Changing gears, My first week in Dakar/Pikine, Senegal

Apparently I wasn’t able to keep up with what I initially started this blog for, BUT I’m re-igniting the blogging fire in me to document my experiences, findings, and feelings during my trip to Senegal to do research on urban agriculture. For the next two months, well 7 weeks now, I will post a blog every week. Follow if you please :]

Alors, in my first week…

My new home

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View from my terrace

I’m staying with the family of a friend/former GSI from Berkeley. She married into a Senegalese family, and I have to say, I couldn’t be luckier to know her, and now them. I am forever grateful to her for setting me up here with a home and contacts. Hospitality is a huge part of Senegalese culture – they make sure to go out of the way to welcome you really well, and they do it very graciously. From feeding me to literally accompanying me everywhere (they’re also a bit protective, in the best way), the Fall family has gone beyond my expectations. I can only hope to give back to them as much as they have given me. Throughout three different neighborhoods are their different homes, including Liberte, HLM, and Casor. Below of some photos of these neighborhoods.

Poverty? *disclaimer: I’ve only been here for a week, so my perspectives on this are very undeveloped and I’m just expressing my current thoughts*

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By our (American) standards, it seems easy to label these neighborhoods as impoverished, and perhaps even easily identifiable as “third world.” The streets are covered in sand and trash, and don’t really have traffic signs, people hang their clothes to dry, the buildings/homes are really close to one another & aren’t obviously pretty, and there are goats. However, as a Global Poverty Minor student, I have learned about the subjectiveness of the term “poverty” itself – what is poverty? Who defines it? I don’t feel like I can preach an answer to those questions, but being here has given me new context, and a new perspective… I’ve been asked/told: “Isn’t it funny that poor people have things like iphone?” But while being here, in a place we would consider “poor,” I’ve come to realize that that isn’t weird at all. Rather I’ve come to speculate from conversations and observations here that people really invest in the insides of their home and their personal belongings because that’s what they can invest in. Elections are going on here right now, and while there is a lot of passionate campaigning and people involved in the elections, I’ve felt a sense of doubt in politicians being able to actually change their cities – very much like here in the US… politicians talk a lot of talk, but we don’t necessarily see them do the walk once elected. What people do have power over is there possessions. As Americans, drowned in consumer culture, I feel we can relate – we buy the latest gadgets and styles to show people our status, sometimes we buy things we can’t afford just to look of a higher class. So, I don’t find it silly that people here have a bunch of clothes or have an iphone, even though they don’t have consistent water or electricity every day. The question of the poverty, here, I guess deviates to two kinds of poverty – personal and infrastructural. The city’s infrastructure and institutions aren’t well invested in by the state, but that doesn’t mean people can’t support themselves and be just as content.

(Language) Barriers

I have to admit, although the people I am surrounded by are amazing, I have actually had a much harder time adjusting in this first week than I had anticipated. During the last couple of weeks leading up to this trip I had mixed emotions of fear and anxiety with excitement and hope. Once I got here, the ups and (especially) the downs of that emo-rollercoaster got steeper. The language barrier is probably the hardest, as I am only speaking English at nights on skype calls. At first, the language barrier made me feel like I was out of my league here, and I started to feel scared. But, my french has gotten a lot better after many moments of confusion and hand gestures, AND I am also trying to learn Wolof, a West African language. Throughout Senegal, French is the “national” language, but particularly in the Dakar region, Wolof is the primary IMG_0953language. Haha, I’ve spent my share of hours sitting quietly amongst the family as I listen to their words, with no idea of what they’re actually saying, but trying to pick up patterns.
I’ve since been getting mini-lessons from my main person here, Doudou (in the photo to the right), and have bought a book. I have greetings, thank you, and simple phrases down, but plan to study a lot through Ramadan to be able to speak better in a month.

I miss my loved ones. That one seems obvious, but I’ve been surprised with how heavy my heart is and hurts at times, and how my cheeks have been graced by my tears, already. I’ve never traveled alone. I’ve never been away from EVERYONE. I have found a new level of appreciation for skype, lol, I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t call my mom, my partner, and my best fraaannzzzzz. ❤

La tourisme 

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I’ve only dipped my toes in this pool, but it’s been pretty awesome: markets like you see in the movies, hehe, with sparkles and colors everywhere, small aisles, and a bunch of stand outside; with people calling you to their both, grabbing you for hennas, and just pushing buy. I have successfully learned to waxale (bargain) here! EVERYTHING and service is up for bargain – I was intimidated at first, and got super ripped of once, but now, I’m proud to say that I’ve gotten the waxale stamp  of approval :3

Doudou and his friends (Steve in the pic below) took me to a small island off the coast called Gorée, very much a tourist spot for the french-style buildings, restaurants, the nice beaches, the art, and the history, kept through statues and museums, of the “House of Slaves” at this ex-Atlantic slave trade stop.

 

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I am a toubab, Hawaiian and … Chinese?

The obvious experience here for me is that I’m a white-passing American girl in a black African country. It’s a new situation for me to really stick out amongst a crowd, and have everyone’s eyes glance at me for at least 5 seconds, 10 with kids. One young girl curiously interrogated me with good questions such as: “Why are your eyes light? Why am I brown and you are white?” Questions I can answer with biology or geography, but questions made heavy with social implications, that I cannot answer fully. I am often called “toubab,” which does have a more weighted meaning connected to it than just “white foreigner,” given their history of slavery and colonialism by white Europeans. I don’t mind being called toubab throughout the day because, well, I am half white. I’ve had the privilege of being white/white-passing in America my whole life, so feeling a tinsy bit of heat for being a toubab here, is more than ok. What has been interesting for me, though, is explaining the difference between being Japanese and Chinese, or rather explaining that there is a difference at all. Unlike in the US, there aren’t many countries/continents represented here, so it seems that without that interaction, there isn’t much awareness of Asian culture. It’s also been fun to talk to people about Hawaii, the races represented there, how it’s different than other states, how it’s beautiful… about the term “haole,” and how it’s very much like “toubab.”

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And finally… I have JUST started my research, interviewing four men
today!

Pape, my main contact, has been awesome. He’s introduced me to people, and was my first interview! I’ve have now done 4 interviews, and plan to finish ten by the end of the week! This post is super long because it contains so many other elements of my trip, so I’ll save more info about my interviews until next week. But here are the four farmers I talked to today. :]

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Thanks for following and supporting me! I appreciate it, and hope your summer is swell.

Love,

Asia

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