What you've all been waiting for...

Trip Start Sep 14, 2012
Trip End Aug 16, 2013

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Flag of Senegal  , Thiès,
Thursday, October 4, 2012

Hey y'all!
Since last writing I feel as though I have become part Senegalese! My rather dazzling boubou has finally been made, despite having to sit in the tailor's for 2 hours whilst he made several alterations before it was right. We think perhaps it was his ploy to ensnare us, being very interested in our marital status! My hair is in braids, though I don’t quite carry it off and slightly resemble a 90s pop star… I’ve been eating my fair portion of fish – with my hands, and enjoying it! – doing my fair portion of hand washing and ironing (a heavy metal one with hot coals inside!), and trying to get my head around Wolof! So far I can start a conversation but can’t continue or finish it…

(Just a note about the braids, some of you may be sad to hear of the passing of the John Lennon shades. Nevertheless, the broken arm doubled up as a fro-comb and therefore he lives on!)

So what have we been up to…?

Church – was a lovely service, though we didn’t understand much as it was in French/Wolof/Frolof! But, of course, music is a universal language, and the choir made a beautiful sound to the rhythm of drums. The church was full so we had to sit outside but the atmosphere was tranquil, relaxed and friendly. The service lasted an hour and afterwards we asked about the choir, explored the beautiful old church and jumped with excitement at spotting an old toubab nun!

Fadiouth Island – As previously mentioned, this island is just off the coast of Joal and is where a majority of the Christians reside. You could tell, due to the pigs munching their way around the shoreline. However, our trip to Fadiouth was slightly delayed… a convoy of important people were coming to Joal to 'survey’ the floods. All they did was form a crowd of people blocking the road, shouting above one another – first hand Senegalese politics! When we finally arrived at the island, we mooched around on the shell floor, visiting the church, windy backstreets and sacred baobab tree. It was a very beautiful place and the cemetery was so peaceful, a far cry from the cries of ‘toubab’! Although I definitely felt like I stood out on our way home… as we were walking I felt something hard and sharp on my arm. I turned to see a man walking away. It took me a minute to work out that he had punched me with a pen/key in his hand! Apparently, the man was a ‘madman’ but it shocked me a bit. I’ve just about recovered, but now have a nice purple bruise on my arm!

Mbour – To get there, Amée and I took our first sept-place (complete with cracked windscreen and no mirrors or seatbelts) with Aicha. A sept-place is an 8 seater car that works a bit like a public bus. You wait until there are 7 passengers then drive to your destination! They’re very cheap and run often. The closest city to us, Mbour is a bright, bustling, busy city with people going about their lives, Senegalese style! We almost felt like we fitted in, only being called ‘toubab’ a couple of times. It’s hard to describe the hustle and bustle of daily life in Senegal, but it involves horses and carts, bright clothes, women with all sorts in buckets carried on their heads, fruit and vegetable markets, lazing in the shade and lots of dust! It was in Mbour that we bought posh, expensive materials for our Tabaski boubous. I selected a sparkly violet, whilst Amée went for a brave orange. We’re yet to get these so pictures to follow! For Tabaski we are travelling to Dakar with the whole family and it sounds like we spent a week eating, eating and er, eating.

The port – which was packed! We couldn’t see for people lined up on the beach to welcome in the long, brightly decorated fishing boats. As the fishermen got off the boats in their full body macs, they would put large boxes of fish on their head and run a run worthy of the ministry of silly walks! A semi shuffle, semi run type of thing! Under the cover of the port, women sit by HUGE piles of fish selling them to locals. There is every type of fish you can imagine, sword fish, cat fish, octopi, fat ones, manta ray, long thin ones… It’s quite an experience!

Dakar – Last weekend we enjoyed 4 days with the four girls in Dakar. A definite breath of fresh air to Joal, with loads of toubabs, pizza, sausages, frozen peas and chocolate!! Needless to mention the flushing toilet!!! We visited the market which was pretty western with jeans and charity t-shirts (eg the Great North Run 2010), but some shopowners would clap and sing their offers, whilst others had voice recordings blaring out of megaphones. One young girl followed us and tried to haggle for us in exchange for a bit of money! One shopowner was desperate for us to come to his shop, we refused, but he was adamant so we walked away. When he later saw us having bought some stuff, he said that if he ever saw us again he was going to kill us! This isn’t representative of Senegalese people who are on the whole very friendly! We also visited N’gor beach which was very beautiful and full of locals, though we did get hassled a bit by local men, one of whom wanted ‘a relationship of friendship’ with me. I just told him I was German (nobody speaks that here!) and he went away. There were some fishermen toubabs just arriving back from a fishing excursion, on which they’d not only got very drunk but also caught the biggest sword fish that you could ever imagine. It was around 6 feet long!!! On Monday, Amée and I found that we were a little bit homesick for Joal and all that it has to offer, so travelled back on a cerrrazy minibus that was basically a market – every time we stopped people would get on to sell merchandise of all kinds.

School – Firstly we visited the Lycee (sixth form), where there has been flooding. Right now the buildings are overgrown with grass and big-mac sized bulls are making the most of it! This happens annually and classes are held instead at the CEM (secondary school) until it’s de-bugged and the lawn is mowed. We visited the CEM to observe some revision classes for the October exams. Take every preconception of British schools and forget them! The CEM couldn’t be further from the school I attended. The design is a bit like the Quad at Ashfield School, but the buildings are old and disintegrating. The middle quad part and many classrooms are flooded (outside lessons, woopee!), and on the dry bits goats laze around with their kids. Lessons are ‘meant’ to be 9-11, then 11-1. Needless to say, the first lessons usually begin around 9.20 and if teachers are feeling a bit tired, will finish around 10.30. The entire 2 hours is devoted to copying off the chalk board or just… not doing much! Serenaded by goats bleating and kittens miaowing, the students copy relentlessly off the chalk board, and not much else! For lack of anything to do, we spent our time picking fault in the teacher’s English grammar. Upon visiting the ICT suite/staff room (15 computers in a tiny room), I was questioned by the staff about my marital status, they’re obsessed! I’ve been asked nearly 10 times why I’m not married! This seems to be the only life goal for many women in Senegal, and the teachers found it hilarious when I said I was too young to be married yet not too young to teach.

Our estate – We thought we’d seen it all, but we hadn’t! One day we came outside to a huge, flood-removing lorry stuck in the road. After being dug out, it left a foot-deep rivet in the mud track they call a road. We spent a good 30 minutes trying to rebuild the road only for flooding to get the better of it – it became a sludgy mess and I very nearly lost a Birkenstock! We gave up and I began forming bonds with some of the very sweet local children: ‘Hey Toubab!’ ‘I’m not a toubab, my name is Katti’ (I have now perfected this in Wolof!) Incidentally, the children are starting to call us by our names now rather than ‘toubab’ which makes us feel so good! Some still ask us for money and presents though. A local, also by the name of Ammi, called me and Amée over to a backyard where we were introduced to around 10 men/boys who were drumming on pieces of plastic containter with sticks. As a percussionist, it was incredibly cool! One guy started singing ‘Toubabi, il faut danser’ (Toubab, you must dance!) and another started dancing (we refused to join!), although dancing here seems to be lots of stamping and bobbing of the knees.

Though it feels like we’ve done so much; there has been no movement on the project front! We were warned before arriving in Senegal that things might take a while to get started, we didn’t quite expect this… We have been told that our work at the Lycee (sixth form) won’t be commencing until November, due to numerous reasons including flooding, exams and the fact that nobody (that is both students and teachers) can muster up the energy to get going! The middle school (Equivalent to a secondary school) and primary school MIGHT be starting around 16th October, though there’s no timetable yet. Unfortunately Herr Fall, the German teacher, is moving away to teach elsewhere, but there will be a replacement that I can run the German club with! FASJOM, the women’s club set up by last year vols, could be starting next week, though again nothing is definite. Last week we had a meeting with Connie, the American Peace Corps volunteer stationed here in Joal which means that there will be opportunities to help in some projects. This weekend for example, we are camping on the beach doing some turtle conservation!!

I’ll keep you posted on what we’re doing, but for now…

Over & out
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Joanna Castledine on

Hi Katie,
Great to read your latest blog. Sounds like you are settling in now. I love the hair and the dress - you look the part! Take care and I pray things will get moving on the project soon. You're in my thoughts and prayers. Jo x

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