Sunday, December 19, 2010

Nothing substantial to say...

I'm back from vacation with my papa and have reconnected to the digital world. I've posted more photos! Check for more updates in the coming weeks!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

African Images


I am currently in the process of sharing Africa with my lovelies back home, and I'm thrilled to finally be uploading a taste of my African images. Posting photos will be a multi-day process, but they're coming!

See them here:

Monday, November 29, 2010


Today, I finally found Kaolack's toubab shops -- two of them, tiny, and across from each other, but tiny little culinary heavens (by my new standards). In a fit of excitement and desperation, I spent nearly four days' food budget on a bottle of extra virgin olive oil from Spain. Heaven.

And, I also bought pomegranate glaze! Shocking. It was on the shelf and relatively cheap. You can buy beets here, oranges are in season, and mint is a Senegalase staple. All I need is fennel seeds and I am set to recreate my absolute favourite salad ever...

Friday, November 26, 2010

Coupures, French Keyboards, and the Ambivalence of African Daily Life

Apologies for the prolonged silence. It has been a long time since I have properly posted here and an equally long time since I've been in touch with most of my lovelies. There are many reasons for this, but most of them are entirely too dull or far too juicy to repeat here. In short, my priority is always to fully live and love Africa and writing publicly about it is way down on the list. There will be plenty of time for stories, debriefs, and beer-fuelled waxtan yi when I return home. (Thirteen weeks down, a short twelve to go.* Eep.) I also finally am truly feeling settled in Kaolack and much of what I experience is merely African "daily life." Compared, of course, to daily life in Canada, each day is full of intense, unexpected, and completely new experiences, but they still carry a certain amount of ambivalence: "Oh Africa. C'est comme ca."

There are, too, some practical reasons for my silence. Ironically, in the city with comparatively fast internet and strong wifi, my internet time has been drastically reduced. In order to write here and to post long-winded e-mails, I need four things:

(1) Power;
(2) A computer or computer access;
(3) Functional internet;
(4) The time and desire to write.

And I need them simultaneously.

Unfortunately, it's rare to have all four at the same time. I no longer have a laptop to call my own, daytime power cuts are frequent and lengthy, internet can be spotty, and there are lots of things to do besides writing tales for public consumption. And, when I do get on an APROFES desktop, I have to battle with a French keyboard.

This post is a great illustration of the challenges. I began to write it on a desktop on Nov. 12 – but, there was a power cut when I was partway through writing, and I lost everything. So then I wrote much of it by hand, and waited almost two weeks for all four conditions to arise and get it on my blog. They haven’t yet, so I’m currently (Nov. 25) typing in a word document and don’t know when I’ll be able to post this. There’s no power, the borrowed laptop I’m using is almost out of battery, and I’m about to leave for Gambia to attend the naming ceremony of a very special newborn.

Also – good news – I’m going to Gambia to pick up Leanne’s laptop. She and Margaret finish their internships tomorrow (!!!!!!!) and are going travelling for four weeks. Leanne is generously lending me her laptop during that time. This means that I’ll have more reliable computer access, but I have no idea if that will translate into improved e-mail communication, more regular blog posts, and photo sharing. On va voir.

In other very brief news, I have a stranger (Gambian word for visitor) coming to visit! In eleven short days I will head to the Banjul airport to meet my father! He’s coming for a whirlwind trip of Gambia and Senegal, to see his daughter, and to experience a very personal side of Africa. We’ll engage in a bit of tourism, but the plan is mostly to head to Njawara, Kaolack, and villages in between to experience African daily life and meet the people that have brought me into their homes and hearts.

And, now, finally, I am about to post this. For real. It's 11:00 AM on Nov. 26. I'm in Njawara, in an unusually quiet office, using solar power and slow, but functional, wifi. So that's it for now. I'm going to take advantage of the computer access, power, and tranquility to pump out an agroforestry document.

Love to you all!

*This was true at the time of writing, but is not longer accurate. Now, it's 15 down, 10 to go!!!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Name Games #2

There are many ways to differentiate me and Leanne:

Haddy Kaolack (me), Haddy Njawara (Leanne);
Haddy Junior (me), Haddy Senior (Leanne);
Haddy Junior (me), Haddy Original (Leanne).

And, my favourite:

Haddy Toma (Leanne), Haddy...vegetarian?!?! (me)

This last pairing of names was given to us by Leanne's toma when, just before the Tabaski ram sacrifice, I revealed that I'm a vegetarian.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Postal Love

I've recently learned that mail *can* successfully reach Africa. If you want to send me a little postal love, here's where it goes:

Eileen Jones
Plle °225 Quartier Kashnack
BP: 12
Kaolack, Senegal

Likewise, if you have money to burn, my most regular phone number is 221-77-474-2572. From Canada, I believe you dial 011 before the number.

It seems a bit late to be posting this for the first time, but I finally feel truly settled in Kaolack and can proclaim it as my home.

Monday, October 11, 2010


I am thankful for electricity, a stable internet connection, skype, and the ability to share Thanksgiving dinner with my family halfway across the world. Too bad I couldn't actually taste the pumpkin pie!

I am also incredibly thankful for web of science, virtual private networks that function across continents, and my UBC log-in. You can take the girl out of academia, but you can't take academia out of the girl!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Name Games

Written today! 09 October 2010

I'm sitting in the APROFES auberge, my temporary home and sanctuary in Kaolack, drinking sugary tea, writing blog posts and journal entries, reading an illuminating-yet-depressing book about international development, mentally preparing myself for an uber-religious Senegalese baptism, and plotting my return to Gambia...

Someone pointed out that I haven't explained what "toubab" means. This word is so ingrained in my daily experiences that I absent-mindedly assume that everyone knows what it means. Of course not. Many of the small details about Africa are so pervasive that I neglect to share them in my stories and descriptions. That's too bad, since many of the most striking things about Africa are the small ones.

So, toubab. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about it:

"Toubab" is a Central and West African name for a person of European descent ("whites"). Used most frequently in the Gambia, Senegal, and Mali, the term does not have derogatory connotations by itself, though it is also frequently associated with "wealthy traveller" (if one can afford to travel, then he/she must be rich). The word can also be applied to any perceived traveller - even those of black African descent with an identifiably different phenotype such as (whiter) Cape Verdeans and (blacker) Nigerians, up to foreign-raised locals (thus with a different accent) or a visiting expatriate...The most likely earliest derivation is from the Wolof word for Europe (Tougal). As Wolof means the people of Jollof, Toubab means the people of Tougal.

As wikipedia states, the term itself is not derogatory. "C'est n'est pas mechant," explained one of my Senegalese co-workers, though it can definitely be annoying. Children constantly yell "Toubab! Toubab!" wherever I go. Seriously, everywhere -- in bustley city streets, along quiet village paths, and even from the side of the road as I pass by in a vehicle. I'm totally fine with the label when it comes from children, but have little patience when it comes from adults. But, I packed my sense of humour and ability to light-heartedly laugh at myself (as recommended by Lonely Planet) so I'm usually able to hide my frustration. I do, however, humoursly lay down the law with anyone that actually wants to talk to me or be my friend.

"Toubab? Tuduma toubab. Haddy laa tudda." (Toubab? My name isn't toubab. My name is Haddy.)

Yup, my name is now Haddy. Haddy Kah. (Or, Haddy Ceesay if I'm in Tchisse Masse). In Gambian and Senegalese culture, namesakes (tomas) are very important. Names are never(?) chosen willy-nilly and newborns are always named after someone that may end up playing a large role in their life. It's not uncommon, I believe, for a child to be sent to live with their toma for a significant length of time.

Here, most toubabs get Wolof names both because of the importance of tomas (and everyone wants to have a toubab names after them!) and, more practically, because no one can pronounce or remember our Western names! Some toubabs resist their Wolof name, but I think that being Haddy is a small but symbolic way to better integrate into the culture and express mutual respect. People are thrilled when they ask my name and, expecting something Western, I respond with "Haddy." Having a Wolof name also identifies me as not-a-tourist, which is pretty important for my sanity and helps me to build relationships.

My toma is a woman named Haddy Kah (obviously). She is from El Hadje Mayebe and is the president of the farmer group that we work with there. During my village stay, I stayed with her family.

Unfortunately, Leanne's toma is also named Haddy. She got the name first, so my Wolof name is a bit sub-optimal, but it took me a long time to get a toma and I've embraced my name. I'm Haddy Kah and she's Haddy Fal Nying, so hopefully there won't be too much confusion when we're in the same village.

Learning and remembering names has been pretty challenging. I carry a little book for Wolof grammar and phrases and have taken to writing names in there, if I know that I'm going to see someone again. But this only works when I meet one or two people at a time, and I can actually remember their name (and face) after the conversation. Names are especially challenging when we arrive in a new place (like a new village) and meet 70 people in the span of 20 minutes. It's even harder when we meet many of them in the dark!

People are pretty forgiving though, and I think (hope) that they understand how difficult it can be for us when they are always mixing up the names of the three toubabs that have visited the village. (In Tchisse Masse, I stayed with the same family as Margaret, and was constantly being called Alimatu. I'm pretty sure that there are some children there that never did understand that Margaret and I are not the same person.) Exclaiming "suma xarit!" ("my friend!") seems to be a pretty good alternative to actually remembering someone's name.

Jamma rek,
Haddy Kah Toubab

Friday, October 8, 2010

On Husbands

Since there were no public bites (disappointing!), here's the answer to September 24th's translation assignment.

Amuma jekar, buguma jekar!
I don't have a husband, I don't want a husband!

I've just returned from spending a week in Tchisse Masse, one of the project villages. During my stay, my conversations typically went like this:

Am nga jekar? (Do you have a husband?)
Amuma jekar. (I don't have a husband.)

This was usually followed by hopeful looks, either in jest or in earnest, indicating that the asker either wanted to marry me or to set me up with their son/brother/nephew/own husband.

Lutax? (Why?)

Amuma jekar, amuma problem yi! (I don't want a husband, I don't want problems!)
Jekar bi, problem bu berri! (A husband, lots of problems.)

Aram, am na jekar. Am na problem yi? (Catherine has a husband. Does she have problems?)
Jekar bu Canada, problem tutti. Jekar bu Senegal, problem bu berri! (Canadian husbands, small problems. Senegalese husbands, lots of problems!)

And, if I'm feeling particularly defiant, I throw in this line:
Soxlauma jekar! (I don't need a husband!)

I've passed week-long cultural immersions in both Senegalese project villages and I've jokingly taken a husband in both. In El Hadje Mayebe, I intend to marry Ebu, a teenager that is likely likely the son or nephew of one of my host mothers. (Family structure is large and complicated here, and it's always difficult to figure out how exactly people are related.) I only called Ebu my jekar a few times, but he blushed profusely each time I did. In Tchisse Masse, I promised to marry an older man that I called "suma jekar bu mag" (my husband that is old) and this was met with riotous laughter.

Buguma jekar legy, buguma jekar legity, waay buga naa jekar si kanam, si Canada.

Taxi Man

10 September 2010
Bakau, The Gambia

For the record, my trip hasn't only been about Gambian men. I've also spent lots of time with Senegalese men. Kidding! Well, actually I'm not, but that's not what I mean. I have been learning Wolof, spending lots of time along, hanging out with some women (though mostly ex-pat women, as all the Gambian women are at home, married, and working hard to feed their husbands and children), and working. But, Gambian men make the most entertaining stories and, as a solo toubab woman, constant male attention is the one thing that I can be certain each day will bring.

Yesterday, I took advantage of a free morning to head to Latrikunda to visit a friend. When was time to head back to Bakau for language lessons, Kebba took me to the Brikhama Highway to catch a cab. It had taken me almost an hour to get to Latrikunda due to heavy traffic and full cabs. I was slow leaving Kebba's house, of course, and was eager to get to Bakau and not be too late for Baboucarr, so I was hoping for a fast trip. I get into a cab, in the back seat, with four other me. The cab driver starts chatting to me in English (no surprise) and I respond in English. Mistake #1.

The cab driver asks me the standard suite of questions: What's your name? Where are you from? How's your vacation? How is The Gambia? I am panka (Wolof: sassy) and confident and shoot back my answers. He eventually gets around to asking the most important question: Do you have a husband? "Yes, I am married. I have four Gambian husbands." The man beside me had been enjoying my sassiness but, until then, had stifled his laughter and remained fairly calm and reserved. My declaration of four Gambian husbands, however, was enough for him to let loose his laughter.

I establish that I have four Gambian husbands and the cab driver, of course, wants to be my fifth. I insist that Islam says that I can only have four husbands, so he cannot be my fifth. At this point, I've been in Africa for three weeks and been solo in the city for nearly two of those. I have enough Wolof under my belt and am sassy enough that I think I know how to handle harmless but persistent men. And I'm still confident that I do, as long as they back off eventually.

The driver asks me where I am going. He's only going to Westfield Junction and I have to transfer there to get a five-five (a shared cab) to Bakau. I tell him I'm going to Bakau and he insists that I'll have a hard time getting a car from Wesfield. "There are no cars going to Bakau." I'm pretty sure this isn't true. "Coming, yes, but going, no. It's almost prayer day. Everything's full. I will drive you to Bakau, 60 Dalasi." I am pretty skeptical about the Westfield-Bakau car situation, but Africa is full of ridiculous logistical surprises and I am in a rush. So, I haggle, in English (Mistake #1.5) down to 40 Dalasi (less than $2 CAD).

Once it's established that the driver will take me all the way home, he continues his inquiry:

"Are you fasting?" No, I'm not fasting today. I have fasted some days, but not today.

"Are you Muslim?" No I'm not Muslim.

"Oh, I that that the man you were with was your husband." No he's not my husband. Mistake #2.

We get to Westfield. Everyone else gets out of the cab and the driver invites me to sit in the front seat. Still comfortable with the situation, and aware that it is common for passengers to sit in the front seat, I oblige. Mistake #3. We head to Bakau along major streets (i.e. paved) but don't take the usual routes -- we drive along streets that I don't know. I start to feel a little nervous, though, granted, we did miss all the traffic along Kariaba Ave and made great time to Bakau. Nonetheless, we're following routes that I don't know, I'm in the front seat, and the driver has seriously cranked up his persistence.

He wants to be my friend. He wants my phone number. He wants to call me. He wants to see me. How can he see me? He wants my number. He wants me to call him. He's tired. He wants to come to my house and lie in my bed. And he wants to -- and does -- touch my arm. Repeatedly, despite my insistence that it's not okay.

He also starts to make a dopey-eyed kissy face and flick his tongue in my firection. I haven't seen this facial expression before, but I know exactly what it means. I start to get seriously uncomfortable, but at this point we're close to Bakau and back on routes that I know.

We reach the Romana and I get him to drop me off. Mistake #4. He now knows where I live, though I'm not sure that I could have done much to avoid this at this point. I try to pay and he refuses my money, preferring to come lie down in my bed. "No, we had a deal." He gets out my change and I had him 100 Dalasi.

"You're just going to leave me? You're going to leave me like this?" Kissy face, kissy face, kissy face.

"Yes, I'm going to leave you just like that!" And I slam the door.

I was livid. I paced back and forth along the empty path of the Romana until I calmed down. I felt totally frustrated and violated. How can some people think that it's okay to treat others like that?!?! Just because I'm a solo white woman doesn't mean that I should be a target for persistent sexual advances. But I am, and they're mostly totally harmless. Mostly.

Lessons learned? See Mistakes 1, 1.5, 2, 3, and 4. Also, call Baboucarr, my anytime stand-in Gambian husband and have a chat. And I can always use the "I forgot that I have to run some errands, please drop me off at the supermarket on Kariaba" line. And, I can also write down his license plate number and threaten a police report. Gambia's pretty serious about non-harassment of tourists.

So, don't worry Dad. I am safe, cautious, streetwise, and I have a good group of trustworthy Gambian men that have my back. The same thing could happen in Vancouver except, at home, I don't need a cab driver to help me ride my bike!

African Letters #3

Written 26 September 2010
Leybato, The Gambia

Dear Africa,

You do have hammocks! You were just hiding them from me. You needn't be so secretive about your hammocks. Let them go forth and multiply!

A content, beach-side, hammock-slung Eileen

Friday, October 1, 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010

Too busy... and loving Africa to tell you about it.

Updates will come soon - I promise - but not until I have good reason to sit in one place (with electricity and internet) for more than a day. I spent the week in El Hadji Mbaye, one of the project villages, and am off in the morning for a 48 hour sejour to Gambia to tour some agricultural facilities with a small delegation of Canadian farmers. Back to Kaolack early in the week, photos and updates sometime after that?!?!

But first, here's an assignment. Translate from Wolof to English:

Everyone I met in the village, every man I meet on the street: Am nga jekar?
Me: Amuma jekar, buguma jekar!

In Gambia and Senegal, greetings are very, very important and, so, I greet people as often and as many times as possible, lest I be a rude toubab. There's a pretty standard list of greetings -- "How are you?", "How is your family?", "How did you sleep?", "How is your work?", "How is your morning?", etc. -- and the above line is now part of my standard repertoire! It is always met with lots and lots of laughter and exclamations of "Deega nga Wolof!"

Sunday, September 19, 2010

African Letters #2

Written 11 September 2010, in Bakau, Gambia

Dear Body,

I am so sorry about my African diet. I apologize for the daily loaves of starchy, refined, yeasty bread, the endless packages of sugary imported cookies, the soft drinks, the fish overdose, the buckets of palm oil, the rice-based meals, and the 95% reduction in produce consumption. I do not, however, apologize for my chocolate consumption -- organic, dark, and filling. I am also so sorry about the exercise thing. It's either too hot or too wet to go for a run -- and always too non-Gambian. I promise to make it up to you when we return to Canada. Springtime in Vancouver will bring long bike rides, whole grains, and heaps and heaps of salad greens.

Love, Eileen

African Letters #1

06 September 2010
Written in Bakau, Gambia, approximately three weeks into my trip.

Dear Africa,
You're too wet.
You're too muddy and you're full of mold.
You smell bad.
You're too hot.
You're too loud.
You have too many cockroaches,
And you don't have enough hooks.
But, in spite of this, and because of it, I love you dearly.
Love, Eileen

Thursday, September 16, 2010


I made it to Kaolack! Finally I am in Senegal. Internet`s good here and I think I`ll have a bunch of time on my hands before I head out to the villages, so a bunch of blog posts are on their way!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Culture Shock

It’s here. Culture shock arrived two days ago in its most tangible form: physiological shock. My body decided to reject fish. Great. As a vegetarian in Africa, fish is my guaranteed protein source and my culturally-appropriate culinary choice. I can request fish from any Gambian woman and she won’t blink an eye or question my choices. But, as a vegetarian that otherwise considers fish and seafood to be mostly off-limits (they’re animals too!), it was only a matter of time before my body said enough. Twelve and a half nearly fishless years to two daily meals of fish is not a small change. When a gift of fish arrived on my doorstep for breakfast on Wednesday, my body finally had enough. One whiff and I was queasy. Lunch was no different and, luckily, our cook responded to our request for beans and I got a mostly fishless dinner. Yesterday was also fishless and today I’m fasting for Ramadan. I head back down to the coast tomorrow and am going to gorge on avocados, mangoes, and vegetable peanut curries.

Yes, I’m fasting. So far, so good. As I write this, it’s been eight hours since breakfast (at 5:15) and I only cheated with a few sips of water when I woke up. I’m definitely hungry, thirsty, headachy, and a tad cranky, but a single day of fasting is nothing compared to the thirty or so days of fast that most Muslims practice. Leanne decided, for various reasons, to fast while in the villages. The African pace is particularly slow during Ramadan, and she has found that fasting helps her to match their rhythm. I’m not nearly so dedicated, and am still easing my body into the African heat, food, and water. I’m definitely not ready to daily deprive myself of food and water during daylight hours, but I am keep to try it out for a single day. Everyone here is thrilled that I’m fasting and seem to appreciate the token efforts of the newest toubab. Tea, dates, and bread in five and a half hours!

All's well in Njawara. We’ve been getting lots of heavy rain the past few days, which is a very good thing. The plants really need it and I appreciate the cooler temperatures that accompany the clouds. The region hasn’t been getting much rain and August and September are supposed to be the wettest months. I’ve been hearing lots of people talk about climate change. While weather and climate are confused here as elsewhere, there is no doubt in the minds of these people that weather patterns are changing. Weather is becoming unpredictable, with less rain and more extreme weather events. The rain has also become pocketed – it can be pouring at NATC, but dry at the Njawara school, less than a kilometer away.

I am eager to get to Kaolack and build my nest, settle into my job, and establish my role. I have felt transitory since June, and I am eager to put down some roots, even if I know that they will only grow for a few months. I expect to still spend a lot of time travelling while I’m here, but Kaolack will be my home base and I am eager to make it that way. And, I am so looking forward to moving forward with the project. I have some things to work on while in Njawara, but after two weeks of travelling, language lessons, and thumb twiddling in Africa, I really need to establish my purpose. The pace here is very different from what I am used to – lots of sitting and talking and sitting and not talking. The heat and low energy levels due to Ramadan mean that the afternoons and early evenings are especially slow. I am sure that my time in Africa will be a grand for revealing how patient I truly am – and I suspect that I don’t have nearly as much patience as I like to think that I do…

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

This is Africa

I'm sitting under the shade of a mango tree at the Centre, using wifi in a village that feels like it's at the ends of the earth.  And I'm watching two inbred-yet-surprisingly-healthy cats stalk a pair of iridescent indigo tropical birds.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Trip to the Beach

I first wrote this post in my journal by candlelight at Kunta's Bar and Grill.  My first trip to the beach was on Tuesday, the day before Bakau Banter #2.

Everything about Africa is amazing.  Everything.  I often cannot believe that I'm really here, though all my senses tell me otherwise.  Plane travel really warps one's sense of scale.  Every time I feel a sense of spatial disbelief, I imagine a map of the world, imagine Canada, imagine Gambia, and I am simultaneously floored and grounded.

Everything is amazing, in every sense of the word.  And everything is intense: the colours, the smells, the heat, the moisture, the joy, the smiles, the poverty, the dust, the greetings, the harassment, the fruit, the friends, and the adventures.

Today.  Today was a true adventure.  It made the kind of travel story that I will tell every time someone asks me about my trip to Africa.

Today I finally went to the beach.  Finally.  Seventh day in Africa, first day in the ocean.  Every day has been full of new towns, new food, new people, and a new language -- and I have hardly had time to enjoy the Gambian pace.  But, due to a scheduling conflict, my language trainer and I have pushed my Wolof lessons to the late afternoons and evenings for a few days, so I finally have some daylight hours to explore.  After sending some e-mails and doing my Wolof homework, today's highest priority was, of course, the beach.

Cape Point is a short walk away from my hotel, perhaps ten or fifteen minutes.  Atlantic Road became increasingly touristy as I walked towards the beach, but I could brush off most souvenir sellers with a simple "Mangee dem" (I am going).  I greeted most everyone I passed, practising the elaborate string of Wolof greetings and was met with lots of smiles and hearty laughs.  The smiling coast indeed!  I reached the end of the road and, nestled between a pair of resort hotels, was a path leading to white sand and to the eagerly-anticipated Atlantic.  I started down the path and was startled by a small voice.


I thought I was alone.

"Hello.  You're staying at the Ramana Hotel.  I said hello to you last night.  You were with your Canadian friends."

My identity was, I knew, anything but secret.  What could I expect after five days wandering around town practising Wolof?  Every conversation consists of "What is your name?  Where are you from?"  (Man, Eileen laa tuda.  Canada laa jogee.)  But, the town was keeping a closer watch on the solo female toubab than I realized.

I turned around to find a skinny young boy, no older than 14 or 15.  At his age, it was hard to tell if he was just a child wanting to be my friend and touch the ghostly hand of a toubab, if he was just curious and friendly (as most Gambians are), or if he was old enough to be a bumster, a label for young male prostitutes which are common on Gambian beaches.  Regardless, he seemed harmless enough, if not a tad annoying, so I was happy to chat.

He accompanied me to the sand and guided me to a grove of palm trees under which he told me I could read my book and no one would bother me.  I said I wanted to swim and started to walk towards to ocean.  He insisted I leave my bag under the tree and I insisted otherwise.  He was sufficiently convincing that I decided to take the risk -- I had strategically only brought things that I wouldn't mind losing and I wanted to see where this was going.  So, I removed my skirt and shirt, very self-conscious that I was a pasty white woman in a bikini and the only others were this young boy and a group of fisherman -- and in a Muslim country during Ramadan.  I had previously been assured that bikinis are fine on the tourist beaches of the Kombos, but I'm not convinced that that's wise during the off-season.

I walked towards the ocean, followed by my eager young Gambian shadow.  He asked if I knew how to swim and I assured him that I can.  He, I learned, cannot.  "Maybe you can teach me?"  I told him no, and to be careful and stay where it is shallow. I stepped into the ocean, so refreshed by the salty water that I forgot about my shadow.  I was on a sand bar, so I had to walk out a fair way before the water was deep enough for me to dive in.  I was so happy to be in the tropical waters that I paid little attention to the boy.

I paid even less attention to the current.  Three front crawl strokes and I had been pulled out over my head.  The current was pulling me quickly and, mildly panicked, I set my sights on getting back to the sand bar.  I am not a strong swimmer, but I love the ocean and knew that I could easily out swim the current if I acted quickly.

The foolish young boy did not heed my advice.  He did not stay where he was safe and, like me, was being carried by the current.  And he couldn't swim.  He grabbed my hand and I tried to swim, but my strokes weren't nearly strong enough for the two of us.  Getting nowhere, I let go.  Selfish?  Maybe.  Self-preserving?  Definitely.  He could tread water just fine and we weren't the only ones on the beach.

I got myself back to the sandbar and watched while two older Gambian boys -- maybe 18 or 19 -- swam out to fetch him.  Mildly embarrassed and thoroughly concerned, I joined the three boys and the growing group of fishermen.  Me, the solo bikini-clad white woman that left a young Gambian teen to flounder in the current.  Great.

"This boy can't swim!"
"I know."
"Why did you leave him?  Is he your friend?"
"He's not my friend.  He just followed me.  And I'm not a strong enough swimmer for the two of us."
"He can't swim!"
"I know.  I told him to stay where it is safe.  And he didn't listen."
"He is foolish.  This place is not safe."

And, with that, I was absolved of (almost) all blame.  Everyone started yelling at the boy in Wolof.  I had no idea what they said, but it definitely wasn't "What is your name?  What country do you come from?  How much is this pile of mangoes?"

I took the opportunity to retreat to my palm tree and sheepishly read my book.  I was promptly joined by one of the older boys.  He assured me that Lamin (the young one) was okay, just stupid and foolish and had vowed to never swim again.  I also learned that Lamin accompanies tourists to the beach daily.  I wasn't surprised to learn this and, at a few points, had wondered if this was just a grand charade and I was going to find myself caught in the middle of a scam.  But no, regardless of what the boy's motives were, I was sure that he was genuinely eager, foolish, and a poor swimmer.

After a while, Lamin joined us at the palm tree and the older boy wandered away.  After receiving my concern and assuring me that he was okay, he progressed to more important matters: Did I need cocoa butter rubbed on my back?  No, I didn't.  In fact, I wanted to read my book by myself, thank you very much.  Please take your hand off my back.  I was firm and the youngster got up to leave.

"I will need medicine.  And you need to pay for it.  Only five dalasi."

Five dalasi or not, this child did not need medicine.  And, even if he did, 20 cents Canadian was not going to go far at the pharmacy.

"You people are very bad.  White skin very bad people."

Fine.  Whatever.  Now I could read in peace.  And it was indeed peaceful and free of harassment until I got up to leave.

"Wait!  Wait!"

It was the older boy.

"I want to be your friend."
"You want to be my friend?"
"Yes, I want to be your friend.  You you have e-mail?  Can I e-mail you?"
"You don't have e-mail?"
"I do, but I don't give out my e-mail address.  I'm a very private person."  (Ha!)

Sigh.  The boy followed me to the edge of the path, all the while unsuccessfully trying to get my contact information.  His parting words?  "You'll come back tomorrow?  I can see you tomorrow?"  Right.

Seriously?!  This is my life and I love it.  One week down, 24 to go.

Jamma rek.

Bakau Banter #2

On Wednesday, I made a second attempt at going to the beach.  (I'll post about my first attempt shortly.)  This time, I was planning to meet my French neighbours at the beach, so I was hoping for a relatively calm trip.  Again, I greeted everyone in Wolof as I walked down the street.  A young man (about my age?) on a bicycle heard this, and came over to me.

Man: You are a Gambian woman!
Me: (laugh)
Man: You speak Wolof!
Me: Waaw, mangee goorgoorlu ndanka ndanka.  (Yes, I am struggling slowly slowly.)
Man: You are learning my mother tongue.  That is good.

We chat for a while.

Craft Vendor: Hey Sista!  Come into my shop!  I have nice things!
Man: (To the vendor) Don't bother.  She is a Wolof woman.

And he rides away.

Bakau Banter

Man: Do you have a husband?  (In Wolof)
Me: Yes, I have a husband.  (In Wolof)
Man: Where is he?
Me: He's in Canada.
Man: In Canada?
Me: Yes.
Man: So he's not here.
Me: No.  Actually, I have four husbands in Canada.
(Fits of laughter from the women nearby.)
Man: But they're not here?
Me: No, they're not here.
Man: So you need a Gambian husband!
Me: I know.  I have four of those too.  Four Canadian husbands and four Gambian husbands.  Eight husbands!
Man: Four Gambian husbands?
Me: Yes.  Four.
Man: I'll be your fifth.
Me: No, I'm only allowed to have four Gambian husbands.
Man: That's true.  Then minus one and add me.
Me: I don't know if I can do that.  I'll have to ask my husbands.
Man: But they'll say no!
Me: You're right.  And Gambian women must obey their husbands.
Man: It's true.  And they'll say no!  So don't ask them.  Just minus one and add me!
Me: We will see.  I'll have to talk to them...  Mangee dem.


Here I am!  I have some downtime in Bakau *and* the power's on, so here come a schlew of posts -- or as many stories as I can manage before I run out of time and/or power.  Pictures will have to wait, perhaps until I get to Senegal (3 weeks?).

I have been in Bakau for the past week, learning Wolof, rejecting marriage proposals, and finding my African rhythm.  The city has been great.  I've hung out with locals, eaten a pair of meals in the Jallow family compound, and found the ex-pat community.  I met a pair of Torontonian lawyers at the baggage carousel in Banjul.  They're here teaching at the law school for nine months, and will be great Canadian company whenever I return to the city.  For now, I am eager to head up country and experience rural Africa.  Leanne, another REAP intern who has already been here for six weeks or so, is meeting me later this afternoon and we're heading to Njawara together tomorrow.  Then, over the next three weeks, I anticipate two weeks worth of village stays and another week of language lessons, but things could change at any time.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Score Card

Number of solo restaurant meals in Africa: 1
Number of marriage proposals:1

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Zero more sleeps!

Zero more sleeps.  Departure day.  I'm off to Africa!

My flight leaves in ten and a half hours.  I'll eventually make it to Banjul, The Gambia on Thursday, with significant stops in Casablanca, Morocco and Dakar, Senegal first.  More detailed and interesting updates are to follow but, first, I must relish in my last day in Montreal.  A latte, a hot shower, and crepes at the Jean Talon market are on the agenda.

Here we go...