Youth and Politics in Senegal

My name is Kenny Mok and I am a rising junior majoring in Political Science. I will spend the next two months on my own in Senegal, the Francophone West African country, in its capital city Dakar. I will be researching the relationship between youth and political parties in the aftermath of a widespread protest movement called Y’en a marre. The movement started two years ago leading up to the 2012 presidential elections, which ousted the incumbent of 12 years. Through the West African Research Center, which is affiliated with Northwestern, I will be interviewing party officials and randomly selected youth. Kenny is funded by the <a href="http://undergradresearch.northwestern.edu/summerurg" target="_blank">Summer Undergraduate Research Grant</a> program run by Northwestern’s <a href="http://undergradresearch.northwestern.edu/">Office of Undergraduate Research</a>, which also sponsors these blogs.

Babenen (Farewell/See you soon) Senegal: Final Thoughts

Wednesday August 13

After two eventful months in Senegal, I will fly home to New Jersey from Dakar tonight. I finished my fieldwork with a total of 88 survey responses and in the next month or two, I will analyze my data to draw conclusions about the current political opinions of Senegalese youth. I will split questions into several categories that represent different traits such as the level of one’s belief in the influence of the Y’en a marre movement. I will also split subjects into different sample groups by age, gender and political involvement to account for confounding variables when measuring political external efficacy, the degree to which one feels his or her government responds to his or her actions in the political process. Like mentioned before, I hope to determine whether youth express an increased trust or willingness to participate in formal politics since the rise of the Y’en a marre movement during the 2012 elections. I have not looked at all the survey responses but from the several I have seen, my hypothesis is that young people’s distrust of politicians remains strong. Y’en a marre might have politically mobilized youth on an unprecedented scale, but a significant portion of youth believe the government has co-opted the group. It also seems that the 2012 opposition coalition centered on anti-incumbent, or anti-Wade, sentiments rather than about the competency of the opposition candidate, Macky Sall. This description would explain why most people in my survey disapproved of both figures. Sall seemingly plays the same old dirty game of politics after recently firing handfuls of Ministers in his cabinet for obscure reasons. A positive analysis of these preliminary results is that the invigorating events of 2012 has prompted the young citizenry to demand much more out of their politicians and so Sall does not have as much time as past politicians had to impress constituents. I am excited to further examine my research subjects’ responses and report my findings to my Northwestern professors, teacher assistants and Senegalese peers.

 

Surveyed one of the poorest neighborhoods in Dakar, Guédiawaye

I look back on my trip as a roller-coaster ride of challenges and triumphs. In the first few weeks, I was a naive, excited newcomer enjoying all that the city had to offer before Ramadan shut things down. Just as I settled into the centers and made new friends, I fell ill for one week before going to the emergency room in the middle of the night for an operation on an infected umbilical cord. That incident and the following week of recovery became the hardest challenge to hurdle because I could not do anything mentally or physically productive and I found myself homesick in a country to which I had just traveled alone. I expected the recovery to go well but there was still the possibility of returning home early if it did not, which was the last thing I wanted. There were times when I questioned, “Do I really want to do this?” or “Why am I bending over backwards to pursue this when I could be relaxing with my closest friends back home or at college?” Even before and after my illness, having Wi-Fi access in my room made it easy to block myself off from my Senegalese adventures and talk to friends on Facebook, watch “Suits”, read U.S. news articles and anticipate junior year plans. This internal battle plagued me for most of my trip, but I fought against it and made the most out of my Senegalese experience. This struggle may surprise you since the rest of my blog sounds adventurous and fun thus far, but I would be remiss to leave it out. 

Enjoying the comforts of my room

VS.

Exploring the city

 I did both.

A couple weeks after the operation, the doctor cleared me to do research again. Since I lost valuable time, I became frantically busy improving my survey, making appointments with political activists and party members, and reconnecting with new friends. In other words, I was back to normal: excited and motivated to pursue my project and experience the country. Yet, I still had to commute to the downtown hospital every day to change my bandage, which took a significant chunk of time out of surveying. In the beginning, a Senegalese friend helped me take a cab to make this journey. I needed help because I did not know my way around to give directions but more importantly, I did not know how to bargain for a good price with the cab. To purchase most things in Senegal, including food at street vendors, requires waxale or bargaining. Once you hail a taxi, you must negotiate with the driver on the price before entering the car. After refining my Wolof and French skills, I eventually figured out how to bargain cab rides and consequently felt triumphant. When I learned that I needed to make this trip to the hospital every day, I decided to commute by taking the local bus which was initially difficult to figure out but became second-nature after a couple weeks. From the congested traffic to the buses filled with people, Dakar is a heavily overpopulated and polluted city. A few times, I had to wait up to an hour at the bus stop near my home and up to two hours to receive treatment at the hospital. I did not enjoy this because I felt like I was wasting my time, yet I knew finishing my treatment was not negotiable. About a week after I was cleared, I adjusted to my post-recovery routine, found an exceptional research assistant for a bargain and began my survey fieldwork with relative ease.

Congested downtown area

All in all, I overcame lifestyle inconveniences and research obstacles to successfully survey young people in 88 households through 6 different neighborhoods in Dakar! Since my trip to the hospital, I would describe my Senegal experience as a steady upward curve that exponentially got better in the last couple weeks. I gradually gained ease and success with my research, I became more confident in navigating my life in Dakar, and I increasingly explored the country and made new friends. I could not have done any of this without Macodou, my assistant, who turned out to be my closest Senegalese friend on this trip. As you saw from my last post, his family welcomed me into their home and I now consider them to be my Senegalese family. It was such a pleasure to work with him as he is one of the most hardworking, respectable people I have met. He does everything whole-hardheartedly to support his family and he dreams of making it to the United States. Although I know the immigration wait-time averages up to five years, I will do my best to help him in the process. 

Macodou and I at Touba Sane
Party at the Korean Ambassador’s House in Senegal
Exchanging banners with the Dakar Point E Rotary Club President
Enjoying fresh coconut drinks at the beach with my Norwegian roommate
Some graduate students and I. Two are also from Northwestern!

Here are my final takeaways from the trip

1. Culture Shock and Adjustment

Before this trip, I had experienced a formative culture shock when I returned to my motherland, South Korea, in 2009 and solidified my identity as a Korean-American. However, that shock does not compare to the adjustment I made this summer. The French and Wolof language barrier, the pervasive Muslim influence during Ramadan season, and a significantly lower standard of living challenged my conception of the world and the people in it.

Not unlike other countries, family holds together the core of Senegalese society. Although the traditional polygamous family has diminished, traditional gender roles have not. From my conversations with locals, men are still expected to support the family no matter what and women are expected to stay home as caregivers. Nearly every local I met expressed his or her wish to get married and settle down. Macodou told me that his most important goals are to get a good job to provide for his family and to get married to his current girlfriend. I told him that young Americans are getting married at increasingly older ages because financial stability tends to take priority before settling down with someone. In contrast, young Senegalese often get married first and then move into one of their parents’ homes. Most Senegalese generally live with their families into their 30s, while most Americans move out by then. In addition to establishing social expectations, the family structure of Senegalese society underlies the people’s religious devotion and renown hospitality as well as the country’s problems of overpopulation and homophobia.

Family at Touba Sane

Despite limited access to healthcare, education and jobs, Senegalese people live virtuously and happily for God and family. Strongly identifying as Senegalese, they care deeply about their country’s current affairs and identify proudly as a Muslim, democratic nation. The country’s lagging economic growth has plagued its people, but that also explains why they commonly talk about politics and other serious affairs in ordinary spaces such as in the streets during the day or over the dinner table at night. In other African countries, unacceptable economic conditions, corrupt political institutions and ethnic divisions have led to social anarchy but in Senegal, its people have maintained peace since its independence in 1960. Notwithstanding serious hardships, the Senegalese people love their country and lead modest lives with enduring hope for the better.

The Senegalese flag is proudly hoisted throughout Dakar

 

Street Vendors at Grand Yoff

2. Life Decisions

Entering my junior year, I am nearly done with my Political Science degree requirements and I will have this political research experience under my belt. Although I am excited to analyze my results, report my findings and explore other classes in the major, this experience has actually made me realize that I want to focus on a different field: economics. I first studied political science because it involves the study of domestic and international institutions that shape human behavior and produce the complex world that we live in today. I now want to shift my attention because I believe that I can never seriously address policy issues without versing myself in the fiscal and monetary institutions that shape their outcomes. Fundraising Super-PACs drive elections, a few partisan corporations direct our mass media, and elite universities and hospitals increasingly operate like businesses. Understanding exactly how these influences work will be the next step for my intellectual growth.

I gained two other realizations from this trip experience. First, I am almost certain that I do not want to be a career academic. I immensely respect the Masters and PhD students whom I befriended on this trip for what they do, but their lifestyle is not something I could do as a living. Social sciences research can be an intellectually exciting and emotionally rewarding experience, but it is also a slow, disorganized and difficult process. Finally, this trip confirmed my love for international travel but also made me realize that I would likely never settle down outside the U.S. Instead, I am convinced that I belong in the Chicago area because of how much I missed it this summer, even more than my home state of New Jersey.

In front of the National Assembly

3. Global Citizen

This summer experience has motivated me to remain an active global citizen for the rest of my life. I am grateful that this trip has equipped me with advanced abilities to read, write and speak in French. In the last two months, I frequently experienced having my intended thoughts lost in translation but I ultimately overcame those language barriers. I am now convinced that the only way to master a new language is to travel to a country where it is spoken, speak it throughout the day and constantly listen to how the native people speak it. Although my college classes provided me a foundation in grammar and vocabulary, I only made significant improvements in French once I immersed myself in Senegalese life. In addition to Korean and Spanish, I can now communicate in French, which allows me to potentially interact with people from up to 33 Francophone countries. I hope to maintain my French by reading French news and keeping in touch with the Senegalese friends I made. Now, I am particularly motivated to visit Paris, where my aunt married a French man two years ago, and reconnect with that side of the family. In addition, making new friends from Germany, Scotland and Norway has motivated me to do a comprehensive Europe trip the summer after I graduate. Even more, I would like to return to South Korea because six years have passed since I have seen all my family there and I want to improve my Korean. Peru, Thailand, Turkey, Israel and Afghanistan also top my list of places to visit. Clearly, the hardest thing about being an active global citizen is the time and money it requires, but receiving this research grant proves that I can always find ways to make traveling more affordable.

This experience has also re-aligned my understanding of America’s influence in the world. After living in a developed, white and Judea-Christian country for 20 years, I lived in a developing, black and Muslim one. Talking to my European and African friends about their countries, I realized that America may dominate international foreign affairs but it does not dominate their lives culturally. I also could not avoid thinking about the immense privilege of living in America and the history of colonialism behind the world’s growing inequality. I think we often find it easy to stay in our communities, carve out our happy lives and buy into American exceptionalism. But Americans only make up 4.4% of the world’s population. As other countries like China and Brazil expand in influence, understanding how other people in this world live will be increasingly important.

Grand Mosque (and some political graffiti)
One of few churches in Senegal

On my last day, my Norwegian friend, Vajna, warned me about “counter culture shock” which refers to feeling strange or depressed when one returns home after having adjusted to a foreign country. I am so satisfied with my stay in Senegal that I expect to experience some “counter culture shock,” particularly because I have not been home in New Jersey for eight months. Despite these reservations, I am still so excited to finally get a haircut after two months, use reliable plumbing and electricity, reunite with my hometown friends and family, eat homemade Korean food and drive my car. Soon, I will enjoy the comfortable, privileged lifestyle in which I grew up and leave behind the power outages, plumbing problems, scorching heat, dusty air and the long commute required to change my bandage at the hospital.

I will also have to leave behind many good things. I will miss speaking French every day and learning the indigenous language, Wolof. I will miss the mafé, ceebu jën, buy and all the other delicious Senegalese meals and drinks I had. I will miss the tight-knit Muslim communities and families. I will miss surveying Dakar neighborhoods, meeting local political figures and spending time with new friends from all over the world. Most importantly, I will miss the Senegalese people. My home-stay family, Macodou, staff members from the Baobab Center and the research facility, the 88 young people whom I surveyed and kind strangers on the street taught me the value of teranga (hospitality). True teranga offers genuine and unconditional camaraderie, tolerance and respect to people of all ethnic backgrounds, social classes and religions.

As I depart for New Jersey with a layover in Belgium, I hope to avoid the flight delays and baggage problems that I faced during my initial flights. But hey: Of the many lessons this trip has taught me, I have learned to embrace discomfort. Life is too short and the world is too interesting to remain upset or stationally. When my friends ask me about Senegal, I will say that it was a difficult and challenging place to live, yet a country that I learned to love in unexpected ways. I know I will be back to Senegal because I want to remember and experience all these things again. Senegal has allowed me to grow into a more knowledgeable person and will always be special part of my life. Babenen (Farewell / See you soon) Senegal because you are worthy of a second visit and a visit from everyone in the world.

A big thank you to…

  • Peter Civetta, the Director of the Undergraduate Research Grant Office, for giving me this incredible opportunity
  • The multiple professors, graduate students, and faculty members at Northwestern who helped me discover my research question and develop my project
  • Professor Rachel Riedl for guiding me through the long process as a Faculty Adviser
  • The West African Research Center and the ACI/Baobab Cultural Center who eased my transition into a country I’d never been to and to which I was traveling on my own
  • My friends and family for never questioning my pursuit of this experience and instead, encouraging me along the way.
  • YOU for being interested enough to read this blog

Peace and love,

Kenny

A Weekend at a Village

Monday August 11

I have just returned from my last weekend here in Senegal, the best weekend I have had on the trip and one of the most interesting weekends of my life. For the last three days, I accompanied my research assistant, Macodou, to his hometown city, Thiès, and then to his mother’s hometown village, Touba Sane. I soon learned that he is the direct descendant of one of the most important religious figures in Senegal’s history, Sheikh Ibrahima Fall (1855-1930). Fall was one of the first and most illustrious disciples of Aamadu Bàmba Mbàkke, the founder of the Mouride brotherhood, the most prominent Islamic order in Senegal. Fall also founded the Baye Fall movement, a sub-group of the brotherhood, which substituted hard labor for the usual pieties like fasting, catalyzing the Mouride movement. I spent the weekend at the village Touba Sane, where the Baye Fall movement started, to celebrate the people’s biggest annual celebration. On the way, we visited the holy city of Touba, the “Mecca” of Africa if you will, as it hosts the biggest mosque in the continent to which millions migrate annually. After spending two months in a 95% Muslim country, I have witnessed the time and energy that Senegalese people devote to Islam. Dakarians take work breaks several times a day to pray, including my assistant Macodou during our surveying treks. This weekend, I had to honor to experience the origins of these practices with the people who never left their roots.

The city of Thiès is about a 2 hour drive east of Dakar, Touba is 3 hours east of Thiès, and Touba Sane is another hour east of Touba. In other words, Touba Sane is located in no man’s land: 6 hours inland and pivoted in the middle of the central desert region. In general, the travel was very difficult, something that Macodou blatantly warned me about and accommodated for as best as he could. After a morning of surveying, we were set to take the train Friday afternoon but it came two hours late. We arrived at Macodou’s home in Thiès where we ate dinner and where I met his large, welcoming family. Then at midnight, we took a personal “cab” to the city of Touba. I use the word “cab” loosely because this worn-down, average-sized sedan with squeezed eight people and their luggage. While its doors and seats hinged loosely and occasionally flapped open, I endured an uncomfortable, slanted seating position. At about 3 A.M., we stayed at Macodou’s relative’s house but the only available room to sleep in was unbearably hot so we slept on a mattress outside. After getting eaten alive by bugs all night, we woke up at 6 A.M. and I showered with tepid, warm water that frankly spelled like poop. We traveled late in the night and early in the morning like this to ensure that we could enjoy festivities at Touba Sane that day, which was Saturday. We took another “cab” ride from the city of Touba to the village of Touba Sane. This “cab” was even more crowded and dinged since almost no one ever travels to this village. Around 25 people squeezed into a small van: nearly 10 people on the hood, 10 people in the back seating area, a couple people in the front, and a couple people hanging onto the back doors. Since I was a guest, I got to sit in between the driver and passenger.

During my travels, I felt the vast, peaceful charm of the rural area in a visceral way. During the long drive, I saw very few hospitals, schools and stores but rather small enclaves of huts dispersed in the endless fields. Hefty, wild animals led by a sheppard or water gatherer caught my attention about every half hour.

 

Where I slept my first night
Transport to Touba Sane
Method of local transport in Touba
Rural side
Oxes roaming the streets

One of the most defining features of Senegalese society is its average family size, which reflects the country’s religious roots. As recently as one generation ago, many Muslim Senegalese families practiced polygamy to theoretically help create as many followers of Islam as possible. A typical family comprised at least two wives and up to 15 children. Imagine each of the men and women of that next generation having just as many children. Throughout the weekend, I asked Macodou about his relatives and the varied extent to which he feels close to them. Some of them are the most powerful marabouts, or spiritual leaders, in the country and understandably, they do not keep close contact with him. This weekend at Touba Sane was a huge family reunion, but Macedon remained close to only half of this family.

The Saturday was full of traditional feasts, dance, music and prayer. Macodou and his mom said that I was probably the first American, let alone the first Asian, to visit the village. I have never felt so out of place and so welcomed at the same time, a combination I will probably never feel quite as strongly again. The day started with a large breakfast consisting of lamb and fries, followed by a fruity dessert. In a traditional Senegalese meal, a group of people sit around a communal dish and eat only with his or her right hand. Some of us followed us the meal by taking a food-coma nap under open-air tents, something we needed after much traveling.

Touba Sane
Touba Sane
Huts where most people stayed
Communal hand-eating
Receiving blessings from one of the marabouts (spiritual leader)

From dawn to dusk, Macodou introduced me to his distant relatives throughout the encampment and I met countless people who were excited to have me as a guest. I practiced my Wolof speaking abilities by greeting everyone and engaging in small-talk. I also followed a handshake custom that only members of the Baay Faal practiced in the country. One person puts his palm to his forehead, the other person follows suit, and the first person does it again. People asked a lot of questions about who I was, where I came from, and what I was doing in Senegal. Several of them believed that I was taking Macodou to America and genuinely asked me to bring them with me to America. In huts located throughout the village, I greeted the elder spiritual leaders, or marabouts. Highly revered in Senegalese society, they often have more influence over people’s attitudes and decisions than the most prominent politicians. I felt most out-of-place during these encounters: imagine a hut full of elders dressed in traditional clothing speaking Wolof and a Korean-American in quasi-Senegalese clothing walks in. Like everyone else, I greeted each marabout by kneeling down in front of him, slightly bowing my head, and reaching both of my arms out to shake his hand. I had to make sure to follow certain customs such as not staring at him in the eyes and never shaking his hands with only my left hand. Both of these practices are very disrespectful in Senegalese society. Anyways, these leaders welcomed me kindly, inquired about my stay in Senegal and prayed for me.

Pre-meal ceremony
He loved my camera
New friends
Me with Macodou’s younger brother
The main marabout (spiritual leader)
The tent where hundreds later gathered for night prayer

It seemed as if I had just finished breakfast when it was already lunch time. A large ceremonial gathering commenced the meal: a group of young men chanted songs while older men passed along the plates of food from the main tent towards another area. The rest of the day simply consisted of sitting around, relaxing, greeting people, and enjoying each other’s company. reflecting the relaxed, benevolent nature of Senegalese people and culture. I played outdoor games with kids, laid around in the tent, and enjoyed Café Touba coffee, Senegal’s signature traditional coffee. At dusk, Macodou, his brothers and I took a walk towards the most remote areas of Touba Sane and basked in the striking landscape. After a hectic Northwestern semester and an eventful 7 weeks in Dakar, I had not felt so relaxed in the longest time. We then waited for dinner which was to be served around midnight. Macodou and I accidentally fell asleep and when we woke up at 1 A.M., we found a huge plate of meat and vegetables that was left out in front of us under a brightly shining moon and thousands of stars. Feeling the crisp and cool air, I could not locate a single cloud in the sky. In the distance, I could hear men singing songs of prayer and praise. As I stuffed myself with food and reflected on the serenity of my environment, I felt a certain happiness that can only be attained by living a new, exciting experience.

After finishing our meal, we headed over to the communal tent where at least one hundred villagers were holding a unified prayer session. Well-known, Muslim spiritual singers took turns chanting songs of prayer in the center, while everyone watched and sang along. Having grown up devotedly attending church, I recognized the look of spiritual fulfillment and dedication on people’s faces as they nodded in affirmation to the prayers, closed their eyes and cried in happiness. But I witnessed one phenomenon that I was not as familiar with: young men having out-of-body spiritual experiences. Completely “overcome” or possessed by the spirit, they would violently fidget their bodies and fling their arms. A crowd would quickly surround that person and observe him. When other men would try to calm him down physically, he would violently push them away and tension would escalate. The crowd, particularly the children, would then sprint away from the person in fear and amusement. While screaming, one of these possessed men repeatedly smashed his head in a violent motion against one of the poles that supported the tent before peers forced him away. At church, I observed people possessed by the Holy Spirit, but never had I seen such physically intense and threatening behavior from spiritual ecstasy.

On Sunday morning, the weekend ended with a dance celebration in which mostly young men dance for the marabouts at the center of a village-wide circle. The traditional style of dance consisted of stomping, thrusting and even some break-dancing. I was pleasantly surprised since most of the dancing I had seen in Dakar nightclubs seemed conservative compared to American club dancing. In the least expected place, a remote village, I watched unbridled dancers show off their acrobatic moves in front of a frenzy crowd. As a special guest, I had one of the best seats in the house and sat near the head marabout to whom the dancers addressed their moves. When others invited me to dance, I chickened out which was probably my biggest regret on this trip.

The “thrust” move
Stomping
Booty shake
Matrix shot

After the dance ceremony, Macodou, his mom, his brothers and I set off on our long journey back home to Thiès. We squeezed into another SUV-sized, white vehicle for a 1 hour ride. When we arrived at the holy city of Touba, the most disturbing incident I have seen in Senegal occurred. The driver of our vehicle and one of the customers furiously disputed over their money exchange and it turned into an brawl. After everyone had exited the vehicle and formed a crowd thirty feet away from it, I stood right next to the car. Suddenly, the customer sprinted towards me to grab a machéte from the driver’s seat and return towards the crowd. Thankfully, other men quickly forced it out of him before he could harm the driver. Senegal is one of the most peaceful countries in the world but every generalization has its exceptions.

Sunday became particularly hot, humid and sunny. Temporarily lost, we aimlessly walked for miles in Touba before finding a bus completely full with people, luggage and crying babies. After a sweaty, noisy bus ride, we arrived back in Thiès, the second biggest city in the country. I enjoyed learning about a city outside of Dakar, particularly because it has grown into a rising political and economic force. I would say Dakar is Senegal’s New York and Thiès is Senegal’s Chicago. Like the first leg of my trip, I ate dinner at Macodou’s house with his entire family. I enjoyed spending time with his dozen brothers and sisters who approached me with a kind and fun-loving spirit. They taught me some African dance moves, showed me all their pictures and told me about their hobbies including basketball and music. Every second, they were laughing and appreciating each other’s company. I was lucky to be a part of it and I want to see them again one day.

Me with Macodou’s younger brother
Me with Macodou’s younger sister
Family Portrait
Dinner prepared by Mama

When I first sought an international travel grant, this weekend was the kind of experience I had in mind. I wanted to escape my suburban upbringing and the Northwestern bubble to live how millions of other people live their lives. There are a hundred other thoughts in my head that I will save for my last post. I cannot believe my time here is nearly coming to an end and I could not have imagined a better way to spend my last weekend in this beautiful country.

Best,

Kenny

The Game of Politics. The Hope of Youth.

Thursday August 7 

In my last post, I laid out several challenges that I have faced during my surveying such as respondents’ lack of time, willingness, or the appropriate qualifications. After the last couple days of surveying, those negatives hold true but the positives have become more apparent. Several times, people have complimented me on the quality of the questions and asked for additional details about my project. On occasion, my research assistant and I have been treated to ice drinks and strongly urged to stick around for lunch, which I have been tempted to do but refuse to do because I never have spare time. My favorite part of the process has been playing games with the kids at each home while waiting for the more older subject to complete the survey. Every time, children initially stop whatever they are doing, walk closely up to me, and stare at me with a blank, disgruntled face. But by the end of my short stay, they are all smiles.

My research assistant, Macadou, and I in Guédiawaye

Kids love the camera

In my last couple days of fieldwork, I have surveyed Guédiawaye, the second largest neighborhood in Dakar. Like Pikine, this sprawling, neglected suburb gave birth to the youth political movement, Y’en a marre. Today in this neighborhood, I had the honor to sit down and talk with Foumalade, one of the founders of Y’en a marre and a very popular rap artist in Senegal (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DejXrTX_Frw). I visited him at his organization, GHipHop Community Center, which is located in the heart of Guédiawaye. This open, decorative art space hosts socially and politically conscious classes in hip hop music, graffiti art, and dance for youth. Walking into the headquarters, I was stunned by the beauty of the space. Multiple outdoor classes were taking place with dozens of children chanting and singing music. I could feel the mission of the organization at work: channeling young energy for a positive Senegalese future. It is the same mission that Y’en a marre pursued in the presidential elections of 2012. Y’en a marre translates to “fed up,” as young people could no longer tolerate the frequent power outages, President Wade’s attempts to change the constitution, and his failure to reform health and education. Rappers and journalists rallied together using music as a tool to communicate messages of social empowerment. They encouraged youth to think for themselves, to demand more from their elected officials, and to be accountable third-party observers of Senegal’s democracy. A void that my research project seeks to fill is to find out how young people feel about this youth-based movement and whether the movement had a tangible, long-term impact on how they feel about the formal political process in Senegal.

GHipHop Headquarters

After examining my survey responses thus far, I noticed that a significant portion of youth said that their opinion of Y’en a marre has changed for the worse since 2012. Mainly, they believe that the movement conspired with the President and other politicians, received money from Western organizations, and betrayed their original message. When I asked Foumalade about that, he said that after winning the presidential election, President Macky Sall approached them multiple times to work together but they refused because their mission was to remain a reliable third-party watchdog of politicians. They knew that if they accepted, he would find a way to co-opt them. Nonetheless, politicians like Sall have come out and publicly stated that they are working with Y’en a marre, a savvy, dirty political move that Foumalade says has unfortunately turned youth’s opinions against them. He also described how “heated” the country was in 2012 and how Y’en a marre took advantage of this agitation to successfully register 500,000 youth to vote and change the course of the election. Despite its success in 2012 and its continued efforts to fight against youth apathy and distrust, we see that those in power can find easy ways to weaken them.

Foumalade and I exchanged emails and he said he was interested in learning about the results of my survey, specifically those regarding Y’en a marre. He also said he’d like to speak and perform at Northwestern like he has done several times for NYU. I am excited to look into the possibility once I return to Evanston.

The rap artist Foumalade and I
Music class for children
Graffiti at G-HipHop

I have noticed that Senegalese and American youth share some common ground in political behavior. In general, youth tend not to be politically involved and are so distrustful of politicians that they focus their attention on other things. Some say that Senegalese youth only care about “LDM – Lutte, Danse, et Musique” or “Fitness, Music, Dance.” Yet the two population groups also share key differences mainly due to differences in wealth. Although Senegalese youth love their country, many dream to leave for Europe or the United States for a better life because there are simply not enough jobs for the bulging population. The university students here are smart, hard-working students who obtain Master’s degrees, but most cannot find a paid job after graduation. The masses who do not even make it that far in the education system often devote their lives to religion. As leaders seemingly play politics instead of working to create jobs, the youth have lost trust in them.

I recently read an article that talked about how the Internet has made American youth more prone to apathy, complacency and inactivity in the political sphere. I find this argument valid to the extent that in developing countries like Senegal, youth tend to be more aware about political and social developments since the economic stakes are dire. In addition, Senegalese culture is rooted in spending time around the company of friends and family rather than communicating through smartphones. On the streets, one always sees groups of people drinking tea outside their homes, actively engaging in fruitful discussions about their country’s affairs.

I want to end this post by displaying all the political graffiti that I have seen throughout the capital city. Senegalese youth turn to graffiti to express their political opinions because they feel that they can not be heard by politicians and the media otherwise. Similar to the way youth mobilized rap music for political activism in 2012, they hope to create accessible “spaces” for youth. You can see painted slogans and designs on almost every block of the city and most of it refers to political candidates from past and present elections. Enjoy.

“Votez Pour Khalifa Sall” or “Vote for Khalifa Sall” who just got elected Mayor of Dakar. His popularity has jumped as of late and many believe he is the favorite to be elected President in 2017.
“Liberez Karim” or “Free Karim”. Karim Wade, son of former President Abdoulaye Wade, is currently imprisoned and under trial for corruption charges. Many Senegalese believe this is just a strong-armed political move.
“Wade Rek” or “Only Wade”
“Wade Degage” or “No More Wade”
“J’aime mon pays” or “I like my country” but someone inserted “Gourgui”, which is Abdoulaye Wade’s nickname, so that it would mean “J’aime Gourgui” or “I like Wade”. Posted over these messages is a campaign flyer for this year’s local elections.
PEACE
Promotion for young-based local development group
The political party “Rewmi” promoted over a soccer team’s advertisement
More political messages

 

The political coalition, Bokk-Gis-Gis

Fieldwork Update: Pikine

MONDAY AUGUST 4

After another week of surveying youth in neighborhoods, I have thus far collected 57 responses. The most recent area I surveyed is Pikine, a sprawling and populous suburb of Dakar that holds about 800,000 people. Although clearly neglected and desolate in several areas, Pikine also has a charm of youth and community. It is also the place where the political, hip-hop based youth movement Y’en a marre began.

My two days in Pikine tested the limits of my fieldwork strategy. Because the neighborhood was in the outskirts of the city, I had to wake up earlier than usual, around 6:30 am, to catch multiple buses in order to get there. The next 7 hours consisted of walking several miles through the neighborhood in scorching 100+ degrees weather. The breakfast that my home-stay family usually provides me consists of a long piece of bread which doesn’t sustain me much in general, let alone for a full day of traveling. Since I was not surveying near home for the first time, I ate lunch in Pikine, which does not have any restaurants designed for foreigners. Instead, I ate a fast-food style mafé, rice and chicken in peanut sauce, for $1 at a local restaurant. My stomach regretted that decision the next day.

 

 

 

My $1 meal

 

Goats are everywhere in Pikine

After receiving enthusiasm from all households in my first day of surveying, Macodou and I have since received mixed receptions. Some immediately welcome us with open arms and invite us to stay for lunch while children play with me. Some are busy, unwilling to participate, or suspicious that we work for the government. A few people have also taken an inordinate amount of time, up to 40 minutes, to finish the survey that is supposed to last 20 minutes. This happens either because they like to talk a lot or because they read and type slowly. I have realized that some of the French wording and formatting in my survey can be misconstrued by locals. But I cannot change it because in order for a survey’s results to be viable, it must remain constant for all respondents. In addition to unwillingness, many households simply do not meet the criteria of the age range and the alternation of male and female that random sampling requires. Despite these hurdles, most people who agree to participate do not have any complaints and finish in a reasonable amount of time.

In Pikine, more than other neighborhoods, I saw scores of children playing sports outside and enjoying each other’s company. If they are playing soccer, as they often do, I exchange passes with them and give them high-fives. One thing I do not enjoy so much is when they yell “Chinois!” or “Chinese!” at me and act out karate fight scenes. Senegalese strangers of all ages have called me Chinese and stared at me with a blank face. This is behavior I would find unacceptable in the United States. But I understand the reality that, as I have been told by locals, most of them have truly never seen an Asian man like me in their country except in Bruce Lee movies.

In addition to work, I was able to have some fun this week:

Celebrating Korité with lamb and traditional clothing

 

Shopping at H.L.M Marché

 

Helping a friend build her coconut drink shack

 

Yoff Beach

 

Riding the cheap, dangerous Karabou shuttle

In other news, I went to the hospital for the last time today! (Knock on wood). After one month of post-surgery maintenance, the large bandage over my stomach is finally off for good so I no longer have to ride the bus for 2 hours everyday to change it at the hospital.

On a semi-related note, the recent Ebola virus outbreak that has hit several countries in West Africa has not reached Senegal nor its bordering countries. Throughout my hospital treatment, I was told I should not be alarmed since Dakar is a capital city far away from the inland. Though I have heeded that advice, I am occasionally reminded by my concerned parents that a deadly virus is only two countries away from me.

I already leave Senegal in 9 days! Although I am excited to go home, there is still so much I want to do here and my last week will definitely be the busiest in terms of work and play. I will be surveying tomorrow (Tuesday) morning, Wednesday morning, and all day Thursday. In between, I will meet with one of the founders of Y’en a marre, attend a meeting for the local Rotary Club, eat dinner at the Korean Ambassador’s home, and hang out with friends. On Friday and Saturday, I will visit the hometown of my research assistant, Thiès, and spend time with his family. I will then survey all day Sunday and Monday. I leave next Wednesday.

Until next time,

Kenny

Fieldwork and Exploration

Wednesday July 23rd marked my second week out of the hospital and my fifth week into the trip. It was also my first day of fieldwork, an accumulation of six months of preliminary research, two months of editing a survey, one month of talking with Senegalese political leaders, and several weeks of finding a research assistant. After doing all this, I just had to trust my preparation and finally do what I came here to do.

Leading up to that day, I had been meeting with my recently hired research assistant to plan out which neighborhoods and which days I would be surveying. His name is Macadou, a doctoral linguistic student who is one of the nicest, most generous people I have met. He is abundantly enthusiastic about my project that he frequently emphasizes that he does not care about the money. He even invited me to meet his family at his hometown Thiès, which is two hours away from Dakar. 

My survey seeks to capture the political opinions of Senegalese youth aged 18 to 30 in the capital city. For the next three weeks, Macadou and I plan to walk throughout 8 different neighborhoods in Dakar to survey at least 15 people in each neighborhood, aiming for a total of at least 120. I purposely chose the eight neighborhoods, or communes d’arrondissments, out of the 19 in the city to properly represent its youth population, covering multiple socioeconomic and social characteristics. The demographic geography of Dakar, a city of one million, is fairly simple. The wealthier downtown port area is located in the south of the peninsula and the further north you go, neighborhoods become increasingly disadvantaged and impoverished especially in the suburbs, a spatial trend that contrasts with that of the typical American city. I will survey these struggling suburbs, or banlieues, as well as middle-class neighborhoods close to the downtown area. Within each neighborhood, I will randomly survey households by counting off every 10 houses and making sure I cover ground in all areas of the neighborhood. 

Map of Dakar

Since Wednesday, my research assistant and I have completed four days of fieldwork and gathered 30 total survey responses in two middle-class neighborhoods, Grand Yoff and SICAP Liberté. A typical fieldwork day starts at 8 A.M. and ends around 3 P.M. The amount of time that it takes for subjects to finish my survey has taken an average of 20 minutes, which is longer than I expected, so I may not get as many responses as I initially planned. Besides that, Macodou and I have not encountered major problems as people have been open and welcoming to us. In a typical Senegalese home, there are usually up to 15 people living together. A maid often answers our knock or doorbell and directs us to the oldest member of the household, the father or mother. Macadou explains my research project and asks if there is any young person aged 18 to 30. If the family approves of our study and a young member agrees to participate, the family invites us to sit next to them in their living rooms, bed rooms, or in the courtyard while the person fills out the survey on my iPad tablet. We have found ourselves in a variety of homes: from crowded, run-down huts to well-furnished, air-conditioned apartments. We have interviewed college students, women with children, working men, young maids, Muslims and Christians. Sometimes, we are with the person alone in a quiet room and other times, we are among a group of other housemates gossiping about their everyday lives. For a handful of respondents who were not literate in French, Macadou would explain every question in Wolof, the indigenous language. Translating this way and appropriately approaching Senegalese households are exactly the reasons why I need him. Some of my participants were clearly more interested in politics than others, but people generally responded with a ostensible care for their country, no matter how many problems it faced. We have encountered many households where the people are not present, not available, or not willing but overall, I have been delighted by the hospitality, or teranga, that Senegalese people are known for.

Walking through Grand Yoff

 

SICAP Liberté, which is more middle-class than Grand Yoff

Although my survey and methodology are sound, I have approached my fieldwork with tempered expectations. Unlike Afrobarometer, an independent research organization that conducts public opinion surveys in 35 African countries and yields teams of professional fieldworkers, I am one undergraduate student with limited funding and time. I only have about 2 weeks remaining and I still have to go to the hospital almost everyday to change my bandage for post-surgery maintenance. Given these circumstances I know it will be difficult to get enough respondents for my results to be statistically significant. I am determined to gather as many survey responses as possible until my departure date. Later, I can decide how to best analyze the data and pinpoint how my findings apply to the current state of Senegalese politics.

On my way to a full recovery from the surgery, I have not only made strides in my project but I have also begun to explore the city again! Here are some of my visits described in pictures:

In front of the Presidential Palace

In front of the Legislative Assembly

Downtown

Shop at Marché Kermel

Bought some great statues from a native sculptor

Enjoyed a free contemporary dance show

Marché at Grand Yoff

Lunch by the coast with a friend from the Korean Embassy

African Renaissance Monument, the tallest statue in Africa

Mosquée de la Divinité

Friends and I at Ngor Island

After a busy week of surveying, I have about three days off because the end of Ramadan is coming up tomorrow, Tuesday July 29th! Most young Senegalese who left their rural hometowns to pursue an education in Dakar, like my research assistant, return home to their families to celebrate one of the most significant days of the year. La Fête de Ramadan or La Korité marks the end of a month-long fast in which 95% of the country participates. Senegalese people will rejoice in the name of Allah with food and family, as no one will be working on this holiday. Apparently, it is the one day that this country embraces eating lots of meat and yesterday, I saw my family preparing over 30 pieces of beef along with traditional dishes and desserts! As a food lover, I could not be more excited.

Until next time,

Kenny

 

Back to Work

It has been 8 days since I was discharged from the hospital and I’m feeling almost 100% recovered and back to normal. I can walk plenty without feeling pain but I still cannot exercise or lift heavy objects. I get a bandage changed for the wound over my stomach every two days and this Saturday will hopefully be my last visit to the hospital, as the doctor will evaluate me and take out the stitches. Regardless, I am temporarily cleared to return to work on my research.

Today, on Tuesday July 15th, I have reached the midpoint of my stay here in Senegal with 4 weeks remaining. Because I lost a week to my operation, I am quickly and aggressively getting back to work but making sure not to push myself too hard. When thinking about my first four weeks, I am reminded of a famous Islamic prayer that a Northwestern professor forwarded to me before I left for my trip:

             Istikhar – prayer “asking for the best’

Mon Dieu, si ce voyage est la meilleure chose pour moi

pour ce monde et pour l’autre,

rends le [pour] moi facile et benefique.

Si ce n’est pas le cas,

remplace-le par un autre qui lui me sera benefique en ce monde et en l’autre,

car tu es Celui qui sait et nous ne savons pas.

 

**’My God, if this journey is the best thing

for me

for this world and for the other,

make it for me easy and beneficial.

If it is not the case,

replace it with another which will be for me

beneficial in this world and in the other,

for you are the One who knows and we do not know.’

After a long respite, I am more determined to complete the task that I came here to do. This week, I have set up at least 5 meetings with graduate students, professors, party officials, and political activists to talk about my research project and learn more about recent political trends. Although I have learned a lot from academic journals and newspapers, I know there are important lessons and trends that I can only learn by talking with people who have directly experienced whatever I am studying. I have thus far loved meeting the people who were involved in many of the events I had read about for the last 5 months, often during ungodly hours at Northwestern’s Main Library. For example, I met a university professor named Seydi who led the public university’s student union 20 years ago during a chaotic period when young people protested for political change. Now the Secretary of a new political party, he gave me advice on my research, told me stories from the past, and gave me insight into current social trends. One unrelated fact I learned from him is that the public university, Cheikh Anta Diop University, is overburdened with 80,000 undergraduate students and only 1,500 full time staff. In a couple years, the school expects the number to rise to 100,000!

This points to one of the country’s two biggest shortcomings: education and health. I already summarized the country’s healthcare in my previous post. As for education, there are simply not enough schools and resources to take in the amount of eligible students at every level of Senegal’s public educational system. The richest students are able to attend the few elite private universities while the typical Senegalese will attend the public university which, as I mentioned, is overburdened. I’ve walked through campus several times and at first glance, one would think it has a nice, big campus with advanced facilities. When I enter the buildings, I see that all the hallways, classrooms, library, and common areas are jam-packed with students without the amenities I am used to. Nearly all rooms only have a traditional blackboard and do not have air conditioning. Handfuls of students have to stand and take notes because all the chairs are taken. Today, I even saw a class being held in a section of the hallway.

Cheikh Anta Diop University, Main Library

To refresh on my project, I will travel to at least eight different neighborhoods in Dakar and survey young people by using a questionnaire of 33 multiple choice questions, several of which have follow-up, open-ended questions. I plan to survey at least 15 to 20 young people in each of eight neighborhoods in the city. The questions will seek to measure youth’s external political efficacy or the degree to which a person feels his or her government responds to his or her actions in the political process and how well the political institutions reflect his or her needs and concerns. The questions mainly ask about young people’s opinions of the government post-2012, since there are already academic articles that address the historic electoral events of 2012 and there are survey results of people’s political opinions only up until 2012. Some examples of questions include “Do you believe the President’s political reforms have made a difference?”, “Are you hopeful of the country’s future?”, and “Do you believe the Senegalese Democratic Party is based on a clear set of ideas or on individual leadership?” I also ask background questions that ask about one’s political interest, affiliation, and specific past involvements in order to separate the respondents into different sample groups. Overall, I hope to learn about youth’s general trust in the political system since 2012 and discover trends by comparing responses between different kinds of youth. After meticulous translating, editing, and coding, my French survey is 100% ready to go on my iPad tablet. By using the tablet, youth will be able to easily go through each question and the data will automatically be recorded.

Screenshot of survey 1

Screenshot of survey 2

Screenshot of survey 3

In the past couple weeks, I have recruited about 4 potential native translators who would accompany me on my surveying. The translator would properly approach randomly selected youth respondents, guide me through public transportation, and help me with any other challenges that may come up. I must pick a translator this week, which has proven to be a very difficult decision. They have different strengths and weaknesses in terms of their time availability, price, enthusiasm and personal rapport with me. Regardless, I am looking forward to finally starting my fieldwork next week.

The Coast

Big Roadbump: Hospital

Tuesday July 8th

A little past 11 P.M. on Saturday July 5th, my abdominal pain suddenly worsened until it was unbearable. I could not move without experiencing incredibly sharp, heavy pain in my lower abdomen. I had the emergency doctor come to my house and evaluate me, which took about 30 minutes, because of my house’s obscure location and Senegal’s generally disorganized healthcare system which I will discuss later. He said I needed to go to the hospital to get an X-Ray right away, called the ambulance, and put an IV in my arm. 20 minutes later, the ambulance arrived and I was taken to the downtown hospital, Clinique de la Madeleine. The hospital seemed absolutely deserted when I got there, as I noticed no doctors or nurses in a dark hallway leading to mostly empty rooms. After placing me into room that had air conditioning and television, a nurse informed me that I had to wait until 8 A.M. to get the X-Ray test because the specialist was not on duty. My home-stay <<Mama>> was very upset at this but there was nothing we could do. <<Mama>> and my friend Yelena returned home while I waited for the morning. Thankfully, the IV eased the pain in my stomach but being hospitalized in a foreign country with no remaining credit on my cell phone produced some of my loneliest hours.

Around 9 A.M., I received my X-Ray test and an hour later, the specialist told me that I had an umbilical abscess in my abdominal wall, which was not too serious but required surgery right away in lieu of complicating other vital organs. He recommended that I have the surgery with anesthesia at 11:30 AM. I reached the US Embassy and Northwestern but I could not get a hold of my family. Given the circumstances, I decided to go ahead with the surgery. In the operation room, the anesthesia knocked me out and they surgically removed the bacteria from my abdomen. I rested the entire day, had some visitors and reached my family. On Monday afternoon, I was discharged and returned to my Senegalese home.

High prices make Senegal’s healthcare system virtually inaccessible to most of the population. I am extremely lucky because I was treated a premier hospital in Dakar covered completely by Northwestern’s travel insurance. Even so, I experienced very long waits for the neighborhood doctor, ambulance, and hospital treatment. To get an idea of the costs, my ambulance ride alone was $60. As I witnessed an eerily empty emergency room wing, I realized that most Senegalese, without hospital treatment as a viable option, opt to treat medical emergencies on their own. Pregnancy deliveries and basic child immunizations are provided at cheap prices at local medical clinics but other than that, the average citizen cannot afford treatment. I was told by a local that when people get malaria, they almost never go to the doctor and instead, take increased dosages of the preventative malaria pill.

I am now on the road to recovery. My stomach still hurts but mainly because of the incision and no longer because of the infection. The pain has been alleviated by the day and my constipation is also going away. The doctor said I should be fully recovered in two weeks and that I cannot do any work for one week. My research plans are on hold for now and once I see how my recovery progresses, I will have a discussion later on with my family about whether I should stay as originally planned or return home early. Meanwhile, I will be reading some books, catching up on Game of Thrones, and loitering on Facebook. I certainly hope I can complete what I came here for, and see more of this country. Yet health comes first. Sometimes, there is nothing one can do but hope for the best. I trust everything will work out.

Roadbump

It is Saturday, July 5th and I have still been sick for about a week now. I no longer have traveler’s diarrhea but instead, I suffer from a digestive problem that could be serious since I have not gone to the bathroom for an extended period of time. I have also suffered an acute, lower abdominal pain, occasional fits of fever, and other symptoms. It was getting pretty painful Thursday night so I cancelled some research plans on Friday to go to the doctor, who prescribed me two medications. I also was blood-tested at a laboratory, the results of which will be available soon. I will be returning to my doctor on Monday. I really hope whatever this is goes away soon so I can continue my research project and explore this country. Until then, I am resting at home.

Elections, Ramadan, Sickness

After a busy couple of days, I planned to rest all day on Sunday, June 29th. This was a quiet, important day for Senegal as the local political elections converged with the beginning of Ramadan. Leading up to the elections, caravans full of political volunteers marched through the neighborhoods every day from dawn to 2 A.M., blasting music and chanting slogans. On Sunday, all that noise finally ended with a day of peaceful voting to elect the new mayor and district legislators. The commencement of Ramadan, the annual month of fasting for Muslims, also marked an important change in daily routine. Since 95% of the country’s population practices Islam, the holiday slows down everything in the country. During a typical day, one wakes up at dawn to pray and then fasts until dusk while living his or her normal life. Someone I recently met choreographs modern dance routines for a living and he will be doing his usual 6 hours of rehearsal per day in 90 degree weather without any water. In addition to fasting, adherents pray 5 times a day and do some sort of charity work. The more I read up on Islam and talk to the people who practice it, I realize just how little the average American knows about the fastest growing religion in the world. When one takes the time to learn its fundamental values, he or she would realize that it shares plenty of similarities with Christianity and Judaism including beliefs in a higher being, prophets and angels, as well as values of love, generosity and steadfast devotion. There’s still a lot more for me to learn and I feel disappointed in my public school’s failure to instill in me the basics of a religion to which over 1 billion people in this world devote their lives.

I have been blessed with tremendous people, resources, and immersion opportunities on this trip but not everything has been rosy. In addition to the research-specific challenges I described in an earlier post, walking 50 minutes everyday to commute to and from the research center in 90 degrees, sunny weather has not been pleasant. What makes the heat here different from the US is the notoriously unhealthy amount of pollution and dust in Dakar as well as the consistently 80%+ humidity due to the rainy season.  Also, power outages are very common in Dakar and the electricity shuts off in my home at least once or twice a day. Yet, all of these are inconveniences at best. 

On Sunday, I encountered my first real challenge. In the middle of the day, I suddenly fell sick with food poisoning and traveler’s diarrhea. Staying home all day, I had to go to the bathroom handfuls of times and it was tough to walk around. I am still not sure exactly what I have but I believe it is likely the vegetables or eggs in my home-stay meal since I heard almost everyone traveling here is bound to get food poisoning at least once. After taking antibacterial medicine for three days, I feel better but my stomach and intestines area still hurts. Apart from physical sickness, I sometimes find myself homesick for my friends, family, and communities in Chicago and Northwestern. With Wi-Fi readily available from my room, it is easy to get distracted and feel that I am missing out from a simpler, more enjoyable summer. Then, I remind myself that I am living through the ups and downs of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Kenny

 

 

      

New city, new friends

One of the best parts about doing an independent research project has been befriending graduate students and learning about their research projects and their lives. Almost everyday, I am able to meet someone new at the cultural center or research center. People come through at a wide variety of stages in their lives and for a wide variety of purposes including a Columbian woman who has worked for multiple human rights NGO’s, a theater student choreographing a contemporary Senegalese dance piece, and American public school teachers learning the indigenous language Wolof to teach to their students. They are impressive global citizens who work on the front lines of human rights, education, and academia. They are also really fun to go out with. I have experienced the city with them as the token undergrad, surfing by the Ngor beach and attending an international music concert at the French Institute. The other main group of people I have been fortunate to meet are 11 undergrad students in a study abroad program for Virginia Tech. They have included me in their social gatherings and the professor has allowed me to tag along when they do cultural immersion trips throughout the city. This past Saturday, we went to the historical tourist attraction called Gorée Island, which was a holding place for slaves in the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

My surfing instructor and I
Yoff Beach
Gorée Island
Slave House: Up to 40 people would be held in this small room
Slave House

In addition to the friends I have met through the centers, my home-stay family has provided a comfortable source of companionship. In Senegal, “family” colloquially includes one’s relatives and family friends. My new family is no exception: there is <<Papa>> who lives in the top floor and almost never comes down, <<Mama>> who lives in the second floor, their son Moctar who is at least 40 years old, Moctar’s wife, Moctor’s new-born baby, two maids who do most of the housework, and two laid-back, middle-aged renters who are not blood-related but still treated as part of the family. One of them, Sanou, took my new friends and me out to experience the nightlife this past weekend. Side note: People dance more conservatively, love jazz/reggae, and often begin their nights at 2 AM. Finally, two other foreigners live in the house as home-stay students: an American girl my age and a German guy five years older than me. Despite the number of people, I can enjoy the privacy of my own room. 

Home

  

Living Room of my homestay (and baby Mohammed sleeping)

It is funny to think about how anxious I was about traveling alone before the trip started. Thus far, I am extremely grateful for the people and the resources I have with me and I am looking forward to experiencing more.

 

L’Institut Français: holds concerts and other events for foreigners
Concert at L’Institut Français
Senegalese art