Senegal: Arrival

Nairobi. Dakar reminded me of Nairobi at first. Not the airport but the drive. In the dark. The uncompleted buildings, the trash, but mostly the air. It had that dirtiness as we drove to des Almandies that coats your skin in such a way that if you rub your exposed arm the deposits of grim roll up and fall off.

After the sun rose the wind came in off the ocean and the air was clearer and salty. The plants surrounding me told me I was in the tropics. All varieties of palms, bougainvilleas, and flame trees. Breakfast told me this wasn’t east Africa, or South. There were baguettes, croissants, and sweet bread. The drinks were labeled in French. But the structure was made out of bamboo and was hut-like with thatch roof. The sugar was in rectangles and in small, wicker baskets on tables donned with yellow and red patterned fabric. A dark-faced bulbul flutters around the bread baskets trying to get at its grainy contents. LBJs peck at the bananas in the fruit basket. This is Senegal, in francophone West Africa.

Luckily for me the first day of the Farmer to Farmer program is always for acclimating. Most people sleep, shower, recuperate from what is a long journal for some people. When you’re used to 15 hour flights, the seven and a half hours hardly seemed a harrowment. Instead the day would be optimized by getting to know Abibou and set our general trip agenda, and then visit with Brandon B-Lingbeek and Kate Myers who were living a few hours south of the capital.

Abibou Diaw and I had breakfast together after he picked me up from the airport and got me to my room at La Détante. Abibou, the Program Coordinator for NCBA CLUSA’s Senegal Farmer to Farmer program, since 2011, was a native from the central region of Kaolack. He speaks Wolof, French, English, Pulaar, and some Arabic. Farmers come to him and request technical assistance, and he passes on a proposal to NCBA CLUSA to find volunteers, citing desired objectives and timing in a scope of work proposal. He is an integral link in the chain.

Abibou’s father was a farmer and corner store owner. It was from his parent’s garden that he grew up eating Moringa. There was a living fence of about 50 Moringa trees. He has known it as the "never die tree." Even now he and his newlywed wife cook with Moringa when they can find it. He is very proud to say that his father lived to be 92, and his mother to 86. He has a bachelors and master degree, in English and Literature, respectively. His thesis was titled “Black and White Relationships: Blacks Fight for Freedom,” interpreting the race relations of South Africa as based on the South African authored book Time of the Butcher Bird.

I had time to walk around after breakfast, enjoy the 101° F day, and wait for Brandon and Kate. Brandon is my former coworker and comrade from ECHO at Ukulima Farm. Kate is finishing her third year as a Peace Corps volunteer in agriculture. Both are former ECHO interns, currently engaged.

Keeping myself awake until they arrived was key to transitioning time zones. I had done well the last two days, waking up about 10 GMT (5 EST) and then sleeping on most of the plane ride over since that was night time here. Even though I arrived at 6:30 am and was tempted by Abibou to lay down and nap, I stayed strong—energy drinks helped—and didn't sleep until 10 pm.

After Brandon and Kate arrived and met Abibou we began our afternoon by visiting a French patisserie in recognition of unique colonial history. To follow up the sugar overload we took a boat to Isle de Ngor, just a two minute ride off the north shore. There we explored the island’s rocky cliffs, green water, and tide pools. Relaxing in umbrella shade after nearly circumnavigating the island brought us ‘che bou jen,’ and a selection of local beers. Neither Kate nor Brandon had spent time on the island so it was a major objective getting the staple rice and fish dish with this unobtrusive and laid-back atmosphere right at the surf’s edge. The views of Ngor Hill and the Independence Statue were striking as vultures circled across the straight over the littered beach.

I can’t say enough about how encouraging it was to see them. The uncertainties of this trip disappeared as they filled in a lot of my questions about the context of the country, accompanied by their great observations and suggestions for my project which I know will make the lessons more impactful. Catching up in general was so good since the last time I saw them was July last year at Ukulima. From South Africa to Senegal. Brandon had invited me to visit then and I knew it wouldn’t happen, but here I was catching them just before their return to America. 

That night Abibou took me to meet his beau-pére in the suburbs. I used my bad French to speak to most of the family, and then luckily there was a brother who had lived in America who kept me entertained, talking about SA and American. He returned to Senegal a couple years ago saying that he hated missing everything happening in his family living so far away, like marriages and births. When I asked him what he missed most from the US, he said liberty. Since being back in Senegal a policeman had taken his drivers license and vehicle title for no reason, other than him refusing to bribe the officer for no hassle. It then took him many visits to the station to locate and retrieve his documents. Justice is in short supply, even in such a peaceful and stable country.


Popular Posts