Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I Shared a Beer with the Governor!

Tuesday November 24 was a big Rotary soiree. Our district governor made a visit to our club and it was like meeting the president. In the district there are about 108 clubs and 8 clubs in Senegal. The district consists of 14 countries in North West Africa. The evening was spent at Hotel Dior, the hotel that our president owns (and its conveniently named after her). The hotel is on the southern part of the peninsula and is on the beach. It is beautiful. It is covered in African art and murals on the walls.  
There are four other rotary scholars here: Vanessa (23, Florida), Elizabeth (23, Illinois), Nicolas, Cheryl (23 North Carolina). We all attended but tried to mix ourselves up among the Saint Louis Rotarians, the Dakar Rotarians who traveled with the governor, and the Belgium Rotarians that have a partnership with St.louis in helping with the development of a Peul village since 2006. I ended up between Gilles a Saint Louisian French guy and the Belgium Patrick and can speak English, French and Dutch. 
The Governor and our president talked for a bit, I think organizing things and doing some official business. Then after twenty minutes of that we began the meeting. The governor’s assistant introduced him by listing off ALL the things he has ever done in his life. Then the governor spoke about:
• Rotary’s involvement with the eradication of polio
• The importance of scholars like us!
• The 2009-2010 theme “Le future de rotary est entre vos mains”
• Health, Hunger, the need for mosquito nets here
• How the clubs need to “Touche les besoins de la communaut√©”
• How clubs need to finish their projects or make sure they are continued to make a lasting impact.

Then the evening was open to questions and someone asked why don’t their district send scholars or give scholarships. He answered that there clubs don’t have enough money and when they did send scholars they did not return! Then another man interjected and told the room that is why it is important to contribute to the foundations, that our (the scholars) clubs are strong and work hard to send us, that our lapel pins are not medals of honor, but they should remind us of the goals of rotary.

After the discussion the governor and our president was interviewed by a news crew and all the others headed to the bar. We scholars sat at the bar and munched on bread and sipped wine. It was about 8:30 and we had been there since 6 and hunger had definitely sat in by then. All of a sudden the governor was next to me and he asked me what beer is good. I nervously responded “Gazelle c’est le meilleur biere ici” He ordered one, took a glassful, and then gave the rest to me. This is right after a Belgium Rotarian filled up my glass for the second time. We all returned to the meeting room to eat a three course meal that consisted of huge lobster, potatoes, vegetables, lamb, cheese, bread, cake and ice cream (which was amazing). Throughout the whole night Patrick(Belgium Rotarian) and Gilles(French St Louis Rotarian) were cracking jokes the whole time! They had a lovely conversation about how I should eat meat. We talked about American blues, of which apparently Vanessa and I know nothing about. And we agreed to have a music sharing/playing night. They kept refilling my wine glass and I still had the governor’s beer in front of me! They made sure we used our French though, which was good, and because they weren’t being serious (the wine helped also) Vanessa and I were very comfortable to talk with them. Gilles tried to fill my glass for the 3rd time but I told the little French man “non merci” and he sadly responded “Pas de viande, et pas de vin!!”(no meat, no wine!) and began to pretend like he was crying! Like I disappointed him or I don’t meet his requirements for a woman. Whatever it was it was hilarious. Then we took pictures, at this Gilles began to kiss me on the head while Patrick sang “…And they call it puppy love…” Our side of the table was pretty wild…I hope the governor wasn’t disappointed.

Animals, oh how I love thee

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I am in Senegal because I received a scholarship from the Rotary Foundation. With the scholarship I will do a community service project. BUT in order to do a project I need to get the real deal insight information about what is going on out here. I want to learn about the difficulties farmers, or anyone who owns animals face in taking care of their animals. What are their animals used for? Food? Work? Only holiday sacrifices? I want to learn how veterinarians function here. What are the more common cases the work on, what types of people visit them? I want to know if there is a need for an outside source to help. I had an idea of what the use of animals are here, but that was only information from the internet and some books.

So I thought I would get more information. I mentioned this to my French teacher, and he was excited! “Let’s do it tomorrow!”He said. So I came up with some interview questions and last week I interviewed the boys and men who have the horse drawn carriages and carts. From school at 9 am we walked to the market on the peninsula and searched for les caliches. We found a couple. Actually, they found us. Whenever we stopped to ask one questions, others gathered around in a “Me Next!” attitude. Most of them only spoke Wolof, which means they didn’t go to school. My teacher translated for me. I asked them questions like:

• What do you do when your horse is sick or hurt?
o Do you take him to the veterinarian?
• What is your daily care routine?
• What are some difficulties with owning a horse?
• How much does it cost to feed it?

• How much does the horse work, and how much time does it get to rest?

I surprisingly found out that they really care for their horses (the ones I interviewed so anyway) as much as they could. Food is expensive for them and so is the medications the veterinarians give. One guy washed his twice a day in the river. Some guys even had names for their horses! A big white male with brown speckles was named “Bad Boy”. His owner was so proud to tell it too. I even got to pet them! We are going to go out a couple of more times so that I can gather a good amount of information.

I’m surprised about how they care for their horses, because so far, I’ve seen some pretty bad stuff. There is a dog that is “security” for Plan Senegal (some kind of health service for mothers and their babies) that has half of his fur because of mange, bleeding ears from bugs biting them, and he’s super skinny. Most of the time when I see him is just laying in the street, sleeping or just too weak to do anything else. When I first saw him I really wanted to knock on their door and ask them how they think the dog can secure their building when he’s starving and sick. Then I thought about maybe paying to treat him back to health. But I don’t think they would continue to feed him, and care for him after I leave. 

There is also the way they treat the sheep. They are put in sacks when they need to be transported, pulled by their legs when walked….. I guess to make a long story short Senegal is not the place for those who are sensitive towards animals.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Gambian Experience

A couple of posts ago I wrote about being scared to take the taxis in Saint Louis. It is so interesting to watch myself grow and change to being stronger and more independent. I mention this because last weekend Poppy (18, Ireland), Vanessa (23, Florida) and I traveled to The Gambia . We were by ourselves, no men, it was us, our guide books and the advice from our French teachers. All of which did not prepare us for what we encountered.

4 a.m. Saturday, November 14th 

I got a call from Poppy saying, “Waaaaaaake Uuuuuuppp!!” I was supposed to meet them at the police station at 4am, but knowing me I overslept. Good thing I got everything ready the night before. I jumped up and met with them and we took a taxi to the Gare Routiere, station were you catch larger taxis’ called sept place(7 places) to pretty much anywhere in Senegal. First lesson we learned is to talk to the men with name tags if we need information. As we walked up this man, without a name tag, started talking to us and showed us where the Kaolack sept place was. Then he told us that there are already four people already. Poppy being able to do simple math said well we’re three so lets go! But he kept talking and talking and saying that there are four and they need three….then finally a man, with a name tag, came to us and told us that he was a crazy man and that we have to ride in a different sept place.

The way these Gare Routieres work is like this; you look for a sign or a pole with the name of the location or direction you want to go on it. Then you ask how many passengers there are. The taxi will not leave unless the seven seats are filled or unless the passengers are willing to pay extra for the remaining seats. So you wait and wait and wait until people show up, and you hope that there are people out there that need to go to the same place. While we waited Vanessa and I tried to come up with a better system. We figured that it would be better if they had departure times. Then you will be sure that the taxi would be filled. But then I started to think about how everyone says “Inch Allah” (if God wills it) after every sentence when talking about future events. If this is the basis of the population’s belief system, then things like this, is just left in God’s hands. If it is supposed to happen, then it will happen. Nobody really worries, or gets upset about being late…except for us. 

We needed to go from Saint Louis to Kaolack(6hrs), Kaolack to Karang(2hrs), Karang to the border(10min), cross the border, border to Barra(30min), catch a ferry to Banjul (30min)(capital of The Gambia), Banjul to our hotels.

We waited till about 6 and we finally filled up. And the adventure began!! We asked one of the passengers if he was going to Kaolack (just to make sure we were getting in the right car) and he was going all the way to Banjul! We slept most of the way, snacked, shared our snacks with the driver and our travel buddy (which we later called talibe kid, because he was going to a Koran school) dropped off some people in Touba, saw the grande mosque, and we picked up some folks on the road.


Our sept place dropped us off in the middle of the town and we then needed to catch a taxi to the gare routiere Nioro in Kaolack. The men, especially the one in a white boubou, was excited to help us find a taxi, but talibe kid started to argue with him. We walked away and asked the driver how much it would be. He told us 1,500 CFA and we said “Total? Ou chaque un?” and he said total so we got in and waited for the argument to end. When they got in the car, white boubou kinda forced himself in, sharing the front seat with talibe kid. He then told us we should take the taxi to the border for 45,000cfa! We laughed at that and said that we’re going to nioro. When we got to the Nioro station the taxi driver told us that it would be 2,000cfa each! It was a ten minute ride! That is when Poppy started cursing and I kept saying “Pourquoi? C’√©tait un dix minute trajet!” We instantly got out of the car to make sure we could get our baggage out of the trunk, just in case something went down. We argued, mostly Poppy, with the taxi driver saying how that ride was not worth 2,000 each person ($4 each= $20), and how he told us it was 1,500 total. He was not havin it and kept saying it was 2,000. White boubou jumped in and said we should pay him. We started to gather a crowd. Poppy and I grabbed for our bags and the driver grabbed Poppy’s wrist! Poppy said “Ecoute-moi, Ecoute-moi!” (Listen to me!) I will pay 1,500 total. I asked talibe kid what he thought and he said the man was crazy. That’s when an officer came over (oh shoot we’re in trouble is what we thought), he was calm, and asked us what was going on. We told him our troubles and he told us that yes, 2,000 each is crazy, and it’s really 1,000, but since we already agreed to 1,500, we should pay that. Standing behind the officer, the driver started to smirk cause he knew he was wrong. We paid (white boubou and talibe got that ride free) and walked away.

We didn’t get far when random guys suggested and knew where we were to go. This station wasn’t as organized as the St. Louis station, there were no name tags. All five of us get in the same sept place (Poppy, Vanessa, Talibe, White boubou, and me) to the border. We asked the driver how much the ride was and he said 25,000cfa, which was a little much, but we didn’t feel like arguing anymore. So we said “that’s 5,000 each right?” he said yes so we were off!

The other two girls slept but from then on I didn’t trust white boubou so I stayed awake and watched him the whole time. The driver asked if all three of us were married, I said yes, it was a wives vaction. But then he proceeded to tell me that he wants to go to the states (I wonder how?). Our driver took us straight to the border. Poppy, Vanesssa, Talibe and I paid 5,000 each. The driver sat there looking at us like he was expecting more. I told him “Nous avons paye, c’est fini” (We paid we’re finished) HE then started to argue with us saying that the total is 25,000 and how he doesn’t have that total. Well….that’s because white boubou hasn’t paid!!! Is what we told him. In the meantime white boubou has gotten out of the car, buying water and snacks. Street money changers started to gather, and one, a woman got in and tried to get us to exchange our money. We told her to wait, and while she did she helped us to explain our situation. The taxi driver and some random man who spoke English kept arguing with us ( but not white boubou!) to pay. White boubou supposedly told them that he was our friend and he was helping us get to the border, so we agreed to pay for his way. Poppy said “C’est merde!!” (that’s shit) and I laughed, and Vanessa explained how the man can’t even speak French! I told them once again that we paid, we’re finished. THEN they told us that white boubou doesn’t have money. Comedy (comooodeee…denaya) once again. We asked, we’ll how is he buying water and snacks? They said he only had 2,000cfa. Not our problem! We exchanged our money, got out of the car grabbed our baggage and told them to talk with white boubou.

Border Patrol
Talibe showed us to the border offices, one for Senegal and one for The Gambia. They checked our passports and when they saw talibe’s paper, it was just a scrap with words written on it, we got scared that he wouldn’t get through. Poppy whispered, “We can’t get attached, we’re going to keep going”. He made it through! At the Gambian office we had to buy visa’s (which is a way the government makes money, the officer told us). The officer there was really nice. When he saw my name he started to talk about scenes from “Coming to America”! haha! (the main character’s sister’s name is Patrece).
• We grabbed a taxi to Barra where we waited for at least three hours for the ferry because it broke down. We saw a lot of tourists and men carrying a coffin.

• From the Ferry we grabbed another taxi. Exhausted and extremely dirty at this point. Our driver couldn’t find our hotels (poppy was meeting up with her dad, Vanessa and I had a different hotel) but eventually he did and offered us his phone number, just in case we needed anything.

The Gambian Experience
We stayed in Fajara. Our hotel was immaculate! It was spacious, had a kitchen, hot water and an actual mattress on the bed. Not a piece of foam. We walked to a place for dinner and then fell comfortably to sleep.

Gambia was very interesting. It was very different then Saint Louis.They speak English which was weird because we have been speaking French this whole time. Plus there English isn’t as good as the French in Senegal (meaning it’s not good at all). There were huge signs everywhere of the presidents face, one said, “We are working towards making gambia an economic super power”. I could tell that’s what he was trying to do, there were large walmart like superstores, everybody had nice cars (fords, chevys, Hondas, bmws, and Mercedes benzs), and large new buildings everywhere. Venders were difficult to bargain with, and taxi drivers were ridiculous and charged us crazy prices, so most of the time we walked.

We went to the market to buy potatos and fruit for Sunday’s breakfast. We then walked to the Kachically Crocidille pool. Which was amazing! There was a museum about Gambian culture. When we walked out of the museum, there was nature! We walked a path, found huge trees, huge spiders and tall grass. We followed the path and found a pool where crocodiles were laying around! We later found out that they can roam the area as they wish, crocodiles are sacred people come to the pool to bath in the water. We petted one and was scared the whole time.

We walked more, found lunch, searched for a bank, bought fabric and art from a very difficult vender, and went back to the hotel for nap. When we woke, we swam with Poppy and her dad at their hotel. Poppy’s dad bought us dinner, beers and dessert. It was lovely to relax and talk. There were also pet-able cats that were begging for food like dogs. Poppy and her dad stayed in Gambia for the whole week.


We made a breakfast of pineapple, eggs, potatoes, and bissap (a juice from heaven). We took a taxi to a book store ( taxi driver tried to charge us $10 for a 5min ride). I bought to books by African authors that are in french, we then bought art from a deaf artist and then headed back to the ferry. This time around we knew what to expect, Vanessa and I were ready. We walked with our heads high, knew where to go and didn’t take anyone’s B.S. When we crossed the border there weren’t any taxis around to take us to Karang. BUT, there were these hoodlems on the side of the road with their moped/scooter vespa type things lined up. They offered to give us a ride for only 200cfa. At first I said no, there’s no helmet, the roads are crappy. But Vanessa convinced herself then me that I would be ok. It was only a mile ride. We got on the back of their motos!! I was scared at first but then once it got fun it was over. I wasn’t able to take a picture. (sorry didn’t want to look like a super tourist)

We made it successfully to Kaolack, where we had to transfer to Garage Dakar(another garage in kaolack). There we found our sign for St.Louis and we knew we were home free!! We were so excited and proud of ourselves! We also found that our driver was the same driver who drove us from St.Louis to Kaolack! That made it even better because then we knew he was really going back to St.Louis. We shook his hand and he asked us about our trip. This time we waited almost three hours for one person to fill the 7th place! We were very close to paying for the missing person when someone showed up! The whole way back we sat in the back seat which is very small. We shared it with a very weird man who kept trying to stretch out, lean on me, put his arm around us and he took off his shirt because he was “hot”. I wasn’t able to sleep because I was so smashed. I was at the end of my patience with him at the end both Vanessa and I pushed him to his side of the seat. He just yawned a little and continued to sleep. Finally at 1:20 ish we made back to Saint Louis! When I got home my host dad was up watching t.v. waiting for me to get him!!! It touched my heart so much! He gets up at 5am everymorning! 

The whole trip was just a challenge to not "get got" and I think we came out on top.

More pictures are on facebook

Sunday, November 1, 2009


So everyday something interesting happens. Everyday is an adventure and it is hard to choose which stories to share on here. So I'll try to share them little by little.

Lets start with the most recent and scariest thing that happened to me so far....

Every friday night all of the Projects Abroad volunteers go out and have drinks or watch the amazing live reggae bands. Elizabeth (u.s.) and Amanda (u.k.) and I went to the Tavern and watched the reggae band there. The singer is a goddess with long locs that she wears in a high pony tail like a crown. At around 12 the other volunteers joined us. We danced most of the night and the feeling  of being able to sing "Africa Unite" in Africa, with other Africans and being African American was amazing. Everybody in the whole place was singing and it felt like the words we were saying was actually making africans around the world unite together as one. A guy said to me, "You're proud to sing Africa unite?" and I said, "Oui"

After the band finished I realized that all the people I would share a taxi with to go home, had left. The people that were left were no where near being ready to leave. I sat there for about thirty minutes thinking about how I wanted to get home. Do I want to wait till three in the morning for these  guys to leave? Our should I just go and get a taxi by myself? Plus all of the guys that usually bother me for my phone number or invite me over for tea were out  so going by myself was out of the question. I asked Yuen (france) if he was leaving anytime soon. He wasn't, but he said that he would accompany me to find a taxi. We walked down the street and turned the corner. On the corner there was a man standing there in regular clothing and he had a fanny pack. As soon as we walked up to him he pulled out a card the said "Police" on it. At first I thought, "O.K. this is a joke this guy isn't really a cop. But then he asked us for our  "Carte d'identite". Yuen pulled out a copy ofhis passport and guess what....I didn't have any form of identification on me. I have about three copies at home, but for some reason i thought i wouldn't need it. Which is dumb because I don't even live the house in the states without my liscence, because if something were to happen no one would know who I am.

So this officer told Yuen he can go, but I have to get in the police van that was parked across the street. Instantly Yuen started to say, "Non, Non, Non...." and pleading for me to be able to go home. These other guys walked up, the officer asked for their identity cards, they didn't have them, so he slapped handcuffs on them so that they were and cuffed to each other! Thats when my heart started to go crazy, and I started to tear up and freak out. Yuen kept pleading (in french) and telling him that I'm american and forgot my passport at home, and that I was on my way home. In the meantime I was crying and started to think about my momma,  about what would happen to me if I did get arrested. How long would I be there? What type of people will be there? Would I be able to survive the night or even one hour?

Yuen kept pleading and the officer was getting fed up with it, told him that he could go but I have to go to the van. So we walked over to the van, I was crying and Yuen was cursing in French. There was another officer by the van, and he looked at me like he wanted to eat me. He asked my name, looking me up and down, and where I live. I told him. And Yuen explained again my situation. The officer looked around, lookerd at me, and then said we could go!!! At wanted to run away from there!

On our way to find a taxi Yuen cursed again and said, "What ze fuck?!?!". He walked me to a taxi that a family was getting into and made sure they were going to Ndiolofene (where i live). I thanked him and the taxi took me home.

As soon as I got in my room I started crying more and I really wanted to call my momma or Bill, but I didn't have enought credit on my phone :( . So I just laid in my bed and thanked God for watching over me.

Fabrice, Juliette and Yuen called me and made sure I was ok. I thanked Yuen again and again and again. Because if he wasn't there I wouldn't have been able to speak french at that moment. Before going to sleep, I realized that we got comfortable here too fast. We need to remember that we are in a developing country, police are corrupt and people will rob us in the streets. I forgot, but from now on I will keep on my toes.