My name is Emilia Spalding, and for the spring of 2010 I am studying abroad in Senegal, West Africa. I am studying with SIT Study Abroad, (www.sit.edu/studyabroad) which is based in the Capital city of Dakar on the western coast of the Country, and most of our time has been spent in the city of Dakar itself. Every part of the journey so far has been an amazing learning experience, but as the semester is coming to an end the experience I know I will cherish most for years to come was our visit to the Kedougou region in the Southeastern part of Senegal. There we were fortunate to be able to experience rural village life, and see how people live and work on a daily basis with what would be considered nothing by western standards.
We left Dakar early the morning of Friday the 26th of February. The drive to Kedougou is usually about 12 hours from Dakar, we took a bus there as a group. However, the 26th is the celebration of Gamou, the day Muslims (the majority of Senegal) celebrate the birth of Mohamed and we had to drive through the town where there big pilgrimage was happening, therefore there was lots of traffic. Nevertheless, my fellow students and I made the ride enjoyable; there were sing-a-longs and stupid car games and all sorts of other forms of entertainment. We ended up arriving in Kedougou around 10pm, eating dinner and falling into bed. We stayed at the Nieriko Campement in the city proper for the first few days of our journey, but even there we slept in small huts, two people to a hut.
The next morning we were up early for a hike to the mountain top Bedick village of Etchwar, where some of my fellow students had the opportunity to stay later. The views were absolutely stunning from the top of this mountain. I could hardly believe I was there looking at the plains of an African nation. There were some really amazing moments during that hike, it was one of those days where I could sit down and go “Wow. I’m in Africa, and I am falling in love with it.”
That afternoon we visited the Kedougou market, which was much calmer than the markets of Dakar. The best part of the market experience though was when on our way back the two girls I was with and I were stopped by school age boys who asked if we wanted to have Attaya (traditional Senegalese tea) with them. We were confused at first but we said sure why not, and ended up having a really nice discussion with this group of kids on the side of the road about Kedougou and we bought some fruit from their stand to thank them for their hospitality. Hospitality or ‘terranga’ as they call it in Senegal is soemthing that can be seen all over the nation, and causes you to see the world in a slightly different way.
Before we knew it we were off to our villages! The village I stayed in was called Boundocoundie, it is a Peul Village on the outskirts of Kedougou. I became Mariama Diallo for my stay in the village. The two other students who were with me and I all stayed with Diallo families. There are a limited number of Senegalese last names, and each one tells the ethnicity of the person ( Wolof, Peul, Mendingue etc). Diallo is a very common Peul name.
The children in our village were extremely friendly, and wanted to be around us constantly. We had a sing a long with the kids, meaning we basically sat surrounded by children and would sing a silly song, and then they’d sing us a song in Pulaar (their native language). It was very interesting to see how regardless of language barriers there are always universal means of communication.
When it gets dark in the village every one gathers in the compounds around flashlights, which is a funny thing to see in this village with no electricity or running water. Everyone eats dinner out of a huge bowl in traditional Senegalese fashion. A lot of rice and grains are eaten, as there are not a lot of vegetables or meat to be found in the villages. That night I had Attaya with my host brother Mika, who is 22. He was completely infatuated with the tool kit I brought as a gift, and I was really glad to see it was so appreciated. It amazed me how much something I take for granted like screwdrivers can be used in so many ways for others.
The sky was brilliantly clear that first night and the moon was full. I’ve never seen so many stars in my life, and I was completely in love with the sight. I just kept sitting there staring at the sky, which the villagers found amusing. The night was also very hot, I don’t think I’ve ever been so hot in my life. I woke up in my hut at about 2am just covered in sweat. The houses they live in are basic but sturdy dirt constructions, with roofs made from bamboo and thatch. They are also little ovens.
The next day I woke to crowing roosters and bleating sheep and had a delicious breakfast of sweet, milky porridge like stuff known as ‘Buy’.
After breakfast we found my two fellow students and had a tour lead by my host brother, one of the few people in the village who spoke any French, so we could easily communicate with him. Every compound we stopped at we ended up sitting down and drinkin Attaya. The most interesting encounter was with a Moroccan man who has lives in Senegal for the past 25 years and practices traditional medicine. We had about 3 cups of attaya with him, as well as some real milk, which was a huge treat (we drink a lot of powdered milk in Dakar). You can really learn a lot from someone who came to the village a stranger like yourself and has made it his home.
Then we visited the village school-house. A one room school-house, split onto two age groups, with the teacher conducting two classes at once, very impressive. The teacher was extremely passionate and very engaging to watch.
We were then fed a lunch of corn mush and peanut sauce. After lunch time everyone relaxes because it is basically too hot to function. Napping is about all you can do in the mid day heat of southern Senegal.
That afternoon when it had cooled a little we walked about a mile down the road with two of our new friends from the village to visit the people at the next closest village. There were four students there, two at the bottom of the mountain and two at the top. We had intended to visit the people at the bottom, but they had gone up top to watch the sun set so we figured after the walk we may as well join them. It was a long hike, but fortunately the view was worth it. We watched the sun disappear behind the mountains then hiked back down and home when it was dark.
Day three was pretty relaxing, we sat with our field journals and books for French class, attempting productivity, but in the end we gave in to the adorable children and sang danced and played games. Our great achievement for the day was teaching the village children how to play baseball; the three of us were a team against the village children. We’ve left them with the great American pass time to remember us by. It was amazing how you could be surrounded by people who you barely speak two words of the same language with and still have an amazing experience. That night was the last night, I ended up sitting with my fellow students most of the night, as one of them was suffering from heat stroke, and being a nursing student I took charge of the situation. I had to cool down the thermometer between each use it was so hot outside. Not the ideal way to spend your last night in a village, but it brought the three of us closer together as students.
We were sad to leave all of our new friends the next morning, particularly the children, but also relieved to escape the heat.
That afternoon was free and we mostly napped and tried to regain our ability to function by laying in the air conditioning.
We left Kedougou the nest morning around 6am, and I was definitely sad to say good bye to the simple little city I had grown to love and go back to the hustle and bustle of Dakar, but I know without the contrast I would not have appreciated it as I did, or learned nearly as much about how to be happy with the bare minimum.
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