School days

So I figured I have been giving lots of highlights, but not a very good picture of what my day to day consists of here in Saint-Louis. So I’m going to attempt to do that, and also share a little bit of what I’ve learned. So I’ll see how it works out to do a bit of an installment-like setup.  A little bit about my French classes:

As a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar with Projects Abroad, I’ve been taking 3 hours of French class a day Monday through Friday. The classes are private, just myself and my teacher. Both of my teachers have full-time jobs as French teachers at the local schools. My last teacher was Ngoné Lo. She and I have become friends through our classes together, and even though she is no longer my teacher, I still keep in touch with her. In the entry where our school was flooded, it was Ngoné who invited me to have class at her home. When I arrived in Senegal in September the schools were still on their summer vacation, but these past couple weeks have seen students and teachers going back to school. The school system is something that I still have yet to figure out as it seems that neither teachers nor students really know when it is starting. From what I understand in asking my professor and other students is that there are a couple weeks of registration, where there might be classes, but it doesn’t really get into full swing until late October. For example, I started the second half of my French classes (I switched teachers at a month and a half) last week, and it was this same week that my teacher got his teaching schedule. But technically, school had been ‘started’ for maybe two weeks before. At least this is what I understood.

My classes have been held at a high school: Lycée Charles de Gaulle. It’s about a 20 minute walk from my house. I could take a taki, which would cost me 450cfa (appx. $1.00–this is a fixed price to get anywhere in Saint-Louis), but I always walk. Up until the last two weeks or so, the classes have been empty because of the vacation, so Ngoné and I would have our class in an open classroom. You might be wondering how it is possible for us to have class in just any classroom, but the school building isn’t locked up—though some of the rooms are—during vacation. So there are always kids playing soccer in the open area, and other students studying in classroom (for instance, if they’re studying for the bac, this preparation starts very early). Ngoné explained to me that other schools typically close during vacation, but for some reason Charles de Gaulle stays open. From what I understood, it was the kind of thing where “kids will jump the walls and get in no matter what, so there’s no use fighting it” idea. So if you can imagine from the end of June to October (summer vacation here) with kids running around through the buildings, and then on top of that, it’s the rainy season so there is always flooding…the buildings aren’t suitable for teachers or students to start. So there is a cleaning process that takes about two weeks or so, with the sanitation department coming in to disinfect, and the firemen come in to drain the water if there is flooding (and there definitely was this year…check out the pics on the snapfish link). One day Ngoné and I got chased out of our classroom because they were disinfecting our building. This might seem strange if you are imagining, closed in buildings—like you would see in the parts of the US that don’t experience tropical weather, but here most buildings are open to allow for breezes to circulate and alleviate some of the heat, which also allows for the disinfectant to dissipate and not linger in the building. I’ll put up some pictures of my school (after the cleaning process) when I can muster up the courage to take them (now that school has started, having a camera out always makes you very popular when there are crowds of people, especially children!).

Last week I said goodbye to Ngoné as my teacher (but we are still friends! I am actually going to visit with her and her family this weekend), and I started classes with Mr. Omar Kandé. At first I was really nervous to switch teachers. I felt like I had learned a lot with Ngoné, I got along well with her, and I was in general just nervous of a new teaching style and personality (especially since I felt like I already had something great going on), but these fears all proved irrational. Mr. Kandé is AWESOME!! He is a really good teacher, and he is a very unique Senegalese man (in regards to his attitude on polygamy…a slightly polemic topic here –no pun intended…). We often have discussions about life in the US and life in Senegal and the cultural differences. I always discover something new with every conversation we have.

Typically our classes are very relaxed. He has a grammar book that we’ll do exercises from, but a lot of times grammar questions will pop up in conversation—whenever I can’t say something, or say something wrong—and we’ll just take it from there and that will be our lesson. This is usually accompanied by conversation. Because school has started, it is difficult with his schedule to meet for three hours at the same time every day. So some days we’ll meet for two hours, another day, we’ll meet for 4. But I always have 15 hours of French each week no matter what.

I really do feel like my French is improving, which is a really great feeling! I’m very very far from fluent, but I’m imagining back to my first week when I couldn’t understand anything, and I could barely express myself. Now I understand most conversations (unless they are talking quickly or excitedly), and I can communicate pretty effectively ( I mean, I can at least get some semblance of a French sentence out now!). It’s a really really cool feeling!

Oh!! And I wanted to mention that I am not alone as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar in Saint-Louis! Nicholas Boatwright, Cheryl Dietrich Vanessa and Patrece Moore (Vanessa just arrived, so I haven’t gotten her last name yet). So we have quite the little Rotary family here in Saint-Louis : )  All of these students are partaking in the same Rotary Ambassadorial Cultural Scholarship –though Cheryl and Vanessa are here for 6 months–so they have the same setup with French classes.



So it has been quiiite some time since I’ve last updated! Really there has been a lot going on, but it’s mostly just my daily routine (ironically which is a routine where I know I have no routine) that makes it difficult to find time to just sit down and write about what that day to day stuff has been. I’m going to do a couple installment posts to catch up to what’s going on now.

So I suppose I should work forward from my last entry chronologically. Well, first and foremost…my dream came true—I got my hair braided! Or ‘les tresses’ as they are called here.


My host family – particularly my host mom and my sister Coumba, were so excited for me to get my hair braided. They invited a friend – Adja- la tresseuse (a woman who braids hair) to braid my hiar. So we ended up starting around 5:00pm, with Coumba assuring me that it would only take a maybe 2-3 hours at the most, so I shouldn’t worry about my plans for that night which were starting at 9:00pm –dinner in town with other students. Adja asked me what I wanted, and I tried to explain to her through hand motions the types of braids that I wanted. Coumba helped me to translate (Adja speaks a little bit of French, but mostly Wolof). So I tried to explain that I wanted medium-sized braids…as she started braiding I remember thinking to myself, judging by what I felt her doing with my hair,“hmm these braids feel really small…” but then I just figured maybe it was my imagination. More than that I figured I have no idea since I’ve only had my hair braided with full braids one other time. My concern with having small braids was that I had heard that it took a long time…one girl’s braids taking 10 hours! So I tried sitting as still as possible and watched tv as she continued. But then after maybe an hour or so, I realized that it definitely wasn’t my imagination, she was braiding tiny braids! These ended up taking us 5 hours (with a stop for dinner). Needless to say I ended up skipping my dinner in town with the other volunteers! All in all, after the rubber bands were put in, I ended up finishing around 11:00pm (so 6 hours in total). But I have to say, the results are amazing! Adja braided these unbelievably tiny braids, and she even braided in a design. My host mom and sister were very pleased and they told me that now I am a true Senegalese woman! People in the street have been stopping me to tell me that I have “jolies tresses” or pretty braids. It’s quite the conversation starter for sure : )

To check out the pics: http://www5.snapfish.com/thumbnailshare/AlbumID=500305026/a=775175026_775175026/otsc=SHR/otsi=SALBlink/COBRAND_NAME=snapfish/

Rotary Club Saint-Louis

Madame President Dior Diajne and I have just finished exchanging club banners. I was presented with a banner from Rotary Club Saint-Louis, and in return I presented my host club with a banner from the Edwardsville Rotary Club. Upon my return to the US, I will present this banner to my club. These banners are an important Rotary custom because they represent goodwill and peace--not only between clubs and districts, but also between countries.

Madame President Dior Diajne and I have just finished exchanging club banners. I was presented with a banner from Rotary Club Saint-Louis, and in return I presented my host club with a banner from the Edwardsville Rotary Club. Upon my return to the US, I will present this banner to my club. These banners are an important Rotary custom because they represent goodwill and peace--not only between clubs and districts, but also between countries.

In the past couple weeks, I have hit a couple milestones for my trip as well as for myself.

The first being that I was able to finally make contact with my host Rotary Club!! For those of you new to the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship, each scholar is placed in a Rotary District (mine is 9100) and assigned to a ‘host’ club that sort of acts as a Rotary home base. My host club is the Saint-Louis Rotary Club. We are also given specific Rotarians, our host Rotarians, who aid us as much as they can by inviting us to Rotary meetings and helping us to find answers to questions we might have about the District…ie: if there are any Clubs close by and their contact information. I met my host counselor, Madame Khady Ndiaye, about three weeks ago. And just to give you an example of how things go here in Senegal – Rotary Clubs included—I had my initial contact with Madame Ndiaye the same day that I met my club. This meeting all came to fruition in such a Senegalese way: laid back with no worries. For example…I had contacted Madame Ndiaye via email, but hadn’t heard anything back. The phone number I had been given to contact her with wasn’t working or wasn’t turned on, so I finally decided to email her again, but this time including my cell phone number (I should have done this to begin with). A day or so later (Tuesday) I get a call from Madame Ndiaye around 4pm inviting me to the next Saint-Louis Rotary Club meeting. The meeting ends up being that night at 7pm!

Meeting my club for the first time was so nerve-wracking, but ended up being so comfortable! I met the president of the club, President Dior Diajne. She is the owner of one of the hotels on the island of Saint-Louis (I’m going to visit her hotel next week!), right next to the beach. She was very welcoming and even though I couldn’t completely express myself (speaking another language is that much harder when you’re nervous!), she didn’t mind and just let me take my time in asking questions and answering them. The first meeting that I went to was the week after Korite…Tuedsay, the 22nd. It having been a holiday the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before, the Club turnout was a bit low…there were 3 Rotarians and 1 Ambassadorial Scholar present that day. Ha! I can only imagine what my Rotarians in District 6460 are thinking : ) It was so neat though because, again, the Rotarians present just went with it! They understood that Korite (which is a VERY big holiday here) was responsible, and that everyone was probably traveling or with family. Also, I think their might have been a mix-up in time? I couldn’t quite follow perfectly, but I think that they were under the impression that some Rotarians might have thought they were suspending the meeting due to the holiday…but anyway, the next week was more normal and I was able to meet the rest of the Club. And of course, they are all really wonderful!

One reason I can say that they are so wonderful is because I gave a presentation to them that lasted about 10 minutes, in nervous French, and afterward they smiled, clapped and congratulated me! Even in the moments when I knew that I was hard to understand, they continued to smile and follow along. My presentation consisted of introducing myself, my interests and my family. I then continued to describe the United States some, and then went on to give some history and facts about Illinois. I finished by discussing Rotary District 6460 and the Edwardsville Rotary Club. My visual aides were a map of the United States with Illinois highlighted, along with the cities of Springfield, Evanston, Edwardsville St. Louis, MO and the District of Columbia. I also have a photo album that has pictures of my family and friends and some Illinois landmarks. There is also a picture of Illinois with District 6460 outlined. And I’m sure District Governor Larry Thompson will be happy to hear that his likeness is in Saint-Louis, Senegal via a picture I printed from the District 6460 website!

I’m looking forward to working with my club in the next months, and also traveling to meet with some of the clubs in Dakar! Which brings me to my next milestone: October 6th marked month 1 of living in Senegal! It seems to have gone by so fast! Though I don’t know exactly how much my French has improved, I know that I can definitely follow one on one conversations pretty well—something I struggled with a lot when I started here. A lot of phrases are even becoming second nature. For instance, I was having a conversation with someone in Spanish and I kept saying “il y a” instead of “hay” (which means ‘there are/is” in French and Spanish). “Il y a” is a phrase I use a lot in French and “hay” is a word I use a lot in Spanish too, so I kept mixing them up.

Which brings me to what I hope will be my next milestone (we will see…). Within the last year, a group of medical doctors from Spain have set up a clinic here in Saint-Louis. I am learning more about them, but it seems like they have a number of projects that they work on—namely AIDS awareness and Malaria. There name is “Medicos del Mundo.” I am going to see on Monday if I can connect with them and get involved with what they have started. Maybe I’ll be able to connect Rotary Saint-Louis with Medicos del Mundo? On Monday I’m going to talk to the director, so hopefully that will work out! And of course, how cool would that be to be able to practice my Spanish while here in Senegal?! We shall see…

Desert Lompoul

This weekend we went on a Desert Trip to the Desert Lompol (located in the south of the Saint-Louis region), that lasted from Saturday to Sunday and ends up being one of the highlights of my trip thus far. First of all, this wasn’t a trip where a couple volunteers just decide to go out into the desert and fend for themselves for a night, it was actually veerrry touristy—but totally worth the lack of credibility (you know no one wants to be a tourist). But this weekend I was very happy to be a tourist; we had so much fun! Myself, five other volunteers (including one Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar- Nicholas Boatwright, South Carolina) headed out with our volunteer Co-ordinator at Projects Abroad – Emily Henderson along with our Senegalese guide and driver Musa.

Desert Lompol

It was a great trip—we left from the Projects Abroad Office in Saint-Louis around 10am on Saturday and came back into town on Sunday around 1pm. Our transportation was a truck with seats down the bed of the truck facing outward (I have a pic). Being the toubabs that we are, we couldn’t wait to sit in this unconventional mode of transportation. Our drive was about 3 hours long, and the view was just great! Even in just a three hour drive, the landscape of Senegal changes so much. From being on the Senegal River in Saint-Louis ( a big city) we traveled into slightly more remote routes where there we found a mix of concrete houses (just like in Saint-Louis) along with thatched-roof houses (not that common in Saint-Louis). In leaving the city, we saw desert, forest and what I can best describe as ‘African-prairie’ terrain (I’m sure there’s an official word for this). We ended up in a part of Senegal called, Gandiol. Our Saturday consisted of driving down to the end of the Langue du Barbarie –this is the peninsula that separates Saint-Louis (which is an island) from the ocean. We traveled south on the mainland, and at one point, you could look out across the river and see the peninsula with the waves crashing up on the other side. In total, the Langue de Barbarie stretches 600km. We saw a lot of pine trees planted in this region along the coast. Our guide told us this protects the soil from completely eroding.

After stopping to look out at the Langue de Barbarie, we ended up at the ocean, where we had lunch. Someone compared it to Long Beach seeing as how the ocean was soo far away and the beach was a really long walk to the water. But once you got there, it was well worth the wait and the walk! The water was perfect –lots of waves, but not too strong. And the beach was pretty clean. It was so hard to leave this spot! We made the last leg of our journey traveling by water. And when I say traveling by water, I mean that our driver literally drove down the beach for about an hour or so! We drove so close to the ocean that we literally had the tide touching the wheels of our truck. It was soo cool! And a beautiful view.

When we arrived at our destination –Desert Lompol—we had a couple hours before dinner, so I went for a walk across the dunes with some of the other volunteers. It was dusk so the color of the sand and the setting sun was so beautiful! It was a deep orange color right before the sunset. After a dinner of salad (yes! Real salad!…you would be surprised how many times you go to order a salad and the waiter tells you they don’t have lettuce!), couscous with a meat sauce and vegetables, we sat around until we couldn’t keep our eyes open and then headed to bed. This actually ended up only being like 11pm…but we were so tired!

And I have to describe our living area. We slept in a tent. Not just any tent, but at tent on a raised level with a wood floor. Very spacious and comfortable, and just all around cozy. Our shower, sink and toilet were outside of our tent, surrounded by a three-sided thatched wall structure (my pictures don’t do it justice!). So if you can imagine the tranquility of showering under the stars…Not to mention the fact that there were soooo many stars! I’ve never seen so many stars in my life. You could actually see the milky way that’s how far from the city we were!

The next day we packed up and headed back to Saint-Louis, but not before riding camels!!! This was such an experience! The camels greeted us in the morning after breakfast and we had someone from the lodge lead us on a tour of the dunes. It was amazing! I have never been on a camel before, so this was a definite first for me. They are such funny animals! At one point we were being led at a trotting pace, and I couldn’t help but look around and laugh at how funny we looked all bouncing up and down. And of course whenever a camel objected to something, he let out a long bellow. It’s one of the funniest animal sounds I’ve heard. And our whole tour I couldn’t stop taking pictures! It was just so cool and the view was again, very beautiful!

A great end to a great weekend.

I think I’ve once again managed to write more than I should have, but I’m always thinking of more details and more things to say!

**I uploaded my pictures to snapfish.com this time–it is a lot faster than other photo archive websites–not realizing that people who want to see the pictures have to make accounts? Or at least that’s how it seems…I hope that’s not true, and I don’t really have time to figure it out at the moment. Let me know how it goes!

Update: I’ve heard that there are issues with checking out the pictures (ugh!), so I hope this helps. I’m just going to post the link to the individual albums:

Desert Lompoul


Coming Soon!

So I’m a post overdue…

but this week I’ll be sharing my first Rotary experiences in Saint-Louis and also my weekend in the desert!

Coming Soon! Desert Pics

Coming Soon! Desert Pics

I hope to have you all updated by Wednesday!

Toubabs in Touba!

“Toubab” is Wolof for ‘white person.’ Every day children yell ‘toubab’ whenever I am walking around the city or outside my house. This is something every white person in Senegal experiences, and something all of us at Projects Abroad have experienced, hence the title.

On Sunday, September 27th, six other Projects Abroad volunteers and I went to visit the town of Touba, Senegal. It’s about three hours driving from Saint-Louis, located further inland. We had a guide, Moustafah, who knew all about Touba and its founder, Cheikh Amadou Bamba (1853-1927), a Muslim sufi religious leader and founder of the Mauridism order of Islam (in Touba, 1883). He is famous for his numerous acts of faith, and miracles, as well as his pacifist resistance of French colonialism.

Touba is important as a Mouride holy city that is home to a Great Mosque—one of the biggest in Africa, and the biggest in West Africa. Cheikh Amadou Bamba is buried in Touba, as are all of his sons. It’s construction finished in 1963, though it is continuously being enlarged . The mosque itself has been built completely by the work and money earned by the Maurides, or followers of Cheikh Amadou Bamba. The children and families of Amadou Bamba (which are numerous) all have their roles for taking care of the mosque, the cemetery and the mausoleums surrounding the mosque.

Moustafah explained to us that though there are other ‘holy cities’ in Senegal, there is no other true holy city aside from Touba. He explained that Touba was a city that existed prior to Senegal’s independence, and that like other holy cities (he gave Mecca and the Vatican as examples) there are no other churches or faiths who have establishments in the city. The only religious centers in this city are strictly Muslim, as in there are no churches or cathedrals. He clarified that there are other cities in Senegal, such as Tivuaouane, that are holy cities because of the large mosques located in the city, but because the city itself has cathedrals and churches in it, it is not a holy city. Also in Touba, the city sort of operates on it’s own outside of the laws of the rest of the country. He told us that there was a Senegalese woman who came from Dakar and decided to go into a mosque not dressed appropriately (that is all women are supposed to wear long skirts/dresses, and have their heads and shoulders covered…basically be completely covered, head to toe). This woman was wearing tight jeans and a shirt while she was visiting, the last straw being when she tried to enter the mosque like this. She was fined and her head was shaved. This is a non-conventional punishment for the rest of the country, but what I understood was that because Touba has existed and functioned even before Senegal gained its sovereignty as a country, Touba is above common law. He also explained that because she was Senegalese, and she definitely knew what she was doing, it wasn’t something that was simply a misunderstanding or something she hadn’t heard before, which would be more understandable if she had been a foreigner. Here is a wikipedia (I know..shame on me for citing wikipeida…) description of some of what he explained to us:

“For Mourides, Touba is a sacred place. Forbidden in the holy city are all illicit and frivolous pursuits, such as the consumption of alcohol and tobacco, the playing of games, music and dancing. The Mouride order maintains absolute control over its “capital” to the exclusion of usual state-run civil and administrative services. The city constitutes an administratively autonomous zone with special legal status within Senegal. Every aspect of its city’s life and growth is managed by the order independently of the state, including education, health, supply of drinking water, public works, administration of markets, land tenure, and real estate development.” (Wikipedia: Touba, Senegal)

The mosque was absolutely incredible! Very beautiful and soo big. There were some rooms that we weren’t allowed in as non-muslims, for example the room that houses Amadou Bamba’s body. The architecture and decorations are very intricate. From far away it might look as if the mosque is painted, but up close it’s actually all mosaic. Our guide was very helpful and informative. He would point out lots of details and gave a lot of information. I think he liked to see us take pictures, and of course we were all taking pictures like the tourists we were. There was one point (after we had been taking pictures for about half an hour) when he was explaining something, and we just kind of listened (I think the heat was getting to us at that point), and no one had taken a picture, so he prompted us to take some pictures, assuring us that pictures were allowed.

After visiting the mosque and the mausoleums, we headed back to Saint-Louis, but we ended up stopping along the way to have lunch with our guide’s family. Moustafah, who is also the teacher of one of the volunteers (Nicholas, who also happens to be a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar from South Carolina), and the host father of Youen, was very happy for us to meet his family and share a meal. We had Yassa Poulet, which is a rice dish with chicken and an onion sauce usually. Our yassa poulet had both chicken and pigeon (my first time eating pigeon), the rice had a kind of curry sauce and vegetables. It was sooo good! Especially after a long day of sight-seeing. I think I forgot to mention that we left around 7am, ate a small breakfast, arrived around 11, left around 2pm, and then had lunch around 2:30pm. And then we got home around 8-something. I felt like I had been up all day! But it was such a good trip.

Toubabs in Touba

Toubabs in Touba

Side story:

So today I woke up around 8:45, got ready as normal to go to my class at 10:00am. (I have to wake up early because my family fixes my breakfast for me, so sometimes the time that takes varies depending on what is going on it the morning, and also I walk to school, which is about a 20 minute walk away). So I make it to Charles de Gaulle (the name of my school) and I try the gate that I’m used to going through…but there is soo much water, and one of the gates is closed over the only dry part, so I go around to the other side to find a LAKE of water preventing me from getting inside! It had rained on Saturday, and a lot of the roads are still filled with water (Saint-Louis doesn’t really have a drainage system for clearing water from streets, so they just fill up and then the water goes away as it evaporates in the sun). It was a really hard rain, because I’ve never seen my school so completely underwater. I managed to go back to the first gate, and by that time someone had opened the second gate. So I jumped across and walked around to my building….but again a LAKE! There was no way to get to the steps or the building. My teacher came and we decided to have class at her house since there was no way to get into the school. I thought this was a good example of how things go here in Senegal. If something happens to throw you off your normal routine…you just simply adapt! So I had my class successfully thanks to my teacher who opened her home to me…again another characteristic of Senegal (whose nickname is also Land of the Teranage…Teranga meaning hospitality).

La Fête – The end of Ramadan

Ok…so I wrote this entry on Sunday, September 20…so you’ll have to adjust the dates of the Korité info:

La Fête-

Today (Sunday, September 20), is La Korité, also known as, La Fête, here in Senegal. It is the day that marks the end of Ramadan. All day my family has been preparing this celebration which starts at sundown (although fasting ends the night before). Everyone has been speculating this week about whether the Korité would fall on Sunday or Monday.

Because Ramadan follows the lunar cycle (the Islamic calendar follows a lunar cycle), its ending is determined by the sighting of the new moon. Here the end of Ramadan is decided by the local Marabout, religious figureheads and scholars of the church who are responsible for looking out for the new moon. Because the end of Ramadan is something that is done by local Marabout around the world, the month itself will vary from region to region and also vary on what the Marabout see. For instance, here in Senegal, if the moon hadn’t been sighted last night (Saturday), then there would have been fasting for one more day (on Sunday), the Marabout would have declared the end of Ramadan that Sunday night (regardless of seeing the moon at this point) and then the Korité would have been on Monday. Regardless of whether Ramadan ended on Saturday or Sunday, Monday would always be a holiday. But if the end of Ramadan fell on a Sunday, then we would also have Tuesday as a holiday. Although, I’m sure some local businesses will probably still not be open on Tuesday because a lot of people travel far to be with their families on this day. Also, Ramadan will fall at different times each year because of the moon.

So as it stands, the Marabout saw the new moon last night (Saturday) ending Ramadan here in Saint-Louis. So today my family has been preparing all day for the big party known as Korité and La Fête which takes place this evening (Sunday) and so there is also a holiday where everything is closed tomorrow (Monday).

My Day

This morning when I came downstairs, my family had been preparing the “Thiagri” a dish made of cous-cous, milk, coconut and some other mixed fruits. I tried it for the first time, and it was very…interesting. The milk sauce itself was really good, but the bits of cous-cous are going to take me some time to get used to. It’s kind of a weird sensation. My host mom, Madame Ndour had prepared a huge tub of it and then filled up smaller bowls which are going to be distributed to family and friends today.

Next they brought out a freshly skinned lamb and had someone here to cut it up into smaller pieces which they cooked on a small portable fire (check out the pics). It was hard to watch the guy chop up the meat since it still had the distinctive shape of being an animal, but I tried not to think about it.

Sidenote: There are sheep and goats that roam around the streets here—and I’ve come to appreciate these little guys. I think they’re hilarious because they just go wherever they want, eat whatever they want and then at night they all know where their homes are and they go home. For some reason I think that’s such a funny idea! Also, on my way to school the other day, I saw a baby goat being born!

But back to la Fête—after the meal got underway, with everyone (well all of the females) helping out the afternoon went by pretty quickly. We eventually took a little nap, or rested for a bit, but there were always people coming and going, saying hello, and bringing food (and my family sending food with friends as well).

La Fête


After it started to get dark, Coumba, my host sister, and I changed into our boubous (traditional Senegalese dress…although boubous are typically the men’s outfit, they can also refer to the women’s dress. They are worn throughout much of West Africa, and they are historically tied to the spread of Islam in the region). For this holiday, it’s very common for men and women to have new clothing made especially for the day, or at least to wear their best. Coumba had taken me to the market the week before to buy some fabric for my dress so I would have something to wear for La Fête. Having clothing made here is incredibly cheap! All in all my boubou cost me…5,000CFA to make (that includes buying the fabric and paying the tailor) which amounts to around $10.00!

All day Coumba had been telling me about taking pictures, so I figured she meant we would take some pictures with my camera…which we did, but then we also went to a photographer in our borough who took our picture. I’m sure if my French were better, I would have understood completely! The furniture and backdrops in the photo parlor were very familiar, and I soon realized where I had seen them before. When I had first arrived, Coumba showed me her photo album that had pictures of her from when she was very little to very recently. And in each picture it is her by herself in beautiful dresses, or just really dressed up. Apparently she and her family have been going to this photographer for years, during every celebration or major event (which usually means a new dress). So now Coumba has a picture of us together to add to her album, and I thought it was cool that the tradition had continued, me included.

After getting ready, she and I stayed for a bit to receive some of her friends and other family friends (we served Coke, Sprite and Thiagri to our guests). Afterward, we went around to her friends to say hello. By this time it is about 10:00pm and when we arrive home, Coumba helps to set the meal and we eat our meal which was bread, mouton and yams in an onion sauce. After the meal, we are all pretty tired considering how much has gone into making it a success, and after watching a little bit of RTS (A Senegalese tv station) we say goodnight.

More than anything I think everyone is happy to be done with le jeûne (fasting), although there are some people who will continue to fast if for some reason they were unable to fast during the month, ie: if someone was ill and didn’t fast for a couple days until they were well, they may choose to make up the days in the next week. Also, all federal buildings are closed until Tuesday because of the holiday (even though there is no official religion in Senegal).

The past two weeks have been really interesting as I’ve learned a lot more about Islam and how many Senegalese practice the religion. I think what’s even more interesting is how much religion and culture are so inextricably tied that it’s hard to see where one ends and one begins, and then of course, at times, they are the same. And how all of these things will vary from person to person, but then some things have very little variance.

I think next week my entry will probably be about my experience at the holy city, Touba. We (some volunteers from Projects Abroad) are going there with a guide next weekend. So hopefully I can take some nice pictures and have more to share : )