Senegal Post #2

by kaytienielsen

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.