Sunday, January 9, 2011

Where is your car?

I can really see how many of my stories will talk about transportation in Senegal. Maybe because it’s so difficult to get anywhere from Linguere or that people cannot resist messing with the toubab, but travel days are anything but dull. This recent experience I was traveling to St. Louis, a beautiful French-influenced city on the Northern coast. We had a language seminar that started early Monday morning, so Marem and I left Dahra Sunday. I had traveled to Dahra the day before. Actually, Marem’s dad is the mayor of Dahra and had come to Linguere for a soccer match; they took me along. I got to ride in her dad’s personal car through the game, and when I say through the game, we drove straight through midfield up to the stands to take our seats. I felt like a celebrity and a jackass at the same time.

Anyways, we decided to take the “direct” afternoon bus from Dahra to St. Louis. I should probably explain that Sunday is a market day there; market days are insane from all the people coming and going, selling and buying, but today was special. This was the last market day before Tabaski. Ohh Tabaski. This is the Muslim holiday that celebrates the “sacrifice.” This is actually a bible story I think where a father is told by god to sacrifice his son to prove faith, and at the last minute god intervened and saved the son. So they celebrate this holiday in Senegal by slaughtering a white ram, eating it, praying, dressing up in new clothes and then visiting family and friends. The Linguere and Dahra region is called the “Djolof” and the djolof is famous for its animal herding and grazing.

You cannot even imagine the amount of sheep that were at this market day. What people do is come to the djolof, buy a bunch of sheep for a low price, travel back to the cities and make huge profits.

So back to Marem and I on this bus. We call them “alhums” because on the front of all of them there is a sign that says, “alhumdallah- praise allah” for good luck. After it arrives an hour and a half late they were packing it up when we realized a lot of sheep were waiting to be loaded. I’m thinking, wonderful, these sheep are going to be tied to the roof. They are going to whine, pee and poop up there and I’m sure somehow it’ll leak through (these alhums are pretty dilapidated). That was true for about half of the sheep. In getting on the actual bus did I realize about thirty of the sheep had been shoved underneath the seats. So instead of putting my feet on the floor I sat with my knees curled up to my chest with my backpack in between. I can say that that did not last long, especially since we were sitting five people across. You know that pet store smell? Imagine being in that pet store on a hot summer day, without electricity, and you’re locked in a dirty kennel; or a cramped dirty horse stall.

Anyways, the knees to the chest thing was not going to last the whole 8 hour trip, so after about an hour my feet were resting on top of the sheep’s bodies underneath me. About two hours after that the sea of sheep had swallowed my feet and I couldn’t find my shoes again until we finally got to St. Louis. And yes, the sheep were pooping and peeing the whole time. Now I’m not sure if all of you can picture these rams. People only sacrifice the BIG guys; you know the ones with those crazy horns. Yes, those ones. Picture that surrounding my legs and butt. They were constantly jabbing and ramming (hahaa yes ramming) into my body. Oh the bruises.

But for me, the worst is not the poo or the bruises or extreme uncomfortable sitting position, but the NOISE. Sheep have one of the most annoying and creepy cries I’ve heard in Senegal. They sound like zombies. I mean legitimate zombies; I thoroughly believe that zombie movies have been taking recordings of sheep all of these years because that is exactly what it sounds like. Every minute or so one would be thrashing under you and then let out this “AARRRUUUUUUGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH” and I would jump thinking we were under siege.

I have to say that no matter how angry I was at these creatures above and below me, I pitied them because they were all on their way to their death. I was actually angrier with the people who would torture the animals like this, scare the shit out of them just to kill them a few days later.

Let’s move on to the people on the bus…

Most of the people on the bus were part of the Pulaar ethnic group because herders in Senegal are generally Pulaar. This did not help me at all since I can only speak a limited Wolof at the moment. After telling these men that I DO NOT UNDERSTAND Pulaar, they keep asking me questions for about twenty minutes in this alien language. When they finally realize I cannot respond they switch to Wolof asking me why I haven’t learned Pulaar yet; insulted at my lack of cultural integration. Well gentlemen I’ve only been in Senegal for three months so I’m just trying to get Wolof down first and then after I want to learn Pulaar. Oh three months in Senegal, they ask? You should already be fluent in Wolof and well on your way in to Pulaar. Oh, okay thanks guys. 

After being told I’m a failure because I don’t know Pulaar, they ask me if I know any of the Americans they’ve ever met in their lives. Because of course every American knows each other. The man to my right asked me if I knew a Maty Diob; she lived in a village in Senegal 10 years ago and worked in a hospital. She was from America, are we friends? Um sir, do you know her real name? What do you mean? Her name was Maty Diob. No sir, I’m sorry I don’t know her.

They all thought it was wonderfully hilarious that a woman toubab was riding on this bus with all the sheep and the sheepherders. Their next line of questioning started to annoy me. It might have been about the time I lost my shoes. “Where is your car/” Why aren’t you driving your car to St. Louis. You’re American; all Americans are rich and have cars. The concept that not all Americans are rich is something I deal with on a daily basis. I’m not surprised that people think this because in relative terms Americans are wealthy, but they don’t take in to consideration our standard of living or taxes and such. And any t.v. they see from America is ridiculous; like “pimp my ride” or “house.” Anyways, they think I’m lying when I say I don’t have a car or the money to rent one. I finally get annoyed and yell at them “If I had enough money I wouldn’t be on this fucking bus!” Most of it was in Wolof.

Never believe anyone when they say “direct” route. Not true, our direct trip stopped about every 10km to pick up or drop someone off. By the time we made it to Louga, the next biggest city, Marem and I wanted to kill ourselves. It was here that I said goodbye to a new friend who told me that if I came to his house and married him, he would slaughter a sheep just for me on Tabaski. As romantic as that offer was, I was very determined to make it to St. Louis.

It’s important to note that no matter how miserable that trip was, it was pretty hysterical. I laughed most of the time, both out loud and internally. You have to find humor in what’s going on or else you’ll actually be miserable, and that makes traveling so much harder. So when any of you come to visit me (hint), just keep an open mind and be flexible. You really never know what will happen.

When we finally got there, Marem and I praised allah for the cold beer and delicious pizza that was waiting.

November 2010

I'm back!

Okay everyone I want to apologize for my absence, I’ve never really had a blog before or ever kept up with them. After some pressuring from my parents, who now have Internet and computers at home, I have promised to write semi-consistent updates of my life happenings.

Give me feedback, if some topics are extremely boring or whatnot, my dad said that you guys might be interested in what’s going on.  I guess when you’re living here, things that become commonplace are slightly ridiculous or even amusing to everyone else. So bear with me guys as I try to describe some of my experiences…and maybe I can add some pictures along the way…