Sunday, November 22, 2009

Birthday Parties and Car Parts

It’s hard to believe that my time in Joal is already over halfway done! I’ve had a great time here, but as my Senegal adventure approaches the final weeks I can’t help but anticipate coming home- back to real toilets and showers and a bit of diversity in my diet, not to mention the return to my comfort zone. Over the past week, I’ve settled into a bit more of a rhythm at work and at home. Today marked the site visit of my program director, who stopped by to see how things were going at my internship and with my family. No complaints, besides the little tiff here and there, and it was good to have that support but hard to be left alone again!

Last Saturday, I took a trip to Mbour, a city of about 200,000 people located 30ish kilometers up the coast from Joal, to meet up with a couple friends. To get there, I took a “minibus”, which was an adventure in itself. Let’s just say that in general, the state of the various forms of public transportation here has given a whole new meaning to the word “safety.” Seatbelts do not exist, and the goal seems to be to pack as many people as possible into the smallest possible space. I found myself wondering, “how many Senegalese people can you fit on a minibus? And just when you thought it was full, how many more can squeeze on (babies included)?” Well, I counted…and there ended up being nearly 30, plus at least six small children that I could see, in a large van that would legally fit maybe half that many in the U.S. And that’s not even the beginning! We stopped fairly often for what I assume were mechanical issues, as the driver kept getting out to look under the body of the van. One time, he got down on hands and knees, reached under the van, and pulled out a fairly large, important-looking but apparently superfluous pipe, and placed it on the roof. I laughed quietly to myself as he got back in the van and continued the drive, sans unimportant, unidentifiable car part, and believe it or not we made it safely to Mbour. On the way back, I opted for a more reliable form of transport called a sept place, a station wagon that holds seven people, and needless to say the ride home was much less eventful!

Back in Joal, my brother Robert celebrated his 7th birthday with a little party. He had been talking about it for days before, and it ended up being surprisingly similar to kids birthday parties in the U.S., most notably in the clear segregation of boys and girls. I guess cooties exist everywhere around the world! The party pretty much consisted of approximately 20 Senegalese children being told to dance, eating a bunch of donuts, and then going home. In the beginning, I was the subject of many curious stares, as I was certainly a bit out of place at a 7 year olds’ birthday party (in more ways than just my age!). But, by the end I was teaching the kids how to disco, and they were teaching me some Senegalese dance moves and chants of their own. It was a great way to bond with the kids of the neighborhood and I think I proved to be entertainment for more than just the younger generation.

Later that night, I watched the France-Ireland World Cup qualifying match on television. My host dad and brother are huge football fans, and when not watching soap operas from Venezuela or Mexico (an odd habit of many Senegalese people, or all that own a television), there is inevitably some match on the tube. I am sitting, simply enjoying the game, when two “toubabs” walk in (for those of you that don’t know, toubab is the word used here to describe white people. Every day I get multiple calls of “toubab!” in the street, which gets pretty old pretty fast), and I soon find out that they are from Ireland and stopped by to watch the game! As I tried to talk to them in English, it quickly became clear that the English-speaking part of my brain seemed to have turned itself off after months of only French and Wolof. To them, I probably seemed like a stuttering idiot, and I was shocked as to how difficult it was for me to speak in my native tongue. I still think and write in English, but maybe the conversational side of things has become a bit shaky.

And there goes the power. I guess I won’t be posting this tonight! Oh, and to all those reading that signed my birthday card, thanks so much! It arrived here on Monday and absolutely made my week.

Ba beneen yoon! (Until next time, in Wolof)


  1. That sounds like quite a trip (and your telling is very funny). Very similar to a trip we took in Namibia--several hundred miles (from Ludertiz, where are friends' car broke down, to Windhoek). The van started out full and then continued to stop for people along the way. One of our friends was quite far along in her pregnancy and, besides getting somewhat panicky in the incredibly crowded van, could not convince the driver to stop to let her go to the bathroom. (He was probably worried he could not get all the people back in if he let them out.) I just remember being more homesick during that ride than any other time during our stay.

  2. Great post! I giggled all the way through as you described one event to the next.