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Living Routes Senegal Fall 2009

Living Routes study abroad program in Senegal, Fall 2009 (September-December 2009)

First Trip to Guédé Chantier

Senegal Dakar, Senegal  |  Oct 07, 2009
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 When we arrived in the village we were greeted by a large crowd of people who all wanted to shake our hands. It was a bit overwhelming. 

We just got back from the village (Guédé Chantier) yesterday (Tuesday, October 6).  It was a long trip - about 11 or 12 hours on the way there and 10 hours on the way back.  Our transportation was a chartered car rapide (like a large van/small bus).  There was no air conditioning and no bathroom, and the seats were small and uncomfortable (not good for sleeping...).  And on the way back, we had to leave the village at 4:00 in the morning in order to avoid evening traffic in Dakar.  So it was not the most fun I've ever had on a road trip.  But anyway we all survived...

When we arrived in the village we were greeted by a large crowd of people who all wanted to shake our hands.  Apparently they had been waiting for us since 4pm (we arrived around 8pm), and there would have been a bigger ceremony with drumming, etc. if there hadn't been a death in the village that day.  It was a bit overwhelming.

My host family in Guede was very nice - and huge!  I think there must be at least 20 or 30 people living in the house (although some of them are only there for a few weeks/months on vacations).  I never learned all their names or how everyone is related...  It's a pretty big house (lots of bedrooms, although I don't think there is a living room), but people seem to spend most of their time out in the courtyard, which is usually cooler.  They also sleep in the courtyard when it's hot out.  It's definitely more comfortable to sleep outside, but the whole family gets up around 6:30am, and once they were all up and about it was very difficult for me to get any more sleep.

The bathroom facilities were not what I'm used to - no flush toilet and no shower.  They have an African-style latrine (it's basically a hole in the ground, but with a porcelain structure), and for washing they fill a bucket with water and use a cup to pour it over themselves.  It took some getting used to, but it wasn't really that bad.  Difficult to wash my hair, though...  There was also no sink, just one tap in the courtyard.  And I didn't see any mirrors the whole time I was there, except for a small hand mirror.

I had pretty much no privacy in my host family.  There were always a lot of people around in the courtyard, and even if I was in my room watching TV or something there would almost always be someone there with me.  I know there is a cultural difference at play here.  In their view, they were probably trying to make me more comfortable by keeping me company.  But for me it was pretty tiring not to have any time to myself.  They did leave me alone if I said I had homework, though.

I got a lot of attention from some of my host sisters.  Kadia often let me borrow her boubous (traditional outfits).  She and Djeynaba (Diez) painted my hands and feet with henna (which has now worn off except for on the nails).  And Kadia braided my hair once, too.  (They were fairly big braids, so it only lasted a few days.  I think it would be nice to get the small braids that many women have here, though.  It seems like that might be cooler.  As it is I always have to put my hair up because it's much too hot to wear it down.)

The family seemed pretty sad to see me go.  Diez especially kept saying how she would miss her big sister.  I got an escort of about seven members of the family who walked across town with me to the departure point.  (It was in the evening that we gathered together at one house, not at 4am.)  Unfortunately Abdoulaye and Kadia will probably not be there when I go back in November.  Kadia will be at her husband's house in Dakar and Abdoulaye will be teaching in another town.

Is is HOT in Guédé Chantier.  I don't know how hot; I never saw a thermometer there.  But in any case it's way too hot for my liking.  We tended to have class in the morning and/or evening because the afternoon is the hottest part of the day.  And it's hard to find ways to cool down.  There's no ice cream, and it can even be difficult to find cold drinks.  Not all families have refrigerators.  (Mine did.)  People swim (and bathe and do laundry) in the canal and the river, but we were warned that we could get parasites from the water.  (The water was kind of brown and gross-looking, but even so I would have gladly jumped in if it wasn't for the parasites...)  I was really craving some tereré (a cool, refreshing tea drink that is popular in Paraguay, the cold version of yerba maté)...

On the bright side, it now feels relatively cool back in Dakar.  (Although it is still hot, and it's more humid here than in Guédé.)  Apparently it should have cooled down some by the time we return to Guédé in November. 

We now have our groups for the projects in the village, and we have started some preliminary work on interviews and defining objectives.  I am working with two Senegalese students, Youssouf and Philomène.  Our project is looking at organic pesticides (especially ones produced from neem trees), although we may decide to focus on organic agriculture more generally.  I had expressed an interest in agriculture, and this project involves both aspects of health and agriculture.  We did a few interviews with experts on organic agriculture before leaving the village, but at this point we are still working on defining objectives for our project.  Philomène doesn't speak English very well, so most of our discussions are in French, as well as the interviews with our village partners/mentors.

I have a few pictures of the village, but not that many.  As a white person in the village, you attract a LOT of attention.  Kids follow you everywhere shouting "Bonjour, toubab (white person)" and wanting to shake your hand.  So most of the time I left my camera at home in order to avoid drawing even more attention to myself.  But I have a lot of photos of my host family, and I will probably take more of the village on our second trip.

There is one internet café in Guédé Chantier.  But only two people can use the internet at a time, and it can be very slow.  Also the keyboards are not like American keyboards.  I think they are like French keyboards, which not only have punctuation marks and symbols in different places but even the letters are in a different order (not QWERTY).  So it's very hard to type on one if you're used to an American keyboard.  I did manage to check my e-mail once, but I only read some of the messages I had received and didn't attempt to send any.

Luckily there are a few members of my Guédé host family who speak French well.  I did learn a little bit of Pulaar while in the village, but it was quite confusing to have a third language thrown in on top of French and Wolof, especially since we've had formal classes in French and Wolof but not in Pulaar.  I hope I don't forget all the Pulaar I learned between now and the next village trip...

At our host family in Yoff there's a couple of other sisters that weren't here before.  I'm not sure if they're here for a long time or just visiting. 

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