Senegal, Jerejeff waiiii!

So the time has come to return to the home of real bacon and rain for a short while. Yes it has been the most challenging year so far but all in all I have loved it. I love the people, the food, the beaches. I’ve made some amazing friends from everywhere which means so many new places in the world to visit! Surprise surprise I didn’t get ebola, and neither did anyone else in Senegal.

The lovely Alicia asked me a few days ago whether i think I’ve changed or learnt anything since being here. Well I’m really not sure! But maybe the following….

  • Whether you are a believer or not, I truly believe that some events recently can in no way be coincidence and I have felt ridiculously safe ever since I arrived. All God.
  • Patience. I’ll always have ‘Gatland blood’ in me but I am definitely much more relaxed, which is pretty useful seeing as things tend to start hours later than planned. If I am waiting for what feels like forever, then rather than seething from the inside out, now I’ll just chill, maybe start a conversation with whoever is nearest and most receptive, or play Sudoku on my Senegalese phone. Or get a nap in.
  • I LOVE haggling! Im now used to the harassment on the street and Im super proud of the bargains obtained.
  • (Nearly) make up free. I used to cake it on everyday but now a bit of mascara and I’m good to go. I would normally go through a tube of BB cream every two months, but I’ve had the same one all the ten months. Saved hella money.
  • I am no longer reliant on dry shampoo! These days I just wash my hair like a normal person.

As for my Dakar bucket list, pretty much done apart from nice cream (definately got three 3 quarters)

  1. Try the Viking – apparently it’s the closest thing Dakar has to a pub! 
  2. Go for a run along the corniche. I am ridiculously close to a verrryyyy long stretch of beautiful coastline, but it isn’t very safe for a woman to run on their own. (2.5: find someone stupid enough to run with me).
  3. Try Henna, I’ve noticed alot of what could be Henna art on nails.
  4. Learn more Wolof than ‘Hello how are you….my name is….. yes’.
  5. Go to Saint Louis.
  6. Go surfing and try not to drown.(Kind of!!)
  7. Go to the Bandia Reserve and see actual animals. 
  8. Have enough time to have all 3 rounds of attire (Mint tea with hella sugar).
  9. Be able to have a full conversation in French (I’m very close believe it or not!).I may not be fluent but I can hold my own.
  10. Cook thieboudienne and Marfé. I have cooked thiebouginuarrr!!
  11. Be brave enough to get a haircut. I have way too much hair already and summer is coming!
  12. Buy lots of peanuts and give to Talibe boys regularly. As often as possible!
  13. Go to Ile de Gorée.
  14. Survive the BSI English day, which is most likely going to be in The Daniel Sorano Theatre… eeek! The less said the better!
  15. Try every flavour of ice cream in N’ice cream! (Definately managed three quarters!)
  16. Visit every market in Dakar. I love bargaining! Just not enough hours in the day, and on my salary may not have been wise.

Not bad! So Dakar, Jerejef waiii its been a blast. Hope to see you again soon!

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How I feel about being British at 3am…

The last few nights I have slept just a few hours because my brain is so wired with all the things I need to do before thursday! Aparently this is what I have been thinking about during the early hours of the day.

Apart from being in Spain for a summer during university a few years back, I have only really lived in the south of England. Up until now it has never crossed my mind that my main identity is ‘British’, maybe back home it was the scatty or slightly strange one, I can’t really remember now! But coming to Dakar, where there are many many nationalities all living together,  I’ve very much been in the minority. I really enjoy it, but it does make me wonder how important nationality is. Whether it is or isn’t, this is what I have noticed so far about ‘Britishness’.

  • G&T’s. Maya is always telling me that people become more like their stereotypes when they leave their country. I never drank Gin or Tonic in the UK, but now theyre my drink of choice. This is partly due to the rumour that it helps to avoid mosquitoes, and I’m all about avoiding malaria. Aparently G&T’s are a british thing, who knew!
  • I didn’t realise I had such a prominent accent. Especially after spending a full day with Americans yesterday I can hear it now! Normally when first meeting someone they know straight away where I’m from. Certain people ask me to say ‘hello poppet/governor’ which I’m not sure are common phrases, but maybe just not in my circles!
  • My American friends say some things soooo wrong. I know it shouldn’t get to me but sometimes, ok most of the time, the teacher in me comes out and I repeat it the ‘correct’ way. Certain friends love bugging me about it. My level two book was American which is great for the students, as they have my accent in the classroom and American accents in the listening exercises. With the pronunciation and different vocabulary it sure is helping me as a teacher.
  • Being on time. Not in time. Naturally I am on time all the time, which i think is mostly due to my father. Things are blurred these days, and being late doesn’t bother me now. Uh ohhhhh
  • Nothing can beat a good roast or shepherd’s pie. Thank you Mr North for being our source of good british food in senegal. I will never forget your shepherd’s pie before beer pong. For a while i have also been craving cider and pimms. Take me to the pub!
  • I feel most comfortable going to the back of a clear queue and waiting my turn. Often here you just sit/stand anywhere and try to acknowledge the last person. Picture me at the beginning of my time here with my awkward british politeness and my lack of French and wolof trying to successfully get to the front of the queue. It would take a while!
  • Things are much more direct here. To be honest, I don’t want to know when I’ve put on weight, that’s best kept to yourself love.
  • Dating. From what I’ve seen in the UK things are much more subtle, men normally ignore you for weeks. But here it seems that men say i love you as soon as possible. I honestly can’t tell what I would prefer.

All I can say after all that as much as it is interesting, nationality doesn’t define you. It’s not the be all and end all, it’s just one part of you. Having said all that I’m looking forward to my little holiday in the homeland very soon with perhaps a new set of eyes. Or I will just come home and enjoy my cider and my queuing. Most likely the second.

Ramadam in the second homeland.

I hope it’s okay to comment on a period such as this but it strikes me as such an important time which has consumed my temporary home greatly. Knowing that family friends who used to live in a Muslim country would always come back to the UK for this period, I must admit I was feeling a bit of dread before this time. First (selfish) thoughts were of panic buying food beforehand just in case, as I was told numerous times that things would just shut down in the day time. In Ramadam, from sunrise to sunset nothing will pass their lips, no food or water (5am-7.45pm ish).

We are now coming into the second week and to be honest things aren’t that different. The boutique at the bottom of our building is still open and most restaurants and stall owners are still here. My colleagues are mostly surprisingly chirpy, just rather tired at times. There is a lot less banging in the apartment above! As more than 90% of the country are Muslim, it is amazing to see how everyone has rallied together to support each other. The best examples of this are how the fast is broken in the evening. The first time we were out and about, Vickie and I took a walk to the port to go grocery shopping. The sun must’ve set just as we got to the checkouts as one of the staff came running around giving every member of staff a date to break their fast. I felt relief for them! On our way home there were many groups of people sharing their meal together, with a large number inviting us to join.

The second time I was out at sunset, I was taking a taxi up to Almadies. Normally at about half 7 there would be so much traffic and it would take at least 40 minutes, but it only took 20 as I everyone was at home sharing their dinner. As we got to the big roundabout there were a mass of people shoving cups of coffee and bread into the hands of the drivers through the windows to help break their fast. It was amazing to see! (If I’d known what the time was I would’ve left later but I was in my own little world)

My only minor issue I have is that some expats still sit and eat outside restaurants in the day. Yes I may not be joining them but it is not cool essentially dangling a carrot to the people who are committing to Ramadam.  A large number of people ask me if I am joining them on the fast on daily basis.  Fasting to me is a fantastic way to seek God and I have done so before with different levels of success, and I would love to join in. I just physically can’t currently because of the heat! I should add it to my Dakar Bucket list before I leave.  However, it is potentially much worse to do in the UK where the sun rises at before 4am and sets after 9pm!

Checking in

So yesterday was the General Election in the UK. Thanks to my super organised mother, I managed to successfully apply for a proxy vote, where mum voted on my behalf. This is only the second time I’ve been able to vote and it is definitely very different making your decision far away from all the election fever. It was much easier being able to do research online on my own! It is also very interesting seeing the outcry on Facebook today now that we can see the Conservatives have won.

We can be as disappointed as we want, but I can’t brush off the feeling that the British are SO lucky compared to so many countries, where the country is not being run nearly as well as there, maybe the government is not as democratic or just awful. At least we have the NHS and some support where we need it! I know it’s much more complicated than that but I still very feel blessed (Even though I don’t plan to live in the UK for a while)…

Swinging back to life in Dakar, right now I am half way through my third and final term at the BSI. All I can say is being an adult with a full time job is hard! Oh, and a few weeks ago may have had a very very mild form of Malaria. But to be honest, the likely problem was just down to lack of sleep and lack of vegetables. After taking a lot of vitamins I am now back to my normal crazy self!

Whats next….

The reality that I will be leaving Dakar in exactly two months is really setting in, and I often go from super excitement that I will soon be spending some valuable time my dear family and friends (and my sewing machine), to the complete opposite of super sadness that I will not be teaching my students again, I will be leaving my dear friends here, and this amazing city! I try not to think about it at all to be honest!

The fact is, in the words of my colleague Wagane I have got itchy feet. But, I am very happy to announce that I will be going to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in August to work in a British International School! It will be great to try a new place, I’m very sure it will be completely different to life here. I think I will be in more of a British bubble as I will be living and working with mainly British expats, but I will make sure I try to branch out like I have done a little here. Also, there is an IKEA there! Result! One thing that I believe is super important, is that I will make it my sole aim to be home in (not so) sunny Sussex for Christmas.

It looks like my not too distant future will be a bit crazy, but that’s how I like it! Can’t wait to catch up with everyone in England!

Easter

It’s April! How did that happen? Currently I’m feeling so relaxed that I feel like I’m not doing anything. I think it’s because now Vickie is back I’m doing half the work again! It makes me realise I was doing ALOT. Luckily I’ve just been given an important student for one on one classes which will keep me off the streets. It scares me and at the same time I don’t believe that in under 6 weeks I will have finished classes at the BSI and in 10 weeks I will no longer be working at the BSI!

But lets rewind a little. Easter this year was pretty bizarre. For as long as I can remember I have always travelled home (if I’ve been away) in time for Good Friday when as a church we all celebrate and have breakfast together. Easter Sunday was always a big family day too. But naturally, this time I was unable to go home for the weekend, and to make matters worse I had to work on Good Friday! I think this is the first time I really felt homesick for the homeland! But luckily, Marlou our Catholic colleague came to the rescue and invited us to celebrate Easter Sunday with him like Christmas!

So, it was pretty much the same drill, first we had to get to Guediawaye early for Mass in our BouBous. I was very thankful that it was much cooler than at Christmas as Mass was two hours long and the church was very full. Then swiftly after the end of Mass we went home to have breakfast, which was PORK and THE MOST AMAZING CHICKEN I HAVE EVER TASTED, with chips and the like. A couple of glasses of wine and who knows what else, and two hours later we had lunch, vermicellis, chicken and a lot of onions. After that we went visiting. Our first port of call was the old BSI director who most probably lives in the nicest house I’ve seen so far. He showed us his series of books which he has just got published, English course books which are actually applicable for African cultures learning English. This is fantastic, so rather than using text books from England which I am finding can be very culturally bound, and go straight over learners heads at the BSI, teachers here in Africa will hopefully be using these instead! This is much more applicable for their lives and interests. And weather! He totally stole my idea…

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After that we went to see another family. The men watched the wrestling and the football, while Vickie and I got a nap in. Before we left we were given ‘Ngala’ the traditional meal every Catholic makes, eats and gives to all friends on Easter. It is a cold dish consisting of millet and a peanut sauce, and as I was warned by many many people that a lot of it can make you sick, I only had a little, but it was surprisingly good! Unfortunately when we went back to Marlou’s family house we were given a second round! None of us could finish it.

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We made it back to Immeuble Airfrance at about 11pm. We spent about 14 hours celebrating Easter! Just like Christmas, a lot of food and alcohol was involved. It seems very exhausting being a catholic, but after 40 days of fasting I guess its only natural!

The next day had a delicious roast with the Portsmouth massive! It was safe to say I was full for about a week afterwards. Now, Im looking forward to the next celebration, Labour Day!

Frankie goes to Saint Louis

After the most probably stressful and busiest terms of my life, term two finally finished with the standard last minute creation and setting of exams. I marked my students’ exams in record speed because a certain friend called Frankie was coming to visit Dakar!

Frankie flew in on the Saturday night at about 10pm, and Mr Sané insisted on picking me up and feeding me at his first wives house and then picking Frankie up at the airport.  On reflection, that was a massive blessing as the taxi men at the airport would take one look at two Toubabs with luggage and charge me the earth to get home! Also, as the lift in my apartment block is in the very slow process of being fixed it meant Mr Sané could carry Frankies luggage up the stairs…

As soon as she got here it felt normal! It was just like being back at Uni when we would do absolutely nothing. It was however a bizarre experience being the tour guide AND translator seeing as my French isn’t that good! I decided to fill up every moment with something as she wasn’t here for long. I think she travelled on every mode of transport possible. We visited Ngor island on a piroque boat. Then we went to Saint Louis in a sept place, which aren’t the most comfortable, but are very cheap. I’m not convinced Frankie quite enjoyed the journey:

Becca: Were here, are you excited?

Frankie: All I wanna do is be able to move my legs, the rest is a bonus…

A very nice man did buy us many peanuts though! Saint Louis is a beautiful city on two islands with very European architecture, and we were very lucky to stay with my director’s friend, and have Chiby, his nephew and some of his cousins as tour guides! I definitely want to visit again if I get the chance for one of its many music festivals.

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Now, a piece of advice; avoid travelling on a sept place at night. We were unlucky enough to be sitting in the back which is never a comfortable experience; however the best is yet to come. Our crazy driver who was already driving at a crazy speed forgot to slow down for one of the many speed bumps on the way home, sending us flying inside this ancient car! I’m so sure I was concussed and I still have a bump to this day. Everyone made it back to Dakar in one piece just about, though I’m still wondering how…..

The next day we visited Gorée Island, this time on a little ferry. There is so much history on this little island as it was one of the places where slaves were processed before being sent to America, in the ‘House of slaves’, however I’ve also heard that this is not true. I think it is good to have a reminder of the slave trade. Unfortunately all the information in the Museum was in French so we just looked at the pictures.

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We also visited Lac Rose, which was much pinker this time, and then found the best beach in Dakar. The icing on the cake was most probably Vickie flying back from the UK to return for the last term a day before Frankie left. This meant I was not left alone! However, now I’m sad. We started back at work on Thursday, and although I love it and it was so good to see my students, I much prefer being at the beach or at a bar with a G&T. I guess that’s what the weekends are for! And the next holiday in 10 weeks time, not that I’m counting!

The tailor experience

In Portsmouth, Primark was under 5 minutes away from my university Building so I was pretty much sorted. Here things are slightly different. There are either massive markets which loads to choose from, however I’m pretty sure most of it is second hand. The better option is to get a tailor to make you things…..

Fabric shopping has become one of my favourite pass times. Wax fabric, my favourite, is normally about 1,000 a metre (just over £1 a metre.) I think my suitcase will just be full of fabric when I return to England! You just buy any fabric you like and then take it to a tailor, tell them what you want and negotiate a price. There are tailors everywhere you ago, the only problem is not all tailors are that good, or in fact really remember/listen to what you said.

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A good example of this is my first attempt.  I went to my friend’s tailor who was not far from where she lived. I ordered four things; a skater dress, a long dress in a different fabric and a crop top and pencil skirt in the same fabric. Although it was ridiculously cheap, only the skater dress was done in the fabric I asked for. Unfortunately he got the other two fabrics mixed up. This is what I ended up with.

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I am now happy with the pencil skirt and crop top, and wear them a lot. However, I nearly cried when I saw the long dress! This was in November, so I just put it away in my cupboard and ignored it. But then recently I discovered there was a tailor in the English Club who specialises in work clothing! So I gave him the dress and asked for a pencil skirt. He did a fantastic job!

I am so happy the fabric was saved!  From now I on I will be going to him for all my smart clothes.

Next I am going to get another Boubou in a lighter fabric for Fridays, and get more work clothes for my next job to remind me of Dakar!I plan to handsew a new money belt and some hairbows and scrunchies with the left overs. Watch this space! .

Very Imminent weight gain

I am completely unable to hide from the fact that I love food. My dad has always said to me that he never needs to worry about me as I always have a good appetite, and he is not wrong! Therefore it would be very rude not to mention one of the most important parts of life!

Rice is the staple diet here, eaten pretty much every single day.  After asking one of my classes what they would miss the most if they were to move abroad, the consensus was ‘thieboudienne’ (rice and fish). Maybe its the same as many Brits feel about a Sunday Roast? As much as you try to recreate it abroad, it will never be the same as your mother’s. However, the rice in thieboudienne is prepared in some complicated way to make it taste extra delicious. Plus Monday is thieboudienne day at the BSI and costs 800 CFA (about £1). Bargain! There is also Thiebouyapp (Beef or lamb)  and thiebouguinaar (Chicken), the chicken being my absolute favourite! I seriously urge everyone to come and visit, just to try thiebouguinaar, it will change your life.

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There is also Maarfe, which is normally beef in a tomato and peanut sauce, with white rice. This is another of my favourites. There is something weirdly comforting about it, maybe because it was one of the first dishes I tried.

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As a general rule, Senegalese dishes are served in a massive dish to be shared at social events. There is often a lot, and you eat what is directly in front of you with a spoon or with your right hand. In these situations I have always been encouraged to eat more and more whenever I stop, and somebody in the circle (often a man) tend to attack the meat and fling bite sized chunks to my section. This I really appreciate as it is no mean feat to cut meat with a spoon!

Seafood is another thing I enjoy, and because we are surrounded by coast, it is done well here. Monkfish is normally the cheapest fish on the menu, which I’m told is the opposite in England. Apparently, before fishermen realised that people like it, it was thrown back into the sea when it was caught!

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Having recently gained a number of food intolerances in the past year (the main problem being onions), I was slightly worried how I would be able to eat for the next ten months. But so far my experience has been great, the only dish I need to avoid is Yassa, made from a sauce which is basically onions with onions. Also,almost any food that you might crave can be found hiding somewhere in Dakar, and since being here I’ve tried Ethiopian, Cape Verdian, Indian (that isnt a chicken Korma!) and Japanese food. The only thing I haven’t found is good pork sausages. The supermarket next door even sells cheddar cheese!

Last weekend I was invited by a very kind student to his house. On arrival his sisters gave me clothes to wear and whisked me off to the kitchen to learn how to make thiebeuguinarr, my favourite Senegalese dish! Although it didn’t feel like it, we were in the kitchen for at least 4 or 5 hours! Senegalese food is a long process! I also learnt how to make Bouye and Bissap juices. I will attempt it very soon.

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To conclude, please don’t be alarmed when I touch down in England this summer with a little extra weight… I’ve merely been enjoying what this country has to offer, it would be a shame not too 🙂

Life after Dakar and my Better-Late-Than-Never-Dakar-Resolutions

Being the hyper organised person I am, I must confess that I have been considering what on earth I am going to do in the next academic year since maybe November. As per usual I’m not sure at all. I know I want to continue teaching, but the questions are:

  • Where? I could potentially teach anywhere in the world!
  • Do I continue teaching English to speakers of other languages or do I start getting experience teaching children or teenagers English in the national curriculum?
  • Do I do a PGCE or something similar now or in the future?
  • Maybe I should get an office job? (Just kidding, I would go crazy!)

It kind of hurts my brain when I think about it. With regard to staying in Dakar, I absolutely love it here and feel like I’ve settled quite well.  However, what I do way too often is find something I like and then stick with it. Although that is a perfectly fine thing to do, I think I could be missing out on seeing the world while I am young and single. But, you could be reading this a year later and I’m still in Dakar! That is also very likely; I do change my mind a lot. Either way I will have definitely thought it through a great deal. So watch this space! So, just in case here are my better late than never Dakar resolutions (I know its March not January, but I‘ve been a bit busy), better known as a Bucket List! My Better-Late-Than-Never-Dakar-Resolutions:

  1. Try the Viking – apparently it’s the closest thing Dakar has to a pub! 
  2. Go for a run along the corniche. I am ridiculously close to a verrryyyy long stretch of beautiful coastline, but it isn’t very safe for a woman to run on their own. (2.5: find someone stupid enough to run with me).
  3. Try Henna, I’ve noticed alot of what could be Henna art on nails.
  4. Learn more Wolof than ‘Hello how are you….my name is….. yes’.
  5. Go to Saint Louis.
  6. Go surfing and try not to drown.(Kind of!!)
  7. Go to the Bandia Reserve (Safari Park) and see actual animals.
  8. Have enough time to have all 3 rounds of attire (Mint tea with hella sugar).
  9. Be able to have a full conversation in French (I’m very close believe it or not!).
  10. Cook thieboudienne and Marfé.
  11. Be brave enough to get a haircut. I have way too much hair already and summer is coming!
  12. Buy lots of peanuts and give to Talibe boys regularly.
  13. Go to Ile de Gorée.
  14. Survive the BSI English day, which is most likely going to be in The Daniel Sorano Theatre… eeek!
  15. Try every flavour of ice cream in N’ice cream!
  16. Visit every market in Dakar. I love bargaining!

Well, I better get going!

Hitting the half way mark

I have no idea how this has happened, but it is now February, which marks the very likely half way point of my stay here in Dakar! Due to illness and business, I’ve been unable to write anything for a while. Unfortunately Vickie, my house-mate and fellow ‘British Assistant’, has been rather ill for a long time and has returned to the UK for a while. So I’m sorry If I haven’t been very contactable recently, I wasn’t purposefully ignoring y’all. I feel like Vickie and I are both pretty qualified to comment on many many aspects of the healthcare system here in Dakar, after these difficult few weeks, which maybe I’ll save for another time! But today I’m feeling a bit reflective and thought I’d comment on a few things I’ve noticed so far.

Here are a few things and milestones worth noting….

  • When I first arrived here I was pretty much scared of everything; getting in a taxi, walking alone and eating pretty much anything everywhere. I think this is due to stories that I’d previously heard and the fact that I am naturally a bit over dramatic. Luckily now, and quite rightly so it is all very mundane now! There is no apparent risk, and these are all very relaxing experiences!
  • As of a few days ago, I can officially make phone calls like a normal person with my Senegalese phone! And yes, it was much easier than previously thought. Better late than never hey.
  • Some things that used to really grind my gears, which I can only explain as a cultural uncomfortableness (things British people normally don’t do) no longer annoy me any more, I have recently found myself clicking and hissing at people like everyone else.. oops!
  • I’ve started craving Senegalese food, for example Thieboudienne (Rice and Fish) and Marfé (Beef in a peanut and tomato sauce) much more than ‘Western food’! Although I am still intolerant to many things, I’m sure my stomach is made of sturdy stuff as I often eat meals on the street (I know, sometimes I can’t help it) and I drink the water.
  • Since being here I have tried Ethiopian, Korean, Cape Verdean, and Lebanese food, among many others. This is amazing considering as a child I was so picky I ate the same food every day for years and years.
  • I now moan that it is cold. It’s about 24 degrees at the moment. I have certainly been ruined now, and I’m sure going to need an abundance of jumpers when I leave!
  • I feel ever so settled here at the BSI, the students and staff are so lovely. I sometimes understand the quirks and how to get things done, and I have a good rapport with the management.
  • Lastly and most probably most importantly, I have not yet finished the shampoo and conditioner which I brought from England, which suggests my previous house mates used to steal mine at university as I used to go through a lot more! You know who you are! But don’t worry I am far away now….

I’m so happy to be here experiencing new things every day. I’m learning so much, which I never would’ve in the homeland. Yesterday, Tambadou, Mouhammed and I were lucky enough to be guests on a radio station called Africa7 promoting the BSI and the English Club! I nearly lost all of my English.

I plan to write more very soon!