Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My First Ngenté

I just recently attended my first Senegalese naming ceremony or what's known as "Ngenté" in Wolof. I was fortunately given the cultural play-by-play from my friend and work partner Pape (pronounced 'pop') who invited me to come along. It was actually a pretty low-key affair considering how often these family gatherings evolve into large boisterous dance parties. We arrived to the event around 10AM. The baby's name had not been announced yet. Pape told me it is typical of Senegalese people to wait a week or two before announcing the name to friends and family at a party like this. So around 11:30 the "grands" (important older family members) came to the party to sit down and "waxtan" or discuss about family matters. The  name was announced as Baya Senghor and officially the party was over. But there was still much waxtan to do and food to eat. So the grands sat for another hour and a half to discuss and a dish called laxh was served to the crowd. It is a base of cooked millet balls (a little like grits) and topped with a sour milk and copious sugar mix. When I had this stuff for the first time back in October I was not too happy with it. But now, I love the stuff! I had two large bowls and didn't feel too good afterwards. But luckily I had some time to wait before lunch. 

After the sheep was ceremoniously slaughtered, Pape and I went on a long walk to work up our appetites. We came back to a pleasant smell filling the house and making all the sitting men salivate. Once we had eaten our fill of 'cheb u yapp' or rice and meat we said our goodbyes and made for the walk home. 

I had been to many gatherings before this one. I had even dressed up in a similar fashion and eaten similar foods with friends. But something about this reminded me so much of family celebrations back in America. The atmosphere was almost parallel. I met family from all over the country. And although quite complicated by different men having multiple wives, I just got the sense everyone had their roots in that place. There were crazy uncles, unruly children, hard working mothers, and the usual mixture of love and political disagreements. It made me miss that feeling back home. With Easter approaching I am a little sensitive to pick up on these things. But just like this large family I got to be a part of today, I know my family in he US will be thinking of me. The Ngenté gave me a deep sense of the universal bond families have. We can be across the world but distance and time haven't separated me from that sense of connectedness. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

New Endeavor

      Today I started on an endeavor I've been looking forward to for a while. I am starting a mini garden next to my new house. It turns out I was a little ambitious in the planning because the soil is a little bit rockier than anticipated. But regardless I think we will end up with something nice in the end. Here is the "before" picture. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Been Awful Crazy

       As I write I lay quietly on the floor surrounded by a mess of clothes and a head full of emotions. But I'm happy. Here's a little more about how I got this way:

       About a month ago I started out on the long journey that was our second round of training. It started with language seminar where I learned that I still don't know squat about Wolof. From there we ventured into some "optional" seminars including all-volunteer conference and the West African International Softball Tournament in Dakar. I say "optional" because they just seemed too much fun to possibly pass up. I saw many people I've been missing and enjoyed some western pleasures I've been missing. Most notable: warm clean shower and pizza. 

     After our few days of Dakar galavanting and reality altering we returned to our training center in Thies for 2 weeks of constant learning and little sleep. After about 100 hours of sitting in classrooms, listening to lectures, and being fueled by Nescafe alone, we were deemed fit to begin working in our respective towns, villages, and cities. Goodbyes were bitter-sweet. We all love each other but it was a long time to be cramped in one place with 55 grumpy compatriots. For me going back was a little complicated though. There was some trouble waiting in my beachside paradise. 

    For many reasons I have decided to switch homes. I was having some struggles in the old one that I was trying to work through but ultimately decided were not worth the anxiety. After going back and forth for weeks, laying awake in bed one night I asked myself, "do you want to live here?" And as you might have guessed, the answer was no. There are many difficulties inherit in the work here and I have been navigating them every day. I finally realized that it was not healthy for me to be facing even more challenges in my own home. So I made this aware to my good friend Talla Diop of the Peace Corps and over the course of training they arranged for me to move. And last night I did! Which I why I'm surrounded by clothes, sleeping on the floor, full of emotion, and couldn't be happier. 

      TBC, I have lots to say and lots to show. 

With peace,
                   *Omar Senghor 

PS, please pray that the third name sticks. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Super Bowl

The Senegalese equivalent of the Super Bowl, that is. Yesterday morning started with a CPA from admin stating volunteers should avoid about 10 quarters in Dakar because there was a big lamb fight that day in the city. Now, that did not mean much to me but what I hadn't realized at the time is that one of the fighters is actually from Mboro. And the fight is one of the biggest of the year. This had everyone buzzing all day about the fight scheduled to start at 8PM. And in classic Senegalese style there were hours of discussion on TV leading up to the fight. When I joined my little brothers around 8:15, their eyes were already fixed on the action. Typically fights are very short but this one was particularly long-lasting. The two best fighters in Senegal were very well matched and there were many close calls. But then, just like that our man from Mboro threw his shoulder under his opponents leg to throw him on his back. The streets instantly lit up with kids and I could hear screaming from across town. It was only then that I found out the winner was from Mboro. 

What interests me is how much people, especially kids, and most especially orphans rally behind these characters. Lamb wrestling is the pride sport of Senegal. Everyone loves futball but lamb wrestling was invented here and it is ingrained into the culture. The characters are larger than life, full of ego, and very wealthy. People here love to talk about the crazy amounts of money these wrestlers make. From what I've experienced with the Talibe (basically Senegalese orphans) they have hope and confidence in the wrestlers. When they play, it's wrestling. When they talk, it's about wrestling.  I can see why so many people pursue the sport in so many ways. And it's also why I could hear celebratory chanting all last night.  And this is why I compare it to the Super Bowl. It is the Senegalese equivalent not just in viewership but in the way people rally behind their athletes. Despite the exorbarent amounts of money they make, it is where our respective fans place their hope. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Quick Update

It has been a while and that is mostly because things are very slow here. I am still researching and doing my needs assessment. Very soon though things will be picking up with language seminar, All-Volunteer Conference,  WAIST (West African International Softball Tournament), and our second round of training all happening in February. And although things are slow now, it's still pretty tiring with the heat and persistent culture shock. So here is a picture of the secret of how I got through my first month at site. 

And a quick sneak peak of blogs to come: 

African stereotypes disproven, or maybe proven. 

Cheb u Gen - the Senegalese fuel. 

How to stay sane. 

Until then,  


Sunday, January 5, 2014

New Years

It is hard to adequately describe in detail how my New Years was and what I felt but what I can say is I've never done anything like it before. 

Myself and two other volunteers went to Dakar on the 30th to get settled. We spent the day exploring and orienting ourselves in the city. We went to the shopping mall called Sea Plaza which made us feel very out of place among all the wealthy French people. But once we saw the grocery store, our minds panicked because of the wide variety of western products. For me, I did not think I would see anything like it for two years so I was not quite sure how to handle it. In reality it was about the size of a small town grocery store with similar prices. But for having eyes starved of that feeling for a few months, it felt like we had walked into the world stockpile of food. We bought cereal and milk and went back to the hotel. 

New Year's Eve was spent similarly; exploring Dakar scenes and cuisine. Chicken and pepperoni pizza for lunch and ice cream afterwards. For dinner and celebrating we descended upon a known hit: Ceasars Fried Chicken. We all of course enjoyed fried chicken and reminisced about past years as the New Year slipped by without much event besides the kids running through the street lighting firecrackers. 

After dinner we went out searching for our other friends. Since there is no good way around the city other than word of mouth, we spent an hour wandering and asking strangers with our still fledgling Wolof where "Calypso" was. We ended up in "Place de Independence," the Times Square of Dakar. There we were confronted with more wild kids and teens lighting off little firecrackers and rockets. It felt like we were in a different lawless world where there are no inhibitions or rules. There were fights breaking out beside us. Little bombs were making us jump ever other step. All we could see were people running around wildly as we clinched to each other. I felt like I had watched the scene in movies before but never actually been there. There is no way it could have taken place in the US since the national guard would have been called in way before it escalated to what it was. The whole experience brought me way back from the feeling that Dakar sometimes creates; that you're not actually in Senegal but a whole other European city. 

We eventually found our friends and danced until we were exhausted. The whole night was a continuous realization that I'm in a unique and unforgettable time of my life. I know I probably should have had this moment by now but being in the madness of Place de Independence on New Years called me to really enjoy this place in the coming year. I may miss home and I may be excited about my prospects for after service but my goal now is to take in as much as I can here. I have had many days of frustration already. I'm sure there are many to come. But I don't want it to fly by. I want to encounter every day knowing this is what I've wanted to do since I was a kid. And that is what I encourage everyone reading to do-enjoy where you are. Don't wish you are someplace else until you are someplace else. Bonne Anne!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Food

Food details: chili and broccoli cheddar soup for Christmas Eve dinner. Eggs and hash browns for Christmas breakfast. Appetizers throughout today. And CONSTANT COOKIES! Eating well, no worries.