Friday, February 17, 2006

It's a hard knock life

There’s always something to puncture my bubble. Remembering something from the Lonely Planet, I stopped at a corner store to buy bread for breakfast today. I went inside, and explained that I wanted something on the bread, and discovered that I could choose between chocolate and butter. As if that was a choice. So I bought a dime’s worth of break, with a dime’s worth of chocolate, and walked away, extremely content with my lot.

I headed directly to a new cyber, where I discovered that, for the same price as at my original favorite, I could have an hour at the computer with a QWERTY keyboard. So I happily typed away my hour, and then headed back home. I was still hungry, though, so I decided to stop again at the corner store. This time, I was going to buy a full baguette, which I’d take home and use later for a sandwich or something for lunch, and maybe for breakfast tomorrow morning. But the chocolate was so good, I decided to ask them to take a small part of it to spread with chocolate.

All was going well, I thought. I explained that I wanted part with chocolate, I showed him how much to cut off the end. And then he started slicing open the big piece. No, I explained. I only want this little one with chocolate. He looked at me, and nodded, and continued slicing. Then he brought out the chocolate. No wait, I said. I wanted the chocolate on THIS one. The LITTLE one. He looked at me, nodded, and continued spreading.

Oops. I need to learn some better Wolof, already.

Not that I won’t enjoy the whole, chocolately, bready goodness. Who needs vitamins in their food? I take a multi-vitamin every morning! And I had an orange. Very healthful, I am.

Anyway, to answer somebody’s question: yes, Wolof is a language. It’s the language of the largest ethnic group in Senegal, and has become the lingua franca of all the cities and larger towns. Which means that even if your family is, for instance, Serrer (another ethnic group), you’ll learn Wolof when you leave the village. And more and more, children are learning Wolof immediately, instead of their own language. In Dakar, most people speak French, but this is less true outside of Dakar (which I saw yesterday, on my trip to interview the Peace Corps guy), and even in Dakar, there are a fair number who speak minimal French, and speak Wolof much better.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about what is different and scary and overwhelming here (and see below for another entry of more of the same), and there is certainly a lot to say on that subject. But in fairness, I think I need to spend a minute talking about the many ways in which my life here is NOT hard. I don’t mean in some worldly, “when you look at how tough some poor people in Africa have it” sense. I mean, compared to YOU, reading this on your computer, in America or Israel or Australia or wherever, my life is a bowl of peaches and cream.

Let’s talk about Wednesday, for a moment. If I can be said to have a “routine” after less than a week, Wednesday exemplified that routine. I woke up around 9 am to yet another gorgeous, clear, blue-skied, sunny day. The temperature in Dakar is a breezy 65-75 degrees every day, and it won’t rain until July at the earliest (although starting next month, apparently, it will get much hotter).

I showered (in my private bathroom, attached to my bedroom), at some breakfast (yoghurt, I think, out of my mini-fridge) and walked to my 10 am Wolof class, at the Baobab Center, which is 10 minutes away.

(A moment of self-congratulation: for the first time, I was able to walk in a direct route to the Baobab center, instead of walking myself in circles for a half hour before finding it. Progress!)

I arrived at the center, said hello to all the people that I’d been seeing every day, and grabbed a cup of hot milk (they put out warm milk for coffee—Nescafe—but I don’t drink coffee, so I thought I’d try a “steamer” of sorts—hot milk with a sugar cube. It was yummy).

I went to class (two hours of elementary instruction in Wolof, with a 15 minute break in the middle). Wednesday, for the first time, I was able to join a class with other students. They are 3 Norwegian exchange students who arrived a week before I did. I took Wolof classes on Monday and Tuesday to catch up to their level, and now we’ll continue on together.

When class was finished, I explained that I was going to have to miss the class scheduled for Thursday, since I needed to go to Fatick to interview my Peace Corps dude. The Norwegians immediately offered to reschedule the class entirely, so that I wouldn’t miss anything. The teacher immediately agreed, and told us he was available to make up the class whenever we wanted. We agreed to tack an extra hour onto our class on Monday, and decide where to put the other hour at some other time.

After class, the three Norwegians (Christian, Nina, Lena) and I walked off together to find some lunch. We ended up heading towards the University (where they are taking their other classes), and going to the internet café there, before actually finding lunch. With a whole extra week under their collective belts, they are far more experienced in the ways of Dakar, so they explained lots of things to me, including the very scary (not really) car rapides (buses, kinda) and whatever else I asked about.

Lena and Christian planned to wander towards the ocean, vaguely in the direction of downtown, after lunch, and they invited me to join them. I needed to call my bank to try to work out the ATM card problem, and they decided to wait for me.

And so we wandered, and chatted, and wandered, and looked at the ocean, and when we got tired, we found a bar that looked out over the ocean, and drank a beer and chatted and looked at the ocean. When we were done, Christian helped me find a car rapide going to my neighborhood, and I went home.

So to recap: class, email, wandering, ocean, chatting. Tough day, right? And, not including my Wolof class, the entire thing cost me less than $4, plus another $4 or so to call the bank (unsuccessfully, it turned out, so part of that was my call to my sister to get her to try to fix the problem from her end).

See what I mean? La vie est tellement dure. Which means “Life is really hard”, and is a complete lie.

P.S. Remember how, on Sunday, I couldn’t find a bank for love or money? Well the little bank, the one that didn’t change money, was at the intersection of two main roads. When I left, I continued walking south. Had I turned west, instead, there would have been two full-service, international banks within about a five minute walk. Just thought I’d mention. For the record.


Blogger Scooter said...

OK, ban taken! Thanks for the Wolof explanation. I've always found that learning the equivalent of "what do you call" (Como se Spanish) is very helpful in vocabulary building. You say it and point, they say the word and you repeat. Usually about the third time you ask, you retain it. I remeber from several years back that I was told that ATM PINs longer than 4 digits were problems in some parts of the world. Just a thought on a possible cause.

11:56 AM  
Blogger Flo said...

Thanks for the Wolof info (I had no idea what you were talking about when you mentioned it:P)

It is absolutely fascinating reading your adventures in Dakar.
I spent 3 weeks in Kenya (1 week in Mombasa and 4 days in Nairobi) so your stories are really interesting to me. Sounds like things are going well for you.

1:54 PM  
Blogger jeanne said...

Come on, admit it: wouldn't you rather be back in your d.c. cubicle, pretend working while reading blogs? commuting back and forth? in 20F??

I am seething with jealousy. :) To think, I'm afraid to consider taking a new job!! You're my new hero.

4:25 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home