Saturday, May 25, 2013

...with my flippy floppies

Last week I made the trip up north, about twelve hours from my village by car, to attend Jazz Fest 2013 in St. Louis. This annual festival is opportunity for many volunteers to get out of site, hang out with those volunteers that they may not see too often and do those American things that we all so much miss; wear shorts (still long by American standards), drink beer and speak English. Since transportation logistics make it impossible for me to make the journey in one day I spent the night in Tambacounda at the regional house on my way up north. I got to see a few of the new volunteers that were just arriving in site and also a few friends from my region just happen to be at the house, it sure is great seeing people again. I forgot how long I had been at site, it was a much needed break. Eli, Jonathan and I had about an ten hour ride to get to St. Louis but the trip went about as smoothly as you could plan, which is always great. There was an incident of wrapping a tube that was in the engine with tape but I am sure we were not going to blow up or anything. Right? We arrived in time for me to meet up with Hattie at a local restaurant, she had just finished teaching a class and while waiting I had no problem taking pleasure in pizza and Wi-Fi, a real treat. We ended up meeting Marsha from our stage along with some other volunteers for dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant on the north side of the island. I can’t even remember a time when I had such delicious cuisine, calamari with a spicy curry sauce over a bed of rice. To die for. We walked back to the center of town, each of us eating more than necessary requiring a walk for proper digestion, looking for music on the main stage but since there was an entrance fee we figured the festivities could wait until the weekend. I spent the night with Marsha in her room; she is always so welcoming to those of us who were homeless due to our reservation being for the next night. Again I was spoiled with Wi-Fi, a comfortable bed and the sound of the ocean breeze as I feel asleep (Marsha is serving as a volunteer after a successful career she has more money that the average just-out-of-college volunteer and can splurge on a room on the beach and there are a couple of us that reap the benefits). The next day, Friday, Marsha and I spent walking around “downtown” on the island, eating lunch at a wonderful local restaurant, admiring the merchandise in a cheese shop (we don’t even have cheese at my site let alone a whole store dedicated to the luxury item) and shopping around for an elusive Senegal patch to add to my collection. Julia, Jenn and Lisa from my stage arrived in town around 3pm so I stayed in town to meet up with them as Marsha went back to her room to prepare for the festivities that were to follow that evening. The girls grabbed a bite to eat at a local café and I sipped on a café au lait, which is also nonexistent at my site. If you have not already picked up on the pattern, time spent in the big city is consumed with eating and drinking things we don’t have at site, wasting countless hours online until you can repeat your newsfeed from Facebook or have memorized all the top stories on and catching up with friends. We went back to our rooms to nap before heading out for the night that just ended up with Julia and I talking in our room until it was time to start getting ready. Alexx was supposed to also be in our room but flew back to America last minute to be with her family after the passing of her uncle. He was, in part, the reason why we shaved our heads, allowing us to raise money and awareness for Lymphoma. My thoughts go out to her and her family during this hard time. That night we headed to the “the boat” to listen to live music and drink wine like the classy people that we are not these days. The boat was about four levels and looked like it could be used as a river cruise, or somewhere with mild seas, and the whole time I could not help but sing random lyrics to the song "I'm on a boat". The music and bar were on the top deck, which provided chilly weather and a great view over the water and the bridge that was lit up for the festival. It was truly a beautiful site and I would have never thought I would have experienced something in my time here in Senegal. Saturday we indulged in a cheap breakfast, the usual but delicious pea sandwich, before heading into town to walk around. We ended up shopping at the “fukiji” which are basically tables or sheets sprawled out with used clothing from the west or Europe. Unless we want to walk around in traditional African ensembles we rely on this supply of cheap western clothing to supplement for the wear and tear that the cloths that we brought from America go through. And you can find name brand items for the equivalent of $2 or cheaper. After some more American type dishes for lunch we headed back to hotel for another nap before the night festivities, which ended with Julia and I watching Downton Abbey (great show if you have never seen it, I highly recommend, it is on BBC). While heading back into town we decided to stop and grab a glass of wine before heading to the boat and it may have ended up being one of the best choices we had made all weekend. We ended up at La Résidence, a hotel downtown that was in our budget for happy hour but not lodging. A band was warming up but there was a great wine list and free appetizers floating around so we decided to stay. The atmosphere was great, the service was the best that I have seen in all of Senegal and I was in great company, it was fabulous. Not surprisingly we went back to the boat for more music and wine after our hotel adventure and it was just as delightful from the night before. As the weekend progressed more and more volunteers were coming into town, it was great seeing people from other stages and sectors (health or agriculture) that I don’t see on a regular basis. We ended the night at a bar with buy one get one free Gazelle beers, horrible tasting by American standards but does the trick if you need something cold and beer like. Sunday morning Teni arrived in town and we took her downtown to show her around and, if ulterior motives must be known, have another café au lait. A few students from Howard University, DC were in town to perform in the festival, a couple of my friends are alumni of the university so they stayed and had a drink with
the band while Julia and I did what any other respectable Peace Corps Volunteer would do in a city, eat ice cream and sit along the water. It was great talking to her one on one, though we were in the same stage I don’t get to see her nearly enough and being that we both come from islands (myself Hawaii and her from St. Croix) we needed a little ocean breeze time. Our hostel is about a 20-minute walk from the center of downtown, and close to where the boat is located, so our walk back to nap gave us ample opportunity to walk off the ice cream and shop a little more. May I add all this shopping resulted in just looking, there were things that I would love to buy and there were things that were the same tourist crap that you can find anywhere but the thought of lugging it back to site makes one not want to buy anything. Our nap, also known as another episode of Downton Abbey, ended too soon as we were to get cleaned up for dinner with other volunteers for Lily’s birthday. A few of us thought it would be best to go back to La Résidence for drinks and live music and next thing you know there were a dozen of us drinking too many $10 bottles of their finest (cheapest) red and eating homemade banana bread, thanks for that Karen! Our waiter was the same from the night before and at this point we were on first name basis with him, Moussa. For a couple of hours I felt like I was in a European city with people that I have known for years, you would have never thought we had all just met a year ago. It makes me realize 1) how great the people are here that I am sharing this experience with 2) how much I do miss my friends and family back home and 3) how I do love a nation full of citizens with a disposable income. We had to be at the main stage by 9pm to listen to Howard University, to show our American support, and of course we were late and of course the show didn’t start until 10. They opened with some boys from the military school in Dakar, whom honestly looked like Boy Scouts in their hats and uniforms, and infused a slam poet and a local drummer in some of their later pieces. The performance was great and though I am not usually a jazz fan they put on a great performance and the music was a great change from what we normally hear. There was a Tunisian
Dhafer Youssef
band on as the final act and I was so impressed by him I bought some of his music on iTunes. His name is Dhafer Youssef, the combination of the instruments along with his voice made for a great sound. I am trying to get a video up of the above-mentioned acts but since internet speed is so slow it is proving to take forever. I will keep working on it; stay posted. We took the Howard boys out for some drinks and dancing after their performance and though the night ended too soon, the morning was proving to come too early for our trip back south. Jenn and I left St. Louis Monday morning, around 7am, to get a jump on our voyage back. I am 12 hours south and she is 10 so we often make a majority of the trip back together; we stopped half way in Kaolack since I would not have been able to finish the trip in a day. I know I mention this in probably just about every post but if anything this adventure has made me realize how great my life is back home. I have a great family, an amazing network of friends and endless opportunities for my career. I am thankful to be born and raised in such a great country. This post may have been a little staler than others, it is more of an message for update than a message inspired by something, but thank to for those following, it truly is an adventure.


Anonymous said...

it is always great to read about your adventures! Glad you are getting a break once and awhile! -Gina:)


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