A Travellerspoint blog

A Farewell to Senegal

Home again, Home again, jiggity jig.

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Hello again. I just thought I’d give a final account of our last day in Senegal and to let you all know we made it home intact!

On our last day in Dakar, most of the group went shopping, but a few of us were able to arrange a trip to “Serpent Island,” which is a misnomer because there really are not many snakes on the island (perhaps some Psammophis elegans, which we did not see, unfortunately!). The name Serpent originated because a man who called himself Mr. Sarpan was found on the main island. The island is really part of the Iles de Madeleines, which comprise Le Parc National des Iles de la Madeleine, the smallest national park in the world!

It was a fantastic journey, beginning with a boatride to the island and ending in a swim in the lagoon.
On the trip in we traveled below cliffs white with guano, that towered above us and looked like glaciers.
Our guide, “Nixon” a law student at the University of Dakar who had been volunteering as a guide at the park since 2000, lead us around the island and explained the natural and cultural history of the island. It is believed that the islands off the coast of Senegal are home to spirits that protect the cities on the mainland. There are 5 islands total in this group and Sarpan is home to the only male spirit. The other spirits (which include Goree island) are his four wives.

He explained that the areas around the islands are marine protected areas, to allow fish to reproduce and replenish the local fish stocks. They work often with the local fishermen to try and explain why the area is protected and they cannot fish there, but they still have difficulties with enforcement since they cannot have guards on the island 24/7. We could in fact see areas where fishermen had landed and camped for a while. (See www.panda.org/about_wwf/what_we_do/marine/news/successes/index.cfm?uNewsID=21930 for more info on MPAs in Senegal) There has also been problems with harvesting sea turtle eggs, and so turtles currently do not use the beaches for nesting, but they are hopefull that with increased protection they will return.

On the island we also saw baobob trees that were dwarfed due to the sea salt and wind, but there was one baobob that was still huge in circumferance!

There are several endemic plants on the island, and some scientists are looking at using some of the plants for medicines and others for oil for fuel. We also were lucky enough to visit the nest of a red-billed tropic bird (Phaethon aethereus), and the burrow of an African spurred tortoise (Geochelone sulcata) the largest continental land tortoise!
Before we left the island we had about ½ hour of relaxation time before we had to leave, so two of us took advantage of the clean water and swam in the lagoon – it was fantastic. I was also able to explore some of the rocks and the tidal pools and found one that was full of sea urchins! When we finally made it back to the mainland and the buses with the rest of the group we were all smilling like crazy and were feeling utterly refreshed. So much better than hagaling over the price of trinkets with pushy vendors!!!!

We then went back to our rooms to freshen up and pack and then we boarded the buses and were taken to a reception at the home of a friend of Professor Sene (who was at a conference in the states). We had beautiful music and some time to talk with our guides and other friends from the West African Research Center. We also had tearful goodbyes because we had become quite attached to our new friends. We gave gifts to our guides, but had nothing to give our hostess – so we decided to sing part of “America the Beautiful” for her which touched both our hostess and ourselves. We were ready to come home even though many of us would miss Senegal and its people.

At the airport things went smoothly, and we had some time to spend the last of our CFA’s (the Senegalese currency). Unfortunately, several of us purchased jam made from the hibiscus flower that we had been enjoying for breakfast – but the jars were too big to make it through carry-on security in Belgium, ugh!!!! So we lost our jam and were very sad . Our bags had already been checked in at the Dakar airport so we had to take them as carry-ons, but I guess they count as “gel” which is now restricted in how much you can bring with you as a carry on.

But the flights were good (we survived) even if they were long and the layovers were just as long as well. We figured we had 28 hours of travel time (flights & layover) in addition to the last day we had spent in Dakar (our flight did not leave until 9:30pm Wednesday night, and we arrived in Raleigh at 7:30pm on Thursday). I was one of the lucky ones since I live close to Raleigh. Some others in the group still had to drive for 2-3 hours to get home! Needless to say we were a very tired group at the airport, but happy to be back home. Thank you all for coming with me and for your comments and words of encouragement!

Posted by TravelingV 10:09 Archived in Senegal Comments (1)

Mosque Visits

Learning about the Muslim religion

Today we spent the day visiting mosques and a koranic school. We have learned alot on this trip about the muslim religion, its similarities and differences from christian and jewish religions. We have had the privelge to meet some very important religious leaders and have been granted the honor of entering some of the mosques. The first mosque we visited today was the Mosquee de la Divinite. SN851196.jpg
It was built by a man who had a dream that he should be a religious leader, and some followed him. One of our guides' family are members of this mosque. The building was built according to what he saw in his dream. Worshipers must wear all white to enter and pray. Only those who are muslim could enter the mosque, so we did not enter. I learned on our visit to Touba last Friday that men are also supposed to cover their heads and that they are also supposed to cover their shoulders as well (so it is not just women).

The mosquee was beautiful. Around the mosque was a village, where many people were fishermen and they let us see their catch of the day, and there was even two huge mollusks (bivalves of some sort, but it was hard to tell since the shell had already been removed).

Next we went to the Grande Mosque of Dakar - which would be similar to a main cathedral. Professor Kebe, a religion instructor from the University of Cheikh Anta Diop, who went with us to Touba and Toubab Dialow (the village on the beach) last weekend also went with us to the Grande Mosque. We were allowed inside the mosque here, which was a great honor. The mosque was built in part with funds, and architects from Morocco, hence the Moracan style of the Mosque. There was a grand gathering at the Mosque in March where people from all over Africa came to pray. The Moroccans had given money to help develop Dakar in preparation of this event, which explains the development of the roadways. It also explains the massive constructions of hotels here, but they were not finished in time. They are expected to be finished in about a year.
After you enter the Mosque there is a courtyard with a fountain. Note the troughs where water can flow so that people may wash hands and feet before entering for prayer.
The mosque was very peaceful inside, on Fridays (the Islamic holy day) sermons are given and the mosque is full. People fill the courtyard and are even in the parking lots and streets participating in prayer. We have not heard the call to prayer here in Dakar, we are too far away from the mosques. In Touba, we did hear the call to prayer and watched as many people in the city left their work to go to the mosque and pray. Some of the people in our group were impressed and wished people would go to church as devotedly in the US!
We were also able to talk with instructors at the Mosque (they have a school for post high school studies - from what I understood). They asked what our purpose was and what we have learned. We shared with them that we were all instructors from North Carolina and that we were there to learn about Senegal, about Africa, and about the Muslim religion. We discussed how what we have seen of muslims here in Senegal has been so different from what is portrayed on the news by the media. They agreed that the US media gave a poor portrayal of the religion and the cultures that are involved. We said we could understand because much of the world also has misconceptions about the US that comes from the media, and from the movies. They agreed. They were eager to continue relations with our schools if we were willing. We have had that response from everybody we've meet in the schools and mosques on this trip! I can think of many wonderful possibilities for students and faculty members in both the US and Senegal

Our last visit was to a koranic school, I did not know if we had permission to photograph the children (I wouldn't feel comfortable putting them on the web anyhow) but I did take a picture of the goats that shared the courtyard with them! There are goats EVERYWHERE here!!!!!
There are also lots of cats and dogs, and horses are still used to haul carts. None of the animals are "friendly" they are not pets here. They are not aggressive, but they do not really interact with people. I have seen some people walking dogs that are pets in some of the more well-to-do areas along the beach. I'm sure there are lots of parasites involved and I'm not sure how prevalent rabies is here. Some of the horses look very well kept and healthy, while others are very skinny with bones sticking out and sores from the harnesses. We were told that when the rains start, there is grass everywhere - I'm wondering if the poorer horses then recover a bit of their weight. My friends with the Equine Rescue League would be shocked that these horses could still stand, let alone pull heavy cart loads.

My last picture is of the name of the street by the beach. I think it shows the connection that the Senegalese feel with the USA and the acceptance and respect the muslims here have for other cultures, religions, and civil rights leaders.

Final thoughts: We are leaving tomorrow so this will be the end, I may continue to add to this blog when I return from the states if I have time. I have been awed by the intellegence, the dedication, the hospitality, and the overall feeling of respect the Senegalese show for themselves and for other people and cultures. They have been so patient with those of us who do not speak French or Wolof, even though they have had to learn both and many know some English as well. There are many differences between the Senegalese and other African countries I have visited (Tunisia, and South Africa) and yet many similarities as well. There are also differences between Senegal and the US (as to be expected) but the similarities are more than I expected. There are rich, middle class, and poor citizens here - as there are in the US. People are very physically active here though - there is always somebody out jogging (I've seen more men than women, but there have been some!) I'm figuring that comes from less access to T.V. and computers as well as a desire for physical health. The people dress beautifully here, even the lower classes have dresses of bright and beautiful colors! Only the very poor wear dirty clothes. People are clean and I can respect the effor that must take, considering we are staying in a nice hotel and some of our group still has limited access to water. There is so much to say and I cannot do all that I have learned and seen justice on this short blog. But I am happy that I can share some of my experience with you.

This has been an exceptional trip and I feel that I have grown tremendously as a person, as a teacher, and as an American! But I am looking forward to coming home and seeing my family and friends!


Posted by TravelingV 12:10 Archived in Senegal Comments (1)

Back in Dakar

Hi all

Sorry I didn't get time to type anything with the photos yesterday, I thought the comments I put with them in the photo gallery would come up- I guess not! Most of them were self explanitory, I have some more to add I'll try to give a discription of each:

For my biology friends and students here are some animal and plant photos:

This is a village weaver displaying with his nest trying to attract a female to come live with him!SN851118.jpg

These lizards are fairly common - I believe this is a dominant male, the subordiant males and females have a different coloring, they are mostly grey with some blue/orange spots along their sides. SN851116.jpg

This is a Baobab tree, the national tree of Senegal. We saw lots of them on our way out to Touba, the holy city (the picture of the mosque I posted yesterday was from Touba). This tree is quite large and is found on campus near where we are staying. SN851119.jpg

These are hornbills, they were in the trees outside our residence.

We visited three schools today, The first was a day care for kids 3-5 yrs old. It is public, but the parents need to pay a fee each month. There are only 20 kids in a class there is one for 3yrs one for 4yrs and one for 5 yrs, and it is first come first serve. The school was awesome. SN851113.jpgSN851114.jpg

The second was a French-Arabic school that teaches kids from elementary through high school. It was similar to the public middle school we went to. The kids learn both french and arabic and have lessons in both (math, social studies, etc...) It is semiprivate, mostly an inexpensive private school that is for people who cannot send kids to the good private schools, but want them to get a good education. Even though they have classes in Islam, and there is a mosque there - worship is optional, the kids can pray if they want. Kids from any religion are welcome.

The last place we went to was the Land of the Children. It is a place where kids can get off the street for a while. If a child is lost they will take care of them until the family can be found. They take in runaways until they can resolve family issues and return the kids to their homes and they take in kids that have been sent here from other countries because their parents were promised they would get schooled, but instead the people who do this instead make them beg on the streets for money, until their parents can be found and they can be returned home.

Here is a french class for the kids.
Some of the kids are taught trades, like leather working, and this is a bag made from leather and metal from soda cans. They sell the bags and other items to raise money for the center.

These are the kids singing us songs after we gave them the gifts we brought. One of the songs was "if you're happy and you know it" so we sang it back to them in English. We were the first Americans to ever sing to them!SN851110.jpg

This is the beautiful woman who began the center - I didn't catch her name, but she is famous here. I will find out her name before we left. The child with her has a broken arm. It was a "funny" story. Apparently he was riding his bike and they told him not to because he would get hurt. Then the next day when he woke up he fell out of his bed and broke his arm! SN851109.jpg

Ok, me and my wonderful roomate Mollie are off for an Ice Cream treat. I'm not sure if I'll get a chance to write tomorrow, and we are leaving Wednesday night so we will be busy packing and things that day. So this may be the last entry! We'll see. Take care and I hope to "see" you soon.

Posted by TravelingV 12:16 Archived in Senegal Comments (1)


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Posted by TravelingV 10:37 Archived in Senegal Comments (4)

Impressions of Senegal

Public vs Private schools

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I have a quick moment to write a little more about my impressions of Senegal. When we arrived I think we were all a little nervous - we had been told that the airport would be very chaotic (actually compared to some of the Central American airports I've been through it was actually quite sane!), and the piolet told us on the plane that we were not allowed to take pictures of the airport (that doens't exactly give you confidence in the security!). All was fine.

I remember my first impression of Senegal was being amazed that everything is dirt, a redish-brown sand and that there is garbage everywhere. When I say everywhere, I mean everywhere. Now that we've been here a few days it is not even phasing me. As we drove through Dakar to get to our rooms I also noticed that there was a lot of construction - which didn't look like it was moving along really quickly. The road we took went along the coast and it was different than I expected as well. There were many cliffs, and it was rocky, only very few areas where there were beaches.

I've already mentioned our accomdations, and my roomate Mollie - she's great. I'm so lucky to have my own French Teacher! There are two on our trip actually and it is great because the Senegalese speak French and then thier native languages. There are 26 native languages, but about 6 main ones. We had a lesson in Wolof yesterday which is probably the most common. Being with Mollie and watching her be able to communicate so easily with the people we meet has really inspired me to learn more languages. I know some Spanish - and was able to talk to the Spanish teacher at the middle school we visited today (he didn't speak very much English, but we had fun talking in Spanish).

The schools here are all in French (which is also the national language - a leftover of the colonial period). However this is a problem because it really is not the native tongue of most people. Most kids do not learn French until they begin school - so in order to learn anything in school they must first learn French. When we were talking to Professor Sene on Tuesday I mentioned that I noticed that it seemed that many people here were interested in literature and arts - I asked him if this was a cultural preference. He said no, not really - it is just that science is a difficult subject and so you can imagine how much more difficult it would be to learn in another language!!! So true.

But back to the elementary school. The kids were great, they were very quite, and shy to ask questions - so I asked them what their favorite classes were - just about everybody raised their hands: geography, science, math, french, were all common answers. I then asked them what careers they wanted to have, again so many hands! Most wanted to be doctors or nurses, others wanted to be hostesses, no one wanted to be a teacher (most teachers are on a volunteer basis - due to restructuring of the economy - but I'll have to write more about that later!!!) These 15 minute interludes are not enough time to let you all know how much I am learning about Senegal and Africa in general.

The middle school we visited was a public one - the difference was extreme. Very dirty, and they have such high drop out rates - mostly because they cannot afford food, or pencils, or do not have anywhere to study at home (most live in 1 room "shacks" is the best term for them).

But with all the poverty around me, the one thing that shines is the fantastic personality and friendlyness and politeness of the Senegalese people! They are so happy and wonderful even though they know what difficulties they are living with.

Gotta run, we're off to visit a university now. I'll try to get some photos on soon!!!!!

Posted by TravelingV 07:21 Archived in Senegal Comments (5)

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