20 February 2014

an hour of personal training for 67 cents...

...and other wonderful discoveries in st. louis.

i'm learning to be happy under sometimes incredibly tough, lonely, idle conditions. learning to keep myself interested, engaged, entertained. to keep exploring, keep socializing, keep working hard.

some highlights:

view from our rooftop.

  • missing the scheduled class at the gym, then realizing that whenever we show up, the instructor will immediately start a new class just for us. essentially an hour of personal training - aerobics, abs, and more - for just the cost of gym admission: 300 francs cfa, or 67 cents. rediscovering the power of endorphins as a mood booster. only taking a rest day because our backs and butts have bruises from hundreds of crunches on a cement floor.

car axles as dumbbells. no one actually knows how much they weigh.

  • learning to appreciate the chill of an outdoor bucket shower. still only taking a shower every 4 days, since the water's never running and it's always windy and we never have time. learning to be okay with that. deodorant and dry shampoo are our new best friends.

the shower situation.

  • almost-daily beneficiary visits with work that allow us to meet locals, feel productive, and see new parts of town.

with a projects assistant, oumar, after our first assignment: taking inventory of two beneficiaries' "boutique."

mom, this one's for you.

you'd be surprised by how many different things can be packed into this little tin box.

a "table boutique."

closer to home: the microfinance/human rights office.

teaching the courses for future beneficiaries is not my favorite part of the job.

cooking pizza as a fundraiser for one of our beneficiaries.

  • starting on a new work project - in-depth interviews to write a profile of each beneficiary. tamar intentionally wrote the questions abstract, general, sweeping, open-ended, a contrast to the simple life of a fruit vendor or shopkeeper. we quickly found out how difficult it is for our beneficiaries even to answer a question like "what are your interests?" even asking the simplest form of each question, each man answers about the same. ex.: "my interest is fruit selling. i am a fruit seller because it is what would make me the most money. i have never had any problems with my business. oh, and also someday i'd like to import luxury cars from europe." while boubacar may have that pipe dream, what's fascinating is how satisfied he and the others are currently with the most minimalistic of existences: sleep, eat, make money. in america, every person has a laundry list of interests they tick off if asked: sports, tv shows, hobbies, hanging out with family. and goals, be they short or long term. here, that is quite literally a foreign concept. there are no interests outside of work. our articles may have a subtle irony only we appreciate, toeing the line of satire. but of course, we're staying respectful. that contentedness with such an existence is an impressive part of the culture, one that i admire but could never identify with.

  • gorgeous sunsets over the skyline of mouride mosque minarets - every day a unique but equally dazzling display in a new palette of hues.

  • walking by the river on the way to town. the water is always beautiful, though if you look too closely, all you'll see is the trash.

the mosquée mouride is the landmark we always tell the taxi driver.


towards downtown.

the bridge across the river, from sor (where i live) to the island where the main city lies. here, it's unusually quiet. often, it's a hub of social activity, transit, and vendors hawking wares.

  • wandering l'île.

en ville.

shelling and selling peanuts.

hotel la residence, our frequent spot for socializing/mango juice.

  • sending postcards to some of my best friends, scattered all over america and the world. cringing a bit at the steep stamp price, but knowing it's worth it for the fun of receiving them.

  • watching the super bowl online after midnight in a seedy neighborhood restaurant.

  • getting to know our neighborhood, l'hlm. frequenting the boulangerie for fluffy brioche and buying out every shipment of bananas to the corner store. saying hi to high school students who're walking by constantly, yelling "toubab, ça va?" and commenting on our outfits in wolof. venturing into the lycée myself, for french classes with a geography/french teacher.


the campus of the public lycée.

  • retreating to oasis, a hotel with a chilly pool and lovely sandy beach, to toss ourselves in crashing waves and relax in the sunshine on a saturday afternoon.

  • going out dancing, enjoying live music and knowing you'll never compare to the dancing talents of many of the locals. somehow, any old inhibitions seem silly.


  • shopping around at several different markets to pick a colorful, traditional oil-printed fabric for a custom dress. being overwhelmed with options, and finally just picking one almost impulsively, with the intention to come back and get more.

fabrics at sor market.

take two: crossing the petit pont to the other side of the river, checking out an even bigger market.

  • doing laundry by hand, to dry in the sun. both the "soapy" and "clean" water buckets turn gray with the first t-shirts. watching freshly dead chickens be feathered downstairs as heads roll under our laundry line.

the neighbors.

  • last saturday: stepping into the secondhand clothing bazaar, laughing at the old t-shirts imported from america and seeing whether we could find any from really close to home.

i found one rack with alexandria, central maryland, and d.c. spy museum t-shirts all lined up in a row. i don't think anyone here would've known they all came from the same place.

this teeny kitten followed us around.

these jackets are everywhere, and basically tamar looks like sandy from grease.

whereas i look like a washed-up u.s. team skiier? either way, we had to buy them.

ok, i came far too close to buying this shirt ~ironically~.

  • then sunday: the village artisanal, each hut owned by an artisan making clothing or jewelry or wooden sculptures. stuff was beautiful and expensive, but we were some of the only customers so the hard-hawking artisans were also willing to bargain. got offered a few marriage proposals as well; sometimes i can't stand sticking out. especially as someone who probably has money. which i really don't, since my atm card expired three weeks ago. rookie mistake.

the jeweler showed us how he forges bronze, silver, and gold with a torch.

outside the village.

  • as an aside, since i haven't posted any of my everyday (crappy-quality iphone) photos on this blog, here are a few from the drive on my first day from dakar to st. louis:

my first drive into the city.

discovering the island on my induction day.

yesterday was my halfway point: exactly four weeks since i touched down in dakar and four weeks until i leave. i have mixed feelings about that milestone: on the one hand, i feel like i've barely seen this place and barely settled in. on the other, i'll remember it more fondly if i don't have enough time to let it get miserable. two months is right. there's plenty of time left and i've got plenty to look forward to.

x, m

p.s. photos of us in the oldest tree in africa:

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