Monday, April 19, 2010


Originally, when I named this blog "Danville to Dakar," I was going for the alliteration only.  That, and the idea was a catchy one--young woman from small-town Vermont goes to big-city Senegal.  Cool, right?  But over the course of the semester (over 3 months, now), I've come to have a deeper understanding of my own choice of title.  I alluded to it in my post about Things that I Day-Dream About, but I didn't properly explain it there, and so I'll try to do so here.

When I say that "these ideas and images flash vividly through my mind," I mean it.  Sometimes, it's like a living dream: I'll be sitting in class, paying half-attention (the lectures are 3 hours long, remember), and then, suddenly, I'll remember what it feels like to be standing on the deck at home in the evening looking out at the mountains.  Or walking up Eastern Avenue in Saint Johnsbury.  Or taking AP Exams at the Academy in May.  Or...any number of random sensations, almost all connected to Vermont (rarely Yale or New Haven, I'm afraid).  Some are based in a specific memory, some not.  Most have to do with summer--I think because I feel like I'm living in such a summer-like environment here, though it's hardly spring in Senegal.

I've really been steeped in Vermont.  Will I get the same feelings about Dakar after I've returned?  Will I, like Ousmane Sembene, think of "O pays mon beau peuple"?  

The title of Sembene's book returns to me often.  Though I hate to generalize in this way, I do find that the Senegalese are, in general, a very beautiful people.  Not always in the physical way, but the whole "aesthetic"--the effect of a thickly-patterned skirt clinging to the narrow hips of a young woman, walking steadily but slowly in skittering flip-flops, balancing water on her head; or the older men sitting in the sidewalk shade of a tree on low stools, waiting for the ataaya heating in a tiny blue kettle settled on the coals nearby.

Of course, there's an American "aesthetic," too, which I think about in a curious, wondering way, like a fantasy land.  I know places exist where everything is clean (too clean?), up-to-date, and well-lit.  I've seen them.  Places like malls, or certain restaurants and glamorous homes.  Places in America.  More on this contrast later.  

We took a horse-drawn carriage (caleche) tour of Saint Louis.
This is the intrepid horse who pulled one of the three carriages, and the Pont Faidherbe.

Now, a brief update: I returned yesterday afternoon from a trip to Saint Louis with WARC--a much more comfortable ride in an air-conditioned bus--and I was so tired I went to bed at 9, after ataaya and ngalax.  Today, I've been shopping with Ousmane in the Colobane market, and now we're waiting for lunch. It's hot and sunny.  I have no classes today (Monday), and none tomorrow, because Wolof is finished and there's been a cancellation of my Islam class, and I've begun (slowly) to research my final History paper.  All is well.

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