Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Climbing stuff

I don’t know what it is that makes us want to climb to high places, maybe it’s the way we seem to want to locate ourselves within a locale, to find out where we fit in the geography of a place. So it came to be that I was drawn to the top of one of Dakar's downtown hotels on a regular day on my way to my new stage (internship) at the AP. Downtown Dakar is definitely a place I avoided last semester simply put I couldn't handle the push of the crowds. I knew there was a lot to be had en ville but I managed to find ways to avoid going usually by finding a vendor closer by or asking someone else to pick me up something. Now with my thrice-weekly trek au mon travail (job) I'm becoming more familiar with its workings, the layout, the wares of vendors, the main forms of public transpo (you can take the number 10 bus from Fann, the white car rapides from Sacre Coeur 3, or the blue bus 7 or Ligne 9 on the white bus from Ouakam). Giving myself a rest, I escaped into the elevator and before I knew it I was 16 floors up with only buildings and sea, if I wanted. I wasn't the first to discover the top of Hotel Independence and I can only say je veux te remercier for the secret. Finding tranquil places in Dakar is no easy task, especially in the thick of downtown, but it's that calming quiet you get, that feeling of being above it all, of just seeing the foggy bustle, but not having to be apart of it--not just yet anyway--a few more moments propped against the sidewall staring at the train tracks to Mali, the ocean, horizon of buildings, the people jiving and haggling down below. And then taking one deep breath and plunging into it again.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Seaside for the weekend

Spent the weekend by the sea making the most of doing nothing. I found a chair facing the ocean, put my feet up on top the low rock wall. Wrapped in blankets, I just let myself drift. I finished two books and wrote some letters, and didn't think about Dakar or about home. Sleeping in the night, my window faced the sea and I felt like I was curled up right next to the tide hearing it pass it's way to the shore and back. After lunch one day, a friend and I walked as far as we could down the beach letting the wind take our words. We sat on the rocks and recounted what it was like to love for the first time, the names of people in our family, childhood nicknames, the pain of losing someone, trying to make good in our relationships with our mothers (love you, mom), and just letting ourselves feel like today is all we have.

I'm starting to feel how living here can be a balance, one ever-so difficult to achieve, but one in which I'm slowly learning -- sleeping on it from one day to the next coming up strong making that walk to school and that same walk back and no longer getting sick from the water or the food, relying on my instincts again, seeing the familiar faces of my family each night at dinner and pulling them close bit by bit. Walking the streets of Mermoz and feeling like it's old turf, turning the corner to run into someone I know, going back to visit old families and as little as it is, feeling important to them at just the right moment. Realizing what it means to learn from someone even though you might not be able take them with you journey-by-journey or be able to relate par-for-par, but that you can sweep pieces of their experience into your own and live by it. And I thank the Alchemist for giving it a term, and so it is, in my book too, The Universal Language.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The soundtrack for a morning walk to school

Each morning my day is set by the pace in which I take that half-hour walk to school. I step out of the calm and cool of my host family's house with a stomach full of nescafe--now taken with three clumps of sugar--and baguette bread spoon-smeared with bissap jam and butter. It seems like it all gets resolved there in that dance and game of chance I play dodging dump trucks exiting the trash dump; escaping leering but genial men who just want to faire ma connaissance (otherwise known as 'get to know me' which is more complicated than it sounds); skipping over holes in the sidewalk; waving away slowing taxis who seem to have a toubab-radar on the top of their yellow and black cruisers; passing horizontal rows of women carrying water buckets on their heads and babies on their back. Then I cut through the rich, quieter toubab residences assalem malekum-ing the Senegalese security guards, drivers, and human car washers with their big square sponges and bright blue buckets. Finally exiting out onto Rue de Ouakam to meet all the traffic heading into downtown Dakar. A dash across the street because no one's going to wave you across and the traffic's not slow enough to weave through. Slow down as I hit the thick sand on that side of the road feeling my sandals fill up with rocks and granules ruining that morning-shower just-clean feeling. Say "bonjour" to the random guys making crafts who somehow know my name--or just guessed it? And finally round the corner into the guarded, gated, Suffolk University parking lot. And somehow the walk never feels ordinary.

Photos courtesy of my brother, who had the foresight to take them since sometimes you forget to take photos of the most obvious things. Though I didn't ask if I can use them (Timmy is it okay?)

The intersection by my house. The buildings in the background are the start of my neighborhood, Sacre Coeur 3.

Road in front of my old family's house.

Suffolk University campus where I take most of my classes. Me and Mike just chillin'.

Astou's stand. A haven all of us have come to cherish: ultimate omelet sandwiches, nescafe between classes, and morning greetings "Naka suba si?" Tsilat, my new roomate, is sitting next to me. Plus, random Suffolk students.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Watching "football" -- Senegalese style

Just got back from watching the Senegal game in the student center with a bunch of us jostling for place to see the tele hanging out doorways and windows, lopping over one another, standing on tables and chairs, cheering and jeering, and above all else--arguing. The other times I've caught the game were either in the street with a bunch of people huddled around a television stretched by the wire into the street or in my host mother's hair salon watching with a bunch of women who were just as serious about the game as they were about woooing at the players. But this time it was different -- a mixed crowd of African students from all over. If they weren't actually themselves from Guinea, they were definitely free to choose who they thought was the better team. From the other places I've watched the soccer (le football) match, there's rarely ever a person contre (against) Senegal, but when people asked you what team (equipe) you were for, it wasn't a joke like "Of course I'm for Senegal -- Who else?" today they we're actually drawing lines. I walked in not realizing this and feeling slightly guilty: From the beginning I've only been a Senegal fan by default (I'm here aren't I?). Senegal wasn't expected to win. And pulling aside a few fans they quietly and with a defeatist shrug said Guinea's the better team. I watched a few of these walk out during half time and come back only later when Sengal started scoring. But not to give Senegal's fans a bad name, they were a few, the true Lions (les vrais), sticking by their team. One Sengalese woman yelled at a Burkinabe talking smack, "You're in our country and you can't even support our team!" But later it was the Guinean fans rightly perturbed sitting quietly in the corner hands between their legs staring unhappily while the rest of the room burst into squeals and yells 'cause Senegal won the game -- somehow. Scoring mostly by chance and luck and pure foolishness, but they did it. I guess I chose the right equipe.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Winter in Dakar

To anyone back home winter here is laughable. I have a weather flasher that reminds me daily that the weather here is warmer by plusiers (many) degrees than it is la-bas (in South Dakota), so I'm not oblivous to it. When you'all have ice and snow alerts, we have some wind and a whoppin' 70 degrees. But that doesn't change the fact: I'm damn cold. My new host family looks at me and astonishingly says, "But you're from South Dakota!?" They once had a student from Minnesota who apparently went through the winter in their house with only one drap (sheet) and I currently have two though I wish I could ask for ten. Instead I've been sleeping in two pairs of pants, two shirts including my fleece, and a borrowed pair of men's sports socks (chaussettes is the word!).

It's not really cold, and I know this. I've gone through enough South Dakota winters to know real cold (freezing degrees chapping your face and that horrid north wind burrowing through every peice of layer you put on that morning), but perhaps it's all relative.
However, probably the ultimate clincher is most homes in Dakar don't have a hot water tap (not to mention homes outside of Dakar that don't have running water at all). Those cold showers that used to be precious after a long hot day have now turned hellish and nearly unbearable -- I know a few people who went a good three days before getting under that cold faucet.

Part of it is just an expectation that it's supposed to be HOT here like the previous four months. But also people here I'm finding don't know how to live with the cold like on a 70-degree day we're all asking each other, "How's the cold?" and responding with shakes and moans and "burrrrrs" at the same time as I can see the guys back home say, "spring's a-coming" at 40 degrees.

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