Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Random Posting

I'm writing this pretty much to myself... It's been a month since I've been back. So many ups and downs, but glorious. I'm learning. I'm realizing. I know Africa has changed my mind, my direction, how I think. What a gift that I've been given and am slowly unwrapping. Here's my insight tonight:

Father Sundborg said something that stuck with me today. It is during our college years that we decide what our world is. How far does it extend? Does it stay in a realm of similarity and comfort and do we allow experience to mold it beyond previous comprehension. Does it end in our city, our town, our, state , our country or does it extend to worlds so different from our own, to the countries soaked in poverty, in suffering. Do we allow our world to be touched and pained by what is not before our eyes? Do we extend our world and allow love to hold people of different sexuality, faiths, beliefs, ideas, and colors? Is it justifiable to do this? Why not live merely within what you already know? Why expand? Why learn about what you can not change? Why go through the frustration? Why, because that’s where living beings. That’s where God is discovered. Open your world. Please simply open your world and allow it to live a life so diverse, so colorful, so crazy that it will forever remain inexhaustible. Continually discovering and learning and stretching.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Conclusion to Chapter One

Alright… (deep breath)… I almost feel like I’m getting ready for another unknown adventure returning back to the U.S. I’m trying to anticipate the culture shock of returning home… the presence of so much, so much wealth and materials will be interesting, but I really can’t foresee what the process will be like. I was thinking yesterday how when I first came here, Dakar was so foreign so me, so culturally different than what I had known. Just as an experiment I tried to return to that mind frame and I can’t. I honestly can’t do it, everything has been embedded in me and has become a natural way of life.

I’m going to miss the charm of Senegalese people. I think this is a selfish thing because I’m always the receiver of their charm. Especially these last few days, everyone’s been expressing their gratitude and even giving me gifts… it’s like a birthday. They have set an example to me how to live with generosity and a constant welcoming attitude.

This morning I walked baby Khady to school with Coumba. I’ve grown pretty darn attached to this family. I think I was meant to meet them. In a few minutes we’re having an office party. Seriously CRS and the staff here have been great. Tomorrow I’m going to the stations of the cross for Holy Friday, which I think will be a big gathering and then my friends are coming over to say a final goodbye before I head to the airport Friday night.

Well… I guess this sums it up for My Adventure in Africa… or at least until chapter two. Thank you all for reading. It’s been real:) Peace be the journey.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


I just gave my final presentation ! I’m done with project here with CRS Senegal. Though I know my contribution was small, I think I made a small one. I have helped to create the first draft of a manual that eventually will be distributed to all the partner organisations of CRS which contains all the information imperative for being in a partnership with CRS. AND it’s all in French… okay so not perfect French, but still that’s an accomplishment. The presentation went well, maybe not the most interesting for everyone to listen to me try and manage in French, mais je m’en fou. I realize that this document will be pretty useful when it’s completed. Godlove even expressed the idea to share it with the other CRS offices in francophone countries. I have the "I just got done with finals feeling," though the idea of leaving is beginning to create some sentimental emotions. I’m making sure to profit from each moment during my last few days here. My last weekend here I spent catching up with my friends that I haven’t seen since my vacation. I went to the last soirée with the track team… we danced the evening away. Palm Sunday was really interesting. So many people showed up to mass and we all joined in a procession around the area where the church is while singing songs and saying prayers. I found this fairly impressionable, since 95% of the population is Muslim. Everyone respectfully stopped traffic and people peered out of their windows and balconies to watch. This country is blessed with a great solidarity. I’ve been filled with a full joy my last few days here… I’m so grateful for my experience here, the people I’ve met, all that I’ve learned, and I know I will take it with me. There are certain aspects of this culture and my life here that I will miss because I don't know if they would fit in as naturally back home. For one, there's the closeness of the people; guys will hold hands with their guy buddies, same with the girls and people are genuinely accepting of everyone else, secondly, eating dinner with my hands and sharing one big plate with the family (Sarah and Lydia.... maybe we can make this possible back home), thirdly is that I spend the evenings here simply enjoying the presence of others without always feeling like I should be doing something, and lastly... okay there is no lastly, I could go on but will stop there. ALright well, for many of you, I'll be seeing you soon. God Bless!

Friday, March 18, 2005

Continuation of Vacation Update..

I'm back from vacation ! C'était vraiment magnifique. Cap Skirring is one of those places that almost seems like you're in a dream-state. Our hotel was situation on a small cove on the Atlantic Ocean. The waves were perfect for body surfing and boogy boarding, the palm trees provided shade from the sun and perfect for setting up hammocks, mangoes and coconuts were a daily snack... really was perfect. My fam and I all went to Mass in Cap Skirring, so my parents got a feel for Mass...African style. There's a certain enthusiasm and sincerely that I love about mass here and always makes me feel like I belong right there in that moment. After Cap Skirring we went to Zinguinchor. I stayed there for a few days while my parents attempted to make it back to Dakar. There have been difficulties with the airlines here and they arrived at the airport to find out that there was no plane. So in order to make it to Dakar in time to catch the flight to the U.S. They hoped in a 7 passenger car and drove to Dakar. This is quite a trip due to the unpredictable ferry that crosses the Gambia river, the condition of the roads, the heat and the communication barrier.... but after about 10 hours they made it.

In Zinguinchor I visited some of the partners of CRS and the projects being executed. One of which is the microfinance banks in Casamance. I went to a meeting where all the women make they monthy payment for their loans and are also given a portion of the loan which is distributed over a period of 6 months. The organization and patience of these women was impressive. All the women take responsibility and really appreciate the presence of these the bank. Most of them use the loan to buy and sell some type of good whether that’s clothes, shoes, peanuts, fruits or vegetables. This allows women a chance to be empowered and earn a living which in turn improves the living of their children and families.

I also visited Madina and Kandialong, which are villages that were destroyed during the 20 years of conflict between the military and rebellion group. CRS helped to fund projects to rebuild these abandoned communities. In 1997 everyone fled their homes due to the violence in this area, leaving everything. In 2001, after the conflict has subsided for the most part, CRS funded projects to help rebuild houses and schools in these villagers so people could return to the places they grew up in. As we drove through these towns, you would of never know the history that had passed. People were going about their daily life, children out playing, andI could see houses scattered around everywhere. CRS and RADDHO (a partner of CRS) provided the materials to these communities, which allowed the villagers to work together to reconstruct their homes. Everyday they worked to rebuild their community and in the end constructed 97 houses. I bet to see this community come together and rebuild their lives would have been pretty impressionable. This was definitely an insight to a more traditional lifestyle then life in Dakar. No electricity, no running water and though people could travel to Zinguinchor for supplies and materials, most people lived off the land.

I'm feel really fortunate to have the opportunity to see these projects and also to have been able to travel around Senegal and Gambia with my parents. It's definitely been a highlight to my experience here. I was excited to come back to see the family and my friends here. Even work is good because I’m in crunch time to finish my project, present it and write up a report of my internship and I like the fact that I’ll be busy my last week here.

I feel like I have to end by saying God is good. I’m so very sure of that. It seems everything in my life testifies to this. What amazes me is how many times I hear this from the people here who struggle to make it, yet never hesitate to glorify our Creator.

Gambia and Cap Skirring

(I wrote this in Cap Skirring was wasn't able to post it till now)

Greeting from Cap Skirring ! There’s so much that I feel worth sharing with everyone but I think that would make for way too long of an update. To begin with our vacation started in Dakar. My mom got hit by a car on the first day... haha. She’s not going to be happy when she knows I’m sharing this information with everyone. Don’t worry, it was barely a tap and it was their first day so with the time difference, crowds of people and culture shock she has many excuses. Though Dakar was a good visit with good meals and quite a bit of sight seeing, the bussiness and in your face atmoshpere of this city was a quite enough for my parents after a few days.

After a 6 hour delay, our plane finally made it to Gambia (country right in the middle of Senegal, colonized by the British, speaks English) This place has made a colorful imprint on all of us. First of all we had quite a character for our chauffeur/taxi driver/guide. His name was Kebba. Yesterday we all had a heartfelt goodbye when he dropped us off in Zinguinchor. One funny incident we had with him was after we had visited the Makasutu forest. Our guide there informed us of all the mudicinal purposes of the plants and trees. We all found the most interesting to be the root of a specific tree which if soaked in water acts as a natural viagra. Before hand I had noticed a mysterious bottle in Kebba’s car and on the way back from Makasutu, my mom picked up the bottle and asked what it was as pretending to take a big gulp. This led to quick a few good laughs and we gave Kebba a hard time about it the rest of the way home. I took a priceless picuture of him driving the taxi, wearing my dad’s safari hat and drinking his “special solution.”

My first morning in Gambia I woke up to the sound of chopping and when I went outside to check it out, it was a few guys chopping down coconuts. I sat there on the grass with them and drank for the first time the milk from a fresh coconut. This has been something on my life list....quality moment.

In Gambia I had my first experience seeing the field work of a non-government organization. Funny how I was in a different country and with a different organization than CRS in order to do this. A couple staying at the same hotel as our family invited me to go with them to see the school they had sponsored to build. We hopped in a jeep and took the only narrow, sandy road to a small village in Gambia called Madiana. We were greeted by 60 nursery school kids cheering and yelling as we drove up. A couple from Holland who now live in Gambia help local communities build schools, cliniques and other needed structures. They were sponsored by this the Holland charity group to build this specific school. The town had a meeting while we were there and discussed some of the issues with the school. A difficultly in Gambia is that children have to pay to go to school in order to have materials and provide salaries for the teachers. Though it is only a the equivalent to a few dollars a month, it is too much for many families. I realize that finding these types of funds is not necessarily the most difficult part (100 dollars would make a big difference), but instead it’s organizing, distributing and ensuring that these funds are used properly that is the big obstacle. I really like how this Holland couple saw a need and decicded to address it. Now they are attempting to expand this aspiring INGO. This excursion was a good reality check..

Everynight my mom, dad and I end the day laughing usually at some type of money scam that we fell for, or typical tourist ignorance that we were a part of which was usually mispronouncing almost everything, or falling out of hammocks and then there was a certain accident that I’ll only tell to a specific audience (Suzanne you’ll like this one).

We drove from Gambia to Casamance and had to say goodbye to several friends that we had made in that wonderful country including Kebba and Ba, my running buddy. We discovered the adventure of the the roads here in Africa. It’s almost like a workout sitting in the car because you’re bouncing around so much. Actually I do have to give credit that some areas are in good condition but after a 5 hour drive to Cap Skirring, that was enough for us all. Oh, we saw Baboons on the side of the road!! That was maybe another life list, to see a Baboon. Cap Skirring in on the southern coast of Senegal. They claim to have the best beaches in Western Africa, and I believe it. Though we’ve only been in the southen region for a day and a half, there seems to be a much more relaxed atmosphere. Less people and they are less forward. Instead of “Hello, do you have a husband?” it’s just “Hello, how are you.” A nice change.

Yesterday my mom said to me that every person, especially students, should have an experience abroad, in a country less developed than our own, like Senegal or other countries in developing areas in the world. What a great comment to be hear. A definite change from when I first told my parents that I want to go to Senegal.

Friday, March 04, 2005

I'm heading on Vacation

I'm feeling more at peace today. Doesn't mean that I resolved anything, but God's granted me a peace in the midst of it all. Part in due to the fact that my parents have arrived! I think this will be a growing experience for us all. Their first time in Africa, my first time kind of taking care of them while they are here. I'm not sure if I'll have much computer access so if I don't update this thing, it's not because I'm dead, but because I'm off exploring this country. Enjoy the weekend and God bless!

Thursday, March 03, 2005

This Morning

I wake up some mornings and feel heavy. I drive to work some days in silence as I watch the mother’s with children tied to their backs begging, breathing in exhaust, as I see the Talibé kids already amidst the traffic being repeatedly turned down for change, as I see the only woman who sells newspapers on the street working hard to compete with the others as I see the young men crippled by polio and with nothing to move themselves with but their gnarled hands…. I feel heavy. Some days I am captured by the hospitality, smiles and joy of these people, but today I’m captured by their hardships. The next emotion that runs through me is how my life is in direct contrast. I have so many options, I can discover anything, I can move about society without constraints of worrying to feed myself, of trying to survive and make it one day at a time. I look ahead and see so many options and unknown paths. I question what to do with this. Yesterday, I watched a documentary of Martin Luther King Jr. because Cheikh brought me to the English club at the British Institute where he studies. Afterwards the students talked about what stood out to them. A few mentioned the importance of the message of MLK to be the best you can be. Some people are made to shine like the sun and others are made to be steady, quiet stars. He points out that God has a purpose for each of us. That purpose might seem relatively small compared to others, but it is up to us to live it out. While I’m spending my last few weeks here I feel pressure to really define my role here, my reason here… maybe that will come and maybe it won’t. There is always something worth striving for, worth trying to make better. Some don’t see it, some don’t believe it’s possible; others simply don’t care for it. I know I’m striving but for exactly what I’m trying to understand.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Only a Month to go...

Hello everybody. Today is March 1st meaning I only have 25 more days here. The thought of leaving is bittersweet; I’ve come to realize that’s the case with most changes. I’m excited for the last part of my stay here. Friday my parents come and we’re going to be making a tour through Senegal and Gambia. We’ll be heading to the Atlantic Coast in Gambia and then to Cap Skirring and Zinguinchor in the Casamance region. I’m going to be staying in Zinguinchor to take a look at some of the projects CRS and it’s partners are involved in such as the Micro finance banks and the peace building projects.

At work I’m trying to gather as much information that I’ll need in order to write the lovely 30 page paper I get to write when I return. Two of the main human rights issues are the Talibé, and women’s education. The Talibé are the kids who beg for money on streets in order to give to the Marabouts who supposedly take care of them and teach them the Qur’an (I think wrote about this earlier). These children obviously are not taken care of and the problem is very visible, yet the government isn’t acting to improve the situation. There are several NGO’s who focus on this issue, some provide shelters for these kids to clean themselves and provide food, others actually interact with the Marabouts and provide resources to ensure that the children are actually being taught and not sent out on the streets. In terms of women’s education, the literacy rate among women is around 30%. Part of the problem is that for many women it is not imperative for them to read and write French because they are preoccupied with house work, raising families and trying to earn a living by the means that are immediately accessible such as being a maid. But iliteracy handicaps them from any type of job in the working class and from improving their status. I’m thinking of focusing on some of the cultural barriers that are present in Senegal which create obstacles for development efforts focused on women’s empowerment when I apply for the Fulbright Scholarship. One example of a cultural carrier is the idea that keeping women at home helps to maintain their purity and ensures their protection from the outside world. Though I personally have not observed this in my experience, I have to remind myself that I’ve been living in the most developed and modernized part of Senegal.

Other stuff going on… I’m coming to the point where I realize my French has definitely improved. I can goof off and rarely find myself lost in conversations with my friends, though outside of the friends atmosphere there’s still a lot that I don’t catch because my vocabulary still needs to expand (I’m sure this will hold true for the rest of my life). This weekend I realized there are going to be a few things I’m going to miss: my track buddy, Coumb, being the intriguing toubab on the track team, chatting with all my buddies who hang out at the boutique by my house everyday after work, and being greeted with high energy and excitement by Khady when I enter the house. Okay well now that I started thinking about it more come to mind… I’m going to miss the prayer group that meets every Monday night that worships like there’s a party going on. I found it humorous during one song when everyone took their shawls or shirts and started waving them in the air. The only other time I’ve seen this is when dancing to the rap song with the line “take your shirt off and hold it in your hand like a helicopter (I forget what song and who sings it).” The contrast of these two scenarios caused me to laugh.

Alright, I’m off to try and recuperate a package. (Mom, I finally got it) I’m premeditating before I go because it’s so ridiculously complex and time consuming. You take numerous pieces of paper that different people give you and are directed to go to see about half of the post office staff. Then after paying whatever sum the official guy wants (he’s official because he has an office and writes something in a big book), you can receive the package. AGH…. This is one thing that I won’t miss.
May God bless you all on this glorious day!