About a week ago at this time, my fellow study abroad students and I had arrived at our hotel in Toubakouta, an small Senegalese town located south and inland from Dakar. We had spent the day on the bus, crawling through traffic jams (when leaving Dakar), flying over some paved highways, and then bouncing over some red dirt roads. We had stopped for lunch in Sokone, the hometown of the director of the WARC, Professor Sene. We were fed by the women of the town (and Prof. Sene's family). It was some of the best ceeb u jen (fish and rice) ever. Ever. It was hot outside, but nonetheless, after eating, we danced.
Friends sipping on juice after they made a valiant effort to ingest the mountain of ceeb u jen.
We ate around big communal plates, sitting on the ground, Senegalese-style.
Dancing with the village women at Sokone
Looking across the green and bee-filled pool at our hotel/campement in Toubakouta.
The bees were by the pool in order to drink the water. Really.
That night after dinner, we piled into the bus again and drove to a performance--a presentation "folklorique," the schedule said--and it featured more singing, dancing, and drumming. There was a man who walked on glass (real glass, no magic here) and emerged uninjured; and a man who swallowed fire (again, real fire). These final two bits of entertainment were a little difficult to watch, knowing that there was no fancy trick behind the act and no hospital for many miles.
Crazy nighttime dancing!
Also: not enough light for my camera to take photos!
After that, we were really exhausted, and went to bed. The next morning, we got up early to an amazing spread of breakfast. The main highlights were the real coffee and the bread that wasn't made mostly of air. And strawberry jam.
And then we went on our way to the village, Keur Moussa Seny, where we arrived without calling ahead because, as one of our leaders explained, then they would start dancing and drumming to welcome us and lunch would happen only very very late. Lunch happened late anyway, but that's okay.
Me with my host mother and her daughter. Baby Ibrahima is on her back.
My host mother was the second wife of the man who headed my family compound.
The one-room hut that I slept in that night is in the background.
I helped to pluck and cut the chicken, and sliced some onions, but otherwise I wasn't invited to help out much around the house. I suppose I don't really have the skills, anyway--can't balance huge buckets of water on my head, for instance. We had yassa poulet (chicken with onion sauce) for lunch, and for dinner, and I more than I have ever consumed before in my life (I was pressured to eat, but it was also very tasty). I was nearly sick that night, but somehow, I made it. We also had ataaya and papaya, both prepared by my host father. There was an extraordinary level of generosity. My family was also fascinated by the bottle of maple syrup I gave them--the older, French-speaking son had to translate for my explaining that it was sugar that came from trees.
Twilight at the mosque in the center of town. The stars that night were brilliant.
The next day we got up early and piled into the bus again, saying awkward but grateful Wolof goodbyes to our host families. We ate breakfast again at the hotel before taking off to see the mangroves. It was a long drive, and a long boat ride in the hot sun, and though we were admiring the view, we felt about as flat as the landscape.
boarding the pirogues that we would sit in for a very long time that day
Puttering through the mangroves
Awesome island made of shucked oyster shells, piled up by humans over the centuries
And then we got back to the hotel, napped intensively, ate dinner--and then got back in the bus to go to a lutte (wrestling match). We were very, very tired, but the young men battling in the ring had plenty of energy.
this lutte was supposedly a regional championship, but we didn't stick around for the 1am finale
And since it wasn't far, we walked back under the stars and few street lamps and then fell into bed. The next day (Monday, if you've been following along), we began the long drive home--back through Sokone, with lunch in Kaolack, and then through Mbour and Rufisque. We arrived in Dakar around 6pm--early enough that I could walk home--and I was quite happy to be reunited with my Dakar family.
A view of huts along the highway from the bus window
And now I have to go back to writing my paper. One page down, 3 more to go.
(If you want to read about the kind of soul-searching cross-cultural thoughts that a visit to a real, rural African village inspires, you should check out this excellent ruminating post by Colleen Schneider, a fellow study abroad student.)