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Journals from ACI Baobab Center - Senegal, Africa

2010-12-16 Life in Dakar

Life in Dakar is going well; the program is nearing its end and no one is ready to leave. November was a very active month. As a group, we went to Sine Saloum, Sokone for our rural visit. It was a very much needed two day trip out of Dakar - we had all forgotten how much we adore nature and how different life is outside of the city. In Sokone we slept at a hostel type hotel and then visited a rural village - the visit was fantastic and each student's experience marked their heart but we all needed or loved the trip for different reasons. Needless to say, it was a great visit where we ate traditional Senegalese food, played with a lot of babies and little kids, learned how to harvest peanuts, watched a huge boa constrictor be skinned, took a mini voyage in a pirogue, danced in a drum circle for female rights and empowerment, and learned about the mangroves. November consisted of Tabaski as well - it is a Muslim holiday that is celebrated world-wide but celebrated by different means in many countries. In Senegal Muslim families sacrifice sheep... well, one sheep for each "man" in the house... the story is too long to explain now but I encourage you to look it up. Thus, at my house there were three sheep sacrificed; at Avalon's there were 5 sheep sacrificed, at Arielle's there was 1, and at JJ's there were 2 sacrificed. Jenna lives with a Christian host family so they did not sacrifice any sheep, but because one of the holiday's traditions is to give sheep meat to neighbors and family, her family was inundated with donated sheep meat :) For the holiday we each spent the day and evening with our families and then we all met at Avalon's house for a bit and then we went to JJ's house to meet with Cheikh Thiam because he came here to visit with his family and work for two weeks. Being the first group of students who went to Dakar, Senegal we were excited to be able to meet with the person who is the reason why we are all here. It was great seeing him; we all met with him a few times throughout his visit, it was wonderful and insightful to speak with him. As a group of women, we have been able to commiserate and discuss our experiences of "being a woman in a Muslim-African country" - it is a comfort to have each other as well as a cultural center with American and Senegalese people to share stories with, ask questions, and engaged in cultural discussion. The host families we stay with are somewhere accustomed to American women because they host students regularly - so our strong, independent natures were not too much of a shock or an issue, especially since we are all very respectful of cultural norms. Even though most Senegalese women do not leave the house as much as we do, it has not been a problem with our families because they know we have the freedom in the United States and they understand that we are students who need to leave for school and who have friends and activities outside of the home as well. Also, all of us regularly communicate with our families and as long as we communicate, our families are fine with us leaving at night or doing what we want on the weekends - with most of our houses there is a sort of unspoken policy that as long as we are doing well in school, communicating with our family about our relative whereabouts and spending time with them, and respecting the house... their home is our home. However, being a woman, or a white woman in Dakr is very different than being white women in the US. We are constantly talked to, whistled at, hissed at, honked at for taxis, asked for money for my children, and asked to marry ... every day... these things are a result of having white skin and of being female because often times white men and women are from Europe, France, or the US and that means money... not always, but often. However, there is also a desire to speak Wolof with people who are not Senegalese and if you can speak a little Wolof or at least understand enough to respond to questions in French your status as a person raises because it shows cultural understanding, intelligence, and respect for the people we are living among. Classes are going well, we are almost finished. We have a French and Wolof Evaluation next week, a French essay for our Traditional African Culture class, a French essay for our Senegalese music & culture class, and then a huge English paper for our seminar class that was essentially a service learning course. There is a re-entry session next week and a dinner party where we students are going to play the drums and sing after dinner. I will send a message later and fill in more details with how the program is finishing. Lacey Dean

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