask me, but we'll see...

Friday, July 20, 2007

The non-internet era

Hello everyone!

It's been a while... It has been harder and harder to post and here's why. For the last week, there has been a power outage almost every day at the home for a number of hours each time. (I have internet access at work, but after being there for 10 hours, you just want to get out!) So when the outages come around, not only is there no internet, there's no light, and usually no water! I didn't shower this morning, because of the water outage, which is fine and all if you're in Canada, but when it's hot and sticky, a daily shower is a necessity! The worst is when you start showering, get covered in soap, and then the water stops... haha... that's happened to me twice.
Here's me in a moment of desperation, washing my clothes with water that was stored in case of water outages, and a flashlight that Chris - the American who is staying at the house - hung from a clothesline... It looks light out because of the flash, but in reality it was dark!

Speaking of electricity, I wrote an article about the debate surrounding using computers in African schools - and that was an interesting element that came up - that now these schools have computers, but they still don't have consistent electricity ! And what does that say ?.... Read the article to find out! (http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=73348)

There have been other moments of twisting and turning in bed because the fan wasn't working and the heat was overwhelming, and add to that the itchiness of my scalp because of the braids... more than 10 hours of labour, and here is the result: (that's Chris in the picture - he's on some kind of study abroad program for a month and a half. He's got one week left and I think the power outages are pushing him over the edge! He's ready to go home. His theory is that Senegal can't produce enough of its own power, and can't afford to buy power from outside, so it's just on a rotating blackout cycle, from neighbourhood to neighbourhood around the country)

Anyways, there was a rough patch for a while, adjusting to all this... AND get this: One of my suitcases finally came, two and a half weeks late. I was all excited, picked it up from the airport, took it home, opened it, only to find my clothes full of mold (check it out) I guess they left the bag out in the rain! So, yah, hebster was a bit grumpy for a while, but I'm better now...

As for the house, it's not too bad actually. There are lots of interesting (somewhat crazy) people living there: Kals, tall and lanky, absolutely weird, responds to everything you say with a comment that makes no sense but makes you laugh; Malick, short with dreads, and a djembe player; Lamine (or El-Amin in Arabic), wannabe philosopher who loves to discuss ideas - and who at dinner is sure to throw some cut up meat onto my side of the communcal plate because I suppose he thinks I won't get enough to eat otherwise! And my favourite of them all: Aida, the little baby...
Otherwise, no malaria yet ( I bought some pills here that I have begun taking)... I think I am going to start jogging/playing football (wow, I just naturally called it football and not soccer!). The Senegalese love "le sport" as they call it, which is basically just running. You see them everywhere running on the street or along the beach, with sandals, half the time, and usually in packs. So I figured, I might as well get into it too!
Anyways, I hear it's raining buckets in Canada, so I hope you're all doing well despite the miserable weather... take care.

Monday, July 16, 2007

People... Ideas...

Well there's lots of them! - both the people and the ideas. And they come from everywhere - the women in the hair salon, the men at the dinner table, the djembe (drum) players. So here's a selection of interesting thoughts I've come across....

1 - Osama bin Laden does not exist. Seriously. One of the guys that frequent my house, El-Amin (there are many people who are part of the extended family and come to eat and are always in and out) told me he seriously believes that Osama bin Laden is a creation of the Pentagon. The whole thing is just one big conspiracy, he says. I'd never heard anyone say that before, and I was shocked! He and the others also seemed to believe that Al-Qaeda itself didn't really exist and if it did, that it couldn't be that bad!!!
2 - Polygamy is acceptable. Many of the men here have more than one wife. And it's normal. People talk about their father's "other wife" without embarassment. In the house I live in, the father has one wife in the house, another wife down the street, and a third who died 7 years ago. I was asking one of my friends if her mother and her father's other wife get along. She said they were friends, but they fought at lot.
3 - Many people have lost their mothers. I've met about three or four people so far whose mothers aren't alive. I'm sure there are many, many more. They don't usually say much more, but I suspect in some cases it's because they died of AIDS or some other disease that they don't like to talk about. And that is also considered just a fact of life. And they move on.
4 - Families are huge! My latest friend - Ndieme - who braided my hair for me, has 17 brothers and sisters (of course, not all from the same mother, but all from the same father)... Crazy !
5 - Many people have grade 6 education. A lot of the people I meet, who seem normal (ie. not poverty stricken and starving) have nothing more than a grade 6 education. The musicians, the hairdressers, etc. It's funny, another of my friends, Ndeye, (also from the hair salon), told me she wants her daugther to go to university. When I asked her why she didn't, she said she just wasn't interested. She wanted to work instead. It's the case for many people here, although many have impecable French despite the limited schooling. For most, Wolof is their native tongue, but French is a close second. I thought nowadays people stayed in school longer, but I guess that's still not the case.
6 - Stepfathers fall in love with their wives' daughters. This happens not uncommonly here, from what I hear. One singer had a music video about it, and that's how we got started on the topic. But apparently it's an issue. The girl often doesn't want anything to do with him, but in some cases, she does in fact have a relationship with the stepfather, and hides it from her mother. Can you believe?

Anyways, my eyes are being opened to new and interesting ideas everyday. So there's a taste!

Friday, July 13, 2007

The real Senegalese experience

People have been asking me what the craziest culture shock I've experienced is, and I've telling them that nothing has really been that shocking. Until now. Thanks to my new living arrangements, I have a long list of things to comment on.

I decided to move in with a Senegalese family for a while. They live in this big house about halfway between my work and downtown Dakar. Some of the 15 or so rooms in the house are taken up by family members of this huge family, others by squatters like me (apparenly there's a young American guy living here, but I haven't seen him). So what's different about this place? For starters, the bathroom. The communal bathroom I might add. Its basically a hole in the wall, with some tiles on the ground, a toilet, and a small spout that drips out one string of cold water (there's no hot water). Only, the spout of water is directly beside the toilet, no curtains, no separation, nothing. If I had to pee in the middle of the shower, it might be convenient, but otherwise it means a very wet toilet seat... Then there's my room, which is relatively large. But there's only one outlet (which means choosing between the fan and my phone charger), and the windows don't close (which means listening to the beautiful African street noise which never stops - thank God for the earplugs Enam!). Meals are included in the monthly rate. Yesterday, at dinner time (9:30pm) the mother of the family said to me, "Have you ever eaten 'a la Senegalaise' before?"... then she stuck a communal plate on the table and sat me down with four Senegalese men who all dug in immediately. (like the Horn of Africa restaurant where you order one plate that everyone shares with their hands). In any case, if I was hungry, I would have died because there wasn't enough food to go around. Luckily, my stomach has gotten to the point that it doesn't expect much food anymore, so it doesn't complain as much. In the morning, breakfast consisted of one baguette (which I assume was to be divided among everyone who lives there) and a block of butter. Oh and I forgot to mention that there are mosquitos in this neighbourhood, and I have neither a mosquito net, nor my malaria pills - or even bug repellant, because they were all in my luggage. As for the neighbourhood, you walk around literally among the sheep, which if you recall, are also present on the roof of the house.

So there you have it. Why am I subjecting myself to this? That's a question I was seriously asking myself yesterday. But it's cheap, it's real, and other people I know have lived here and seemed to like it. So I guess this is real African living. I can't go six months in Africa working in air-conditioned rooms, eating in Western restaurants and showering in world-class bathrooms, now can I?

The African Journalist

Sorry for the break in posting... I'm just drained and by the end of the day I have no energy left to blog!
I vowed this week never to complain about being a journalist in North America again, so someone hold me to that when I get back. You can spend an entire day here - and I mean the time that I would spend in Canada reading, researching, interviewing 5 or 6 people, and writing an article - just trying to get a hold of ONE person. The other day I spent 8 hours calling about 20 different numbers in Chad and could not get through to ANYONE!!! You call and get the busy signal (which doesn't actually mean it's busy, just that you can't get through), over and over again until you're ready to throw the phone against the wall. And when you do get through to someone, the line is so bad you can barely hear them. Add to that the fact that they're speaking in French, very quickly, with an accent. It all makes for a very difficult and frustrating reality!

In any case, I finally did get the article written. It was about different aid groups disputing whether there was in fact a malnutrition crisis in eastern Chad where about 150,000 people have been displaced because of attacks on their villages. In the end, it was a delicate topic, because some agencies were commenting on othersm, etc. etc. Once it was finished, someone quoted in the article realized that what he had said was perhaps undiplomatic, and complained. IRIN (who I work for) actually decided to change it and take out what he said! I've never seen that happen before.

Anyways, today, I did my first interviews outside of the office (most are done by phone). I went to a school in a poor neighbourhood of Dakar that has a pilot project going with computers in elementary school. When they told me about the story, I said, 'what's the big deal, they don't have computers in schools here?' And the answer was, 'they don't even have pencils and paper in the universities!' That was an exaggeration of course, but it's still pretty remarkable that in a shanty neighbourhood, where mountains are trash pile up on the streets and sheep roam free that classrooms have computers!

Here are some of the kids from the school:

Anyways, another post to follow shortly on my new living arrangements... that's a whole other story

Sunday, July 8, 2007

In a sea of Black!

some fun stories.
I took the bus to the neighbourhood that I am going to move to this week to get a sense of the place, walked around, ended up in the same market that I bought my clothes from: Colobane, its called - random! I've gotten used to being the only non-Black person as I walk around. And I think once you're confident about it, people don't really treat you any differently. Anyways, I was starving, and came across some women selling things that looked like little round dumplings. I had no idea what they were, but decided to try them. They were plain tasting, pretty dense, like a bland pancake rolled up into a thick ball. I saved one and asked Orlando what it was when I got home - he said they were beignettes! ie. donuts! well timbits really, but they sure didn't taste like any timbit i've ever had!
Anyways, on the way back, I was waiting at the bus stop, when a car full of people honked at me and pulled over. The driver said, 'You going to Liberte 5?' which is a neighbourhood here. My neighbourhood is on the way, so I hopped in. I had read about these 'clandos' or communal cabs. They're unmarked and illegal, but about the same cost as a bus, more direct and you dont have to wait!
Then I went to this fair at the church near the house, the annual Kermesse. They have the regular fair games, and in the middle, the main attraction is this game where there are two live bunnies in the middle of this circle of boxes. Each box is numbered. And everyone who buys a ticket picks a number. When the bunnies are set free, they run into one of the boxes. Whoever picked the number the bunny chose, wins! Everyone crowded around to watch this - haha. I'll post a video later.
So i was trying to get a look, and this girl saw me trying and made a spot for me. So we introduced ourselves and within litterally three words, she said, ''From now on you are my best friend.'' haha... She's 18, speaks poor French, mostly Wolof, so communication is pretty difficult. But she came to eat with me, and wants me to play basketball with her on Saturday... Jeanne Marie Pierre Lobo is her name. And then as we said goodbye, sh said in this desperate voice, "You won't forget about me will you?" It made me feel kinda sorry for her...
Anyways, I need to sleep, so bonne nuit tout le monde!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Shopping Part 2

What a day!
My first day off work, and it was great! First of all, I've finally perfected "how are you? good" in wolof... "Nangadef? Mangifee." Woo hoo... i could never remember at first... but now i've got it. Today was a day of talking to Africans! At the cyber cafe I go to, the guy who runs it invited me to eat with him, which drew a big crowd. All the other guys crowded around - as if it's so incredible that a "white" girl (now I'm the white girl) sits down to eat with a local. What was amazing, was that he was teaching me Wolof, I was teaching him English, we were speaking French, I spoke Spanish to a Nigerian... the languages and cultures were just flying around! Then I spent the day at the Sengada market... I mentionned it before, but today was just crazy. It's actually exhausting shopping there because people are CONSTANTLY harassing you to buy things, and after a while you just want to scream, "Leave me alone!"... so you never want to stop and look at anything because you know you'll have 10 people on you at once. And it's in this environment that they sell things like bras and underwear!!! As if I'm going to look at underwear in the middle of this chaotic public market! But the great part of the day was meeting people. If you play them properly, these annoying merchants can actually be fun! And I've decided they're my in for taking pictures. Make friends with someone local, and then it's so much more acceptable to pull out the camera than if you're a random foreigner with a flash. Anyways, by the end of the day, I was tired, and wanted to snap more shots, so i stopped at this little dress-making place where some guys were sewing outside. I started talking to them, and they were so nice. One of them, Sidi, was 16 years old, not in school, of course, and the ironer. (The little one in front!) We started chatting, and I told them how I wanted to buy some black sandals. So Sidi took me through this maze of fruit stands and people chanting Qu'ran and dark alleys, to the area where they have the shoes. And then he went on to pick out sandals for me and negotiate with the vendors on the price. It's amazing how nice the Senegalese people are at heart. I wrote down the address of the sowing place, and hopefully I'll be able to find it again in that crazy labyrinth! I also ran into Pap again today. We rode the bus home together and he gave me a mango, which I subsequently just carried around in my hand. haha. It's still a bit hard to know which of these "friends" are actually friends, but I think as long as I'm careful, it's worth trying...

Here are some more pics of the marketplace!

Shopping Part 1

So, mom has been pushing me to go shopping, and yesterday I finally gave up on the luggage coming and did! My Australian colleague David at work has a Senegalese wife, so he took me to meet her at some second hand clothing place where i could get cheap clothes. Basically, it was a tiny little shop, with clothes hanging on all the walls and all over the floor. There's enough place for 3 people to stand uncomfortably close, and you're surrounded by clothes. Helene, David's wife, kept rifling through clothes, throwing shirts at me to try on. Of course;, there's no change room, so I just tried things on over my clothes, and we made a pile of the ones I liked. Ended up buying 6 items of clothing for the equivalent of 40 dollars, not bad, considering how expensive clothes are in Dakar, from what I'm told. Next, she's going to take me fabric shopping so that I can have a Senegalese boubou tailored for me - that's what everyone does here. They pick the fabric they like, and have the clothes made. A boubou is a matching skirt, shirt and head scarf, usually loose with vibrant colours. I'm excited!

As for my original clothes, I took them to the ''laundry mat'' next door. It's three guys, with a bunch of buckets of water, bars of soap, and a whole bunch of clothes. I don't how they keep track of whose is what because I just handed them my clothes, and they ended up in a pile with everyone else's!

What else? I told myself that I would use my time here as I way of learning more about Islam, since it's a Muslim country. The guy at the cybercafe says he will take me to his imam for some Qu'ran classes, so I might take him up on that. Increasingly, I am feeling embarrassed not to know Wolof, the predominant African language here, so I will try to pick that up too.

Still no gel or anything, so I think I will go get my hair braided and not worry about the frizz anymore. It's nice not knowing anyone here, cuz I can look like crap, and nobody knozs the difference! Anyways, it's Saturday, so I have to go discover the city!

Friday, July 6, 2007


I finally figured out the blogging world enough to post pictures of the multicoloured car rapide, and Pap and Dudu. Check out the transpo blog and the Senegalese friends blogs from a few days ago. And here are some others!

This is where I work:

From is the view from the guest house I'm staying at:

And just some other random pics - many of them taken out a car window while driving, so hopefully as I master that technique, the quality will improve.

And last but not least, here are Nancy, the American who has been my saviour, and Caroline, the woman running the guest house I'm staying at:

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Senegalese friends

Ok, more for today because my first post just didnt cut it. A few random and unconnected ideas.
1 - Keeping up with the news market here is challenging. When you work in local news, you have to be aware of int'l stuff sure, but you can get a pretty good handle of whats going on from one newspaper. Here Ive got to read the local papers to know whats happening in Senegal, the African news sites to keep on an eye on other countries (I'm in charge of keeping up to date on news in the lower priority countries we cover - Togo, Ghana, Western Sahara, Cape Verde, Gambia, Cameroon, etc and the main reporters handle the higher priority countries - Nigeria, Chad, Sierra Leone, Cote d'Ivoire, etc); but at the same time you have to be up on big international news coming out of the states, etc... anyways, so it's tought to keep up. But it's really nice that my job is to research such interesting stuff that I want to be informed about anyway!
2 - The boys in these internet cafes are so funny because they play English rap music from the computer in their headphones, but then they sing along, in their cute accents and I'm like 'I know that song!' and i dont know if they realize what they sound like, but they think they've got it down pat !
3 - My British colleague Nick gave me a ride downtown today, and gave me a little tour by car. I have to say it's a pretty unspectacular downtown core, but it was nice to get out of work early and do something! As I was walking down the street, I heard these voices chanting, but I couldn't figure out where it was coming from. Then when I turned the corner, I found a group of men, all wearing colourful boubous, walking in a small circle singing so loud the whole neighbourhood coule here it. I wanted to take a video, but i held back... Then I went to the Sengada market as its called - this strip of vendors with cloths, jewellery; etc... think ottawa's byward market with ten times the number of vendors in half the space, with random people coming up to you trying to sell you stuff. Like Cairo's khan al-khalili... Anyways, I ended up making friends with one of the vendors. He calls himself Pap (the one on the right), but his real name is El-Hadji. Him and his little seller friend, Dudu. I ended up buying something from them just for kicks, but I forced them to pose for a picture, which I will post. We took the bus home together, cuz they live near my nieghbourhood and I might play soccer with them sometime! I feel I am starting to make friends in the neighbourhood I'm in. The guy at the phone booth, the guy at the the sandwich shop, the water stand. At first, they're a bit reserved, but when you keep going back day after day, they start asking you your name, and why you knw french, and how long you're here for, etc. The waitress at the restaurant by my house, Kumba, invited me to go visit her family, and the guy at the cyber cafe says he will show me his neighbourhood, Yoff. Of course, I won't be taking up all these offers, but it's nice to be making friends!

I drank all my bottled water, which means no more till tomorrow! luggage didnt come. they said, 'oh dont worry, it will definitely be here saturday.' Right, just like it was supposed to be last Saturday, then Monday, then today! Does anyone have any hookups at British Airways?

Birthday Blues

Missed my entry yesterday, sorry everyone. It was my birthday, but it was a long and miserable day actually - mostly because of stress at work, but i think all the added frustrations of no luggage, new environment, etc. finally got to me. Anyways, all is well now, and you can see my first article - thanks to the help of the editor who fixed it up quite a bit - at http://www.irinnews.org/reporttest.aspx?ReportId=73105. There are no bylines, only initials at the bottom. "ha" is pretty representative of me I suppose. No big news today, other than malnutrition in Chad of course, which is what I spent the day researching. Hoping to have some "yassa poulet" tonight... another traditional Senegalese meal... and hoping my luggage will come. There's a British Airways flight tonight, so cross your fingers. Oh... it rained yesterday... but just nice light rain and only briefly. And I bought some flip flops for $1 so I can stop wearing my smelly socks. Still haven't figured out how to post pictures to this thing, so bear with me. This is the most unfocused blog entry ever!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Transpo! Not OC

So, today's big accomplishment - other than getting the name of the British Airways guy at the airport so that I can harass him about my baggage and stop wearing other people's clothes - is.... I rode the bus! Everyone at work just taxis everywhere, cuz it's so cheap, like $1.50 a ride, but the busses just seem so exciting, so I was determined to ride one. So on my way back from the embassy today, i had to ask like 10 people how to get to where I could get on the #1 ... You always have to say "Salamu Alaikum, Ca va bien?" ... and then move on to what you really want from them. The bus costs like 30 cents, which is crazy, cuz it's actually not bad... but i had no idea where I was when he dropped me off, and had to walk in what seemed like the Sahara desert because of the sand and the heat for like 15 minutes to get back to work... yes, the heat. I finally noticed it today. The blazing sun of Senegal. I'm sure it will get much worse too. So some of my observations - I actually saw a crosswalk today... technology what?! And... a black man sweating... It seems like only the white people sweat and all the Africans can handle it... but he was wiping away with a napkin! YES! This one woman on the bus couldn't make it to the middle where you pay, so she just passed her money to the person behind her, who passed it to the person behind him, etc. etc... and then her change and ticket came all the way back to her... it was cute.

Next test for me is to ride the car rapide. Check out the pic. You just hop on the back while it's riding along. Most of them say "Alhamdullilah" across the front, that's how religious it is here... Religious, but not actually. Because they are the most relaxed Muslims I've ever seen. I passed by this beautiful mosque today, that was right along the beach. Go swimming and then go pray!

gotta check out an apartment,
write soon...

Monday, July 2, 2007

First day at work

Before I came here, CANADEM (the organization that sponsored me, thanks to CIDA funding) prepared us for the "challenges" of working for the United Nations - nothing getting done, frustrating work pace, the desire to change everything and the inability to do so, etc. etc. But from what I can see, it isn't at all like that where I'm working at IRIN (the Integrated Regional Information Network of the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs). Within half an hour of my being here, I had a computer, with my own email, a desk phone, a cell phone, a list of everyone's contact information. It's amazing! I haven't seen anything like that at any place I've worked at before. The people are hard-working and efficient (nobody even thought of eating until like 2pm and most didn't leave their computers all day. It's 7pm now and two of the reporters are still here (since 9am this morning!) So it seems like a real good operation. There are three reporters, Nancy (the American), Nicholas (a Brit), and David (an Australian). There's another American intern here, Uma, who is very nice, and a bunch of people working for the French service. The admin staff are Senegalese. When you're in the office though, you don't even realize you're in Senegal. It's air-conditioned, all hooked up to internet, security guard outside, etc. It's only when you step outside - when the warm air hits you, and you walk on the sandy streets - that you remember!

The first thing I realized when I got to work was just how ignorant I am about Africa. These people know so much about the politicians, the different conflicts going on in different countries -- from solid waste problems in Liberia to diseases in Burkina Faso to rebels in Cameroon... it's crazy! So my first job is to get myself acquainted and FAST! By Friday, I have to prepare a background report about Cameroon for one of the journalists who is going on "mission" there - a week-long stay to do some reports, make contacts, etc. Rebels from the Central African Republic have been kidnapping/killing people across the border in Cameroon, there's been an increase of refugees coming into Cameroon from CAR (part of this job is learning all the acronyms) because of the violence in Chad and Sudan, there are ethnic tensions in the north of Cameroon, and apparently volcanoes too. Lots to read about! The other intern, Uma, is heading off on her first overnight trip (within Senegal, but in a different region), and she's only been here two months, so it looks like there is room to do some good reporting!

It is the first day of course, but my initial impressions are that I'm so glad I'm here. This is exactly the type of work that I wanted to do being - learning about humanitarian issues, helping the world learn about them, and being involved with topics I'm passionate about. It seems like a good team, and there's lots of work to be done.

So that's that... still no baggage, the British Airways flight coming into Dakar today is delayed, so we're not going to pick up the bags (if they come) until tomorrow... My hair has never been so greasy. I washed my only set of clothes in a bucket yesterday.

Had my first Senegalese meal yesterday too. Dahin: It's rice, meat, and pate d'arachide (i'm not exactly sure what that translates to). It cost me 1000 CFA francs, which is about $2, and was very tasty.

Oh, and had my first harassment! Some guy on the street asking me to "step aside" with him for a chat. Persistent too... took about 10 minutes of walking to get rid of him. But harmless in the end.

That's all for today.
Miss you all!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

A day around town

I'm realizing now what a difference it makes to travel with someone... Even something as simple as taking out my camera to take a picture seems so much more daunting if you're alone. What if I get mugged? What if they realize I'm a retarded foreigner? I'm so hungry and just too scared to buy a mango on the street cuz I don't know how much they should cost and I'll get ripped off if I don't have a good idea... hehe. Anyways, Nancy showed me the office today. Simple, but all connected to internet, etc. One of the main newspapers here is called WalFadjri, which is an arabic word for dawn, more or less. Apparently there are a lot of Lebanese here, although I have seen very few people who aren't pure African. In fact the whole experience feels very, very authentic. I had kinda braced myself for the fact that nowhere in the world hasn't been overrun by tourists, hasn't become westernized in some way. And of course there are the nice cars here, those wearing jeans and fancy white runners. But there are also (the majority) who wear traditional boubous as i think they're called, the crowded minibuses that people just hop onto, the women cooking nuts on the street. I went to visit the family i'm thinking of living with. they're a good example of the technological/traditional combination. They've got highspeed internet 24 hours a day in the home, and like 10 sheep being herded on the roof!
Anyways, I really should go find some food!
take care,


So here I am, finally in Senegal, after probably the most tiring trip of my life. I left Ottawa just after 6pm Friday night, and made it here about 11pm local time on Saturday (or 7pm Ottawa time - Dakar is 4 hours ahead). The plane in Montreal was overbooked by 50 people. They had to scramble to find seats on other flights. I had to go through customs in Heathrow, pick up my luggage and lug it to Terminal 4, which was a zoo because of a bomb threat / fire alarm (dont know which rumour was true) that morning. Then the next flight was delayed 2 hours. When I finallly got to Dakar, my luggage wasn't there!

In any case, the driver for the organization I'm working for - the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs' Integrated Regional Informqtion Network (IRIN) - sent their driver to pick me up from the airport. Thank God for that; otherwise I would have been lost in the sea of people.

Dakar is what you'd imagine it to be. Some streets paved, others not. Women carrying their babies on their backs, with bamboo sticks in their mouths. Vendors on the street, animals and laundry in the front yard. Haven't experienced any heckling - not like Morocco - but I'm not downtown, so I haven't seen the worst. Right now, I'm sitting in an internet café, surrounding by young Senegalese boys playing computer games. The keyboard isn't the same - so everything takes twice as long.

The weather is great actually - nice breeze, not too hot, the rains haven't started yet. I'm staying in a guest house right now. The owners are very nice. The husband, Orlando, says when it rains, the water can reach your waist within five minutes the downpour is so strong. I woke up this morning, came downstairs to find breakfast waiting (baguette, cheese, eggs sunny side up, and Nescafé). There's a girl staying here who also works at IRIN as a reporter. She just came back from a mission, as they call it, in Cote D'Ivoire. So discussion around the breakfast table centred around how the crisis there has benefitted other African countries (including Senegal), and why certain people may not want peace in Cote D'Ivoire. I've got so much to learn and fast!

Anyways, I'm pretty excited to be here, and to disocver the city, the people, everything.

Love you all back home and am thinking of you!
Pray that I get my luggage!