Dakar on Five West African Francs a Day

Johannes Raatz - Senegal


November 23, 2010

As I close out the month of October I will try to summarize all that I have done and experienced during my first four weeks in Senegal. My month in Dakar was loaded with cultural excursions, many language challenges and the occasional conversational victory. So, here’s my list:

  • Received around 125 hours of language training in French and Wolof. My classes were small: two other students in French and four in Wolof.
  • Multiple formal cultural, health and safety training sessions – These and language training courses were provided by Africa Consultants International, our workplace and second home during our time in Dakar (base camp, so to speak).
  • There we also learned how to cook Ceebu Jenn, the national dish of rice and fish and prepare Attaaya, a special Senegalese tea and pastime.  Ceebu Jenn is the daily staple and Attaaya is a prerequisite for any discussion on politics or culture. Or, it’s also great for using up time in a slow and deliberate society.
  • Visited the Peace Corps. I can see myself there in about five years.
  • Visited Senegal’s USAID office.  Much thanks to Ms. Debbie Gueye and Mrs. Sonali Korde!
  • Explored two islands not far off the coast of Pointe Verde peninsula where Dakar is located. The first was Goreé, a former center for the colonial triangular slave trade system. The island is exquisite with brightly colored buildings, one being the last of the remaining slave holding houses in West Africa. The second isle was Ngor, located right off the north side of the peninsula. There, Josh, Jake, and I scrambled about island’s rocky northern coastline exploring crabs, wading pools, and sea salt left behind on stone formations shaped like loveseats.
  • Stood on the westernmost point on the continent of Africa. Literally, only the Atlantic laid between me and my home in the States.
  • Saw Youssou N’Dour in concert– the Michael Jackson of West Africa. Was totally awesome except for the fact that he came on stage at two o’clock in the morning.
  • Discovered probably the best music club in Dakar. Spent two evenings at Just4U.
  • Was awed by our own GYC music talents on the roof of ACI while eating freshly baked banana bread. Thanks to Gus for organizing Senegal’s only registered World Music Day concert.
  • Thanks to DJ Jake Filderman for the handful of mini dance parties
  • Watched a professional football match between Senegal and Mauritius. 7-0 Senegal!
  • Was blown away by a mix of traditional and break dancing at the downtown French Cultural Institute.
  • Managed to bargain with taxi drivers to take me in all directions through the city.
  • Played frogger crossing a six-lane highway on my way to and from school.
  • Became accustomed to pit-latrines and a lack of toilette paper.
  • Dripped my bodyweight in perspiration in the humid, mid-ninety degree afternoons.

Everyday has been an adventure. I have made plenty of mistakes, both culturally and communicative. Sometimes I wish for a simple break from the constant input of new information. Tiring and overwhelming at times, cultural immersion is demanding, but the dividends are golden. I would not have it any other way.

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Johannes Raatz