Senegal – Part 1   Leave a comment

To Whom That Will Read This,

I told a few people that I would be keeping current on my blog to update the rest of the world of my status in Senegal. Forgive me as I left Boston on May 26th and got into Dakar, Senegal on May 27th – thus I am past due on my first post.

As the first post, this will begin my stories, dealings and adventures in West Africa’s forgotten, neglected and longest ongoing conflict – the conflict in the region of Casamance in the southern portion of Senegal.

After some issues with my visa and depositing my school loan check, I arrived in Dakar on the 27th, retrieved my luggage (intact), and found my ‘people’ without any further delays or problems. At the airport I was greeted by my Harvard language trainer’s brother and a Peace Corps/Senegal employee. After leaving the airport, I recalled how huge Dakar is and how urban the environment seems. First stop was my home-stay’s compound. After greeting and dropping off my gear, we left to Diallo Kunda (the compound of the Diallo family) for lunch. Luckily, we had a private car to drive around, as taxis are numerous in Dakar but their costs does add up quickly. After greeting, some language issues, and lunch we chatted about my time in Dakar and what I should know about the southern region of Senegal. After some time, the family knew my new setting and language overwhelmed in addition to me traveling for more than 24 hours so I was taken to my home-stay to bathe and rest.

Since January until I left for Senegal I had a private language tutor – a Senegalese Fula – from Harvard who I paid out of pocket. Through rapport with this man I was able to plan my first 2 months in Senegal. My home-stay in Dakar was at an apartment of relatives of my language trainer at Harvard; luckily their son spoke some English. The other compound I speak of – Diallo Kunda – is the father and family’s compound of my Harvard language trainer. I ate breakfast and dinner (at times) at the former family, and had lunch and chatted with the latter family (I hope this makes sense, and if not please let me know).

I planned to stay four days in Dakar for meetings, getting settled, and to make sure that my stay in Casamance was planned and OK. So, during this time I was able to have those meetings, buy a few items I needed, attempted to meet the U.S. Consular to extend my visa, and hang out with a Senegalese classmate from Brandeis University. Also, I finally meet up with a PhD candidate from Harvard who I have been conversing with over email for a few months, which was nice. Overall, my stay in Dakar was positive but being there for only a short time made me remember that I am a rural-type of expat/’African’ and the setting in Dakar is not ideal for the likes of me.

I left Dakar at 5am on July 31st with an escort and dear (new) friend. We were able to get a sept-place (a station wagon that has seven-places) without much of an issue and cost to go directly to a town near to where we were going – Sedhiou, Senegal. After a few hours we hit The Gambian border and without paying too much in bribes were able to cross and wait for the ferry at Ferifenni (The Gambia). Once we hit the other side of the river, another border hit, passport check and small bride ensued, and we were on our way. We thought that the travel time would be nearly the entire day, but somehow the driver and the ferries made good time that day – thank you Mighty Allah. We got to our first destination and then rushed to another taxi to travel to our final destination. After a short ride (an hour or so), my escort and I found ourselves in Sedhiou. Luckily, we made it there before dark, as if this wasn’t the case our driver would have stopped at a hotel as the roads would have been close due to local rebel activity.

After resting at my escort’s hotel (which was on the Casamance River = beautiful and very costly) and eating at a local restaurant (fried rice, cabbage, fish, potatoes, and a hot pepper) we took a local taxi to my new home-stay.

Sedhiou is a (relatively) pretty big town that reminds me of Basse (The Gambia) but still rural. The town has a few NGOs, local, region and national offices, and constant current (electricity – from what I can tell thus far). The town is big enough to have a few neighborhoods within its border. So, walking about the town is doable, by my standards, but taking taxis within the town is common amongst the local community, especially via taxi-motorbikes. I hope to find out what the total population of this town is actually; I’ll keep you all posted.

My host family lives in the neighborhood of Montagne Rouge (red mountain – but I don’t see a mountain to speak of compared to what I am used to back in Seattle). The neighborhood’s Imam’s compound is where I am staying for the next two months (June and July). The family is nice, and small. I need to do a family-tree to figure out who-is-who and how each member is connected (father to whom, etc.). They are from Labe, Guinea originally. The family has electricity, a satellite connected to a television, and a fairly large compound that that has a brick perimeter and a metal gate. Needless, this family is wealthier than the host-family I had in The Gambia during my stint in the Peace Corps. I was welcomed automatically into the family with open arms (figuratively, as SeneGambians do not hug) and the little kids of the compound already call me ‘uncle’ and ‘other brother’ (‘bappa [father’s brother] Malang’ and ‘koto Malang’ respectively). Oh, I forgot to mention, I took on a Senegalese name so I can integrate more and built rapport faster; my name now is Malang Diallo.

For these two months, I will be living with this host family and my main job is to be trained in another dialect of Pulaar – Pulo Futa. I may get into why I choose Pulaar over Jola, Wolof, or Mandinka in a later post. So, for 5 hours a day, 5 days a week for two months adds up to 200 hours of intensive language training. I have hired a Peace Corps/Senegal language trainer who is from Ziguinchor to train me in this new dialect. So far the training is going well but I still have a long way to go, especially with how much French is integrated into this dialect.

Conflict updates: I have not heard or seen anything related to the conflict in Sedhiou. I did meet the head of the town’s military/police force and he said the main conflict here is people steeling each other’s cattle. So, he said jokily, since I don’t have any cattle nor have any use for cattle that I shouldn’t have any issues here. I need more language skills and built rapport beforkje I can ask about what the conditions here are locally.
My Research: From what I do know about local customs and practices regarding conflict management, I figured out that witchcraft and superstition do play a heavy role in keeping people in ‘check’, holding people accountable, and making sure there is communal harmony which does not involve non-traditional venues of punishment (cf police or military). I hope to informally ask questions surrounding this topic before my

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