Friday, December 23, 2005

Timmy Toubab and me

My brother arrived early Sunday morning in all his Minnesota whiteness among the crowds of the Dakar airport getting jostled and jolted and scammed and seemingly oblivious to it all with his wide shiteating grin and practicing his long forgotten French with every vendor and trickster "Bonjour Ca Va? You from America?" And my brother unknowingly, unwittingly, replies head bobbing, "oui oui ca va, America, yes." And when I leave him for five minutes, he gets taken down the beach by two blokes looking for the perfect toubab to "tour their village." And the dive shop lady says, "Il faut que tu expliques des choses du Senegal a ton frere (you need to explain some things about Senegal to your brother)." So it's all part of the learning experience, for both of us, me learning to play host to this country that suddenly has become mine in small ways and suddenly I'm in a position to try to explain it all to someone else (someone who all my life has been the one explaining-me life's lessons). And I feel I'm in the middle, in the middle between being a toubab tourist and a what? toubab resident? Either way, there's still a lot more to learn and my few words of Wolof and the few bargaining skills I've picked up and my occasional attitude when someone tries to pull a fast one on me are only the beginning and, really, are only the bare minimum needed to survive here (but not easily transferrable in a week's time).

But, soon we'll be off, both out of our elements, to spend Christmas Day touring Casablanca and then off to (rendre visite!) visit Jeremy of Arabia in Egypt -- I just hope he's ready for us.

Have a happy Christmas. And no matter how exotic these travels sound, my heart is in South Dakota with all of you, the cold, the snow, midnight mass, real Christmas decorations, yummy Christmas food, and warm houses. Love from Senegal, Casablanca, and Cairo!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Where I go: Finding places

I've been finding place here in Senegal. Places where I belong, where I'm expected, where I'm known, where I know the rythm and I play it, play it along with everyone else. And it becomes my own. I used to celebrate awkwardness, because I had nothing else to do. Knowing that each and every situation I would get into I would feel strange, somewhat out of place, I was bound to say or do the wrong thing. There was this mild transition period and then suddenly -- was it a month ago? two months? after I got back from the States? -- I felt at ease. What I expected was what they expected. I started just being, just like that.

Places I've found:
-Laying on my sisters' bed talking about boys, texting our friends, watching Sex and the City
-Resting with my host mom in the salon talking about n'importe quoi (nothing in particular), but relishing our chatter, our laughter, my foolishness, and our silences
-Being totally chill at Chez Gabi. Alhumdulillah for Chez Gabi. Sitting in the hammock staring at the trees above. Creating boite magique and music and peace. Making food especially fruit salad, grilled fish, and grated vegetables, and AND French-pressed real coffee grounds (big BIG alhumdullilah, merci bon dieu).
-Chez Aminou with the ataya, Mouridullilah talk, and laughing at Stephanie :-)
-And really the place that brings it all together: Plage Mamelles. Breaking the surf, going out far beyond the waves, getting stung by jelly fish, doing the "Bryan and Stephanie" in water, hurting my ears trying to touch the bottom, long freeing talks with Stephanie, being goofy. Getting trop lashed by the waves and the rocks coming back to shore, but slowly learning how to read the water and escape the beating. The "quoi" boys in all their glory bringing us food and robbing us later, quoi. And just loving to "reposer" (rest) from Dakar, clear my head, just as everyone does. We'd all be lost without the ocean clearing.

The "mountain" where the Mamelles Lighthouse stands, and the namesake for the plage.

Little diapered boy circling our towel getting in the way of the footballers.

Sweet Stephanie.

That's a Senegal sun (and I think my leg).

Mmmm... marvelous sunsets that leave me believing in god, loving life, wanting more, and hungry.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Senegal's Richesse: Touba Mosque

Senegal may be lacking in natural resources and you can drop a pebble on the ground and find poverty at your feet or find it tugging on your sleeve by way of a little begger boy. But to find all of Senegal's riches in one place all you need to do is eye the mosque in the city of Touba, about a two hour drive into the interior from Dakar. Touba is the spirtual center for the Mouride brotherhood, one of the largest and fastest growing brotherhoods in Senegal. Its founder, Serigne Touba, believed in hard work and peanuts, which helped fuel the peanut industry here in addition many of the vendors in Dakar and in Europe and the States are Mouride. And that's where the money comes from. Everyone believes in sending money back to their spiritual place and their spiritual guides.

Most everyone in Senegal is Muslim (somewhere between 95 and even up to 99 percent some say) and most every Muslim aligns with one of the five or six brotherhoods. The brotherhoods serve as community that helps people stay focused and gives them a living, real-time version of their religion. Each has variants on how they believe, how they vote, who their spiritual leader is, how they view aspects of life, how many times a day they pray, if it's okay to drink and to smoke weed. It's a powerful force in Senegal and you can see pictures of the marabouts (spiritual leaders) posted everywhere. But especially the Mourides who've managed to incorporate economics into the rigor of their brotherhood and hence increasing their stronghold.

Walking in: The women all had to wear skirts and headscarves.

A view. An angle.

The ceiling in the women's prayer area.

A doorway.

Touba silence. C'est ici.

We had to walk barefoot too. It made me feel closer to it in some ways. Done for religious reasons and so as not to track in dirt, but it's a good way to understand something bottom up.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Not needing words

When I went home last week it was to see my aunt who's been sick with cancer since late spring. Making the decision to leave the program for 10 days wasn't easy since sometimes getting in and out of a culture is tricky. But the transition has gone smoothly, and I couldn't have done it without the people on both sides -- my family in SoDak and my good friends and my Senegalese family here. And Tuesday I found out just how lucky I was to have made the trip home. My aunt died in the hospital Monday afternoon in the middle of a huge South Dakota snow/ice storm. The weather left my family immobile and many of them without electricity and some who didn't even know of her death until a day or two later. And like so much in South Dakota, even her death is connected to the weather.

Hearing the news that day with my fingertips pressed into the headphones of my Skype headset, I felt myself flailing, wanting to hug and be hugged, wanting to touch my people who are reeling and hurting from the loss of someone who is so large in all of our lives. Watching the Dakar forecast flash 82 degrees and sunny, I kept dipping and coming up empty, the call was finished, I felt far away, and I didn't know how to grieve grasping empty air until suddenly I was surrounded by those here who've come to mean so much to me here. Being kissed and hugged and patted and touched, I moved from one person's arms to the next crying and talking about Barb, about her curiousity, her love for life, her farm, her L-shaped couch, about holidays in her warm underground house, about her mile-a-minute questions, about how she always made me feel home, about how much she loved all of us, her family. I used all the languages I know to say--French, English, Wolof-- how it hurt, but really it was one of the first times since I've been here that honestly I didn't need a word, I was just simply understood. And most of all, I realized after all these months, what it means to have a second home.

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