June 8, 2009
For my first week's entry, it seems appropriate to give a good introduction to the Africa that I've been experiencing so far.
It's hard to even begin to describe. Once I had finished my 16 hour journey through airports and across continents, I arrived in Dakar, the capital city of Senegal. After that, it was a turbulent, six hour, 100mph+ car ride in one of the oldest cars I've ever been in down a barely paved street with absolutely no lines, which people with horses, carts, kids, bikes, mopeds, and semi trucks all used--all at the same time. I guess it's no surprise that I did indeed see dead animals all over the road, and to my horror, even a death. Yet, all of the villagers that walk literally along the side of the road seem to think this type of travel isn't at all out of the ordinary. When I finally arrived very late at night at my host family's house, there was a dinner of goat meat, fresh mangoes and fresh bananas waiting for me--there's seriously nothing like fresh tropical fruit, although I will say I could do without the goat meat. This would conclude my first night.
Since then, the streets of St-Louis have become very familiar (which, by the way mainly consist of either flat out sand and rock piles, packed-in sand, crushed shells, or maybe one of the very few paved streets). I wake up to a breakfast of le pain (baguette), butter, a Senegalese version of Nutella, Senegalese tea, and coffee. Every day at 7:30 I walk 30 minutes to my work at a school for underprivileged children (age 3-7) whose parents can't afford to send them to a proper school. I paint with the children and keep them entertained by singing and teaching them French. At one, I return home through the sandy and packed streets to eat the most important meal of the day here--lunch. This meal is almost always grilled whole fish (scales, head, and bones) and rice or cous cous with an oily onion sauce. It is then followed with either bissap, which is a juice made from the root of the hibiscus, or a ginger drink, made from ginger root. Then, most people tend to take naps, and then I do either of two things in the evening. Either I go to le Jardin d'Espoir, which is a center for Talibe children, or street children, and help prepare a meal, while others tend to their wounds, give them medicine and shots, and help them clean themselves. Otherwise I head to the track made of packed-in sand and help coach the local teams in their track and field events. Then, at 8 or 9 at night, a light dinner is served along with a traditional tea that comes in sets of 3, with each shot becoming increasingly sweeter with each--to the point where you can feel the sugar making a coating on your teeth. After this I retreat to my bed enclosed with a mosquito net to get my rest before I start the next busy day.
The poverty here is more than evident--it stares you directly in the face every single step you take, yet I honestly find this place more welcoming than so many places I've ever been before. The Senegalese are some of the warmest people I've ever met. All meals from restaurants and homes are eaten with hands around a big plate, and then all of the left-overs are handed out to the talibe children.
Although there are the strange meats cooked in vast quantities of oil, the smell of sewage at each turn, no toilet paper, no shower curtains, no warm water, no washing machines, and no plates and silverware and chairs, it seems ironic that almost everyone who has a home has a cell phone, a nice DVD player, stereo, TV. This is by far the strangest culture I've ever come in contact with, and at the same time, the most charming.
For now, I'm continuing with my daily schedule while taking nice trips out to different parts of the country or surrounding countries with fellow volunteers on the weekends. Most recently, we spent the weekend on a secluded island south of St-Louis, laying out on the beach and sleeping in bungalows.
Strangely enough, the fact that I'm never properly cleaned or sweat-free and that my feet are temporarily stained and cracked from all of the sand and dirt in the streets, doesn't seem to bother me at all anymore.
Hopefully next week I will be able to post some more pictures, but for now this will have to do.