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.