It’s been a month and a couple days here, now, and I have one more month to go. As always, that amount of time seems short and long at the same time. Time is finally picking up here as I get a grasp on the languages and make good friends, but I miss home so darn much, and I’ve only been here for half the time. But, I’m choosing to focus on the former – ONLY one more month to do and see everything!
Last week I followed the poop trail to Seras, where the city animals live. I went alone, not fully knowing what I’d find, or if I’d be able to ask people the questions I wanted, but before I even got out of the cab, I was surrounded by men telling me to follow them (so that I could buy their animals or meat). Luckily, I chose to follow the right person. Right away he brought me to the animals, and even after I explained to him that I was just looking, only there for research, and not to buy any animals, he not only stayed with me to answer questions, he took me on a tour, I talked with a lot of other people, and after he invited me to hang out with him and his brothers at their table for a little while. I was excited to learn about the 3000 animals – goats and cows – that are raised in the city, AND to practice my Wolof in good company. The people were really excited to talk to me, an American/Toubab, and were really happy when I stayed because normally other foreigners don’t talk to them at all, they ignore them. Over some cooked meat and cafe touba they told me about themselves, their religion, and for one young man, his dream of going to American to do boxing.
Since I wasn’t buying any manure myself, I got them to tell me the “good” price of 50,000 CFA/ton (they originally told me 100,000, but told me the real good price later haha). And even though there were 3000 animals, I understood what the farmers told me – there’s not enough manure for them nearby. Access to organic materials is very important as natural fertilizers, and if farmers had more access to it, and if it were cheaper, they wouldn’t have to use chemical fertilizers. I hope to return and introduce my friends in Seras to the farmers in Pikine.
Today, I also went to the Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development. I met a lot of people, and talked to a few, but will return next week to talk to the directors, and hopefully the directors at the Ministry of Agriculture, too!
FOOD – Diet, culture, cooking
LOL, this is a blog on food and I’m doing research on agriculture, and I haven’t talked about the meals here yet!!! My bad, but here we go:
Banabana are women who buy the vegetables from farmers and bring them to the markets to sell, which benefits the farmers who don’t have to worry about transporting their harvests, and provides jobs for those women. There are tables around all the areas of Dakar, and certain neighborhoods have the HUGE food markets, with many, many tables next to each other on the street selling all the different sorts of vegetables – carrots, lettuce, peppers, green peppers, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, herbs, teas, mint, garlic, and eggplants, amongst others. Usually, there is also an area with a bunch of tables of fish or seafood. These things are sold outside, without refrigeration, but that doesn’t seem to be bad since people buy what they sell that day, and people cook what they buy that day.
Of course, there is a problem of people not being able to afford foods – during dry month, veggies are more expensive, and as the fish market is receiving more action from foreign countries buying in, there’s less for the locals, making their main protein source unaffordable to some.
Fortunately, the family I am staying with is able to afford veggies and fish, so I have been lucky enough to eat well-balanced and healthy meals. The food here is DELICIOUS. The seasoning is awesome, and it’s always well prepared. Meals are served on one huge platter that everyone eats from. Everyone sits on a mat on the floor, and men and/or guests are offered mini stools to sit on. Throughout the meal, women break up the fish and vegetables to pass around to everyone, so that everyones get a little summin’ summin’. As their guest, they make sure I eat very well. Even if I am full, they insist I eat more.
On top of them just being hospitable, they’ve told me multiple times that I must eat well so that I don’t go back to the US skinnier, or else people in the US will think that Senegal is not good. Africa is always portrayed as housing malnourished people and children. “Finish your food, there are hungry children in Africa,” as someone in the US would say. Well, there are hungry children in the US, and well-fed children here in Senegal, and it’s been putting a little weight on my heart that people here have internalized that poor stereotype. It’s like the world is high school, and all the people here know the rumors about Africa, which means the rumors about them, and feel the need to defend their country as a whole, to represent their country. It’s like America is the rude, rich, popular kid in school, and Africa is the poor kid trying to prove themselves to that rich kid, and WE all know, that in the stories about high school stereotypes, the “rich” kid are usually the jerks, and the “poor” kids are usually our protagonists – making up in character what they lack in money. Anyway, for me, it sucks that they think if I go back skinny, then the stereotype will be enforced, and Senegal will be seen as bad, because in reality, the food I eat here is SO MUCH BETTER. Lol, healthy, yummy, and shared amongst good company.
I’ve gotten the privilege of watching and learning how to cook some dishes here from some of the woman in the family, and I just gotta say that I have mad respect for them because some of that stuff is complicated, and they don’t have the kitchens my privileged butt is used to. Their stove is a gas tank with a burner on the top, their counters are the floor, their chopping boards are their hands, their food processor is a big mortar and pestle, and their rice cooker is a strainer type bowl above a boiling pot of water, which they secure with a thin piece of cloth so the steam doesn’t escape. But it’s nothing for them, they cook with ease and grace. They make huge dinners, with tons of different stuff going on, and they keep the kitchen clean the whole time!
As I was watching with awe, I couldn’t help but think, Man, people here don’t have chopping boards or counters, that’s really hard! But then I was like, Wait… My house here has a stove and counters, and they could probably totally afford to buy a simple table and cutting boards, easily. So why don’t they? And then I thought, what if they just don’t want to deck out their kitchen with Western-style furniture and appliances, because they don’t need to. If they were taught to cook like this from earlier generations, and they cook like badasses already, why would they spend that money? It’s not engrained in their culture to use counters, or stovetops, or cutting boards, or whatever else…again, that’s a Western style kitchen.
Agh, I just… I’m learning everyday to open my mind to other ways of living that work just as well, or better than ours, even though they’re portrayed as lesser than ours. I feel like it’s a thing that Westerners assume their ways are better, I mean, they’ve forced them upon most of the world, but it’s always nice to see when other cultures are resilient and strong, even in little things like the layout of a kitchen.
Special Guest – Jasen Talise
Look who came all the way out to visit me, give some emotional support (lol I was struggling), and travel around with me! Always been so grateful for this wonderful human being who came into my life 4 years ago. He’s ALWAYS been there for me, especially when times are hard, and I’m so happy to call him one of my best friends. Here’s a few words from him on his first day here:
I speak only broken French, and my Wolof (at least at the moment) is limited to hellos and goodbyes, and I love it. I was a rhetoric major at Cal, so language has always been one of my greatest assets in meeting others, making friends; and here I am, without that asset but smiling, because I get live out the idea that words don’t necessarily lead to friendship, but open, inviting energies do.
Asia has offered me what every eager traveler would like: an experience with a local family open to sharing their world with a newcomer. I’m happy here, despite the bug bites.
Hope you’re happy too!!