I left you at Turtle Conservation: 4 Peace Corps Volunteers, 2 Senegalese guys, Amee and I set up on the beach after having a long lecture in the Air Marine Protégé Centre about endangered sea life. This entailed riding on the back of a truck, getting lost in a monastery where 100 young boys were walking past silently staring, and throwing up tents. We grilled some relation of catfish on a small BBQ and sat and watched as the night sky revealed the Milky Way. I have never seen so many stars, it was an incredible sight. Behind us we could see a huge thunderstorm; lightning cracking through the clouds like the Big Man was flicking a light switch on and off
. We walked up and down the beach searching for tracks, but unfortunately the turtles weren’t coming out to play that night. We woke up to find that the dogs of the beach had stolen Jen’s shoes! Aside from losing a pair of sandals and an evident lack of marine life, we enjoyed our night under the stars.
In another effort to get moving with some form of work, we helped two mornings at the local preschool. After raising the Senegalese flag and singing the national anthem, it took 30 minutes to allocate the children into their classes. I was put with the 'petite section’, the younger 2-3 year olds. I found myself teaching the children how to hold a pencil, whilst the teacher texted her maties. She kept saying ‘I’m making the most of the toubab’ – basically having the day off!! I found the language barrier with the children difficult, but we managed to sing some songs together and they danced around!
Amee and I decided to make the most of our free time and travelled up to Dakar – with a detour via Mbour to pick up the completed sparkly monstrosities that were our Tabaski boubous! Everybody was trying to travel to Dakar from Mbour so getting transport was like an undercover operation. ‘Quick, come quietly!’ We followed the man and struggled with the other 20 people to get our bags into the car and reserve a seat. Successful, we made our way to the Sea Plaza in Dakar, a beautifully Western shopping centre where we enjoyed a huge burger and can of fanta! From there we travelled to a posh hotel for a Rotary Club meeting. The Rotary Club of Sutton in Ashfield kindly sponsored me and I gave a presentation there before leaving, whereupon they connected me with a Rotary Club in Dakar
. We presented ourselves, donning Project Trust t-shirts and then enjoyed a presentation in beautifully French French about how to write emails! We are hoping to return after the project has begun and give them a presentation on our work.
The following day Amee and I decided to visit the ‘Ile de Goree’, a beautiful island just off the coast of Dakar, famous for its art, beauty and ‘Musee des Esclaves’ (Slavery Museum). We paid the extortionate price for the ferry and tourist fee and arrived to huge blown up images of Macky Sall and Francois Holland. ‘Bienvenue les Presidentes’ they said. Evidently, the Ile de Goree was the place to be that day! Due to the visit, the museums and other buildings of interest were closed. We settled on the beach with a good old ham sandwich, being hassled a little. One guy told me ‘God sent you here for me!’ Brushing off these declaration of love, we watched as the crowds started emerging to catch of glimpse of the VIPS. We soon joined the throng at the front of the barrier, enjoying the party atmosphere (see video!). The Mbalax drumming does get under your skin here! It makes you feel alive, as the dancers well knew, shaking their barely covered bottoms. The presidents finally arrived in a mass of media and security to a great welcome cheer but were ushered past the crowd. We found that no ferries were leaving until the presidents’ departure which meant that there was no getting off the island… We went for a wander before returning to the port
. Some local women started eyeing us up, asking for our money and jewellery only to be interrupted by another huge cheer – the presidents returning! This time they were coming alongside the barrier and despite the rush, Francois Hollande stopped to shake our hands and asking us if we were on holiday! He looked at us with a look that screamed ‘There are some fellow toubabs in all this craziness!’ – quite the same look we give to any toubab that we see. Upon their departure there was a huge rush for the ferry, but we managed to stick together (shooting other toubabs worried glances) as the police batons started to come out and people grew rowdy. Fortunately, we crept in behind some media people and got swept through the gates onto the ferry!
As if that weren’t enough action for one weekend, Master P, the host of the boys (Tom and Ben) in Kaolack had acquired for us tickets to the Senegal vs. Cote D’Ivoire football match. As we made our way into the stadium waving our Senegal flags, Tom explained that this was a VERY important match. Perhaps two of the biggest teams in Africa, Senegal needed to win 2-0 in order to qualify for the African Cup of Nations. The Senegalese are football crazy and the atmosphere in the stadium (Stade Leopold Sedar Senghor) was electric! We found ourselves seats (a space of concrete, that is) above the tunnel at around 3pm, 4 hours prior to the kickoff
. This really didn’t matter as we were so embroiled with the atmosphere the time flew – chanting, shouting, trying to learn the Wolof words! Again there was crazy drumming and dancing. Despite only having a small section of stadium, the Cote D’Ivoire fans were giving it some too! Weaving through the supporters were women selling all sorts, bags of water, sandwich bags of ice cream, biscuits, flags, rice and chicken, coffee, cakes, peanuts. Here, people hiss at the seller and flick money at her, she then passes up the product and change. The crowd was a sea of white Senegal t-shirts and flags. When the game finally started, the supporters were even louder than before, truly living out every minute of the match. They would boo loudly when an Ivorian had the football and go wild when Senegal was awarded a throw–in. After a goal-less first half spirits were still high and we felt part of the family as the crowd went mental and we joined in! However the second half saw a turn of events. Some supporters began running onto the pitch and play got dirtier. In retaliation the crowd would throw missiles in the form of water bags. There’s a free kick to Cote D’ivoire – Drogba shoots and scores! Ivorian fans are going nuts whilst most of the Senegal supporters look like their dog has just passed away… There was now renewed vigour in the boos, accompanied with water bag missiles launched at the Ivorian fans (who were being surrounded by the police). A few minutes later and Cote D’Ivoire are awarded a penalty
! Drogba shoots, and scores! All hell breaks loose! People begin to throw other missiles such as cans and broken bits of concrete stairs. We saw smoke and realised that fires were being lit in the stadium. What do we do?? The game was suspended and panic ensued as the Senegalese fans turned into animals. The stadium floor started shaking and I was, I’m not afraid to say, terrified. We moved up the stadium so as not to get hit by the huge concrete slabs now sliding down over the seats. Thankfully, lots of the locals wanted to help us and pushed our hand held toubab line along the crowd and down the stairs out of the stadium. We were taken into a side building, the ‘gendarmerie’ where we shielded our faces and those of others as the police began to let off tear gas. Outside fires were being made by young boys. It was chaos. We eventually were shepherded to a Dakar backstreet in search for a taxi, but were met by gangs of ‘youths’ throwing rocks. Amazingly, we were surrounded by people who put their arms up to shield us, shouting ‘don’t throw near these people, stop throwing!’ until we were bustled into a taxi and driven away to safety! Needless to say we recovered with pizza and enjoying being together, unscathed.
The next day we visited the Cathedrale and bathed ourselves in the peace of the church service, a million worlds away from the chaos of the previous two days
! Of course it didn’t last, as the minute we arrived back to Joal we were whisked away to a naming ceremony. I personally thought it was not dissimilar to an outdoor Avon Party but with more dancing and posher boubous!
Since this crazy weekend we spent a week recovering in the calm of Joal, visiting the CEM upon the premise of starting lessons only to be told ‘After Tabaski!’ We did have a visit from Connie & Klaus with whom we discussed Fas Jom. We feasted upon a delicious meal of rice and chicken. The chicken, I hasten to add, was very fresh. It had been killed the previous day and plucked and disembowelled by none other than yours truly (and Amee, of course!!) – definitely one of my favourite meals so far! (We’ve been dealing lots with dead animals, having removed a dead frog and a dead mouse from our room now.) We have been exploring: I found the local library and joined up for 50CFA (7p), taking out french Hamlet! I went and played with some of the local children too, they make so much fun with so little; they were making dolls from sticks and material. On one of our excursions we stumbled upon women making a maize-rice concoction for malnutritioned children in the area. This led to an invitation to the hospital – we visited and whilst Amee made herself useful weighing babies, I drew the short straw of ‘helping’ in the kitchen (i.e
. stirring), making food for malnutritioned children. Despite the good intention of this project, the food somehow didn’t find itself to the children and was eaten by hungry doctors! We also met some Global Citizenship Volunteers, Barker and Emily, who are here until April on a scheme very similar to Project Trust. Our spare time also saw a visit to the church on Fadiouth which was very catholic – not really what I’m used to! The highlight of my week was probably getting a package from my parents! It was brilliant, complete with percy pigs, haribo and salt & vinegar crisps! (It’s the little things!) Souleymane & Mouhamed have now returned from their holidays, which now makes us 8 including Ndeye, the maid. With such a full house and no work to distract us it can get a bit ‘much’, so I have been cycling from our end of Joal to Fadiouth and back, around 11km. It gets pretty sweaty and weaving in between cars and horses can be tricky but ‘me’ time is a must!
In preparation for Tabaski we both had our hair rebraided and bought appropriate shoes at the market – I have never had so many people try to shove my foot into a shoe before! We spent a lot of time wishing that the festival would just happen now please and thank you! The morning of us leaving for Tabaski we were introduced to Senegal’s answer to Mcdonald’s; a shack selling bread with an assortment of sick-looking fillings
. I settled for plain bread, the safest option! We then crammed into a sept-place, complete with ram (ready for the Tabaski slaughter) on the roof! It was a hot ride as the windows were kept firmly shut to keep out the streams of urine from the ram on high. Upon arrival in Dakar we met Amadou’s extensive family then headed to the market – commence a sea of the brightest materials, shoes and jewellery I have ever seen! One guy on a megaphone started shouting ‘Ey Toubabs! Italiennes? Espagnoles?’ I shouted ‘Senegalaises!’ Back at the house we were drafted in for tabaski feast preparations. Manned with knives we took to a huge sack of potatoes like women on a mission. Joaliennes vs. Dakaroises we were in for a fight! Of course the Dakaroises reigned victorious, Amee and I having little culinary experience in comparison to these well skilled hands!
The next day – FINALLY, Tabaski had arrived! We weren’t quite sure what was in store, we’d been waiting for this for 6 weeks! All down the road men were digging holes (for the ram’s insides, I was informed.) They then took the rams and killed them one by one, I’ll spare you the gory details but there was a lot of kicking, blood and man power involved! The men then took about skinning and cutting up the rams whilst the women set up the BBQ. It wasn’t a pretty sight, but it was the freshest meat I’ve ever eaten and tasted delicious
! We ate the ram with chips and onions in a sauce, it was goooood tasting ram! We spent the rest of the day eating more ram, eating more chips, getting all sparkled up and visiting neighbours, albeit slightly disappointed at the lack of ‘festival’ atmosphere we had been promised. The next day we travelled to Thies to visit Aicha’s even more extensive family! This was more like the celebration we had been waiting for, eating yet more ram, chips and onion. Amee and I did help with the cutting of these onions, it took 4 of us 3 hours to cut the HUGE pile, there were perhaps 60-70 onions. It took me a while to learn how to dice an onion Senegalese style – try dicing an onion in your hands with a blunt knife and no chopping board!! Amee unfortunately had to retire early due to cutting her thumb. At meal times, there were around 20 around one plate of food and the animal instincts kicked in. Full of good food everyone was very welcoming and chatty, asking us about our work and happy for us to join in their celebrations. Our chatter was interrupted by a deep singing voice: the local Marabou leader and his cronies had come over to sing to a week-old baby. The singing filled the house and made a very impressive sound. After he had left, the girls in the house had their own party. They were singing, shouting, dancing (they made us dance the ‘takasirip’, which I haven’t quite yet mastered but involves twirling and stamping), and just enjoying the party! When this had become quite enough and we had enjoyed some ram soup, another group of men outside started singing
! By this point both Amee and I had been cornered for our excellence at speaking English and made quite a following of English enthusiasts, poets and students! We drank ataya (strong Senegalese tea) to the sound of the singing and conjugating English verbs.
Our nights in Thies were punctuated by the mosque calls, something we don’t hear all too loudly in Joal and therefore woke me up. They came in quite useful however as a wake-up call for our return to Thies this morning. And so we packed 10 of us into a 7-place (something not quite right there!), complete with luggage and freezer box full of fresh ram – can’t wait for the next variation that we’re given!
Hopefully now that Tabaski is over our work will begin, but of course, you never know in Senegal! I’ll keep you posted…
Over & Out.
Sorry for the delay in updating my blog – life has been neither hectic nor busy (I don't think it ever could be in Senegal!) but we have been getting ourselves into all sorts of scrapes… Riots at international football games, rubbing shoulders with the President of France and slaughtering rams have been at the top of our agenda!