Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Senegal Day 6

Today was a good day. I got up early after going to bed late, got a taxi and rode to Suffolk University all by myself...if you discount the cell phone instructions from Moussa Diouf, head of the English Language Studies Department at the University. An imposing, yet not unapproachable man, he looked so Senegalese, if you know what I mean (smile): tall dark and handsome, his salt and peppered hair adding a touch of distinguished to the overall western look. He was definitely not sporting native or traditional attire.

I plan to apply to teach their in the summer 2011, there or somewhere else. I don't want to spend all my time teaching, but I could probably get fluent in Wolof if I stayed the summer. At $20 an hour, Moussa said I'd have to teach many hours to afford a place to stay and board.

Students train there in his program for two years, then transfer after passing qualifying exams in their disciplines to the Boston campus where they are to get their bachelors’ degree; however, many students do not complete their degree course in the two years, many for economic reasons and end up staying in the United States illegally.

Moussa shared stories about our mutual friend, Pape Alhassan, who named his son after Mr. Diouf. Ahmadou met me at Suffolk and we took a taxi to Cheikh Anta Diop University where I was to meet members of the English club. The teachers were on strike today, so after meeting the students I taught a class there. We read a poem from a collection of poetry by C. Jenean Gibbs entitled, "We Are the Drum People." The responses varied from poetry to political statements.

I'd brought two dozen pens to give them and passed them out after we went around the room reading the stanzas aloud. They quickly grasped the concept of a freewrite after I explained it and Ahmadou and the president of the club translated what I said into their shared language. We then read "A Message for Black Teenagers," adapted from Magic Johnson's "My Life," by Lycee Ahmadou Ndack Seck. It is a really good essay about what it means to be successful: working hard and working smart, comradery with like minded individuals, plus encouraging mentors and role models, self-determination and the ability to stay focused on the goal despite tempting distractions.

The essay ends with: "The government will not save you. The black leaders will not save you. You're the only one that can make the difference, whatever your dream is, go for it."

Most of the students kidded me about the land of plenty that is America. Once again, people were proud of Obama and wanted to know what I thought of his latest political moves. They were aware of the economic state of the US and knew that the grass was not greener elsewhere.

Senegal certainly has a bright future in these young people--men and women. I taped what they shared aloud and asked if they could make me a copy of their writings for next week. They all signed two balloons with their names and posed for photos. One student thought he'd seen me at the Ghanian embassy last week. I wondered about his accent--he spoke like he stepped out of Jamaica--the patois that hip. He was from Ghana. I am to go back next week and meet their teacher; I hope the strike is over by then or that another hasn't started. A professor peeked his head in to say hi and when he found out there was a strike he left--I guess the solidarity is a good thing. I hear this university is really socially conscious and politically astute, that faculty encourage students to be free thinkers and the police are often called to bring order, at least this is what says, along with a cautionary remark to avoid the university when students are staging an uprising.

The bathrooms were different from ones I'd been in previously. There was a place to stand with groves for your shoes, so one could swat more easily, also the lever to flush was a lot more effective, so one didn't have to pour water down the drain to push your waste into the hole. I am carrying tissue now, so I am ready for all occasions, but at Suffolk, I used Moussa's bathroom with had a toilet seat--you know I was shocked (smile). Happy, but shocked.

Cheikh Anta Diop University is sprawling...huge and right on the Atlantic ocean. There is also a high school on campus which is nice. The close proximity of a high school to a state university is common. There is a high school next to San Francisco State, and at Stanford, I think there is a high school associated with it. The only high schools on college campuses in the San Francisco Bay Area is ASTI on College of Alameda campus, the high school at Contra Costa College and Merritt used to have a college, I don't know if it still does.

I told you about my new cell phone, Orange, well today I got a new number. I forgot, my SIMS card was on loan. Whenever I make a mistake or misdial, the phone messages are in French, how useful is that?! On the new phone I fixed the time so I could figure it out. No more 21:35 for 09:35, so when I am staying up too late I can tell what time it is.

There is a lizard on the wall opposite me now. I am trying to be cool as the fans ocillates. I hope it doesn't move. Everywhere I go, I have been sleeping with the lights on.

Ahamadou and I rushed to the Gambian Embassy after we left the campus. I think we took a taxi. Ahmadou doesn't mind walking and is trying to stay within my budget, which means no meals out and walk whenever possible...I don't care how far.
The beach front is so lovely. I want to go back and stoll and take pictures and sit and think. There were lots of fishing boats, the kind I saw in Rufisque, the kind the men were hollowing out from trees trucked up from Camance. Ahmadou said people drown trying to sail to Spain on such vessels. Reminded me of the treacherous Haiti to Florida.

He told me that its hard to get a visa to European countries, even France, which doesn't make any sense, since, Senegalese men gave their lives for battles fought by France. There is a celebration this weekend in Dakar honoring these African veterans.
There is a film about the mothers of sons lost at sea. Eli Fantauzzi-Jacobs told me about it, but didn't respond when I asked for the director's name. Maybe someone might know her and the film. I definitely want to see her and talk to women who have lost children and find out why people are so desperate to leave that they would try such dangerous transport. Those boats are so shallow, a big wave would capsize them easily.

At Suffolk there were AIDS awareness ribbons from their World AIDS Day commemoration a couple of weeks ago. Senegal is not as hard hit as other areas I was told, but perhaps its the stigma attached to the disease which makes the average citizen think everything is under control when it isn't.

As Ahmadou and I were rushing to his students--he didn't want them to leave, I saw something out of a film, the living commercial. A man was demonstrating a new product, something to add to one's milk and he had a portable stage, coupons product and music to get the kids to get their parents to buy it for them. At first I thought it was a health commercial, like wash your hands before eating or AIDS is preventable, but it was just pure marketing.

Perhaps Senegal is so expensive to live in because they import a lot of European products like Coke and Fanta, their national beverage. I could find anything that said Senegal, not a cell phone manufacturer, not a TV brand, not a window pane factory, not a car or truck or bus or van, not a purified water brand, not even as I said, hair products, not even shoes or bicycles.

The only thing made in Senegal besides its people and that is questionable if the minds belong to the west--is its food: fish, sheep, vegetables, some fruits, not its bananas and grains.

I saw leather shoes being made, but most people wore imported designs except when in traditional wear. In Ahmadou's class most of the kids wore jeans, tee-shirts and other western attire including jellies.

Suzanne says one cannot get an orthopedic bed in Senegal. This thought was going somewhere but when I checked to see if the lizard was still where I last saw him, I forgot where I was going, but I am leaving the sentence.

I hadn't seen as many apartments before today either, many of them, like Ahmadou's parents, just one room studios with a refrigerator and a stove--or gas to cook on and the bathroom is shared with the other families. When we walked into the apartment, Ahmadou's mother was praying.

Senegalese will stop what they are doing and pray anywhere: saw a barber praying while his client sat patiently in his chair. The TV was on in the apartment while Ahmadou's mom made salat. A little girl from next door sat and watched TV. 55 is old in Africa and Ahmadou supports his parents who are retired after working in the market, one which we walked through, all his life. The tour definitely needs to be repeated a bit more slowly--we didn't have time to go upstairs at the market. This market was a lot better than the one Khady took me to yesterday for beans.
I am hungry now but there is no way I am venturing downstairs at 12:21 in the morning, and there is no way I am eating anything this late at night. I will be up early to have some oatmeal. I am famished.

I met a vendor who knew the Senegalese twins who live in the East Bay. Small world, I just spoke to one of their wives at Kamau Seitu's memorial. She is Baba Jahi's sister. They have a new son.

Just think, I was thinking about changing my ticket and going home and then I have a great day and feel hopeful again about the trip and what else might be in store for me tomorrow.

I had this interesting fruit this evening. It tasted like french fries only it was a fruit, eaten with hot pepper and something else in a sauce. I ate it plain, but the texture was just like a french fried potatoe.


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