Monday, February 8, 2010

Dakar – Sunday

After all the excitement on Saturday, a friend from Saint-Louis showed up to Dakar to hang out, for lack of a better idea. Ollie wanted to go to the Village des Tortues with me. And honestly, if he hadn’t been there, I don’t think I would’ve felt comfortable going alone.

We showed up at the gare routiere to find a bus to take us there (there are buses that go along that route), but no one wanted to just send us along our way after pointing us in the right direction. We ended up hiring a tour guide, and he told us that it would be 15,000 Francs for the day, which is $30. That’s not a bad deal. Considering to hire a private care it would be about 30,000 Francs. At least that’s what they were asking before negotiations.

Before I continue, there are usually some stories that I’ll wait awhile before telling people, just because it is always a story about me getting myself in to a “situation” that may not be the best situation that I’ve ever been in. However, I can’t really just talk about the Turtles, because honestly, most of the day was the journey there, and Ollie and I being unsure if we were going to finish the day intact. Or even return to Dakar. So, here it is. And let me say something else, I never would have done this alone. If Ollie hadn’t been there, I would’ve walked away right at the beginning.

So, we get the guide, and it turns out we’re going to take public transportation all the way to the village. We hop in the first bus, and we’re waiting for it to go, and Ollie looks over to the sidewalk and see’s a security guard looking at the two toubabs in the car rapide, and he starts shaking is head. As if to say that this was our goodbye. I kind of panicked, and I wanted to go talk to the guard and ask him what he thought about the entire situation. So, I hopped out of the car, and dragged Ollie with me. Our guide wasn’t too happy with that, and then we began negotiating with another guy, cause I didn’t really feel comfortable with the whole situation, and was a little nervous. We ended up getting back in to the bus though and continued on our way. Then there was a police stop that probably took about 15 minutes. And both of us had forgotten to grab the copies of our passport. But luckily he just checked out the driver, and in a very scrutinizing manner. After a while, we got off that bus, and started walking. We walked about a half-mile before standing on the side of the road to wait for another bus. This was the second bus. Ollie got yelled at for sticking his arm out the window at one point. After the second bus, we got a car the rest of the way to the village.

Now, as I go over the story, it doesn’t sound that exciting, and sounds like we took a series of buses. No big deal, right? Well, often times, these buses break down. And when you start to get further away from the city center, this proves to be a bigger problem. Plus, I didn’t really trust our guide and was under the impression that he was going to just pull one over on us – which he did later. But the entire time, we weren’t really sure if we were going in the right direction or not. I got the name of a village, found it on t heap, and there was no problem.

In the car that we rented, we were driving on some back roads that were in very poor condition with massive potholes (yes, WAY worse than DH - believe it or not). At one point, we reach an intersection where we can go left or right. I knew exactly where we were cause I had looked at the map and knew we had to go left. But apparently neither the driver nor our guide knew that.

There was also a sign pointing to the village that I saw – and no one else apparently saw.

So, we waited to get directions from a guy on the side of the road, and turned left.

The village - The village was very cool. By cool, I mean: sweet, awesome, wicked, the bomb. The temperature was actually quite hot (~100F). It’s a place that serves as refuge for turtles that are endangered or neglected. When we were there, we had a guide show us around. The place is pretty small, and there was an entire section that was closed down because all the turtles had been rereleased back into the wild! YAY! Because there were just two of us, he told us to go climb in the turtle pens and pick them up and take our picture.


This is the big monster 100 kg turtle! He's the biggest one in the park.

YAY! Ollie and I holding turtles.

So, while we were only there for 30 minutes after a 1.5 hour journey of anxiety and uncertainty, it was very worth it. OH, the other thing I was nervous about was the fact that I had to go to the airport at midnight. I kept thinking – what if I don’t make it back in time??????? Luckily, we were back before it even got dark. And going back was much easier than arriving. We only took two buses to get back.

Now, for another installment of: Monica gets into an payment dispute with a guy with who she can barely communicate with.

So, when we were leaving, the guy told us 15,000. But we ended up spending less than that. But within the 15000 was 5000 for him, as payment for his services. So, I assumed that I was going to give him 5000. This is after we paid for his transportation all the way there and back. But because we didn’t spend the entire allotted 10,000 on buses, we have to give the rest to him. He didn’t make this clear at the beginning of the trip. So, I got very upset and tried to give him the 5000 and leave. But the guy completely ignores me and looks at Ollie and says, in English, “This is man-to-man.” That’s when I just about lost it. And of course, a crowd is gathering. And I keep saying “No. No. No.” But he keeps ignoring me. But I have the money in my pocket, so pissing me off isn’t going to help. Ollie, who speaks much better French than me, talked to the guy and figured it out, and apparently that’s the way it’s done. So, we gave him the extra money, I gave him the dirtiest glare I could muster and pushed all the gawkers out of my way in the hunt for a taxi. Then, to top it off, I walked up to the taxi and asked him how much he would charge to take us back to the hotel, and he says 3500! I looked at him and said “No, 1500.” He came down to 2500 pretty quickly, but I refused to pay a single franc over 1500. Then he came down to 2300, which I thought was lunatic. As I walked away he came down to 2000. But I just ignored him. We found a taxi that would take us for 1500. There was no way I was going to get ripped off by a taxi driver after Mustafa, our guide, completely pulled one over on us. If only I could speak more French, I would have put him in his place.

But, it was a good day otherwise, with a lot of mystery and suspense. Unfortunately, it was about my well-being. But like I told Ollie: it’s situations like these that always make for the best stories later on. Kinda like the time when I got into a spitting match with the Egyptian taxi driver, the time Beth, Geoff and I thought we were gonna get kidnapped and almost saw a guy lose his hand, the time I lost my passport in London (this was after and before a series of other events that would make any parents hair turn grey), or the time I got carsick and threw up 7 times in one day – setting a personal record.

So, this is the end of my travels. And as I’m writing this, the sun is chasing us west across the Atlantic. We have headwinds, so unfortunately the flight is 8 hours instead of 6. My first class of my last semester of undergrad starts in 3 hours, and I’ll just be landing in JFK. I’ll get back to MSP this afternoon, welcomed by my favorite roommate (who I miss). But then I’ll crash. Immediately.

I’ll try to remember to post before going to sleep though. Thanks for reading the past month! And if I think of anything that is related to Senegal or travels or anything else in the near future, I’ll post it, but I’ll be in Minnesota, so I don’t know if it’s really as fair. One thing I am looking forward to is: Applesauce and Pad Thai. But not at the same time. I’ve been thinking about those two, because of all my stomach problems, I start dreaming of food that I know I can digest without running to the bathroom.

Dakar – Saturday

After staying in on Thursday, I had planned on going around town maybe to the beach or something else on Friday. However, life happens. More specifically, I had some abdominal/intestional issues. I didn’t get much sleep because of severe pain that I had. I realize this might be too much information for people, but it was a big part of 36 hours for me. When I woke up I started taking pills to help my digestive system, but it was pretty bad. I had to take a lot of pills. So, most of Friday I spent wallowing in bed from the severe pain that had me doubled over and making runs for the bathroom while trying to attempt to stay hydrated. That night, I slept like a rock and didn’t have any problems. Alhamdoulilah.

Feeling energized on Saturday, I decided to go to the Ile de Gorée. It’s an island that’s a 10 or 15 minute ferry ride from the Dakar port. While I was going to get on the ferry, I found myself standing next to a man. His name is Mark, and he’s from Rhode Island. He was a very nice man and we ended up talking a bunch. He’s traveling around assessing international schools – if I remember correctly. Basically, I want his job. He was in Madagascar last week. While we were leaving the port, I really wanted to take pictures of all the container ships and the port because it reminded me of home, and it always makes me happy when I can go across the world and still see the cranes my dad works on and the container ships. But I decided to wait for the return trip.

So, there we were, putting a long in this ferry. Then all of a sudden everyone starts looking to the port side of the ship (that’s left for all you landlubbers). The ferry started slowing down and began the process of turning around. I looked and it appeared that someone had dropped something in the water, because there was something floating there. But then all these other boats start gathering around and the ferry gets closer. It wasn’t just something, it was an entire man, and he was floating with his face down in the water. My heart raced because I was afraid he was dead. I’ve never actually seen a dead body outside of a wake, and I was scared. There were a couple of little skiffs that hurried over to him, and they actually almost went over him because of the momentum, but luckily didn’t. And another man jumped from the ferry and swam over to him to get his face out of the water. The men on the skiff grabbed his arms and held him up while the swimmer tried to get him to start breathing. He started coughing out water. I’m assuming everything was alright after that because the ferry turned around and continued on. The rest of the ferry passed by much less eventful.

Ile de Gorée – The island is a picturesque little island. It’s absolutely dreamy. A little paradise away from the downtown city bustle of Dakar. Upon arrival, I said goodbye to Mark from Rhode Island and began my tour of the island. I decided that I would start with attempting to walk around the exterior and then explore the middle towards the end. I started walking down the street (there are no motorized vehicles of any sort on the island) and saw how beautiful it was and pulled out my camera to take a picture. But alas, this silly traveler forgot to put in the camera card after going to downtown Dakar a few days prior. I wanted to cry. I was absolutely devastated. My first instinct was to find a place on the island that could sell me a card. I didn’t care how expensive it was. But there was no place. So, the day that I would’ve taken a bazillion pictures, I have none. So, I made a point of savoring every minute detail. Which made it a special experience, I think. I spent a lot of time looking closely at the flowers, the houses, the signs, the art work, scenery. I sat down and listened closely to the sound of the ocean beating against the rock cliffs which slightly muffled the yells from children playing football (normal football, not American football). I enjoyed the sun and ate my snack I had bought from a vender on the mainland. So, I wandered alone being all pensive and thoughtful – if I was an English major, I would’ve written a poem. :)

So, I apologize about not being able to share the pictures with you. But, it’s a blessing in disguise, because now I’m forced to do that English-major thing, and use: *gasp* ADJECTIVES!

Walking around on the ile was very peaceful. The entire island is tranquil and moves at a slow rate. The locals sit at their shops practicing the flute with their artwork on display waiting for you to wander through their corner of shade under the baobab tree. The streets are cobblestone and even in the residential area, you can tell that they’re still waiting for a tourist to wander by in wonderment of these ancient colonial houses that are still standing. Where the ferry dock is, there is one little sandy beach the children play on. There are fishing boats tied up there as well, but it seems that little piece of the island belongs to the kids. On the back side of the island, it quickly wanders uphill to the heart of the artisans area. Finding a quiet place to sit by yourself is a bit of a challenge, but not impossible. I went and sat near (near, but not too close) to a cliff that overlooked Central Dakar and their very impressive skyline. It’s really hard to imagine that Saint-Louis and Central Dakar are really in the same country when you look closely. The sun was gracing my white shoulders in one of my last attempts to soak up as much sun as possible in preparation for the return to what I’ve described as: Il est très très très froid. Il y a beaucoup de neige et de glace. C’est pas bon. J’espere que je reste ici pour plus de temps. Je suis triste. But, I will admit, while I write the French down with all the proper words included, I think I’ve picked up some poor speaking habits since being here. But, to continue, I wadered all the way to the back side of the island where there was a large turret (gun still there but cemented interior) much like the one’s at home in Dutch Harbor/Unalaska. I just sat there, watching the water roll upon the rocks down below, occasionally gazing over to the fisherman in the boats with life painted across the side in the brightest colors.

After doing my solitary wander on the bluff, I decided to head back into the heart of the town, get an afternoon Nescafe and head back to Dakar. While I was walking down, I saw a woman who had earrings for sale. It was actually the first time in my 5 weeks that I saw earrings. And let me tell you – my mom LOVES earrings. Every time I leave the country, she always tells me to buy her earrings. So, I sat down and started talking with the woman. We talked about the earrings, and then I told her I had been in Saint-Louis. Turns out, she was from Saint-Louis, and her husband lives on the Island of Saint-Louis, she lives on the Island of Gorée, and I live on the Island of Unalaska. We talked about Senegal, French, and a bunch of other topics – the entire time in French. Then she told me something that made me very happy. I don’t know if it is true, but she told me that I speak like a Senegalese person. Which means I don’t have an extremely horrible American accent that no one can understand. I bought two pairs of earrings from her and continued on my walk. I went back to the mainland, and back to the hotel to take a nap. Until the evening.

That evening, I went to Point des Almadies. It’s the furthest western point on the entire continent of Africa. Just to watch the Sunset. This time, I remembered to put in my camera card !

The statue that no one likes. I talked to the taxi driver about it, and the reason is because (obviously) it was a lot of money that was spent that could have been spent on more productive things - like fixing roads.

Sunset. From Africa.

All the pretty shells.

Kids playing.

The light house. This was later in the evening after sun had gone behind the clouds.

**Disclaimer : If there are any bizarre spellings of words, capital letters in random places or weird spacings it is not my fault. For some reason, my computer automatically switched to spell checking in French, and I’m not suer how to get it to stop.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Dakar: Finally going home

Hey, so I have some stories to share, from yesterday and today. But I'm getting ready to go to the airport and wrapping some things up in Dakar. I'll post tomorrow, when I'm in Minnesota. Promise. With beaucoup des photos! :D

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Dakar: Day 2 - Nothing exciting, just an addendum

Originally, I was planning on going to the turtle village today, but it's the 4th of February. Which means that tomorrow is the 5th of February, which means that the application for Green Corps is due. I just decided last week to apply, when I got the reminder e-mail. I figure that it can't hurt, and it would be a great opportunity to do some student organizing, which I do have experience in. So I decided to stay in my room, and crunch out this application, get it done, and then maybe go to the two breast-like mountains to snap some photos, grab dinner, and come back. That's if I finish it in a reasonable time. SO, I'm planning on going to the Turtle Village tomorrow. If I do nothing else with my week, I must get to that place. Apparently, they even have sea turtles. That's what the book said. I've never seen a sea turtle. I absolutely have to go to this place, I am so excited. I'll be completely disappointed in myself if I drop the ball on this.

However, I do have a story. I completely forgot to include this in the blog yesterday, because I told Sam via skype. After I told someone, I kind of forgot that I had wanted to include it in my blog.

So, not to brag or anything (only a little bit), I have a pretty solid sense of direction. There was only once in Cairo when I got turned around, but that was because all the streets in the neighborhood we were in intersected at skewed angles, and for some reason, I was still in the mentality of a grid. But that was only once. So, when I got in the taxi yesterday, after my Nescafé and croissant, I told him Place d'Indépendence. He tried to jerk me around for 3500, but I got him down to 2000 for the ride. So, I get dropped off. Last week, I planned out a series of day trips for myself, and this was the Central Dakar excursion. All I had was the map and highlighted numbers with one-sentence descriptions of each place. But when I was dropped off, I had absolutely no sense of direction, I didn't know where the ocean was, where the port was, where the rest of the country was, etc. I had no idea if I was holding my map upside down, sideways or backwards. So, I went and found a place to sit down away from other people who wouldn't pester me trying to get money or sell stuff, and thought.

This might sound silly, but it actually worked. It was about 10 AM, so I thought, "Well, it's before noon, so ideally, the sun should still be in the East. We're pretty close to the equator, so that's not too farfetched." I looked for the sun and found it. So then I said, "Okay, if I put the sun on my right, that means my left is west, and ahead of me is north." Then, I oriented the map in my book so I was looking at it correctly and found the street I wanted on the map. I didn't see any street signs, which made it difficult, so I looked around until I got my bearings, and found what I thought would be the street that my first stop would be.

Then this woman came up to me and tries to sell me jewelery, but I told her that I already bought some necklaces. She tells me that she needs money to go to Touba for the big holiday. I told her that I had friends in Touba (which I do - some of the people I met in Saint-Louis went to Touba for the festival). And then I find out that she is from Saint-Louis so we talk for a few minutes. Then I ask her, for confirmation, if the road that I had determined was Av Hassan II was indeed that road. She said yes.

Point for Monica! I will never get lost! Needless to say, my sense of direction continues to be very solid.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Dakar - Day 1

So, today I went on a little walking tour of Central Dakar. Today was the first day in Dakar. Well, I was here yesterday, but I slept most of the day, and decided to have a lazy day.

The sun was setting as we got closer to Dakar, so I snapped this pictures with the baobabs in the background.

The two hills are called the Mamelles. THe one of the right has a lighthouse, the one on the left, a giant and somewhat controversial statue that is supposed to represent African rennaissance, but it's been said to have Communist undertones, and is slightly sexist. These are not my words, this is just what I've read.

The second art gallery I went to. It was tucked back in a neighborhood. A guy started following me and pestering me, but then one of the guys that works here helped me fend him off. That was nice.

Of course I'm going to take a picture of the giant turtle wall hanging.

In the sand, the phrase: "Dakar Paris, 4 generations between the two." Or something like that. I think the entire exhibit was dedicated to the life spent between Dakar and Paris of a family.

This was in the third gallery I went to. I was absolutely blown away by this place, it was very impressive. It's completely dedicated to African art, and has pieces from all around the region.

The outside of the gallery. Even that was impressive!

Palais Presidentiel - I walked by and took a couple of photos.

So, I walked to a church, but it was closed. Then I decided to continue my walking tour and look for this museum. I wandered around in this neighborhood until I gave up. I think the map in lonely planet was wrong. After that, I decided that I would try to go to Ile de Goree, but when I hopped in the taxi and got there, I realized I needed to stop at an ATM, but had fogotten. I only had enough for the taxi home, so I just decided to go home. I'll try to go there later this weekend.
So, that was my walking tour. Tomorrow, I'm going to try and figure out how to get to the Village de Tortues!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Le desert!

Hello everyone! The last few days have been a bit busy. Friday was the last day of classes, my professor took me to the local museum and we went through the museum. It was very interesting to learn about the history of Senegal, and about colonialism. Friday night, everyone went out because it was my last night in Saint-Louis. In the morning, I had to wake up bright and early and head to the desert. It was a quick goodbye with my host-mother, as the others were sleeping. Below are pictures of the desert, and the trip there. We got back on Sunday afternoon, and I went to the hotel. Today, I'm heading to the big city, Dakar! Also, yesterday, I bought a whole bunch of souvenirs. With all of the stuff that I have, I will never forget my trip to Senegal in my entire life!

A cute baby goat at the village we stopped at for tea.

Tea at the village.

Driving on the beach. Our car scared the seagulls, and they flew off.

We had some tire issues, so we stopped in a small village to get some more air, and I followed this goat taking pictures of him. This was the most sassiest picture because he's looking right at me!

Some boys in the village who wanted me to take their picture so they could see it on the camera. Unfortunately I didn't have any candy to give them.

Our mode of transportation from Saint-Louis to the Mauritanian village.

Our 5-star Mauritania tent. No joke, it was sweet!

In the desert!

Sunset over the desert.
Alabaster, my camel. :)

Me and Alabaster after the camel ride!

Our surprisingly very nice toilet. This place was a lot nicer than I had originally expected it to be.
The sink, with a mirror! My host family didn't even have a mirror!


We stopped in another village, and i took a picture of the painting of the mouton with a penis painted on. I was surprised that the included that part.

That was the desert. Today, Monday, I'm heading down to Dakar for the week. And a week from today, I'll be on an airplane going home. I'm going to miss the first day of classes, but I'm not really worried, because I think I have a pretty good reason for missing class. Which reminds me, I need to email my professors letting them know. I promise to update more about last week and the concert. I dont have any pictures unfotunately, but it was a lot of fun!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Day 28

The Pont Faidherbe, as I’ve mentioned before, is the bridge that connects the Island to the Mainland. All is considered to be the city of Saint-Louis. The bridge is in pretty rough shape, and is under reconstruction right now. The bridge, however, is still operational despite its shoddy make-up. The first time I walked across the bridge, I was terrified, because as you’re walking, you notice that the boards that you’re walking on aren’t that great. Every now and then, you’ll come across a gap where half of one of the boards is gone, and you can see the swiftly moving river below. Other times the boards are spaced out awkwardly, and sometimes a little too much for comfort. And when big trucks drive across the bridge, or someone decides to jog past you, it starts shaking, and not in a good way.

The bridge isn’t my favorite part of the trip, however, it is always the most temperate. With a nice breeze coming down the river, it’s a great place to cool off. On several different occasions, while walking on the bridge, people going to opposite direction have actually reached out and grabbed me, which makes me very uncomfortable. A couple weeks ago, one of the religious men who wears brightly colored clothes who collects money from everyone in the market reached out, grabbed my arm while I was walking, and tried to get me to stop and give him money. He let go of me quickly, but walking was stopped. Yesterday, when I was walking home, a kid thought it would be a good idea to hit me on the back of my leg while I was walking past him in the opposite direction.

I’m a pretty speedy walker, and also on the bridge I often run into groups of squealing high school girls whooooooo wwwwaaaaaaalllllkkkkkkk sssssslllllllooooooooooowwweeeeeerrrrrrrrrr tttthhhhaaaannnnnn mmmmmyyyyyy tttttttuuuuuurrrrttttlllleeee, jaws. To make it worse: they travel in gaggles!

So, with oncoming hordes of people that are going the opposite direction, I have to weave through between them and high heels (which I’m surprised haven’t gotten stuck between the cracks yet) that move at the speed of molasses, all the while trying not piss anyone off, and not letting anyone steal something out of my backpack.

Yes, it’s fun.

Anyway, another interesting thing that was brought to my attention, by someone who is probably more of a feminist than myself, was the culture of women here. When she was talking, she said, “It’s so sad that these women will sit at home all day perfecting their beauty, but they have no education.” Most of the time, I guess I don’t really think about these sorts of things. Usually, I see how a different culture works and I don’t question it – well, except for the whole littering/garbage issue that I mentioned before. Most of the time, I just accept the way things are. My reasoning for this is because I think that if I do question it, then I may or may not be imposing “western values” on someone else’s culture, which is something that I would not want to do. So, usually, I just observe the way things are. Sure, I may believe that there is a better way to do something, but I don’t feel that I know enough about a culture to make that judgment call.

One of the things that our class learned about in Morocco was about the tensions between development and culture/religion. While many in the country wanted to develop, there was also some hesitation because they didn’t want to sacrifice their culture and religion and become like the rest of the western world. This is a very important issue, I think. Enough of an important issue that Jeffrey Sachs noted cultural issues as one of the impediments to development. It’s an interesting question/problem/issue that will probably result in very innovative answers. At least, that’s what I think.

But back to the beauty thing – yes, the girls here are very pretty, and they spend a lot of time with clothes and hair and makeup. I’m really impressed. I’m kind of the grungy toubab who wanders around the streets with a big red backpack. But then again, even at home in the states, I don’t spend that much time on fashion stuff. I’m the result of growing up in Dutch Harbor. Of which I’m very proud!

Anyway, that’s all for today, as promised, gaggling girls and terrifying bridge journeys!