.…by which I mean French bread. The residue of French colonial influence is still ripe here. Besides the national language being French, I eat baguette for nearly every meal- with Nutella for breakfast, croissants and crepes are also common bakery items, there are crazy round-abouts with no traffic signals or signs, and straight hair for ladies is a norm. It’s ironic to me that in America, there was a pro-black movement in which many decided to go natural and wear real and attempted African fabrics to connect to this wonderfully diverse continent, but here, they are still trying to be French. Even most elementary schools teach in French instead of a local mother tongue (Wolof in this case). But the worst of all of these is the prevalence of skin bleaching. I was told by my professor the other day that 50% of women here bleach their skin here! They buy random cocktails of chemicals to spread of their skin and there are even shots to look more European- or even just mixed; chemicals that leads to blotchiness, skin burning, and cancer…all to look like the colonialists who exploited, and continue to exploit them. It’s mind boggling. Some women have even said they do it to please their husbands, but why would a husband want the mother of their children to go through such dangerous measures for a very limited idea of beauty? It makes me sick and sad at the same time.
I have been doing mostly school related activities, as of late. Including dance and drum lessons I have started Tuesday and Thursday evenings. But rather than bore you with curriculum related ramblings for my first post, I thought I’d give you a tour of Dakar through a tubaab’s eyes (a tubaab is what they call foreigners here):
There are many smells in Dakar- some good, and some rather awful. The streets are speckled with vendors selling fruits and veggies (raw and cooked), nuts, cell phone credit, and many other items which either have no smell or smell delicious and fresh! There is also a heavy smell of pollution and exhaust, however. It seems there are no regulations here for car emissions, because it is not uncommon to see a taxi spewing a terrible black cloud behind it. This is perhaps, the strongest smell in the metropolitan area. Another rather unpleasant smell is the smell of rotting food and other garbage. The trash collection system here is rather lacking and since the sidewalks are large concrete slabs (much like in the US) situated over tunnel drain systems that are not covered, the smell leaks out- especially after a rain. There is also the smell of various farm animals that are common on the streets even downtown. The diversity of nasal sensations is quite grand.
On the roads of Dakar, the most frequent car is a black and yellow taxi. They honk as they pass pedestrians to signal that they are free because, unlike back home where it may be difficult to find a cab and people may even compete for one, it’s the taxis ho compete for costumers here. There are also car rapides, the public transportation here which are large vans painted brightly that cost about twenty cents. These are one of my favorite places to people watch and feel like a real local because everyone rides them, people with fancy suits as well as farmers! They are often cramped and hot, but the people in them are polite and will squish five people into a spot clearly intended for four. There are also Tatas, which are slightly larger and more expensive (which means by about five cents!) than the car rapides. Their functions, however, are fairly similar and they may only differ based on route.
There are many stray cats and dogs here. Cat lovers would crumble, because cats are considered vermin in Dakar and some families have dogs, but precious few. But it makes sense, if people are struggling to feed their families; they aren’t going to waste more food on an animal that doesn’t bring in any extra income of resources (milk, labor). It’s just as well to me, being allergic to cats and not too fond of dogs. Palm trees are one of the most common trees in Dakar, there is one outside my bedroom window; but if one were to venture out into more rural areas, the Baobab trees stud the landscape- an odd looking tree, also known as the ‘upside down tree,’ that Senegal is known for. There is a myth here that in the beginning, the baobab saw all the other slender trees with brightly colored flowers and fruits and wide glorious leave. It became jealous of these attributes and complained to the creator. The creator became quite annoyed with his work being criticized when he had made it perfectly so (s)he took the tree and turned it upside down where it could no longer see itself nor loudly complain. I have had the pleasure of tasting the juice of this tree, it is delicious thick nectar made by adding water to the powdery pulp of the fruit.
On my twenty minute walk to school, I pass women dressed in traditional Senegalese outfits of brightly colored fabric with head wraps for the older women. The men tend to dress in more western clothes, but there are still those who wear the traditional long robe-like top over pants and pointed toe shoes. The women’s’ clothes are much harder to explain because they are much more varied. Generally, they consist of either a dress or a top and a pagne, or wrap skirt. My mother here is a seamstress and owns a shop, so I have gotten some of these elegant clothes made! On the trip to school is also where I encounter many men who are not shy about being forward. For I, as well as all of the other girls in this program, have received multiple marriage proposals. It is insane, after a less than five minute conversation with someone on the street; they will jump to asking whether or not you have a husband. It is only because we are white and foreign, of course, so they assume we can offer them money and a ticket to America. It was funny at first, but now it’s downright annoying! I’ve started telling them that I’m married with five kids, which still only gets them away a percentage of the time! When I told my mother about these happenings, she thought my sharp response was amusing.
Jamm rekk (Peace only in Wolof)