Friday, August 19, 2011

Two Weeks

 afternoon, 18 August 2011

Finally -- rain, thunder, and cool winds.

I've been here nearly two weeks (left Vancouver two weeks ago yesterday, arrived here two weeks ago tomorrow) and this is the fist real rain that I've seen since my 'rainy season' arrival.  The sky has been periodically dark and menacing since I arrived, and I'm surprised it has taken this long to break.  People are saying that this summer, this rainy season, is particularly hot and dry.  I'd be interested to see some long term data on summer temperatures and precipitation in Dakar, and to know how this year compares.

The heat, of course, is especially harsh for those that are fasting.  Over 90% of the population is Muslim, which means that almost everyone is sweltering -- and napping -- through the heat of the day and the insatiable thirst that accompanies it.  (I wish I could tell you the actual reported percentage of Muslims, but I need internet access for that, and I am writing this in the middle of our daily power cut.)

Like last year, I've decided to fast for a few days in solidarity. Day 1 will be tomorrow, and we'll see how well I last.  I promise not to be too hard on myself if I cheat and sneak a few sips of water.  This year, fasting will be more than just an act of cultural empathy, and I will set an intention for the day -- something to meditate on -- and also dedicate my act to someone back home.  I haven't yet decided what or who that will be, but I'll spend the afternoon ruminating on it.

Two weeks in my new/old home, and I'm getting more settled every day.  I am comfortable in my Yoff apartment, which I share with Becca, my partner in crime.  (Though in our case, being settled doesn't yet mean being completely unpacked!)  We live just a few blocks away from the beach and are lucky to be able to go play in the waves after a hot day in the city.  Relative to my apartment in Kaolack, we live in a palace!  We have screens on (some of) the windows, furniture (including a dining room table, actual beds, and a living room set), a real stove, and a fridge!  We're on the third floor, which means that we're above most of the dust, and the ocean winds blow through the apartment and keep things relatively cool.

It turns out that Dakar isn't quite the modern city that I remember.  The first time I visited Dakar was Christmas 2010.  At that time, I hadn't been to a real city since leaving Montréal in August.  I was blown away by downtown Dakar, with its "tall" glass buildings, grand embassies, occasional public garbage cans, and patch of green public space.  This time, I went straight from Vancouver to Dakar, and all my illusions of modernity and cleanliness were shattered.  It is still a wonderful city, but my perceptions of it are much different this time around. It is indeed a grand and modern city by West African standards, but it is still a West African city.

It is wonderful to be back, to be in my African home country.  This time, I am privileged to live a relatively comfortable, Western lifestyle -- and thus open my eyes to a whole new reality of what it means to live in Sénégal.  Dakar is a beast, and the Dakarois sure 'aint Kaolackois or villagers.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Take Two

4 :00 PM CMT, 05 August 2011

And so my Sénégalese adventure begins, again.

I’ve returned to West Africa, to the land of teranga (hospitality), the smiling coast, and my favourite Wolof-speaking countries.  By now, I think most of my friends and family knew that I was planning another trip.  If you didn’t already know  – surprise!  I’m back!

After three flights, a long layover in New York, not enough sleep, and over 30 hours of travel, I arrived at the Leopold Senghor airport around 6:00 this morning.  I received my tenth Sénégalese entrance stamp, was met by the caretaker of my apartment, and arrived home.

Fast forward ten hours and pretty much all I’ve done is slept!  Perhaps not the best plan to get me adjusted to Sénégalese time, but I’ll get used to both the time change and the heat, ndanka ndanka.

And now, I’m off to have a shower, buy phone credit, and connect with the world.  I’ll spend the rest of the day unpacking and puttering, I think, and shall begin my adventures tomorrow!

Love, Eileen