Thursday, March 02, 2006

I want to rock and roll all night, and party every day.

If I haven’t posted lately (and, let’s be honest, I haven’t posted lately) it’s only because I’ve been far too busy, and having far too much fun.

Actually, I feel a little guilty. This isn’t supposed to be a vacation. I’m supposed to be a journalist. And I have been working (she says defensively). I’ve written a short article for that magazine in Pennsylvania. I’m writing the article about the Peace Corps volunteers for my alumni magazine. I’ve written two pitches, and I’m waiting to hear back. Tomorrow I’m meeting with a woman at IRIN, a UN news web site.

But if you ask me what I did this week, I’d be much more likely to tell you about the amazing concert I went to on Saturday night. It was a in a small bar, and the band was PBS Radicale. Or part of PBS Radicale, anyway. The other lead singer was sitting at the table across from us with a very pretty lady at his side. The part that played that night did acoustic African music. There were drums and a kora (stringed instrument) and a guitar, and the singer’s voice was out of this world.

But that was ages ago already. Instead, I might tell you about the Mardi Gras party I went to on Tuesday night, at the church hall behind my house. I went with Marie-Susan, who is one of the maids here, but who is mostly my friend. Her aunt lives nearby, and is hosting three American exchange students, too, so we all had dinner at the aunt’s house, and got dressed up in costumes for the dance party. Marie-Susan lent me a beautiful blue boubou to wear—a long blue skirt with a matching tunic top, and a scarf wrapped around my head. I have pictures. I thought I’d feel ridiculous, but actually, I felt very pretty.

Two of the other Americans also dressed in Senegalese clothes, but in these parts, Mardi Gras is mostly an excuse for cross-dressing. Marie-Susan and Jenna, the third American, decided to join in the tradition, complete with drawn-on facial hair and ridiculous rain hats. But they were nothing compared to the Senegalese boys in full-transvestite splendor bringing down the house in the church hall. Tiny skirts, tons of makeup, fancy wigs. And, this being Senegal, there was as much padding around the, ahem, “jaayfunda” as in the bra. (“jaayfunda” is Wolof for “sell porridge” and is a euphemism for a big/nice ass. The theory being that if you sell porridge, you’re either going to be rich enough to buy good food or else you’ll eat all the porridge you don’t sell. Either way, you’ll be well endowed.)

Last night, all of Dakar was at the stadium (or glued to their television screens) for a friendly football match between Norway and Senegal, and a star-studded concert lineup. I was there, too, with Rose, my new freelance journalist friend, ostensibly covering the event, but really just enjoying the free all-access pass (or almost all access—we couldn’t get backstage). With our green wristbands, the guards wouldn’t let us in the main entrance, (okay, so really not all-access at all) so they directed us to a side entrance, where the access started kicking in, and before we really knew what we were doing, we were standing on the sidelines of the pitch. We looked around a bit, waiting for someone to chase us off, but eventually we found some stairs leading up into the bleachers, and took a seat.

The game was uninspiring (both teams have dismal records this year) but Senegal won, 2-1. The most exciting moment was when the electricity went out with only minutes left in the second half. It may have just been a blown fuse, though, because the lights by the concert stage stayed lit, and the power came back on in a few minutes. During the darkness, everybody pulled out their cell phones and lit up the crowd with tiny, multi-colored stars. Quite pretty really.

My favorite moment of the concert was dancing to “Take on Me” by A-Ha. The Senegalese had no clue who A-Ha were , although they gamely sang along when the lead singer made them. But Rose grew up loving A-Ha (“A-Ha-er for life, not just for Christmas!”) and she, her flatmate, and I had fun rocking out to the 80s music, and looking for the other Toubabs in the crowd, who were dancing too.

The Senegalese singers got much better reactions, and I enjoyed their music as well. But it was freezing cold, (there were people building fires in the bleachers to stay warm) and I was under-dressed. By 11:15 the concert was only half over, and I was ready to go home. So I did.

And what I really want to do right now is complain about the ridiculous number system in Wolof. We’ve been learning it in class this week, and I refuse. I’d love to learn Wolof fluently, but this number system is just wrong.

I have a master’s degree in linguistics. I know all about how there’s no right or wrong in language, there’s just communication. I get that. I believe that. I will never correct someone for splitting an infinitive in English. I make up words and constructions all the time. I think that’s what makes language interesting. But this has crossed a line.

Let me explain. There are only words for about five numbers in Wolof. Once you get past five, you start adding (6=five one, 7=five two, etc.) Then there are words for orders of magnitude (10, 100, 1000, etc.) So 786 is five-two-hundreds, five-three-tens, five-one. (Juroom naari teemeer juroom netti fukk, juroom benn.)

It’s a bit cumbersome, but I can handle it. Most things are rounded to 5 anyway, and it means fewer words to memorize.

The problem comes when you start talking about money. For money, the basic unit is the derem, which is five francs. So two derems is 10 francs. And three derems is 15 francs. So if you ask how much something costs, and they say 3, they mean 15.

Of course, nothing costs 3 derems. There are 500 francs to a dollar. Prices are frequently in the thousands of francs.

Based on this system, you’d think that 50 francs would be 10 derem. You’d be right. After which, the base switches to 50, so you take any number you hear and divide it by 50. And then after 1000, the base switches again, to 500. God help you if you need to talk about something that’s not rounded to the nearest 500. You need a cipher book.

And actually I may be explaining the nuances wrong. I don’t remember all the details. It doesn’t matter though, because I’m pretty determined never to use Wolof numbers to talk about money. I refuse. It’s dumb. My way—the English way—is better. I’m sorry. I know that’s very culturally insensitive of me. Take away my gold star. See if I care.

P.S. Several people have asked me who Michelle is and how I met her. Michelle is an exchange student who has been here since September. I found her blog before I left, and I sent her an email. She was unwise enough to write back.


Blogger jeanne said...

ok, i admit it i had to go look up A-ha. and AHA!!! now i remember that song! it's fun! no idea what it means. and who you callin' a jaayfunda??? them's some crazy assed numbers. i'd be ripped off in no time flat.

i don't know but this sure doesn't sound like work to me....

2:23 PM  
Blogger a.maria said...

um. yeahhhhhh. i got confused trying to do the math in my head just reading about it.. i can't imagine actually having to TRANSLATE the words first, and THEN do the math.

10 = ten

17 = seventeen

356 = three hundred fitty-six

i like our way better too! ;)

9:24 PM  
Blogger Rae said...

Cool! You sound like you are having so much fun, and of course getting a lot of work done!!

I can't wait til you post pics. Are you still blogging from an internet cafe? Is running still a big fitness hit over there? I remember before you left you mentioned how fitness was huge in S.

10:18 PM  

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