Monday, July 30, 2007

I'm home!

Monday, July 23, 2007


Two hot showers, chocolate, washer and dryer, chilled white whine, toast on whole wheat bread and water I can drink directly out of the tap! I have arrived back in the occidental world. Taking a hot shower last was so refreshing. This morning, surrounded with all the conveniences of life from a television, comfortable mattresses and a refrigerator, I became almost emotional. I didn’t think that I would be so affected by the sudden change in environment. I am a man who adapts quite easily. The sudden onslaught of conveniences that I have desired and longed for over the past 12 months. I kept finding myself saying… oh my god, I haven’t had ….. in the past 6, 10, 12 months. These certainly weren’t conveniences, luxuries and tastes that I couldn’t live without. The comforts found here in London, however, were a small taste of home. It has been raining quite a bit in London, and it is quite chilly here… more feelings I haven’t had for the past 6,10,12 months.
I am staying at marisa’s flat, a friend who I met in Zanzibar who has a shared love for African music (she is a music producer for rough guide music.) She lives in the oldest part of London. We are down the street from the jail where Charles dickens father was held. We are also blocks away from the oldest church in London.

I have just come back from spending the day walking about. Well, most of the walking about was indoors as I was visiting two different Anglican churches. Even when on a slight vacation, I can’t seem to avoid religion. It is really interesting coming from a land where Christianity has only been present in many areas for about 100 years, to visit churches where there ahs been continuous Christian worship for the past 1700 years. Today I visited the cathedral of southwark and St Paul’s cathedral. St Paul’s church was designed and constructed by Christopher Wren after the great fire destroyed London. It has the 2nd largest dome in the world behind the Vatican. The architecture was simply stunning. I attended the evensong prayer service there. It is remarkable how close even the office of prayer is to that of the catholic churches. I have already experienced this within the Episcopal church of course as I worked at St. Lukes. I really have stepped into another world though. I am now getting to explore british pub culture afterall.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

village life

Entering into village life can be quite the shocking experience. In a very dramatic way, you are forced to conform to your environment. It is odd to think that there is very much a culture of travel. This culture exists side by side with that of a residents. Being a traveler affords a certain independence and privacy. You do, after all, always have the option of leaving, an option not afforded to too many citizens in the countries I have been living in. Having largely lived in transitive households, whether it be a hostel, a guest house, a mission house or an expat family, I have largely been departing from this point as I interact with local culture around me. Moving in with Jenna in the village certainly challenged this position. Jenna’s room is directly attached to the families single room house in the village. The shade structure provided is shared for the whole family. The only real privacy she has is her bedroom and her toilet. This past year, I have always had the option of leaving. Being completely independent, even attaching myself to a community or a work was never a true and solid commitment. In the village, I certainly got to have a taste for what a different type of life being posted to a place is. The challenges are far different, for you have to live with these people. I can simply get along until I move along. A two year commitment, like the one spent with the peace corps, just does not

I certainly had some romantic notions about my visit to this largely muslim community in the north. Excited for the opportunity to engage Muslims in conversation, I found myself thrust right away into such conversations. Did I have grand ideals about being a toubab (white) marabou? Perhaps… All the same, I found it exciting, though exhausting to be able to have inter-religious intercultural discussions in French.

Anyways, why don’t I put a little order to this experience. On second thought…. I am gonna go find some chocolate (a vice I haven’t indulged in months) and go for a walk….

Friday, July 20, 2007

back from the village


I seemed to have set down pen and paper, so to speak, and left both blog and journal by the wayside. I can’t claim that it is for a lack of time, as I have been spending the past week in the village. No, being the 21st century American that I am, it was for far more practical reasons. In the village there is too much dust, too little privacy, and no electricity to speak of. While you might begin to wonder how I have been getting by all year, I can promise that life in Africa has been quite comfortable with regards to issues of electricity. The few times where I have had to go without have been my tourist adventures into the bush, and my brief excursion with the Tanzanian semi-nomadic people, the wataturu. I have been visiting Jenna Dillon, a close friend from Willamette working in the peace corps in northern Senegal. It has been an interesting opportunity to view from the ground life in Senegal. This is not necessarily an opportunity afforded often by my own research direction, as it typically takes me to the homes of those educated far beyond the national standard, and certainly living above the poverty line, though still living in poverty in the religious sense (a paradox that many religious have to confront). As the chief of the village repeatedly told me, this village is (in my own words) a microcosm for the rest of Senegal. In this small village in northern Senegal, every language is represented, most of the ethnic groups are represented, and there is both a catholic church and a mosque, the two main religions of the country. This is certainly not typical of most Senegalese villages, and, on account for its diversity, this village is quite the anomaly. History intercedes, and you realize once more that you can’t merely apply ideas of your typical African village across the board, ignoring the action and influence of individual volition throughout its own history. The village of kassak sud was founded in 1966 as a place for Senegalese war veterans. Senegal from the late 1800s up until the mid 1960’s was a colony of france. As such, it was subject to the draft and other military obligations up until its independence. As abu sow, a rice cultivator, described to me, the colonial govt would come and if you had two sons they would take one, if you had three, they would take two. Most of these soldiers, he retorted, didn’t come home.
In 1966 this village was created by Leopold Senghor, first president of Senegal and great literary figure. He offered land to all the Senegalese veterans from the French. From all over the country the former “volunteers” came, representing the diverse religions and the diverse ethnic groups. Being a created village, there is not a unifying history or tradition for this village, though many of them do hail from a peul speaking heritage, the dominant ethnic group in the northern futa region. The village is a village of cultivators. From the small local river, they pump water to irrigation ditches leading to the rice fields. Men are paid 1000 cfa (about 2 dollars) a day to stand out at the fields and scare away the birds. Not my ideal line of work. More to come when I can find a chance to sit down and type.

Promises have a way being quite slowly delayed.

I have left Mali and Burkina and now find myself in Senegal. On my arrival in Senegal, I followed a housing lead given to me by a traveling French girl and headed for the mission catholic. At the first mission catholic, I was soundly turned away. It was a community of sisters who shared everything together and thus had no private facilities. Thus, being a man, it could get complicated for me to stay there. They sent me on to the procure down town with the warning that the responsible was out of town. Luck is typically on my side, so I hopped on a taxi and headed south. On arrival, I found myself waiting through the French African sacred hour (lunchtime: 12-3). I finally met some priests who found the next man down the rung for me. As the responsible was out, however, it wasn’t possible for me to stay there. They sent me on a car back north but angled thirty degrees to the left along the shore side. I was effectively dumped and the road side and told, first door on the right. The buck had been passed. I entered inside and found to my little surprise that all the rooms were full. I had thought that the priest, whose phone was attached to his ear that sent me hear had in fact called them to be sure there was space before sending me on this wild goose chase, but that was just expecting too much. I found myself in friendly hands, however, as I soon discovered that this was the house of the congregation of the holy spirit (also known as spiritans or holy ghost fathers). Indeed, I lived with the spiritans for about a month and a half when I was in Ethiopia. While their house was full, they gave me a full plate of food, which after having been up since 5 am, and dealing with all the hassels of unsuccessfully smuggling extra weight onto planes with me, with the added burden of traversing the traffic filled city of Dakar twice, was all that I could want in the world. I was comfortably resigned to seeking out cheap housing in some reputable brothel downtown, when one of the employees, Alain, with whom I had already shared some decent conversation, invited me to his house. I had never actually lived with an African family before, as my constant moving typically made this difficult. I was intrigued and immediately accepted. Alain took me and my heavy bags further north and set me up in his room. He had two beds put together, as it would not be uncommon for his cousin to crash there. Alain lives in a three story cement building. His parents live on the ground floor, while they rent out the next level and alain, his sister and some cousins live in rooms built on the roof. This is too simple of a scheme for describing the living situation here, for I think I could probably count at least 40 people living there. Unfortunaly things used in common, without a common pooling of funds can make living a little difficult. The water had been cut from the complex due to a lack of timely payments. With one meter and 40 opinions, I can certainly understand how such a problem would arise. Effectively beaten, I took to the bed and spent a good three hours recuperating my strength.
Over the next few days I began to fall into rythym with urban African life. It is certainly not what I expected. Rising with the sun, I found myself effectively alone on the roof for near 2 hours. Not a soul stirred in the compound. Soon a few of the lodgers and the other family would begin to rise, wash their face, and head off on the day. Alains dad, a retired doctor would clean the courtyard, and I would greet alain’s mom from three storeys high. Without Alain or his sister being awake, I didn’t know how to get my bucket of water to wash and wake up. I found myself somewhat incapacitated as I waited for others to arise. Alain would pop out of bed just a few minutes before eight and would head off to work. Jerome, Alain’s brother, ran a very successful mini bar out of the exterior part of the ground floor. I should probably note that this is a predominantly muslim neighborhood, though Alain’s family and some others in the quarter are catholics from the formely animist ethnicities of the south eastern part of Senegal. Jerome could easily find himself up till 6 am working, selling his wares to his muslim-in-everything-but-stomach friends and neighbors. Around 9 am one would see him awake and the family would have a small breakfast of bread, butter and your choice of coffee or powdered milk with a hint of coffee.
My second day in Senegal, Jerome helped me cross the city with some of the research books I have collected and sent them off by post. I got by narrowly with a minor fine at the last airport and I did not relish the idea of trying to make it through 3 more with the added 20 kilos before making it finally home. I returned and waited for what I thought would be a quick lunch before heading out again. Lunch, however, didn’t arrive until 3 pm. I began to realize just how much of an independent streak I have picked up this year. The moment it felt culturally ok to leave the lunch table, I hastily grabbed my day sack and hit the road. For as much patience and ease with slowness I have developed in Africa, I felt a strong urge to leave the house and do something. I made my way to a early 19th century lighthouse that I had marked out in my guidebook before arriving that promised some of the best views over the peninsula. After a good hour of twisting through narrow walkways, I finally traversed a giant construction site next to a landfill and begin to ascend to little volcanic mound. Halfway up the sea breeze struck me, and I was filled with awe as I gazed over the stretching ocean blue.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


i might not have told the world yet. i am teaching and living in france next year from sept until may.
i am in dakar right now. more to come.