Friday, June 30, 2006

One week in Senegal 

Hi folks. Sorry for the delay in writing.
I'm in a wonderful space of immeasurable time.

Only one week has passed since I was stateside, hanging out with friends in DC, dealing with a strange last minute bout of something on my face that a clinic doctor in Virginia deemed either poison ivy or shingles (got lotsa drugs for both and all is now better) and preparing to walk into a new world. The experiences since then have been densely packed and wonderful. That it has been only a week seems unrealistic.

And yet a full week has passed. Almost a fourth of the time that I will spend in Africa has already spun by. I am just beginning to find my bearings in this french, english, wolof mix. Gutteral sounds that meant nothing a week ago now impart greetings and kindness so easily read on faces. French grammatical patterns seem easier to find somewhere in the recesses of my mind and in the mix of sounds in the air.

There are three of us Americans in my position here, a small and intimate group, all educators. My roommate Jim is a high school english teacher from Denver. His son has just finished a year abroad in Dakar and loved the experience so much that Jim was enticed to jump in. Dorothy is a history teacher from Nipher Middle School in Kirkwood, MO. We are all in Senegal for the first time.

This week, we live in relative luxury in a beautiful home in a neighborhood of Dakar called Djiepel. Our hosts, Akema and Mimi - the Americans who run Senecorps - and Conyoe and Bamba - two Senegalese Senecorps members - live with us. Meals, served and eaten from a common dish are a center of our community and regular points of rendezvous at 8am, 2pm and 8pm each day. Conyoe can cook.

This week, our days are divided regularly into three primary sections: work, Wollof language study, and cultural activities.

Dorothy and Jim are both teaching at a local school, while I have had the unique opportunity to spend time with Bamba (a gentle host who is becoming a great friend) working on a film. Bamba and I have been collecting footage for a project that has yet to find it's final form. (TCS: I feel as though I am a student in Live In class.)

We are working with a local singer named Magou who lies in a seaside part of Dakar called Ngor. His songs communicate a strong tie that he feels to the ancestral land that is his home. He is inspired by the sea, by his family, by his pride in his homeland and by deep faith in something better to come. As we work to capture images that reflect these themes (for a music video, for a documentary, ?) I am taken by the deep sense of community that is evident in his village. His father, also a musician, left Senegal many years ago to make a life in Paris. Magou's challenge to himself is to stay rooted here and to give back to his community.

Another man named Bamba (and with the same last name as well: Diopp) teaches us Wolof each afternoon. The sounds and structure of the language seem unrelated to any other I've heard. For me, expressions are hard to recall in context, but each day I am able to grasp a few more elements of the conversations around me. Greetings are at the core of decorum in this society and sometimes come in scores. Nanga def? Mangi fi rekkk. Nanka wa ker ga? Nunga fa. Nanga fananne? Jaam rekk. And on it goes...

At night we've hung out at clubs (Just 4U, an open air bar in the university district reminds me of the Kiva in Study Butte, but with an incredible fusion of jazz, carribean, rock and traditional african music), joined a local documentary group for screenings, received drum and dance instruction from a local troop (my favorite), attended a basketball game and hung out at home with the local Senecorps crowd.

It has been a great week.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

To Africa... 

Hi friends,

I'm heading to Senegal in the morning for a month of cultural immersion, school building, documentary production and just plain fun.
The opportunity there is courtesy of a small organization with big
dreams, Senecorps, and should be quite unlike any I've ever had.

From Senegal I'm heading up to Paris then on to Scotland to catch up
with some friends too long unseen. As fate would have it, several
friends from different parts of the world should all be in Edinburgh
at that time. Sometimes you just get lucky that way.

I remember wishing in 1995 before beginning a similarly grand domestic
adventure into our national parks that I could easily disseminate
photos and thoughts to my community. In those nascent days of the
internet, I probably could have done so, but expenses and my budget
were at odds. And most of my community wasn't looking at anything on
the web.

This time I'm hoping to stay in touch with folks via email, postings
to an almost never used blog at www.johnnyc.net and via my flickr account at flickr.johnnyc.net . Between now and my next posting, check out the slew of photos that are up there now. They include that '95 adventure.

I hope to return to the US energized by the experience, excited by new
relationships, and informed by a new depth and breadth of perspective on the world. I look forward to hearing about your adventures and experiences this summer too.

Please pass this info on to anyone you think might want to follow along. Comment on the blog and pictures. And please let me know if
you'd rather not receive these emails.


PS If you've called me in the past few days and I haven't gotten back
to you, I'm sorry. Drop me an email. I'll talk to you down the

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