Some Explorations

Just another travel blog…

La plage de Ouakam


Sur l’île de Ngor

After winning the Ouakam neighborhood football championship, the team and a few friends celebrate on the island of Ngor.

Senegal Post #1

I’ve never been much of an online blogger. I have this journal that I use; it ties up with a string and has handmade paper inside. I write whatever I feel like and I feel quite romantic when I do, like an old vagabond taking record for whomever may stumble across his account.

In Senegal, I suppose it’s convenient that I prefer a pen and paper to a keyboard, since wifi is hard to come by. For this blog, I see it working like this: I’ll write like I’m used to, in my little journal, almost everyday. Then I’ll come and transcribe it here, maybe once every other week. But no, it won’t be a direct copy and paste. I will leave some in my journal for only me to remember.


25 May 2014
DFW Airport

Off again…

My flight has been delayed from 5:40pm to 8:45pm, but I am grateful because I met a kind writer from Mexico named Francisco who gave me a signed copy of his book and told me I had to learn Spanish. If I had left earlier, I would not have met him, and I wouldn’t have received his inspiration.

But my stop in Madrid will only be a few hours, so progress on that front will be minimal. I will be going on to Senegal, where I will be spending the next two months.

Many people are very afraid of the idea of Africa. I am realizing that they have stigmatized it in their minds, allowing only the bad to color their perceptions. I am glad that I was born with a possibly irresponsible lack of trepidation. It’s served me well so far, for the most part.

I have no idea what to expect. And I guess it hasn’t really even sunk in yet. Traveling is always so surreal.

The sunset is beautiful, and everyone is taking pictures. This reminds me of the supermarket today – a lady was making funny faces at a stranger’s baby, and the baby was laughing. Sunsets and babies are things that remind people of beauty and humanness. They make you forget where you are and what you were doing for just a moment to appreciate something worth appreciating.

I will learn Spanish, soon. But first, I have to work on my French. Maybe I’ll write a bit of this in French.

So, I guess… À tout à l’heure!


27 May 2014
La Citronelle Hôtel

It was our first day of orientation today. It was very exciting, but I’m a little bit nervous. This research project is a bit daunting to me. But I know it was just the first day, and I shouldn’t expect to have the most solid of foundations yet.

I found orientation a bit paranoid, but I suppose that’s just my nature. When something really bad happens to me somewhere, maybe I’ll start to abide by precautions with a little bit more grace. But then again, maybe not.

There’s so much to think about that I might explode. On top of speaking in foreign languages and acclimating to a new culture and getting to know the lay of the land in a new city, I have the research project. On top of that, I have my class assignments. On top of that, I have my own creative projects that I want to pursue. It’s a lot.

However, all of those things are things that I am passionate about and want to do. So I should never let any of it be a burden. They are all my passions, so I should be careful not to burn them out. I have to find balance.

I hope the pictures that I took today on my disposable come out alright.


28 May 2014
Chez Dieng 

So I’m finally with my new host family. They are very nice, and accommodating to my weird diet. There are two sisters (Marième, who is 32, and Kiné, who is 17). Kiné seems like an old soul. Marième seems practical and not too serious. Maman is caring, yet commanding.

But I think it will take a while before I’m in the swing of things. The language barrier is still so hard, but they are very patient.

I guess I feel a little lost, and I wish Mame were here. But I guess it’s difficult to get me out of my comfort zone, since I’m comfortable with most things, so this is definitely a valuable experience. The language is the hardest part. I generally consider communication of ideas to be one of my strengths, and when my ability to do that is hampered by being forced to communicate ideas in a foreign language, it can be a bit discouraging.

But that’s okay. C’est bon. Je vais apprendre, de plus en plus.


29 May 2014
Chez Dieng

Today, good things happened, even though I struggled a bit.

My phone situation is not worked out yet. So, it’s a bit difficult because wifi is so scarce and I would really like to talk to my mom. But it’s okay. It’ll happen soon.

But because it didn’t happen today, something else very nice happened. I decided to take a walk instead of trap myself at the Brioche Dorée (where there’s very weak wifi). I ran into a friend I had met who lives in the same neighborhood as I do (Ouakam, in the northwest of Dakar). We talked about how I hadn’t been to the beach yet. Alors, il m’amène à la plage à sa moto.

C’était très amusant. There’s a pretty big language barrier between us, but I think I’m getting better. Et il parle un peu d’anglais aussi. La plage était très belle. Il y avait beaucoup de gens, on faisait le sport, le football en particulier. Les Sénégalais aiment faire le sport!

Riding through the quartier de Ouakam on the motorbike was amazing. It was absolutely gorgeous outside. And there’s always so many people out and about, especially today because of the Thursday Market. Women carrying huge loads of clothing or food on their heads, with a baby wrapped to their back. Men sitting under the orange blossom trees, drinking attaya. Goats and cows walking down the street like pedestrians. Kids being kids, playing football, pointing at me and shouting “Toubab!” (That means “foreigner,” in Wolof. But they don’t say it mean-spiritedly. In Senegal, they have a big sense of humor; they always tease each other. One shouldn’t take things too personally here.)

Alors, je suis fatiguée. À demain, peut-être. Legui legui. Ba beneen yoon.


30 May 2014
Chez Dieng

I will only write a bit – we have a big day tomorrow.

We started class today, and I loved both my teachers.

My phone situation is worked out. I called Mom and Joe – it was very nice to hear their voices.

Tomorrow – Gorée Island.

À tout à l’heure.


2 June 2014
Chez Dieng

This trip is a voyage of challenges, that I set for myself.

  • I will communicate effectively in a foreign language.
  • I will forgo some amenities that I am used to at home.
  • I will conduct a research project in a foreign country.
  • I will challenge my body, exercising daily.
  • I will keep up with my responsibilities in classes here and at CMU.
  • I will continue to pursue my personal creative projects.
  • I will drink my coffee black and press snooze only once.

Today, we ran up the big hill to the light house. I saw the sun setting, and it was absolutely mesmerizing. The ocean melted into the sky in a haze of pastels, and the sun was a perfect circle of orange fading into gold.

My cultural partner, Mint, and I have been having some great conversations. We talked about feminism and homosexuality. It is illegal to be gay in Senegal, and she is very against it, as most people here are. But she was very willing to discuss and hear my opinion, and we drew a parallel between Americans not understanding polygamy and Senegalese not understanding homosexuality. It was all very interesting.

I really enjoy her company. She’s a lot of fun, and can be lighthearted, too.


9 June 2014
Chez Dieng

Today was so much fun. We took a pirogue to the island NGor with Milang and Pierre. Their whole football team team was there, because they had won the Ouakam championship. We swam and ate and jammed and had a really good time. It was all beautiful.

I’m having a really good time here. And I feel like I’m learning so much. But it’s not easy.

I can’t wait until Mame gets here. And to see Toubab Dialaw.

Senegal Post #2

13 June 2014
8:23 pm
Keur Demba Ngoye Diakhaté (a village in Thies)

Penda Sow (6 ans)
Aby Sow (8 ans)
Marame Sow (6 ans)
Daour Diakhaté (7 ans)
Fatou Sow (19 ans)
Baye Aliou Sow (7 ans)
Aïcha Sow (12 ans)
Alé Sow (60 ans)
Astou Beye (40 ans)
Kana Diop (40 ans)
Saly Kane (40 ans)
Abdoulay Sow (15 ans)
Dyiby Sow (10 ans)
Pape Daouda Sow (13 ans)
Mouhamed Sow (11 ans)

^This is my family for the weekend. One dad, 3 moms, and a million kids.

We arrived in the village earlier this afternoon, and were welcomed graciously into our weekend homes. I have a sister in this family named Fatou. She’s 19, like me. She speaks the most French out of the family, so we’ve been spending some good time together. I watched some of the Australia-Chile game with the family, and that was fun.

We walked through the village earlier to see where all the students were staying. Children were always grabbing my fingers and walking with us. I swear at one point, I had 3 kids on each hand. Everyone knows each other, of course. And everyone is very friendly. It was nice and sunny today, but the night is very cool. It’s a full moon, also.

This is definitely a nice change from the city. It’s very interesting to see a comparison of rural and urban Senegalese life.

Things are slower here, obviously, as all things slow down when you leave a city. Lots of families watch their televisions outside. And they watch the same théâtre sénégalais as the urban families do.

Tomorrow, we are planting trees at the school, and I’m pretty excited for that.


14 June 2014
11:55 pm
Chez Sow

Just a bit before I go to bed…

I expected the village to be more calm than the city. Turns out, with a million kids running around, nothing is ever very calm.

When I tried to work on my project today, all of Alé Sow’s kids gathered around me and hung on my arms and pulled at the pages I was writing on. It was not the most productive working environment.

But that’s okay. I still made some good headway, I think.

Tonight, there was a village gathering with attaya and dancing. Everyone formed a around a circle and the girls would go in the middle and dance with boundless energy. It’s the most explosive sort of dancing I’ve ever seen- legs flying everywhere in reckless abandon, moving as fast as their bodies will let them. They hike up their skirts and wave a hand above their head- they repress nothing. It’s very fun to watch. Their energy is contagious.

It’s interesting to see how that dance exists in an almost completely muslim society. Qatar was very different. But religions are interpreted differently by different people, and traditions fuse and interact. I wonder how old the dance tradition here is, and where it came from.


21 June 2014
à la plage de Ouakam

The other day, it might have been just yesterday but the time moves like smoke here, I was looking off the balcony of the school building, watching the blood of the city, the people moving through their motions as through veins, functioning, working, breathing, aching.

Insh’allah… God willing. Of course, I have no idea about God or anything like that. But Insh’allah… I can rest in that, whatever I believe or not. It’s a wisdom, an acceptance of the forces of the universe. It’s not a call for laziness- but a call for peace. In striving, have peace.

There was a pretty big change of plans. Mame cannot come to Senegal. She called me last week and told me that her mother’s health had taken a bad turn, and that she would not be able to come. She was crying on the phone, and through the bad reception, the tears, and the accent, it was very hard to understand her. But I ended up crying too, wanting only to be with her. She has become family to me, and it hurt to hear her hurt.

So my travel plans have changed. I will be leaving two weeks from tomorrow.

I’m hoping that I can do some research for Mame while I’m here- collect some resources that she won’t be able to now. Maybe that’s the reason I’m here, to help her finish what she set out to do.

And I know my mother is very happy that I’ll be coming home early. I’m realizing how much she tried to hide her sadness about not seeing me much this summer. It’s important that I spend time with her now, because who knows where I’ll be in a couple years and, life is short.

Another positive? I’ll be able to surprise Joe at his Chicago show. And I am very excited for that. Because he means a lot to me and this show means a lot to him.

Things change. You make plans, life happens. You can make a perfect picture of the future in your head, but it’s inevitably going to shift, or be replaced completely by another piece of work. I am learning that this is not a bad thing. This is life, and life is beautiful. Today is here, and Tomorrow will come.



25 June 2014
8:46 pm
Chez Dieng

So, I was just sitting in my room, eating an apple after a refreshing shower, and “Stars” by Visti & Meyland came on my iPhone, and I was just hit by a wave of nostalgia- me and Morgan, driving around on a summer night, windows down, music abusing the boring suburb. I miss that lady.

Apart from people back home, you know what I miss most about the States? The freedom to take care of myself.

Being in a homestay is great- I love my family dearly, and they’ve made my time here much more enriching. However, I do like to cook for myself, do my own laundry, clean my own room, etc. Here in Dakar, it’s very common to have a maid (who’s pretty much family) who does all of those things. That’s definitely something I’m still getting used to. I’m excited to go back to Pittsburgh, where I’ll have a place all of my own, and I can do all of those things myself.

Sometimes I feel bad for being excited to go home. I think, I’m here, right? I should be living absolutely for here, I should dread the days counting down to coming home.

But I know that’s not logical. There’s always something to long for in the place that you’re not. That’s just being human.

Today, I felt very good about my research project. It was the first day that I got to work solely on that, and not have to worry about class. I read a good dissertation on mbalax music, I made an appointment with one of the administrators in the Ministry of Culture, and I ran a couple more interviews. This project is really starting to take shapre for me, and I think I’m going to have some interesting stuff to present next spring.

Donc, je vais manger le diner. Leggi leggi, insh’allah.


26 June 2014
8:41 pm
Chez Dieng

I just got home. The car rapide stops far away now, because of the construction. A man directed me to take a narrow sidestreet to the main road, and turn right.

Down the alleyway, it was like walking though someone else’s memory. But at the same time, it was so lucid and immediate. I think it was the rate at which I experienced new and different sensations, that created something so hard to describe.

The smells: the smells of perfumed bodies, burning trash, smoke off the grill, brewing attaya, black exhaust from taxis, dust. People passing, crossing. Through a crack in a doorway, pieces of life, there and gone for me but existing in their separate universes.

Did you know that the word “Sénégal” is derived from the phrase, “sunu gal,” which means, “our boat.”

I really like that.

Senegal, at once, is solitary, floating on its own, with its own direction. At the same time, the people in the boat can’t help but be affected by the waves and torrents around them; the helpful currents, the deadly maelstroms.

I think girls my age always think about tattoos when they go abroad, something that marks them with their experience. I’m not quite sure why, or how many actually follow through with it. But I’m not immune to the trend, and I’m definitely pictured a little pirogue careening in the sea on different canvases of my body.

The car rapide broke down on the way home, and we had to switch. In the transfer I met a man from Gabon named Arsunu and I fell in love with him for a moment, and then he was gone. I could feel his glances on the back of my head that faced the open window.

I haven’t eaten since eight this morning, because I’ve had a terrible pain in my side that’s made it hard to breathe and killed my appetite. I’ve pictured myself on “1000 Ways to Die,” the doctors finding a deadly worm that grew bigger and bigger and finally punctured a lung.

If the problem persists until tomorrow, I’ll inform Victoria.

I saw a piece of theater today. It was put on by university students, and attended by the same demographic. It was outside, at 5:30 pm (ish- Senegal time, you know). It was a completely full house. There were only hard benches and plastic chairs in the back. No lights, no music, no set, really. But people responded energetically. Many took out their phones and recorded the entire performance. They felt inclined to comment on what was going on- they really had a stake in it.

I hope I come back to continue what I’ve started. Theater isn’t dead in Senegal- it’s just dreaming, and it will wake up better for it.

Not to say that I will contribute to that, in any way. Possibly, but I really feel like there will be a renaissance. Storytelling is too strong a part of their history for theatre “sur la scène” to be forgotten.


30 June 2014
10:10 pm
Chez Dieng

Some pieces:

I was walking by the mosque today. Today is the first day of Ramadan. I heard the call to prayer start up, with an earnest longing. The man’s voice cracked a little, and was then mixed with the sound of a baby crying floating through an open window- and that was one of the most beautiful sounds I have ever heard.

The other day, I was helping Marième prepare lunch. Because of the sun, I get new freckles on my arms almost every day, it seems. When I was cooking, I was making the sauce with the big tall bowl and the pounding stick- I forget what they called it. And the bits of tomato and onion and pepper were splashing up on my arms and legs. And I smiled, when I looked down, because I couldn’t tell if the spots on my arms and legs were bits of food, or new freckles.


3 July 2014
6:26 am
Chez Dieng

Today, I am fasting with my family for Ramadan. I’ll only do it for one day, just to learn a bit about what it’s like. This morning I woke up at 5:00 am (Kiné came and knocked on my door), and I ate with my sisters and drank tea. Tonight, we’ll break the fast when we see the moon- around 7:45 pm.

Instead of praying five times today, I thought I would write down the things that I am grateful for. I’ll do that each time I hear the call today. So here’s my first prayer:

1. I am thankful for the opportunities that are available in my life. I am thankful that I am able to go to a great university, surrounded by dedicated and hardworking people. I am grateful for the opportunity to travel across the world and learn about others and about myself. I am grateful for the people in my life who want to help me pursue my dreams and who want to see me succeed.

2. I am thankful for the simple, essential things. I am so thankful that I have always had ready access to food and clean water. I have always had a bed to sleep on. These things, when ther are always readily available, are easily taken for granted. I would like to take time now to express my gratitude for these things.

3. I am grateful for this beautiful earth, and all the wonders it holds that strike awe in me and give me peace but that I will never understand. I am thankful for the air, the earth, the water, the fire. I am grateful for all the living beings that inhabit our planet. And I am thankful for the mysterious functions of the universe outside our planet, that are beautiful and incomprehensible to me.

4. I am so very, very thankful for the people in my life that I love. I am grateful beyond measure for my family; as dysfunctional as we can be at times, they take up such a huge space in my heart that I just don’t know what I would be without them, and I really can’t bear the thought. And I am grateful for my friends, for the people who bring me such joy and teach me things as well. For my friends, however long they are a part of my life, I am thankful for what they have given and what they have taught me.

5. I am thankful for myself. I am very grateful to have a body that functions well and is healthy. I am thankful that my mind has the capacity for great creativity and wisdom. And I am thankful that my spirit is strong, enduring, and adventurous.

I told Marième that I was writing five times today instead of praying like she does. I told her that I was writing down things I was thankful for. She asked me who I was thanking. I then asked myself that same question, who am I thanking?

I guess that’s a big, big question that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to answer for myself. So I guess…

To whom it may concern,

Thank you.


7 July 2014
8:23 am
Paseo de Recoletos, Madrid

So, my time in Senegal, for now, has come to an end. This past weekend we were in Toubab Dialaw, with absolutely gorgeous beaches and a really lovely place to stay. I got a bit of a sunburn, which in my opinion, is a good souvenir to take home with me.

Right now, I’m in the heart of Madrid, which is really quite nice and also a bit shocking and overwhelming. I mean, there are sidewalks everywhere, and this man in front of me works for the city cleaning up trash, as in, there’s really not that much trash around, also I have to wear a sweater, and there are huge beautiful buildings with sculptures and bells and clocks, church bells instead of calls to prayer, grass instead of sand, subway rumbling underneath me, people dogs as pets, no goats or cows wandering the street, and everybody alone with a place they have to be.

It was sad to leave my family and friends. I didn’t want to let Kiné go. I had to rush my goodbyes with Erin, Christina, and Molly because the taxi man started to drive away with my stuff- he had to get home to break the fast, so I had to run after the cab and throw myself in through the open door. I was only mad at him for a minute. I know how hungry he was.

I never got a chance to tell Mint goodbye. I’ll have to send her an email as soon as I can.

I’m not quite sure what to feel right now. I mean I guess it’s a lot of feelings at once that are making this kaleidoscope of perception that makes things hyper-real and dreamlike at the same time. I want to go home, and I don’t. I want to leave Senegal, and I want to go back. Being here in this grand beautiful city is such a bizarre transition- it’s nothing like the place I’m coming from or the place I’m going to.

I stopped to write because the street I happened upon in search of a particular cafe has a nice garden in the middle with a wide pedestrian walkway and park benches. And nobody’s tried to sell me anything or ask me for money. However, nobody’s greeted me or returned my greetings, either.

Well, I’m going to go on, and find this cafe. Apparently, it’s been open since 1888. Anyway… À bientôt.