Saturday, June 27, 2009

Pretend I wrote this specifically for the blog...

Instead of trying to come up with twice as many funny stories about my time in Senegal, I'm posting emails I've sent out en masse. Voici le premier:

Hello All,

Please forgive me for leaving out whomever on this here; it has been awhile since I’ve been compelled to send out a mass email. In fact, this might be a fleeting moment, so relish the message, I say!

Soooo, as you should probably know, I am currently writing from the desert of northeastern Senegal. And by “desert,” I mean lots of sand. I hope I didn’t accidentally type the word for sugary finish to a meal. At 24, I still get those two confused. ::sigh:: Anyway, after 10ish days in intense but fabulous Dakar, we got shipped to…the middle of nowhere!

Our first accommodations were a royal piece of crap. Thankfully there was electricity and running water, but the only furniture we were allotted were 4 pieces of foam misleadingly referred to as “mattresses” and 4 plastic chairs whose weight capacity is 4 flies and a can of Fanta. Not surprisingly, Andrea, the other American with me got ridiculously sick, so on Wednesday, I spent the better part of the day running around the region with her to go to the medical center, the “hospital,” and finally to our new accommodations. I never would have thought A/C is necessary, but with the 122 F degree (49-50 Celsius) highs, and buildings that allow absolutely no air circulation, it is. I probably could have handled the accommodations we were given at first, but barely, and not certainly not happily.

Now that we’re nicely shacked up in the equivalent of a 1-star hotel sort of complex, everyone in our group is in decent health, thank God. On to the perils of our town, Matam. There is absolutely nothing in this town save a few venders that sell “The Laughing Cow” cheese, and one permutation of a bar ironically titled “Oasis.” Our links to the modern world are a 4 by 4 truck UNFPA uses to cart us around, and the saving grace of our dessert city: UNFPA’s wireless connection I’m using to send this email.

Despite the abysmal selection of things to do in the town, I’ve managed to occupy my time enough to compose a few funny tidbits in this email. First off, everyone in our group is paired with Senegalese students, and mine is by far one of the funniest people I have ever met. I should have seen it coming when she fell asleep during our first presentation in Dakar. This woman has been all over the world, including Mexico. While there, she went on a tour and learned about the Aztecs who (according to her 300-year-old tour guide), used human hearts as a sacrifice to the Gods. When asked what they did with the rest of the body, the guide replied that the townsmen ate it, from which my student partner deduced that Mexicans are fans of human buffets. Ridiculous, I know, but to her credit, she’s an incredibly hard worker, and completely vital to my project. Andrea’s student pair is extremely nice and helpful as well; a great rapport with our student pairs is definitely more essential than a few meager forms of entertainment.

I decided that I don’t stand out enough in the area, and have taken up running in shorts to alleviate this concern. Running may be too generous of a term; with the 100+ degree weather, trotting is probably more accurate. During one of my trots this past weekend, I was stopped by at 16-year-old (or so) girl and asked if I was coming back tomorrow. I said yes, and she told me she wanted to come with me the next time. I was two hours late the next day due to ridiculous heat, but her little encounter gave me the brilliant idea of perhaps starting some sort of exercise club for girls in the area. A friend of mine who did the Peace Corps in Jordan tried doing something similar, which came with mixed results, but since I have an obvious abundance of time, I might as well try, right? On verra.

I spend the rest of time my rationing the episodes of “30 Rock” I burned, reading, and trying to teach myself German from one textbook I have from a class I took 5 summers ago. I also drew a few pictures and have been solicited to paint a mural on the wall of our hotel. If it doesn’t melt, I might actually go for it.

That’s about the extent of my life for right now. In the next few weeks, we’ll probably be going to the regions outside of Matam to find our nomads/transhumants and collect the data necessary to bring our paper beyond a concept. I’ve been warned a thousand times over there’s nothing there compared to here, and since there’s practically nothing here, I’m curious to see what nothing squared looks like. I’m also curious to see how I fare in nothing squared. I’m expecting nothing.

Pictures to follow eventually.

Write back and tell me what’s going on with you!

Love, liebe, amour, kys og kram, and cheers,


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