Heather in Senegal

Friday, March 16, 2007

February 6

Abdoulaye Wade came to Kolda today. He is Senegal's current president and, in Kolda at least, far and away the most popular of the fifteen presidential candidates. Many streets surrounding the tent where he would be speaking were blocked to cars and for hours ahead of time were covered with people wearing Wade shirts, coming from near and far to show their support.

Although I do not understand French well enough to want to hear a speach in French, I was curious about what the political rally would be like, so I came early and found myself a shady spot a bit up hill from where Wade would be speaking. At first everything was friendly and festive. A little girl placed herself beside me as a guide and told me what we were seeing. People wearing the purple shirts are from this school. Those drummers are from that neighborhood, while that set of drummers is from such other neighborhood. The man dressed in fringed costume and face paint is representing some character. That huge truck full of people wearing Wade shirts got through the barricade because they are coming from such village. My favorite group was the ten person orchestra of extremely old women, each hitting a metal rod against another metal rod in a bouncy rhythm.

Shortly before Wade was scheduled to arrive, Jenny and her boyfriend, Dave, came out and met me. The three of us ventured deep into the crowd. When Wade's car rolled down the street we were close enough for him to wave right at us. As soon as his car passed, people who were jogging alongside him began to pushing by us, creating a strong current in the crowd. A bit downstream a man struggled with the police creating another surge in the crowd. When he came into view he was being held by two police men and his face was splattered with blood from an open lump near his eye. It was hard to stay balanced with people pushing every which way. After the pushing stopped we walked around undisturbed.

For a long time after Wade's car passed us nothing at all happened. I don't know why he waited so long to begin his speach. We were beginning to talk about leaving when we saw a large crowd running towards us. Looking past and above them we saw fist and head sized rocks soaring through the air in high, graceful arcs. There were fine pitching arms on those protesters. We ran with the crowd into a family's compound. A few hundred of us stayed in there for a bit, and then as people filtered back out to wait for Wade, Jenny, Dave, and I hopped over the back fence and left.


It is now two weeks after the elections. In order to win, Wade had to get more than 50% of the vote. To the absolute delight of my neighborhood, he is reported to have received 55%.

New Year's Eve
This year I got to celebrate two. The first was the traditional December 31. I was in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, and arguably of West Africa. My friends and I went to the center of town, where we found the streets packed with people celebrating by shooting fireworks at one another. Low grade explosives littered the street, making it feel like a game of keep-away as we kicked small flaming pieces away from us. Being in the midst so many people out celebrating and flaming sparkles in the air above and all around us was thrilling.
The second was on January 30. It is an Islamic holiday called Tamaxarit. Starting in the afternoon kids took to the streets in mobs, banging on drums or on tin cans and asking for gifts. The boys dressed up as girls and the girls as boys, and all wore facepaint. In the evening packs of them came to my compound. They sang, drummed, and danced, and we poured rice into their collection jars. Halloween. The traveling groups of drumming kids celebrated late into the night. The next morning everyone dressed in fancy outfits. We shook hands with one another all morning long and exchanged greetings and best wishes.

Monday, March 12, 2007

This morning six other volunteers and I biked an hour into the bush, walking our bikes through the softest parts of the sandy roads, to reach another volunteer's village. I had a bucket strapped to the back of my bike, and in it I had a frisbee, a nerf football, some rice sacks (picture a potato sack), spoons, and a few balloons filled with water. Jenny had another frisbee and several meter-long strips of rope. On the way to the village we picked up a kilo of kola nuts. Kola nuts are big bitter tasting caffeine filled horrid snacks that are given as a sign of respect.

We started talking about this outing yesterday after the regional meeting. (I love regional meetings because they bring all the other volunteers in the area to my site.) We wanted to do something special to celebrate us all being together, and we tossed around ideas ranging from finding a boat and rowing to the coast, to dressing in sheets and hiding in a field pretending to be spirits, to having a simple picnic, before we decided to hold a field day.

We arrived at the village with the noise and gayity of a circus. After we greeted the village chief and gave the kola nuts, we set off for a nearby field with about forty kids in tow.

The events began with some frisbee tossing. Once we were warmed up, the toubobs paired off. We each tied a leg to our partner and then held a three-legged race. When we finished we untied ourselves, strapped Senegalese kids to each other, and cheered them on as they learned to run in sync and race against one another. We followed this by teaching the children how do potato sack races using local rice sacks. While set after set of kids hopped this race we toubobs gathered rocks. For the next game all participants had to first spin around twenty times while looking up, and then place a spoon in their mouths and a rock on the spoon. The race was down the field about fifty feet and back, but hardly anyone made it that far without either falling over or dropping the rock. We tossed a little girl around like a ball, made a human pyramid, and let the kids peg us with the water balloons. Throughout the games people festively tossed the football up in the air like the tortillas at San Francisco's Bay to Breakers race, so you never knew when suddenly this soft football would come falling onto you.

Games over, sun getting hot, and us not wanting to stay so long that the family feel a need to invite the mob of us to eat their lunch, we quickly packed up and biked home.