The End

My experience in Senegal has come to an end. It is bittersweet, as these things usually are. I am ready to go home and see my family and friends, drink coffee that’s not Nescafe, sit around in the hammock (not that I didn’t have time to sit around here), see green things. But it was not easy saying goodbye to my friends, especially Djimby (there is nobody else like her anywhere in the world), and the Americans whose constant presence, support and love I will miss as much as a good ceebujën… bu weex… mmm…

I have a lot of things to share when I get home: prepare yourselves for Kirikou and bin-bins and nicely improved scrabble skills.

I got everything done that I needed to, I’ve finished all my academic work including my research project which (unless my usb key and laptop get stolen before I email it in) is done, I went back to Dagana to say goodbye and try to pack on a couple pounds with all that food they make me eat, I went to the beach at Hydrobase one last time, got to travel a little with Kate and Padraic to the Sine-Saloum Delta, Kaolack and Popenguine, and had one last trip downtown to Marché Sandaga and Nice Cream.

I leave tonight, inshala, and I feel like I’m leaving a lot behind and taking a lot with me. That sounds a little cheesy I guess but I think that’s how I’m supposed to feel.

I am very thankful that I was able to have this experience, and I hope that upon re-entry I will be able to share a little of what I’ve learned.


(I wrote this while I was still in Senegal, I got home safely last night. Hope to see you soon!)


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Some visitors

I’ve had some special guests recently. With them, I have done pretty much the tour of
Senegal. There are two parts to this:

Part I:

Cousin Emily came first. We went directly from Dakar to
Saint Louis, same day that she arrived. Got settled in on campus, ate some egg sandwiches, she met my roomies, we went to a dance show at the
French Cultural Center. Then we had a whirlwind tour of Saint Louis, bought fabric and went through the market, crossed the bridge and went to the beach. Then we left and drove 20 hours to go to the southeast of the country, which is as far away as you can get from Saint Louis in Senegal. There we visited the Parc Nikolokoba (sp?) where we went on a safari and saw gazelles and warthogs and baboons and deer and even a leopard. But don’t be fooled, most animals in Senegal are goats. We also hiked to a waterfall and it was beautiful and serene and isolated. There we also saw some wild baboons that watched us curiously. What are those strange creatures doing? Don’t scare them away… The next day we took a very long ride in the back of a truck down a very bumpy red dirt road (we felt like journalists or something out of Blood Diamond, and we kept watch for rebel fighters but there were just some kids on bicycles and a guy in a purple boubou). And then we attended a Bassari initiation ceremony but we could barely see anything because we were women and had to sit way up on a hill above the proceedings. And we ate mangoes and gave kids twizzlers. Afterwards Emily and I parted with the group which was going back to Saint Louis and took a very long hot thirsty bus ride to Dakar. There we stayed with my host family and walked all over the city. She was a pro at Dakar walking, and we did the markets and got ice cream, everything. One of the days we went to Isle de les Madeleines which was very isolated and very beautiful, and we hiked around and watched hermit crabs and got good tans. We also went to visit my friend Nabu and Emily got to experience the sugar-rush of hospitality (three cups of tea, sweet juice and soda) and she danced for everybody to Gasolina and they were impressed. We went to the airport at midnight so she could get her flight, and I stayed there until Jamie and Theresa arrived at 5 AM.

Part II:

Sister Jamie and friend Theresa were the next visitors. After getting safely through the throngs of harassers at the airport, we found my loyal taximan Khadim who was waiting to take us all the way to Toubab Dialaw which is a lovely fishing village/ beach area with some hotels south of
Dakar. He spent the whole car ride asking which one of my guests he could marry since their “husbands” are in America and don’t count. “You aren’t going to offer me one of them? What about the other?… long pause… “Come on, I’m in love! You’re not nice.” But I still got to catch up with Jamie and Theresa which was wonderful. Toubab Dialaw was lovely and relaxing, we walked way down the beach and made friends with Samba and some other guys at restaurant “Chez Baby”, and a guy who dives for lobsters and shellfish, and all the ladies who sell necklaces on the beach (one of the women made Jamie her wife). After spending the weekend there we went back to Saint Louis, where we went downtown and did that routine, had a dance party with my roommates and everybody who stopped by the room (they were very impressed by Theresa). They got to eat some egg sandwiches and walk around campus. Jamie was sick for a couple days but was a trooper. We went to the beach with this random guy from New York who didn’t speak French and had tea with my friends there. Theresa and I went out dancing with Rachel, Youssou and his friends (they were also very impressed by Theresa). We also went to the opening night of the Jazz Festival with Kate, and (this is typical) it started very late and there was a lot of formal talking and introductions before we got to hear any music. It also wasn’t jazz, but it was Senegalese so a good experience. And then in Dakar we stayed by the beach in a hotel, did downtown and Gorée and had Ethiopian food. They left late Saturday night, I came back to Saint-Louis on Sunday and I’ve been writing papers ever since.

It was wonderful having guests, I miss them. For the rest of my time here I’m doing a bunch of schoolwork, maybe going back to Dagana, hanging out with my roommates and the Americans, finishing my research project and then going to Casamance. Inshalla. I leave on July 10th, which is less than a month and a half away…  



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It has been one week since my return from
Morocco, so this may be a little overdue. But Anna and I had an amazing trip! Here are some highlights:

I spent my first day sitting around in the airport in
Fez, eating matzo and peanut butter, waiting for Anna’s flight, and marveling at the rain. Made friends with a girl who taught me a little Arabic (I later learned more, bringing my vocabulary to about 10 words, very useful ones like “zitoun” which means olive). Anna arrived safely a couple hours late, and I was so so happy to see her. The two of us and a girl from
Dartmouth who she met on the plane found an acceptable hotel for the night.

Anna and I learned that we make a great traveling pair, we have very good instincts. We are also on the same food schedule. That’s important, being hungry at the same time.

Most importantly, we are just confusing/bemusing/interesting enough to attract the right kind of attention. We were dressed very modestly but oddly- Anna in her S. Indian clothes and veiled Moroccan style and me in Senegalese “pilgrimage garb.” We spoke French to each other on the street, clearly not native speakers but nobody could quite place us. She was English (by way of Moscow, India, and Paris) and I was Canadian (by way of
Senegal). And we met at an American university. Our story was confusing enough that people just nodded and looked at us funny and said: What are you doing here?…maybe you should come home to meet my family, we’ll make you some tea. We drank a lot of tea, sweet green tea in clear glasses full of fresh mint and if you’re lucky some orange flowers too. It’s like Senegalese attaya except less strong. The coffee was great too, no more Nescafe for me!

Here are the places that we traveled:

FEZ: flew in here and out of here, saw the medina and the old synagogue, wandered around town and went to Shabbat services, got taken in by a family the second time we went to services right before we left, and they stuffed us full of sweets leftover from Passover (candied oranges, candied lemons, candied carrots, sweet egg white stuff, cookies, matzo…) and their son drove us around town and told us that we were beautiful.

MEKNES: took the train here from
Fez so that we could go to Volubilis, great Roman ruins right nearby. It is a beautiful area, green (!) rolling hills and lots of farmland, olive trees and sheep. The ruins were great, and on the way back we got a ride from a family who took us home with them for olives and bread and tea. They were very nice, hospitable, generous people. We really liked them a lot.

TETOUAN & MARTIL: We wanted to go to the coast, so we took the train to Tetouan to go to Cabo Négro where there was supposed to be a good little hotel on the beach. We figured as long as we had the sea we’d be fine, which is true. The owner of the hotel turned out to be sketchy, so we walked back up the steep hill (with our backpacks in the rain) towards Martil and a friendly looking guy (Mjid) pulled over and asked up where we were going. He called his wife (Hannan) and she invited us over for tea (yes) and so we went and met her and their daughter (Sabrina) and ate lots of cookies (oops). Mjid was friends with the owner of a hotel, and because of that and the off season we got a great room for cheap. Anna and I spent a lovely couple days walking by the sea and enjoying the calm and each others’ company. One day we went in Tetouan, where we found an amazing patisserie that we couldn’t take full advantage of because Anna was sick and I was still keeping Passover. But in Chefchauen we ate enough cookies to make up for it.

CHEFCHAUEN: I loved this place. It is all blue and white, a little touristy but not overwhelming, tucked into a valley in the
Rif mountains. It has a beautiful medina with lots and lots of veggies and strawberries and snails and pretty doors and dates and oranges and almond cookies and cheese- the most delicious goats’ cheese, so fresh, so delicious and perfect. Anna made friends with the cheese vendor. One morning we hiked up the side of a hill to visit and old mosque, and looked down at the town. We befriended the manager of our hotel and had dinner with him one night.

Back to Fez after that- see above.

Morocco was so beautiful and so hospitable, and it was worth everything just to be with Anna. We would walk arm in arm down the street reciting Baudelaire’s “Invitation au Voyage,” because it described our experience perfectly, down to the soleils mouillés and the ciels brouillés and the splendeur oriental. Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté, luxe, calme et volupté.  


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Magal de Touba

Greetings all. The parents have officially arrived in Senegal, which is wonderful. They got into Dakar on Tuesday, spent the night and then made their way up to Saint Louis yesterday. I showed them around my fair city, the most important places : the market, the bank, the taxi garage and the patisserie. We ran into some of the American students and chilled out for a while in a bar. Don’t worry, my parents are not young and hip again or anything. But they are in Senegal !

 BIG EVENT last week was going on my first Muslim pilgrimage ever. April’s friend Mamballa invited me, Andy, Magda and Anne Laure to accompany him to Touba. The pilgrimage to Touba for the holiday of Magal is a big deal for members of the Mouride brotherhood, which is the largest Muslim brotherhood in Senegal. Millions (I’ve heard 1, I’ve heard 3) of faithful flock to Touba in commemoration of the homecoming of the founder of the brotherhood, Cheikh Amadou Bamba ( ).

We left campus as part of a caravan of students, on a large rickety bus. When I say rickety I mean that my seat had no back, just a metal bar. But it was dependable, if not comfortable and despite appearances. We arrived at Touba in about 4 hours, which is only slightly more than normal, and we got into Touba after about 4 hours of sitting in traffic (but if we had been coming from Dakar it would have taken a lot longer, traffic was apparently backed up for 120 km). There were a lot of people and a lot of cars, cars driving on sidewalks, buses off-roading and (including ours) more close calls with pedestrians than I care to remember. Big trucks full of people and minibuses with men sitting on top where the luggage is strapped. We made the long roundabout trek to Mamballa’s relatives’ home by foot and horse cart. He stopped to buy us dates to give us energy, because i twas getting to be well after midnight. We felt like real pilgrims.

When we arrived we were put in a room with mats on the floor and fed a big platter of meaty senegalese couscous. Eventually we moved upstairs onto the roof, where we slept in our clothes, huddled together on mats. I was warm at least, tucked between Anne Laure and Ndeye, Mamballa’s sister.

The next day was all visits to marabouts, including Mamballa’s dad, who told us the story of Cheikh Amadou Bamba. We sat at his feet with his Talibe (followers) and listened. At night we went to the big mosque, which was huge ! There were crowds and lines, somebody compared it to an amusement park. We all had to be veiled and dressed appropriately, and our hosts had to lie about us being Muslim in order for us to get in. The mosque itself was stunning. Huge, all pinkish stone, very impressive. Men and women were in seperate lines and took turns praying in each room. Lots of people were giving money. When we left, we lined up two by two like animals boarding the ark or schoolchildren on a field trip, holding hands. We walked like that in a line so that we wouldn’t lose each other. We stopped a couple times at vendors, but mostly the crowd pushed us on. We arrived back safe and sound, in time to get a couple hours of sleep before we woke up to leave the next morning. On the way back we saw a bunch of camels on the side of the road, bought bissap juice out of the window of the bus and napped crookedly.

Outside the mosque:


Touba was great, we all had a fantastic time, nobody got cholera or hit by a horse cart. We ate well, the family was incredibly hospitable, and we got to be Mourides for a little while.

We made it back safely to the university where life is calm, almost to the point of boredom. Celebrated Kate’s birthday with a water fight in the university tradition and a dance party.

 And now my parents are here.



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The Strike

A dramatic title for a very undramatic couple of weeks. On Friday I had my first class for a while; we have been on a low key kind of strike for about two weeks. It was a student strike- lodging issues, a complicated situation with the construction of a documentation center, problems with the food (seriously, rice, onions, bread and questionable meat don’t quite make for a well balanced meal…where are the vegetables?), there were a list of reasons. They tried a new method of striking for a couple days where students wore red arm bands to signify discontent but still went to class. But I guess that didn’t get through to the authorities. Anyways, I am glad that it is over because even though I stayed busy reading, playing scrabble, working on my research project and hanging out in town, I still felt like a bit of a waste of space.

A lot of people went home last weekend because the strike was extended until Monday, Tuesday was a holiday (Tamxarit) and Wednesday was the 31st of January, a day where we remember a student who was killed during a strike. I took advantage of this to go home to Dagana with Djimby. It was great to be back there, to see my younger brothers and sisters, my mother, relatives and friends. We celebrated Tamxarit which is the holiday of couscous and the Muslim New Year. Senegalese couscous is called cere (pronounced tcheyrey), and when it is prepared well it is pretty good. There certainly was a lot of cere on Tamxarit. I saw a bunch of friends from the University who were home for the holiday too. We chilled outside of Omar’s house and drank tea, talked about important things like marriage and politics and what to do after graduating. Djimby and I threw a little party one night, made laax which is kind of like oatmeal with sweet milky yogurt. It had raisins and bananas and pineapple in it, pretty delicious. Here is a picture of some of the guests and the party. 


 Notice that there are lots of men. I lectured them a little that night on their perception of American women as “less complicated” than Senegalese women, because by “less complicated” they mean easy… maybe I got through to them, maybe I didn’t.

This weekend I went to the market and the tailor on Saturday, watched E.T. in French (ET téléphone maison, ET téléphone maison), went to the beach and hung out with my roomates.

Oh, I have a new roomate now! Her name is Ami (or Aminata) Sarr, and she is very sweet. So there are three of us now, Djimby and I and then Ami who sleeps on a mattress on the floor. She’s from Dagana too, and a first year Law student who hasn’t been given a room yet. We get along great, and the room is a little bit cozier now but not cramped. I am always so lucky with roomates.

Speaking of roomates, Anna Kosovsky and I are planning to meet up in Morocco this spring! And speaking of Russians, I finally finished The Brothers Karamazov.

That’s all for now, I will try to post more regularly but you see that my life is good, it is not super super thrilling.

p.s. I met somebody here (an American) in my favorite patisserie who has a friend fom Holliston! Small world…


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I danced and I ate meat…

Out of character, I know.

Just got back from two weeks with my roomate Djimby in Dagana.

Where is Dagana? Think way north central Senegal, a town small enough not to have internet cafes but big enough to have some paved roads. You can look it up on Wikipedia, but I think that even Holliston might have a longer entry. It is across the river from Mauritania, and about 130 km from St. Louis.

It was real Senegal there- real Senegalese hospitality (“taranga”), real Senegalese cuisine, tradition, religion, family… it is all there.

I spent a lot of time visiting friends and family, cooking (I received the nickname “Sara Soble” which means “Sara Onion,” because I cut onions all the time), watching tv (K2000 anybody?), drinking tea, going to the market and hanging out with my mother, brothers and sisters. I also made some progress in The Brothers Karamazov.

Djimby’s family took me in as one of their own. Yaay (that’s mother in Wolof) explained to me that their hospitality was natural, normal. She explained that they have a son who is studying in France and who they haven’t seen in a year and a half, and they have faith that he is being taken care of there, that he has found a family and friends that are to him as Djimby’s family is to me. It’s almost like a karma thing, this philosophy that if I my family is hospitible towards others, other families will be hospitible towards my children. And it’s very Senegalese.

So they fed me, overfed me. The food was great, and they were very good about my vegetarianism. They did poke fun, but cooked me eggs and always gave me extra veggies. I learned a lot about preparing Senegalese dishes. I know how to make couscous- grinding the corn or millet into flour, sifting, and then adding water and forming it into little tiny balls by stirring it with your hands (“muun”), sifting it again and then steaming it like rice.

They also taught me some dance moves, and made me dance. Which was fun, even it I’m still a bit scared of dancing. But I did it, to cheers and friendly laughter.

The big event of the trip was of course Tabaski. Tabaski is a big deal in Senegal, it is a Muslim holiday where every family sacrifices a sheep to remember that God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son and then spared him, substituting a sheep.

My family sacrificed two sheep. I was there for the sacrifice. They dug two holes to catch the blood, and sacrificed the sheep one at a time. They said a prayer as they did it, and I caught the word Abraham. Apparently the women aren’t supposed to look when the throat is actually being slit, so we stood behind the man doing the sacrifice and touched his back in order to participate symbolically. We could hear everything, and I definitely witnessed the aftermath (chickens aren’t the only animals that keep moving after their heads are cut off). Yaay dabbed each of our foreheads with a drop of blood, and we went back into the house while they sheep were being skinned.

During the next four of five hours the house was turned into a butcher shop, and I learned a lot about what the insides of sheep look like. I cut up onions and made the onion sauce, in the middle of everything. The meat was cooked in a pot and then grilled. People ate as we were cooking, and then for lunch there was a big platter of mutton and onion sauce and potatoes and some eggs for me. I did eat a symbolic morsel of mutton in order to participate in the holiday. My first meat ever… it actually tasted fine even if the texture was… meaty.

Afterwards I went with my little sister to bring a leg of mutton (which I carried down the street wrapped in a sheet, picture this) and a portion of cooked meat with sauce and potatoes to Adja Sall. Adja Sall is my aunt and homonym (she gave me her name, I am Adja Sall in Dagana now), there is a picture of us below.

During the evening we dressed up (check out my Senegalese outfit below) and went out visiting, greeting people with the following exchange:

Dewenati. Happy holiday/new year

Fekel dewen. Until the next holiday/year

Baal ma aq. Forgive my sins.

Baal naa la, baal ma. I forgive you, forgive me too.

Yalla nanu yalla bole baal. May God forgive us all.

These greetings continued through the week, and it was a very nice way to usher in the new year.

I have spoken with some people from home, and received cards and letters which I really appreciate. It is wonderful to know that you are there, and even though I am enjoying myself here, I miss you all and think of you often.

Wishing you a happy new year, meilleurs voeux, dewenati, from across the ocean.


Me and some of my siblings.

Adja Sall and Adja Sall

Adja Sall and Adja Sall.

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Benn ay bes, One week

I am getting pretty settled in here. My classes have all started, and the schedules have stopped changing (I think).

It has gotten much cooler out, during the day it is 25°C instead of 35°C, and at night it is around 15°C. Go look up those conversions, you lazy Americans. It is pretty funny to see people coming to breakfast in wool hats and sweaters, and little kids in winter coats. It is also partly cloudy some days. Padraic recently woke up to his roomate saying: “Il n’y a pas de soleil, il n’y a pas de soleil!” There is no sun, there is no sun! My very own roomate almost skipped her 8 AM class the other day because it was too cold. This has been known to happen at Bowdoin, but not when it is 55 degrees out.

I want to give you a little calender so that you have an idea of how my last week has gone. Just for fun.

Last Friday: Had to present an exposée on maternal health (in Senegal) with my group for Sociology of Health TD. Went ok, no major problems. Preparing for it was pretty stressful, but I learned a lot. Lit candles for Shabbat with Rachel and Kate. We bought a little pain that looks kind of like Challah because leftover Resto bread from lunch was getting pathetic. And for wine, we used Foster Clark’s berry flavored powdered drink mix. We hope it has grape in it. 

Saturday: Went to the beach. The water is good and cold now, I think because there have been some storms. Went for a walk to l’embouchoure with Rachel and cama across a hammerhead shark head! Yes, just the head and it was fresh. Small, but still disturbing. Saw some friends and drank attaya with them. Spoke in French, Wolof and Frolof about how women work just as hard as men and how God did not make men superior, etc.

Sunday: Went to our Wolof teacher’s house where his daughter Aida taught us how to make ceebujen. It was a good ceebujen. Photo:

our ceebujen

Monday: African Literature class in the morning and the evening, with Wolof in between. Probably played Scrabble too.

Tuesday: Did a little laundry, swept the room, read, went to Wolof and Sociology of Health  class. Talked about chicken soup and made my Soc class laugh by making a point about a Wolof salutation.

Wednesday: My Sociology of the Family class had a discussion about Darfur (for the second week in a row). It was pretty intense. Then Wolof class. In the afternoon, I went into town with Djemby and Christine to pick up our outfits from the tailor. Yes, I now own a yéré wolof. Photos later, I promise. I’ll wear it for Tabaski. We also bought ingredients at the market for a big meal that I made that night, called “Resto Baaxul” which means “The cafeteria is bad.” It was very satisfying- chickpeas and tomatoes and onions and garlic and potatoes and two big baguettes. We ate around the bowl.

Thursday: Three hours of History of Political Thought, which is a very good class. I thought my head would explode by the end, but really enjoyed the lecture. I also love the 15 minute break in the middle, because I always have interesting discussions with my classmates. Wolof, of course, afterwards. Finished Cercle des Tropiques, chatted with Djemby. Talked to Clark and Will on the phone and played cards.

Friday: That’s today. Had Sociology of Health TD and learned about Malaria. Facts- Malaria kills 2 million people every year, mostly children under 5. 80% (again, do your calculations) of malaria deaths are in sub-Saharan Africa. It kills many more children in West Africa than AIDS, but very little money (especially Western money) goes towards prevention and research. Felt complicit.

 So that’s what a week in my life looks like. It’s pretty busy, but I’m taking care of myself.

Hope all of you are doing well.


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