07 February 2014

bégué, part 2

on life in senegal, besides the microfinance work:

we traveled a bit last weekend, two distinct day trips to two unique locations. that's material for yet another post, and i'd reallyyy like to be able to post photos. i may be dragging my laptop to a hotel downtown soon, in hopes of better wifi speeds...

we've been once - and will definitely go again - to the gym, a five-minute walk from our house on the ground floor of a small cinderblock building with a frighteningly yellow facade, painted with larger-than-life murals of people working out, that's open to the main street along the river. for 300 FCFA (60 cents) you can have the cultural experience of a lifetime: we tried the daily step-aerobics-esque class, dancing and stepping on wooden crates and doing crunches on a filthy blanket, surrounded by women in matching velour tracksuit sets, braided hair extensions down to their waists, and men sweating through the t-shirts imported second-hand from america that everyone wears here. alternatively, you can venture over to the weights section, which takes up most of the gym, where some weights are broken but most are not even weights, rather recycled old car parts - axels as dumbbells, brake pieces as plates. the people working out are terribly imposing - buff men tossing around heavy weights while wearing the most inappropriate gym shoes (i.e. jelly sandals). the whole scene is such a stark contrast to bethesda sport&health, i don't even know how to describe it. and on the way out, after we paid the women in colorful hijab who work the register, they led us to the most absurd "massage" machine i've ever seen: step on a moving platform and they crank it up to high speed so your feet are moving up and down, up and down, and all you can do is hold on for dear life. we gracefully stepped off (right) and politely exited the gym as soon as the woman turned around. with the constant audience of street children peering through the open front of the gym, that was just one thing too much. 

in other exercise/cultural pursuits, we took a west african dance class last night from baye, a dreadlocked professional dancer in patchwork harem pants. we learned an energetic dance with lots of high-kicking, jumping, twirling, and stepping. local dances get their names from the drum beats they go with, and this was called "sokum." i'm not a dancer, but it was a lot of fun, and tamar might drag me back every thursday. i'm slightly tempted to sneak into the tae kwon do-like class going on in the same building, though - i hadn't realized how much i've missed martial arts until i was watching that from the dance platform.
"going out" in senegal is another experience. for one, it's disconcerting to see people smoking inside. and in this 95 percent muslim country, people don't drink, but the men (only men, except some french tourists and a couple prostitutes) still love to go out and dance in clubs that all inexplicably have walls lined with mirrors, so you're essentially dancing with your own reflection. there are also always concerts going on, so we've been trying to take in some of the local music scene - like last saturday, listening to an afro-jazz band whose sound was far larger than the tiny music club with dingy plush seats.

yesterday we finally did laundry, which probably should not have been such an exciting prospect to begin with. it took two hours to handwash and we did two huge loads; we had no idea what we were doing and the cleanliness of our clothes is still questionable. it's all relative, right? the water wasn't working, per usual, so both the "soapy" and "clean" basins of water quickly turned a suspiciously opaque purplish gray and we couldn't even replace them. also, we'd hung up half our laundry on the rooftop terrace and come downstairs to finish the rest when all of a sudden we realized the men of the house (we can never figure out exactly who lives here and how they're related) were walking downstairs carrying a bucket of dead chickens and a bloody knife. turns out our chore unintentionally coincided in both space and time with slaughter day, conducted on the same small terrace where we were hanging our clothes. the sight of dozens of dead chickens is shocking enough for a suburbia-raised lifelong vegetarian (did you know chickens have toenails? neither did i), and then we were stepping around pools of blood and literally rolling heads as we hung the rest of the clothes to dry. needless to say, we used the limited clothespins judiciously because we couldn't risk anything falling into a puddle.

speaking of clothing, ALL HAIL THE GAP YEAR PANTS. actually the best genre of clothing ever, especially in this weather and this culture. we are hopefully going to the market tomorrow to stock up. i definitely don't own enough!

we spend a few evenings a week at la residence, the hotel restaurant where we often get together with other volunteers. while a few of my friends have already left, it's interesting how much the social dynamic has changed even since i've been here. there are way more people now, so gatherings feel a lot more chaotic and busy rather than laid-back, quiet, a few people conversing while others work on their laptops. it's fun to meet the new volunteers and have more friends to hang out or travel with. tamar and i have a few close friends who work with us, live nearby, and we get to see a lot, but there are also so many other people who are really interesting to talk to. (one common thread: these people picked senegal because they studied/know french. missed that memo! ¿alguien habla español?)

on sunday we even watched the super bowl, since one of our friends was from seattle and had to see his team play. tamar, elliot, ben, and i settled in the empty upstairs of a nearby 24/7 restaurant called nice burger, ordered a few drinks (swapping coca-cola for la gazelle), and huddled around a laptop with slow internet to watch the internet broadcast, which lasted from 11:30 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. monday morning in our time. it was such an america-meets-senegal experience - nothing like the super bowl at home, but i don't care much and it was a lot of fun regardless. didn't hurt seattle won, or that we had great in-house commentary thanks to between ben, a brit, and tamar, who knows everything about ballet but nothing about football.

that's all i can think of for now, but i'll really try to update soon, maybe even with photos (fingers crossed?)

until then - bégué!

x, m

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