Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I contain multitudes.

I have been back in the states for almost two weeks now. And once you have gone, it is so easy to see.

Why America is the land of opportunity.

Here, I can choose. I choose all sorts of things. Chocolate or vanilla. College or career. Satellite or cable. Marriage or motherhood or not. And we take those silly and not-so-silly choices for granted every day, never realizing what a fortune already lies in their simple existence.

I have so much. We have so much. Yet it is never enough. And I fall into the trap time after time, of needing what I want.

Travel, as always, inspires me to touch this world. To run. jump. play. To live less within my own head. There, life is tuned into nature, rising like the tide through courtyard and window and rooftop. A fluency between human and earth exists which has been lost in our climate control and desk jobs. I have the urge to walk endlessly, searching for that same sense of connection. Stillness in the constant turning. Difficult now to focus on how heart.lungs.brain.kidney can be altered with medication when I have so much life to embrace.

To revisit my original expectations, I will say this:

I have fallen in love with music all over again. The beating heart of the drum, the sweeping elegance of the kora. The purity of an art practiced for its own sake. Nothing else simultaneously grounds and lifts you, melts you into the world while allowing you to really see it. An unspoken language that can connect you to another, to yourself, deeper than words ever could.

Freedom for women comes with economic opportunity. How fortunate I am to be able to use my mind in pursuing a career which allows me to support myself. To share this life with a person of my choice, if I so decide, rather than out of financial necessity or family obligation.

The tea is actually sweet and delicious. On a good day, I can haggle with the best of them and fetch myself a taxi in French - without pushing the starting price upward ;) I can relate to Beth what I am 95% sure Mama Aida was trying to tell me, only to be utterly wrong every time.

Personal favorite
My translation: "Oh she likes how I braided my hair today! Thanks Mama, I did it myself!"
Actual translation: "What are you putting in your hair because it bleached the sheets I put on your bed?!"

I don't expect to ever return to Senegal. I would gladly go back, but there is so much more ground to tread upon. I say goodbye with an eternal sense of gratitude for this experience. For its lessons in hospitality and tolerance, its little and big pushes outside of my comfort zone. A reminder of the glow I feel when surrounded by salt water and infinite horizons. Recognition of truly wanting to be none other than myself. An urge to write that I have not felt in years. To empty the worlds within me onto paper. So many gifts I have been given. I push forward, resolving to work hard. To live more simply. A little less comfortably. Lessen my carbon footprint, but always leave a mark. To love; fiercely and graciously. Share generously. To appreciate all I have, all I am.

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable.
 I am large. I contain multitudes.
-Walt Whitman

Saturday, July 9, 2011

We've got the beat

I arrived back in New York yesterday. Happy to be home, but sad to leave. Thank you to everyone who has been following along on my trip with me! The positive responses and love I received from many of you has meant so much. I have a few more wrap-up posts to do now so I hope you'll follow with me a bit longer :) Especially now that I can upload videos!

Drumming was a very integral part of my entire Senegal experience. Music is so intertwined with life here, and the drum (called a tam-tam) is significant in many of it's rituals. The beat is seemingly transcendent in its ability to connect individuals, to draw you in deeper than any words ever could. At Sobo Bade, we were fortunate enough to experience the most incredible drumming performance.

We saw drumming used to worship, to welcome, to motivate, to express, to socialize, and above all, to celebrate life. 

I've added videos featuring more drumming to my posts on "Village Life" and Wrestling.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Discussions with Mama Aida

Bush should have minded his own business. Doesn’t think much of Arabs. They aren’t nice and everyone knows it. Not sure if Bin Laden is really dead. Likes Obama. About the Senegalese president:  it’s not his fault he is making bad decisions, that’s what happens when you get old.

In response to me not having a boyfriend at the ripe, old age of 21:  Do I ever plan to get married?

And my insanely tall "petit frere" (little brother).

Very sad to say goodbye today. Will be back in the US at noon tomorrow!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Thank you for smoking

It’s always a bit of an adjustment to be in a state/country that allows you to smoke indoors. In Senegal, you can smoke literally anywhere, and it is very popular to do so. We passed a Philip Morris factory on our trip this past weekend, and it sparked a bit of a conversation on our bus. Although smoking is very common here, there is none of the advertising we have in America about the negative effects of smoking. Smoking is promoted, just as it was in America 20 years ago, when the information about its detrimental effects existed, but wasn’t so publicized.

The cigarette industry in America is difficult now. Younger generations are brought up with the knowledge that smoking is not good for you. We strongly encourage adult smokers to quit and offer all kinds of cessation help. The industry (and the consumer) is heavily taxed. So what have the companies done? Expand to the third world of course!

There is no tax on cigarettes here, no government requiring a proclamation of addiction and cancer risk, and a population that is generally seen as dispensable by the rest of the world. It’s always about money. It’s the same with medicine – pharmaceutical companies don’t make the effort to research diseases specific to third world nations because the people who need the medicine wouldn’t be able to pay for it anyways.

If it makes someone else rich, or if saving them would make someone else poorer, and since there are really soooo many of them on this African continent and they don’t have much to offer the world anyways – their lives aren't worth the money. But, hey, it's just business right?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Plastic is invading us

I mentioned one of my first impressions of Africa was the amount of trash everywhere. I have since learned that in the early days of our trip the garbage collectors were on strike, which somewhat explained the huge piles of trash everywhere. However, even when these workers are doing their job, garbage and pollution still abound.

A very important issue in Africa is the lack of space that exists here. Space is a luxury that only the wealthy can truly afford. One of the professors on the trip with us lived in Senegal 30 years ago. She said at the time she was here, the population of Dakar was 150,000. Now the population is close to 3 million, about 25% of the country’s population. With that many people living in such close confines, unless you can afford to create space for yourself, you have none. The whole city becomes your home.  You maybe have a roof or a small shanty to sleep in, but people seem to roam freely. You eat where you can, you use the bathroom where you can, you make money where you can, and you throw your trash where you can. In poverty, there is no defined space for such things, which is somewhat of a foreign concept to an American. We have a kitchen to eat in, a bathroom to relieve ourselves in, a bedroom to sleep in, trash cans in nearly every room, a dump to bring our garbage too, and endless amounts of space in which to perform our daily activities.

The director of WARC made what I felt was a rather important comment that “Plastic is invading us.” He mentioned specifically the impact that plastic bags have had on rural villages. Plastic bags that litter the ground are accidently eaten by cows as they graze and, ultimately, cause the animal’s death. Is there anything more unnatural than plastic? Yet it is everywhere, even in Africa, the birthplace of humanity, where nature has always been revered as central to life. How has this invasion of the unnatural affected Africa? Has it hindered, destroying the pureness of the land and the livelihood of rural families, more than it has offered? Even in America, such synthetic materials make our lives convenient, tidy, easy, but what have they cost us? We are, for example, told to avoid plastic water bottles containing certain chemicals now known to be toxic to our bodies. Are we poisoning ourselves, losing our connection to the natural beauty that surrounds us, in the name of convenience?

It’s difficult to take pictures that truly capture the amount of garbage, but it is somewhat overwhelming. Plastic has truly invaded the landscape. 

1: Me

Since Thursday...

1-4: Holy city of Touba
Senegal has it's own "brand" of Islam, more or less created by Sheikh Amadou Bamba, the most famous Senegalese Islamic leader. He founded the city of Touba in 1887, and many Senegalese people make a pilgrimage to the mosque here at least once a year. The mosque was architecturally very beautiful, but to enter the women had to have their bodies and heads fully covered. We all had to take our shoes off. Women and men are not allowed to touch as soon as they enter the mosque grounds and pray in separate areas.

5: African drumming class
"This is not a prayer, you can not do whatever you want." 
Words spoken to me by the instructor in response to my lack of tempo. 

6: Acoustic music night African style - kora, guitar, and 2 other unknown instruments. 
I received the African name of Awa Ndiaye from the kora player. Later that night, we watched the most incredibleeeeee drum performance. I can not even begin to explain how powerful and awesome it was. Can't wait to upload videos of it!

7-9: Sunset from Sobo Bade

10-11: "Safari" at Bandia Game Reserve

Lots of traveling, lots of beach, lots of good food, lots of music, very little sleep.

Back in Dakar for the last few days of our trip. Hope everyone had a great 4th of July!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Village Life

One of the professors on the trip with us is originally from Senegal, and Thursday night we had the opportunity to visit his village in rural Africa. After a very long, 8 hour bus trip from Dakar (with several stops along the way), we arrived in Tene Toubab just as the sun was setting. We were met with horse drawn carts to give us a ride from the road into the village.

We were greeted by the entire village - men, women, and children welcomed us with drumming and dancing. The dancing here was very much like drumming, feet pounding on the ground in time to the beat. Children that could barely walk were up dancing - it is so incredible to witness the infusion of rhythm into the soul of these people. I would not have missed this night for anything.

The village still leads an extremely rural existence. There is no electricity, and there is only recently the addition of running water. Once the sun set, pitch darkness set in very quickly. The people here truly live off the land. Their houses, fences, everything is made out of natural materials. The sense of community is overwhelming. The people eat together in a common area, raise their children together, really live together. It is human nature to complicate things, and I don't want to make the assumption that people in rural areas have less problems, less heartache than we do in our "modern" world. But human interaction still exists in a way that gets lost in our technology - our texting and emailing and facebooking that allow us to stay in touch without ever actually touching.

The children (and the adults) were so excited to have pictures taken and be able to view them after. I made lots of friends, but one little 9-year old girl named Kumba eventually grabbed my hand and didn't let go. She had a stutter and seemed more stoic than the rest of the children. I could tell she was so pleased to have my attention when it was so clearly wanted, but I didn't see her really smile until I gave her a piggyback ride all around the village. I wonder what that stutter means for her - and what it will mean as she gets older. She was crying when I left, and I gave her my watch because it's all I really had to give her.

How incredible it is to think that both this life and mine co-exist in the same world. And I wonder how the presence of a modern world impacts that of the rural. To know there is a place called America, where a group of "rich" people came on a big bus and gave us lots of presents and played with us and then drove away back to that place from which they came. Are stories of their own, like our professor, who moved abroad told with reverence? Do children begin to look down on this rural life or at the very least hope to leave it behind them? Will rural life eventually collapse - and the beauty of community and nature sacrificed in the name of comfort and possessions and technology?

I could have stayed here a long time, possibly forever. And maybe I'll be back - not here exactly, but somewhere like it. To learn the stories of these people and share their lives.

Now we are spending a few days in an artist's community called Sobo Bade, aka paradise. I'm attending an African drumming class in an hour!