Goodbye Senegal!

I am leaving tomorrow. I am actually leaving my home for 8 months tomorrow. I can’t believe it! I don’t think it has actually sunk in yet. It has gone by so fast. Guess I better start packing 😛

Since my last blog post, I tried to fit in the final activities that I wanted to do in Senegal. I spent a day with Madame Kane who runs a local restaurant that my co-workers and I eat at every day. I helped her to prepare several traditional Senegalese dishes (ceebu jen and yassa). I learned lots and had a lot of fun. Additionally, I ran the final workshop for Collège des Femmes. We got a lot of work accomplished on the action plan that I proposed. I really hope that it gets executed. At the end of the two-day workshop, members of College des Femmes surprised me with going away gifts. I was so incredibly touched. It was truly an honour to have worked with them these past 8 months. Last weekend, I organized a soccer game for my co-workers as a thank you present. It was CNCR vs. ASPRODEB (ASPRODEB is another agricultural organizations that shares the same building as CNCR). We are all good friends and work together often. It was a very close, exciting game. It ended as 11-9 for CNCR and I scored the last goal 🙂  All in all, everyone had a great time and it was decided that this would continue as a monthly tradition. I am very happy to have played a role in bringing my co-workers closer together.

I have already had to say goodbye to Collège des Femmes, CECI staff members, several co-workers and friends. Tears have been shed. I have been overwhelmed with everyone’s kindness. It is amazing to see that people not only appreciate my work but also who I am as a person. So many people said that they want me to stay and to be honest, I wish I could stay longer too. But I will definitely be back one day. Also hopefully some of them will be able to visit me in Canada!  I am dreading saying good bye to my family tomorrow. It is going to be so hard.

That being said, I am very much looking forward to seeing my family and friends back in Canada. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate everyone’s support from back home! This is a very interesting time in my life where I am transitioning between different chapters. I am grateful for this amazing opportunity and I am excited about what is to come! See you in two days Canada! ❤

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The Final Stretch: Endings and Beginnings

I can’t believe that I have 15 days until I am on a plane back to Canada! This amazing journey has passed by so quickly! Friends keep on asking me how I feel about coming back home. Other INDEV students keep posting about how excited they are to get back. However, I have strong mixed emotions. Don’t get me wrong, I am really looking forward to seeing my family and friends in Canada. I miss them a lot. But at the same time, I don’t want to leave my family and friends here in Senegal. I cannot begin to express what this experience has meant to me and how it has positively impacted my life.

Since my last post, I have been trying to do all the things that I wanted to do before I leave Senegal. I went to Ile de Madeline, which is a small, uninhabited island with beautiful views. I also went to Lac Rose which is literally a pink lake. I got to swim in the pink water; it was such a cool experience! Both of these locations were incredibly beautiful. Feel free to check out my Facebook page for pictures. Last weekend, I had the privilege of going to Saly with my host brother and his friends. We had an amazing time: swimming in the ocean, hanging out on the beach and playing the board game that I brought.

Unfortunately, I recently had a lot of really bad migraines. Luckily, I am feeling a lot better now! And I have finally finished my last essay of my undergrad! It is really unbelievable that I am pretty much done university. I can’t believe it that these four fantastic years have passed so quickly. Graduation is just around the corner!

Currently, I am feeling incredibly blessed and trying to enjoy Senegal to the fullest while I am still here. I sincerely hope to come back one day!

Adventures in Senegal with Friends

I took my sister and three of my cousins to visit La Statue de la Renaissance. It was pretty fun and there was a great view of the city! We toured around the first couple of levels; I might go back so I can go to the top and take some pictures of Dakar.

A fellow INDEVOUR and friend of mine, Graeme, is now in Senegal working on his Master’s research. It has been a pleasure to spend time with him and his girlfriend, Leila. All of the CECI volunteers are leaving this month (as the Uniterra program finishes this month), so it will be nice to have some other people to hang out with until I leave in April. Since my last blog post, I have discovered a new restaurant which serves the best pizza in Dakar, met a German Shepard puppy, attended a birthday celebration, played pool, and visited Ile de Gorée (Gory Island).

Ile de Gorée was a significant transportation hub for the slave trade. I went with Graeme, Leila and Jean (with Tarick joining us later). We took a boat from Dakar to get to the island. It has over 1000 inhabitants who predominantly make their living off the tourism fostered by the historic nature of the island. There are tour guides, restaurants, vendors, jewellery makers, etc. We visited ‘La Maison d’Esclaves’, a former slave house. It was a very emotional experience. I got to walk into the rooms (if you can even call them that) where they kept the slaves before sending them to North America. There is writing on the walls. I wonder what their stories are, I imagine that they were trying to preserve a part of themselves. It was bittersweet to look out at the ocean from the upper level because I always associate the sea with freedom and joy. However, I can only imagine what these individuals who were enslaved would think of the ocean (e.g. death, fear, unknown). After visiting La Maison d’Esclaves, we ate lunch and then walked around the island. The whole island is eerily beautiful. There are colourful buildings and smiling faces trying to sell you paintings; however there is such a sad history which looms over the island. We walked up the hill and found a perfect place to sit and enjoy the view. I bought Senegalese maracas (a really cool hand-held musical instrument) and an amazing hand-sculptured bike for my grandfather. It is made out of recycled metal (specifically Coke cans). The little pedals actually turn the wheels! The people who made these art pieces are incredibly talented. It was a great experience!

Note: Please see my Facebook page for pictures, unfortunately I am unable to post them here 😦

Le temps passe vite!

I can’t believe that it is already mid-late February!

Work update: The logo that I have been working on for Collège des Femmes is finally finished 🙂  I have received positive feedback from my co-workers and some members of the Collège. This should really help their communication and overall visibility of the organization. I led my first meeting a couple of weeks ago. I planned it, made the terms of reference, received funding, etc. It was a good experience. I am currently working on finalizing the action plan for Collège des Femmes, in effort to provide them with a sense of direction and tangible tasks to do.

I went to my first Senegalese wedding! It was quite the experience. Everyone got all dressed up, many of the women changed into a second outfit half way through the wedding. There are two ceremonies: one at the groom’s house and one at that bride’s house. My house family knew the bride so that is where we attended. There was a session for males exclusively, where they talked and prayed. While I was waiting, I helped the workers to set up and decorate all the chairs. Then it was time for the female portion of the evening. All the men left and we started bringing out all the gifts. Each gift was presented individually and announced in front of everyone. There was also a lot of impromptu singing and dancing. I got up and danced much to the women’s delight! Many individuals demonstrated different dance moves that they wanted me to use. When we finished, a lady gave me a necklace because I supposedly danced well (or at least made a good effort :P). It was a really nice gesture…and then she asked me for money. This is pretty common in Senegal. There were a lot of griots (praise singers) at the wedding who asked me to pay them just because of the birth right/profession. It was very interesting. The bride was absolutely stunning. I wish I had a better picture of her dress. I never got a chance to see the groom, which was bizarre from a Canadian perspective. There was no religious leader present. The official ‘marriage’ happens later on when the couple goes to the court house and signs the documents. The event lasted about 6 hours. It was fun, but also exhausting.

I got to play soccer in Senegal for the first time!   My brother Ish has a team he plays with. Girls playing soccer in Senegal is very rare and he was hesitant to let me play because he didn’t want me to get hurt. But I was able to participate and it was an amazing experience. The Senegalese are amazing soccer players! It was impressive just to watch them handle the ball.

I am continuing to take Wolof classes which I am enjoying immensely. Also I still love teaching English to my colleagues. I just finished up an essay for school and some job applications, so I am hoping to do some more ‘exploring’ in Senegal now. I will be leaving so soon, I can’t believe it. Trying to pack as much fun in as possible before I am forced to go 🙂 Then it will be time for graduation and the “real world”. Unbelievable!

Shifts in Perspective

I’m back! I was lucky enough to be able to go home for Christmas, as many of you know. I was in Canada for almost three weeks. It was so wonderful to see my family and friends again. I am so grateful. Highlights included Christmas Eve service at church, Christmas with my family, New Year’s with family friends, visiting with friends, baking, reading and wrapping presents. Unfortunately there was no snow, so I could not go tobogganing L

The day before I was supposed to leave Canada, I told my dad that I wasn’t ready to go. I was worried that I would be sad when I returned, missing my family. However, it was the opposite. I was happy to have gone to Canada and also happy that I was back. I realized that the opportunity to go home and then return (to my other home) gave me a newfound appreciation for my life in Senegal. It was so amazing to be reunited with my host family and my coworkers. I was glad to be hearing Wolof again. I even was happy to be eating Senegalese food.

Some funny/cool things that have happened since I have been back:

  • I went to the market with Maman and impromptu decided to get henna done. It was my very first time doing this, so it was quite a joy.
  • I was skyping with my friend Chelsea when I saw a mouse run across my room. She witnessed my shocked expression. I got my uncle to help me but we were not able to find it and it is still missing 😛
  • It is 20 degrees Celsius which is considered cold for Senegalese people! They complain about it often 😛 I have gotten used to it being much hotter out, so I actually bring a light sweater to work now. My co-workers tease me a lot about it because I promised that I would never wear a sweater in Senegal.
  • I brought a board game back to play with my family. It is called You Don’t Say. It is similar to Pictionary but instead of drawing the word, you have to explain its meaning using different words. It comes in English and in French. I play the French version with my family and they loved it; there was lots of laughter. I am playing a modified version of the game, using simple English words for my daily English classes to my co-workers. They are really enjoying it, which makes me happy!   I am so glad I am able to teach as part of my experience here. My co-workers really appreciate it.
  • I went to see Wally Seck last weekend, who is a famous Senegalese singer. It was a great concert!
  • There is a popular Senegalese tradition : if you forgot something after eating at a restaurant, it means that the food was so delicious that it caused you to forget something that you brought with you. If this happens, you have to buy everyone a drink. When I first learned this, I have been extra careful not to forget anything when my co-workers and I go out to eat for lunch. Last Thursday, after eating, I picked up my knapsack, my hat and water bottle and exited the restaurant. As soon as I got outside, I realized that I didn’t have my sweater. I turned around and it wasn’t on my chair as it should have been. When I turned around again I saw Babacar (one of my co-workers) smiling like crazy and my sweater was hanging out of his jacket. So a long story short, he stole my sweater but insisted that I forgot it, so I had to buy all my co-workers juice 🙂 It was really funny!
  • We went over to my aunt’s house (Tata Ndeye) for lunch today, the whole family came over. It was really fun. I took some pictures with my sister and my cousins.

All and all, I am doing very well. I am happy. I am healthy (despite getting sick on Friday). I am trying my best to live in the moment and soak up being here! …And I think that I am going to have to leave before I know it.

I’m Coming Home

I wasn’t planning to, but I have decided to come home for Christmas (thanks to my parents for the early Christmas present of my flight home)!  I was originally quite hesitant about going home.  I was worried it would make me more homesick and “ruin” the last half of my experience in Senegal.  However, Senegal has become a home for me: my host family, my workplace, the CECI office…  I have lots of things to look forward to when I come back.  My job is going to be busier and hopefully I will be able to accomplish more.  I hope to go salsa dancing.  I also want to go to the beach more and visit other parts of the country.  So, all in all, I have decided that I am able to do this 😛  I truly miss my family and friends and really look forward to seeing them.  I also look forward to see what the rest of my experience in Senegal brings to me.

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Work friends: Prospère, Jean and Tutti

 

I am excited to bake Christmas cookies, put up the tree, attend Christmas Eve service, wrapping, etc.   I feel very blessed that I will not be missing Christmas with my family.  I know that the vast majority of INDEV students are staying in their respective countries.  I wish you guys all the best!  Happy travelling 🙂

As of yesterday, I finished my school work for this term, handing in my last essay.  I worked very hard on it, so hopefully my dedication will pay off.  I am now looking into potential job opportunities after graduation.  Right now, my top choices are social innovation incubators to continue my passion for entrepreneurship and specifically my youth consent education project.

Friends and family back home, 14 days and counting! ❤   I feel like a little kid who can’t wait for Christmas again…though let’s be real, I have always been that way 😛  But this year, I have even more to look forward to 🙂

One small step for this social entrepreneur, one giant leap for the future of Canadian food services

I have some exciting news to share about the progress of the St. Paul’s Community Garden.  Chartwells (a major Canadian food service provider) recently released a video, working with St. Paul’s University College, to officially launch their Campus or Community Garden Guide.  This is what I inspired them to work on with the creation of the St. Paul’s Community Garden and our partnership.  There are now 6 additional community gardens across Canada who are becoming social enterprises and are selling their produce to Chartwells.  I am very proud with how far my little “seed project” has come.  I am so happy to see the national impact that I initiated with the establishment of the St. Paul’s Community Garden.  You never know the full effects that you can have on your community, so my advice is to start small and try to have a small impact but be ready for it to grow! St. Paul's Community Garden Peas I could not have done this without the support of St. Paul’s GreenHouse (https://uwaterloo.ca/stpauls/greenhouse) which has instilled my love of social entrepreneurship and Meal Exchange (http://mealexchange.com/) which fostered my love for local, sustainable food.  I am very grateful to my entire St. Paul’s family as well for helping me make this dream a reality.  Finally, thank you to Chartwells for being a progressive food services provider on the sustainability front and for facilitating the scaling-up of this project nation-wide.

Please visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOtVsAiBtFU to watch the entire video.  Let us work together to grow local, sustainable food!

Highs and Lows

Last weekend, I had an amazing opportunity to go to Saly to my host family’s other house.  I went with Ish, Kyla, Nobi, Bennett and Eden.  It is a beautiful house, made up of 2 buildings with a pool in the middle.  It is also a two minute walk away from the ocean.  Therefore, I pretty much spent the whole weekend in the water!  Ish’s friends also joined us on Saturday.  I cannot express how much I loved the ocean there.  Its beauty took my breath away.  The water in the ocean was far warmer than the pool.  It is very easy to float as it is salt water.  So I just laid back and tried to take it all in.  We also watched the sunset on the beach.  The picture does not even do it justice, but this gives you an idea:

2014-10-18 14.41.54

Last week at work, CNCR has taken action on the United Nations-Declared International Year of Family Farming.  On Monday, there was a big press conference.  My job was to take pictures and video and I even ended up on Senegalese TV!  On Tuesday, the entire CNCR staff went to Mekhe for a large conference.  It was unlike any meeting I had ever been to, over 500 people.  There was impromptu singing, dancing and even theatre.  Everyone expressed the immense value of family farming.  On Wednesday, it was the day of mobilization for the International Year of Family Farming.  There were workshops happening in every district of Senegal, all organized by CNCR.  I visited Mbour, with some of my colleagues.  On top of the passionate speeches (some in French, some in Wolof), I learned the “tam-tam” (Senegalese drum) and how to dance ‘Senegalese style”, specifically of the Serrer culture.  It was lots of fun.  According to the women, I was very good (but who knows, they could have been being nice :P).  I am very proud to work at CNCR and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to see the tremendous impact that they have on rural farming communities all over Sénégal.

Senegalese string instrument called the "riti", similar to a violin
Senegalese string instrument called the “riti”, similar to a violin

On a less exciting note, I have been really sick since Friday.  The doctor thought it was a gastro-intestinal illness, like food poisoning.  It was not pretty.  I threw up a lot and was in a lot of pain.  The worst of it lasted for 48 hours (during this time I was not able to eat anything).  I am very lucky with how great my host family took care of me.  I am feeling a lot better now.  I am still feeling a bit weak but I am finally back to work today.  So no need to worry about me!

Tabaski

Last last weekend (Oct 4-6), I had the immense pleasure and privilege of celebrating Tabaski with my host family. Tabaski is the Wolof word for Eid, the most important Muslim holiday.  It involves sacrificing a sheep, in remembrance and celebration of Abraham’s will to sacrifice his son to God.  It is a joyous occasion that everyone looks forward to. You could easily tell the difference in Dakar pre- and post-Tabaski. This is due to the number of sheep (moutons).  Before Tabaski, I have never seen so many sheep in all my life.  They were absolutely everywhere I looked!  I tried to take some pictures but it does not do the sheer volume of sheep justice.  After Tabaski, there was very few sheep to be seen, given that they had all been slaughtered.

Never-ending sea of sheep on my way home from work
Never-ending sea of sheep on my way home from work

It was a 5.5 hour drive to get to Saint Louis where my host family was celebrating Tabaski. It was a long and exhausting journey, but completely worth it.  The entire extended family was in attendance (about 20 people in total).  It was such a pleasure to meet everyone; they were all so welcoming to me and Kyla (the other volunteer staying with us). On Sunday, we celebrated Tabaski. Seven sheep were sacrificed and it took the majority of the day to prepare the meat.  It is a lot of work.  I had trouble watching but I took a few pictures.  We had a late lunch: a feast of the BBQ meat.  It was quite good!  The evening was my favourite part: everyone got dressed up in their special Tabaski clothes and I got to wear the dress that Marie gave me.  Wolof clothing is absolutely gorgeous!  Here are some pictures of everyone all dressed up.

My host family :)
My host family 🙂
Mourat and me
Mourat and I
All dressed up!
All dressed up!
My Senegalese "brothers": Ish and As
My Senegalese “brothers”: Ish and As
The Whole Family (almost)
The Whole Family (almost)

Overall, Tabaski was one of my favourite times here in Dakar and I know it will be a cherished memory of my time here in Senegal.

My Family(s)

Senegal has taught me many things, since I have arrived 3 weeks ago.  The first is that I can’t live without 3 things: bottled water, toilet paper and my fan.  But seriously, one important lesson is that there are many different types of families and you don’t have to be related in order to be family.  The Senegalese are well-known for being friendly and welcoming.  There is something called the “téranga senegalaise”, which basically refers to the welcoming nature of Senegalese people (Senegalese hospitality).  I have experienced many examples of this, while living in Dakar.

I made friends with the guards, Sabalay and Cisse, at my hotel.  They always wanted to know how my day was and gave my directions on wherever I needed to go.  They also told me what a fair price would be for a taxi so I didn’t get charged a ridiculous price.  I was sad to leave the hotel just because I won’t be seeing them very often.

Néné, one of the secretaries at CECI, took me under her wing and helped me convert money, figure out my cellphone and buy groceries during my first week here.  She also invited me to her home to meet her family, along with Jean (another volunteer).  I got to spend quality time with her family members.  She lives with her entire extended family (about 15 people in one house).  The kids (Fatimata, Jalo and Aminata) taught me Senegalese hand games and songs.  Fatimata was the one who gave me my Senegalese name: Anta Sylla.  Ironically these are the same initials as my Canadian name (for those of you who don’t know my official first name is Alexis).  I spoke with Marie, Néné’s mother; everyone was so incredibly kind.  We had dinner together, everyone sharing from the same bowl, sitting on the ground.  It was an amazing communal feel.  Marie surprised me the other day by buying me a dress for Tabaski (which is the biggest Senegalese holiday, occurring this weekend).  I am truly overwhelmed by this considerate and generous gift.  I miss Néné’s entire family and look forward to hopefully visiting them soon.

 

Néné, Aminata, myself, Fatimata, and Marie (from left to right)
Néné, Aminata, myself, Fatimata, and Marie (from left to right)

Finally, my other family is of course, my host family.  I have lived with Madame Sow (Maman) for a week now.  My family members also consist of Issa (Ish) who just turned 27, Rose who is 14, Kayla (a US volunteer), as well as Astou and Astou (our two housekeepers who just happen to have the same name).  Everyone has been very welcoming to me.  It is a great feeling to feel like I belong somewhere.  We will be going to Saint Louis (3 hours north of Dakar) to celebrate Tabaski this weekend.  I am very excited.  Will let everyone know how that goes in my next blog post!

Issa, Maman and Rose on Issa's birthday
Issa, Maman and Rose on Issa’s birthday

I hope to create a family in my work environment also.  My coworkers have provided me advice various times and are starting to teach me Wolof.  I only know a few words so far, but I hope to be able to expand my vocabulary and have basic conversation by the end of my stay here.

All in all, I am missing my ‘family family’, my church family and my family of friends back home in Canada tremendously.  But you should know that I am been well taken care of here in Dakar.