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.

Wow! What a lot you've done in a week! And a week ago I... was... um, right where I am right now. Hmm.

I want to hear more about the filming you're doing sometime - it sounds like quite a project! Will we get to see the final product?

Also, what's the language like gramatically?
Don't forget ... eat with your right, wipe with your left, and shake with your right. :)
R's ?'s...

The film project(s) are still pretty squishy. In Dakar, Bamba and I have been working with a local musician named Maugoo... (I'll try to get a web address up here where you can check his stuff out soon) to put together some pieces that communicate visually some of the messages of community, environmentalism, African pride, etc. that he signs about. We may put together something of a biography of him, or it may turn out to be a music video thingy with added interview clips. Don't really know yet.

In Thies next week I am to do something similar with a well known theater/storytelling troop. I'm jazzed about the possibilities there.

The best part of both of these projects has been working with and getting to know Bamba Diopp. He's an incredible person with an incredible ethic and sense of purpose. I don't know how to capture the importance his friendship has played in my experience here in Dakar. I feel very happy just to have had time meeting another person for whom I have such deep respect.

Whatever films evolve, I'll make sure I share them. We have about 10-15 hours of footage right now and some of that would be fun to watch on its own.... I'll have a thang.

The grammar: That subjects, verbs and modifiers all fall in a different order than English is hard. But the elements that defy me is the use of pronouns and contractions. Pronouns change based upon purpose: there are forms of I for action verbs, passive verbs, questions, questions that require an object, etc. etc. And conjunctions run amok. If sounds can be shortened it seem they are and often not in a way that makes sense to my ear. Fan ngay (where are you...) becomes fooy (where're'ya), etc.

My Wolof basically allows me to greet someone (important) ask where they're from, check the price of basic items, etc. But I knew none when I got here.

K - I'm doing all that, but my insides are messed up despite the fact. Any words of wisdom from your round the worlder?
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