Friday, December 7, 2007

Up into the Atlas and then Down Again

I will tell you this: we arrived in Marrakesh three nights ago by way of a ride hitched in the back of a carpet truck. I wouldn't have had the ride through the snow capped High Atlas any other way, and in fact the city has seemed a mild thrill in comparison to the view from the back seat of the orange van, the smell of sheep enveloping us, the tapestries pressing up against our backs. Our drivers were three men all named Hassan with whom we shared oranges but not a common language.

Marrakesh is everything they said it would be...snake charmers, a square covered in tents with young men luring you in to sample their food-- fried calamari, fried shrimp, fried eggplant, French fries. One night we found the only hotel that serves alcohol, and curled up on the deep couches with the crowds of parched-looking European travelers. In the afternoon we lost ourselves in the souks, buying date cookies and eyeing trays of pastries that passed us by all to quickly. Men work in little ateliers mending antique tea pots, women behind veils bark out prices for knit caps. Tourists par tout, a young American girl pleading with a merchant "but you're only allowed one carry on bag! I'll never be able to get it home!" somehow, I'm not quite sure, I think she thought this would work as a bargaining tactic.

Before Marrakesh we were in the Sahara, and before the desert we were in a happy little valley visiting a friend of a friend who is now in the Peace Corps in one of the prettiest places I've ever seen. For three days we had the pleasure of following along on walks through villages, saying hello to the women doing their wash and singing by the river, laughing with farmers, and sampling saffron tea. By sunset one night we reached an old Kasbah, and just en face we circled around the abandoned complex of the conquorers who drove the original inhabitants out of the kasbah. The next night we were scaling a red hill at a nearly vertical angle as the sun went down and the very rocks we were climbing on turned to purple...and we were in the scene, so much a tiny spec in a grand landscape that quieted us all. An abandoned village in the mountain side, a family of women who painted our hands in henna, gave us olives as a good bye gift and laughed with me through broken French English and Tashelhite.

Tonight I drank jasmine tea and meditated on Jamaa el Fna from on high on a roof terrace, looking down on the white lights and craze of the disney-food frenzy below. Tomorrow we'll leave the palms of this city and the High Atlas in the distance and make our way to Fez...we are taking with us an enormous bag of cashews and the sweetest, plumpest dates I've ever tasted. Slowly but surely the bags are beginning to fill with end-of-trip souvenirs. I am looking forward to my own bed and Christmas parties, but one more week rests, so more food and more stories to come.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sardines for Lunch

Miracle of miracles, Steph and I met right on time at 12 noon on Sunday in downtown Dakar. I'm still in disbelief that our plan actually worked, and furthermore that we made it all the way through the next 24 hours of travel to arrive in a hostel in Casablanca without the slightest problem sneaking through customs, or sleeping in the airport in Madrid for a long lay over. Just now I'm typing from an internet café in Essouria, a paradise of a fishing town and a wonderful old medina...this afternoon, just after the fish auction and the sunset, a sweet man named Ibrahim squeezed orange and clementine juice for us, and confirmed our sentiments-- this is a country to arrive in and fall in love with on contact. The bus ride out here took all of yesterday, with a stop for lunch on the side of the road where a butcher made hamburger ground with onions and parsley on demand, and you then carried over the meat to the cook who clamped the beef in a square grill and set it out over hot coals to cook. The bus was going to leave before we were able to finigh, so we made sandwiches to go with slightly sweet semolina bread...back on the bus, heading south, we shared a revelation-- this sweet, fresh meat is why people crave hamburgers-- this is how it's supposed to be. Late in the afternoon we were winding around roads by the sea with a purple sky slipping into night and so many stone walls and plots of land surrounded by fences made of cacti. In Casablanca the night before we ran through the medina, buying long underwear to keep us warm, and also anything that looked like it needed to be tasted. Merangues, a macaroon, peanuts from the guy who was roasting them over a hot pan, snails that you ate by fishing them out of the shell with a safety pin, and broth that was spicy and hot, strangely not totally unike tea. We found our way back by remembering food stalls- the chicken row, the vendor whose display of bananas and bunches of grapes hung like crepe paper, the place where we ate chickpea soup for dinner...eventually the cart of unknown fruit which we were now bold enough to ask about, and when we did, the response was a simple offering to taste for ourselves. The fruit was cold and sweet, little round seeds filled my mouth and then magically dissolved. Back at the hostel the spirited old Russian lady who was bunking with us said we must have eaten cactus fruit. Go to the Grand Canyon, she said-- it's the most beautiful place I've been. While Steph punched holes in two snail shells to make souvenir necklaces for us, our Russian granny recounted trips to Costa Rica, India, the islands off the coast of Spain by Barcelona, the years in Russia when she was a teacher and took her students traveling around before they were aloud to leave the country. Her husband has passed away now, but she says she has to keep traveling on her own, it's the only way to survive. In the dark of morning, as I was repacking my bag she slipped me info on camel trekking. Make sure you wear some good padding she said, which sent us into peels of laughter.

In Essouria we befriended two boys who sold us shoes, served us tea, and attempted to clear my stuffy nose by applying a saché of unknown hearbs to my nostril and instructed to breath deep. In the evening we walked along the prommenade by the beach, watched seaguls swoop over the port, and sighed many, many sighs of utter content. I left Sénégal with scraps of batik from the tailor and several new dresses, my homestay mother telling me it had only been 10 days or so, but the experience had been rich...on my last night there she and I had a talk about Islam, her using a poster of Mecca as a teaching aid, and telling me the religion was why my impression of her country was of an indescribable warmth and openess. She hailed us a taxi to the airport where the guards and security checkpoint personelle were joking with us in a markedly Sénégalese spirit right up until we clicked into our seatbelts to take off. But after all of that...Morocco has captivated me, combining my favorite senses of India, Portugal, and Italy all at feels old, and the people in their shops, the men in their habitual cafés, the women walking arm in arm through the market, the women cooking us tangine for dinner last night...before leaving New York a new friend told me I would find the people to be softer than I'd ever anticipated, and this has rung true again and again. Mint tea and so many pastries, warm smiles and fried fish, tiles and tiles and tiles covering stairs, walls, bathrooms, buildings. There are small wood workshops in the winding allies of the medina in Essouria, American pop songs playing from boom boxes, bakeries hidden behind windows that are down low by the sidewalk. I'm fighting off a cold, but luckily there's plenty of fresh orange juice to be drunk. And there's more food than we'll ever be able to eat, though we are trying our hardest to sample it all.

Friday, November 23, 2007

A Goat in the Road

I left St.Louis after a memorable stay in the cute French Auberge de Jeunesse, where I befriended a lovely young Belgian couple who went with me out to the famous bird conservatory an hour or so away from the Ile. By my last day in town my French had improved tremendously, so much so that two American Peace Corps volunteers who were on vacation and quickly getting into a bottle of gin at 4 in the afternoon turned around from their activities to say "your French is marvelous!" I hung out with our guide from the bird park, an extremely warm guy whose wife owned the Moroccan restaurant in town-- a beautiful couple with heaps of energy and a great perspective on the day to day of life-- and learned more about Le Plat National. The night before I was to leave St.Louis I had a dream that I found an unraveling nylon tassle in the bottom of my bowl of soup. I picked it out and flicked it onto my saucer, proclaiming to my fellow diners "See? I knew I'd wind up with a string in my soup!" In the morning I awoke, feeling weary of the day of travel that lay ahead: from St.Louis all the way in the north I was to take a sept-place to Thies, where I would switch to another car to take me to Mbour at which point I would find a taxi to take me to a village where a French friend of a friend has a horse ranch. I left the auberge early, ready to forge ahead, and was quickly shot down when the bank teller informed me that Dakar is the only place in Senegal where one can cash travelers checks. At 8 in the morning I quickly ran through my options, but with only a few crumpled CFA notes in my pocket decided maybe the best thing would be to return to Dakar.

So, I set off. This time I found a sept-place with a great seat in the middle, and as we cruised back down the coast at an incredible speed and with great ease, I looked out the window at dry fileds of grasses and silvery trees and felt quite content with travel, and being able to take the detour in stride, and then we hit a baby goat. Dead-on, right in front of us, our car going to fast to slow down for the confused little one. My fellow passengers made a few mumblings, the car rolled on, and so did my day. We reached the outskirts of Dakar in record time, but as we approached the city, traffic seemed to slow, and people kept getting out of the car, until there were only two of us left and the driver, and traffic had stopped almost completely. Ahead, Dakar looked like a burning hell with a grey sky , plumes of black smoke billowing up out of cans that had been lit on fire. We tried to go one way, then backed up over railroad tracks, tried to go another in traffic facing the opposite direction, and that didn't work either. Finally we stopped the car, and my companion passenger said we should get out and walk. The people couldn't wait any more for things to change, she said, and now, there's a manifestation. We walked away from downtown, straight into a cloud of black smoke, over a plank, through construction and mayhem, and me with my traveler's back pack thinking 'this is not a place to vacation.' Eventually we found a taxi, and my lovely companion got in with me to make sure I'd get to my point of arrival safely. In the quiet neighborhood where SIT has its program center in Dakar everything felt calm. I got lunch, eventually changed money, and after a day of scrambling and hauling my pack around, wound up crashing in the beach palace several SIT students are renting for their month of independent research. I fell asleep early on the couch out in the open air of the terrace, and woke the next morning to the call to prayer and a brilliant sunrise, the ocean breezes making it just cool enough to wrap up in a light blanket.

The enire SIT group came on over to the beach house for Thanksgiving, an affair which lasted most of the day and well into the night with token Senegalese dramas like the water going out, the lights going out, and then the gas for the stove running out. Somehow, with cocktails of ginger juice, lime and gin, and the promise of food that was certainly on its way, all obstacles were overcome, and by the evening call to prayer we were assembled around a table laden with stuffing, roasted chickens, fruit salad, corn bread, corn casserold, and squash pie. While the mosque sounded in the early dusk we said our thanks, and after seconds even more friends showed up-- Wolof teachers, and Senegalese neighbors, and eventually the guitars came out, and the digital cameras were flashing to capture the revalry, and many hours later I finally drifted off to sleep with a full belly, and Anna (one of the students) singing like an angel songs that I wished would never end.

This morning I packed my pack up, manged on baguette and nutella with the girls who had been hosting me, and pondered what to do next. Steph will arrive by Sunday in time (I hope) to catch the plane to Morocco...I'm a little restless here in Dakar, and am wondering if it's not too crazy to go down to Mbour now and profit just a little more before Sénégal is done...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Rivers I Understand

I left Dakar this morning, adorned with the two bracelets Khady made for me, nails stained by henna, and a fantastically glittery ring that my hostess, Soda, presented to me at breakfast. Did I tell you about the night when she and I were talking up on the roof terrace and I told her I'd woken up early in the morning to the sound of the was a turning point in our friendship and the week. She told me her mother used to put out a plate of water for the birds to come and wash, and Soda was entranced by the scene of them all flying away at once. Her mother had learned this from her own father, which made the act that much more endearing. But, she told me, 'when I put out the water, no one comes chez moi!' As a gift of thanks, a very small token in return for the welcome that has made Dakar approachable and memorable in so many ways, I brought home a flowering Baobab tree for the terrace. Maybe with a few flowers the birds will come...

Yesterday, after we went to the market to get gifts for a wedding (a mortar and pestal, three sieves for making juice, a plastic dish rack, a giant metal bowl, slatted spoons, good-luck nuts to take to the mosque, and black hair oil to dress up for the wedding party), I took off first for the tailor, and then for Ngor, the beach-side village where I'd wandered around a week before on my first day in Dakar. This time, I knew exactly where to turn, retracing the steps I'd taken with that wonderful woman a week before, and found my way to the beach sans problem, where I got in a boat to go over to l'Ile de Ngor. There I found myself on cabana blankets beneath palm trees, French military families all around, and women selling necklaces and fruit, winding their way through the tourists' blankets. I read uncomfortably on my rented mat, feeling I was about to be bombarded with sunglasses and postcards, and noted that I never imagined this to be the tropical vacation it suddenly felt like. The best part of the afternoon: riding home in my beloved car rapide, the radio dial spinning, and the seats filling up, the wind coming in through the windows, and heading home to the family for dinner. In the evening Khady's boyfriend taught me how to make Senegalese tea while we hung out and watched an American spy drama dubbed in French on the télé. The other night I sat up there on the roof while Khady applied henna to my nails, and I waited for the stain to take hold while the evening call to prayer sounded and the sun went down on the city. The other afternoon Tonton, my homestay father took me out to la Mosqué de la Divinité...the sun was again slipping behind the cliffs, and I was able to take photos of all the pirogues pulled up on the beach, and noted the girls braiding each other's hair, and a boy running back and forth with a bucket of fish, and the doors to the mosque were closed for prayer, and a wedding took place just next door, outside. At every point I have been taken in again and again by this family who has put up with my poor French, and fed me so many meals, telling me always to take more food, 'you've hardly eaten anything!'

This morning, adornments sufficing as a sort of protection, Soda put me in a taxi headed for the bus station. More mayhem than expected...found a car to St.Louis and squeezed into the way back seat of the aged station wagon. Through the windows people tried to sell us Q-tips, bags of oranges, surge protectors, singing light-up key chains, packets of tissues, bags of water, radios, bels, cell phone covers...The woman on my left took up 3/4 of the entire back seat, and another young girl (who quickly became my friend in transit) tried to arrange ourselves...every time even a toe moved back there, everyone felt it, and while the grande dame tranquily fingered her prayer beads, the two of us tried varying positions of cramped muscles and curled shoulders that easily surpassed any of the most crowded subway rides, intense thee-tier sleeper cars in India, or near-death taxi experiences in Beijing.

It took 3.5 hours to get to St.Louis.

...which I love for it's calming rivers on either side of the little island. I'm staying at l'auberge de jeunese, an adorable colonial building that feels so Meditteranean the early evening the bank of the river is occupied by game after game of soccer. We are walking more slowly here, and feeling far less pressed than in the craze of Dakar.

More tomorrow on the river, the fishermen, the music, and the ever-present river spirit.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Vraiment a Love-Hate, Sweet-Sour kind of day

Alright, I'll admit it, today was the first day a little lap of homesickness washed over me. I wiped my face with a tissue this afternoon after a morning of marketing, bargainging, and committing scenes to memory, only to rub off sandy dirt and more sandy dirt. This time, the feeling was not so satisfying.

Yesterday I spent the morning cooking Le Plat National with my homestay sister, Khadie, who is sweet and shy as she is gorgeous. Along with one of the SIT study abroad students who is doing a project on Senegalese food, we crowded into the kitchen to note the entire process of washing the vegetables, mashing the spices in the tall mortal and pestal, frying the onions, adding the tomatoe paste, tucking the parsley and garlic paste into the fish, washing the rice in the couscousier(something like a shallow collander that I swear I must buy and find a way to bring home), and finally waiting for the proper amount of time to let the whole mess stew. When it was all said and done, the rice was arranged on a large plate and carried up to the roof where we spread a blanket, set the plate, then arranged ourselves on the floor to mange en ensemble in the style Senegalese. I took photo after photo after photo, and when I get a chance and a good computer, I'll upload the images here. About photos...I'm not suppposed to take pictures of people, because the national superstition is that the photos will be sold by the foreigners as post cards once they return home. This is really unfortunate, because I long to film the cars rapide, the marvelous blue and yellow buses that take you around with the windows open, and the boy on the back banging on the roof with a coin...This morning Khadie took me to the market with her to buy vegetables and I managed three photos, very quickly, at the express direction of the vendors to only photograph les legumes. I then showed the image on my camera to the vendor, who invariably smiled and had absolutely no idea why a goofy white girl would want a picture of dried fish. The market I will have to remember, and it was unlike any other I've been to-- boys carving through slabs of meet longer than they were tall with saws I might use to cut down a Christmas tree. Tables and tables of fish, dried fish stacked in neat piles, buckets of peanut butter, roots of ginger, neat little piles of all sorts of peppers, arranged on a burlap sack, a small boy with a round tray of tomatoes on his head, the stalls that just sold greens-- shallots next to parsley, next to basil-- all displayed like jewelery in small portions with neat spaces between each. Every now and then Khady would look behind her to make sure I was still there, and invariably I'd be not far behind, jostling between the pushing and babies and batik fabric that made the most fantastic contrast to les legumes. There was a grand hall that we entered first, with a high cieling, and windows up close to the roof, old fans whirred gently keeping a rythem that was ignored by everyone and everything else underfoot. After choosing some dried fish pieces, we went out through a door to the stalls with umbrellas overhead...we bought some henna to paint our nails, mint to make tea. Finally, after drinking in as much as I could, we made it back outside. We piled into the back of a car rapide, and every time someone new got on, we'd lift up our feet to tuck their box of bananas underneath the seat, or rearrange ourselves so as to make room for autre chose.

Traffic made it impossible to get home, and by the time we got out in our neighborhood I could see why Khady tells me she hates cars rapide-- they take forever, the fumes from the street seem to cover you in dirt, des gens yell, there's toujours commotion...our street to the house seemed suddenly silent by the time we hopped off and walked through the sand (which was so much cleaner than the floor of the market by the fish stalls!!).

I made the mistake of searching out another market directly after we got home, but more on that later...I exhausted myself almost to the point of no return and had to take refuge in the Bavarian pastry shop where I indulged in an omlette for lunch, and willed my body to stand up to more activity, but en fait, the heat and the city takes a toll on you quickly, and by the time I made it back to the house I fell into the routine deep, deep sleep of the necessary afternoon nap.

My homestay mother is waiting worried at home I'm sure since I'm not there, and it's gotten dark...I'm having such an amazing time with this family-- at every turn they are even more gentle and giving and protective. It will be hard to leave on Sunday, but I'm also in need of some other travelers, and a tranquil rooftop, and some local beer in a cold bottle.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Le Plat National: Ceebu Dien + un Coca

I fell into a mid-afternoon slumber yesterday, content with the energy of this city and how it is beginning to work me like clay. At the SIT program center I have been asking around to figure out what the students are doing their independent studies on, and with equal interest they want to know all about my experience in India, which proves to be a great exercise in finding the words to articulate how the similarities and differences of Dakar strike me in comparison. And it makes me feel much older than I was when I made that trip, and reminds me how much it was a true coming of age experience-- traveling this time is different certainly, and I'm not yet sure if my reactions and assimilation have to do with having more travel experience under my belt, or if I'm simply more sure of myself, or if it all has to do with this being a totally different continent, country, and culture. In the end, I'm filling a notebook with observences and thoughts, images I don't want to forget, and enjoying the luxury of having the time to write and write and write.

One girl is going out to a village fifteen hours from here to learn about superstitions surrounding pregnancy, another is in St. Louis conducting research on superstitions of the fisherman, and of course I quickly befriended Brit, the student who has decided to learn what she can about Senegalese food. Today she and I are going to go check out the market, and tomorrow she'll come over to my homestay family's house where Khadie, my homestay sister, is going to teach us how to make le plat national: ceebu dien. Yesterday Brit lead me to a restaurant to try out this dish at lunch time-- en fait, it's local fish with cabbage, carrots, and tubors, one piquant pepper, a spinach sauce and one that I couldn't place, all served over couscous which soaks up the wonderful fish broth. I think there are differences from house to house in the particular spices, and the dish I tried yesterday was quite lemony, which I loved. I also loved dining in a busy room with couples out to lunch, offices out to lunch, the trés chic of Dakar with their suits and designer glasses, cell phones toujours at the ready, and everyone chatting away in Wolof over the soft presence of radio music.

In the afternoon I followed two other students out to La Village des Artes, a collection of studios errected in rows and situated between the stadium and the highway. The two girls I went with have rented studios out there for the month to do their projects, and were so happy to lead me around through the gardens of vegetables and bougunvilla that are planted entre the studio spaces. One house was painted in varying shades of blue, another had individual little paintings on each brick. In the center of the village is a great gallery with a sand floor and open, white washed walls. The artists have collective exhibitions here that change every few months, and the paintings were carefully hung par tout, with pedestals in the open center of the space to display terracotta pots. Jenn, one of the girls who was showing me around, explained that the artists had originally taken over an old factory downtown in the '80s-- I think it was the '80s-- but the governmetn had kicked them out. In lieu of the factory, the government had set up the village to offer space to artists so they can live and work affordably and still create. I seem to remember a program like this that was set up in France.... unfortunately I don't recall all the details, but I agreed with the girls, this seems like paradise. Artists-- mostly men, and of varying ages-- were hanging out outside, widdling and painting and, bien sur, talking the talk. We wound our way around, saying hello, checking out the sculptures, and the studios, and then walked out to the casting space which is set off in the distance a little and is in open air. A group of young guys worked on small metal sculptures, pushed their welding glasses back, and stopped what they were doing when we wandered up. The spokesman tested my new friends on their Wolof skills, smiling big, and seeing how much they could get across, then finally resulted to French and said But you are in Senegal! and in Senegal, il faut parler en Wolof! Much laughing accompanied the order, and the girls agreed to come back again the next day for language lessons.

Kids try to sell Q-tips through car windows, horses pull carts laden with equiptment, the city is getting ready to host the world-wide Muslim Conference here next month, and Dakar is under construction. Riding home from la Village des Artes with the window down, red, sandy dirt caught in my hair and eyes, which felt strangely satisfying. On the side of the road a boy peels the skin off oranges in long curlyques, on top of a car rapide boys ride with the wind at their backs. Baskets, baskets, and more baskets.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Baskets in the Red City

I am writing from the SIT program center in Dakar which is humming with American college students on study abroad. Today they turn in their final proposals for their independent study projects, a time I remember well from my semester in India. Bouna, their Academic Director, has been totally wonderful in finding a homestay family for me and welcoming me to Dakar. One student has let me borrow her computer to spend a little time blogging this morning, two others have welcomed me out to their studio in la village des artistes, just outside le centre ville.

Before I left I was hesitant about just traveling around as a tourist, since the last time I was out of the country I was on study abroad myself and had the chance to get tot know the culture and through families and our teachers, and quickly found that these connections made traveling by guidebook pale in comparison. Everyone here keeps asking me what I'm doing and it's a little hard to I student? not really...I'm looking for food stories, yes, but I also feel it's pretty random that I've landed here. Luckily I was able to reconnect with SIT, and suddenly a slew of possibilities open up. I've got the number of someone who gives dance lessons, we'll see who I meet in the artist village this afternoon...when I asked the girls here at the program center about basket weaving (there are fantastic baskets for sale on the side of the road, in market stalls, piled up and spilling over themselves) they said, 'just ask one of the vendors.' En fait, conversation flows freely here, which makes it easy to get around, and very easy to feel welcome. On Saturday afternoon, after eating with the family, Mme. helped me catch a car in the road to venture out to the beach in Ngor. The 'cars' are blue and white buses packed with nursing mothers and their babies, boys with soccer balls, men and women on their way to and from work. A boy holds on to a ladder attached to the back door and clacks on the metal roof with a coin calling out to people to hop on. I fumbled my way up into a seat and off we went. Out and out into the suburbs, you could see the ocean over the cliffs to the left, and sand from the road comes through the open windows, and at each stop, more people climbed on until the bus was impossibly full, and then some would hop out, always the calling to passengers, and the persistent coin tapping on the roof. Finally someone tapped me on the shoulder and motioned for me to get out: we were at the stop for Ngor, mais en fait, I couldn't see the beach anywhere. I started out down the road, turning one way, asking directions of women when I passed them "which way is the beach at Ngor?" and they'd turn me around, and point me in the right direction. A soccer ball was kicked out of bounds and crossed the road, I tapped it back, there are roosters and sweet, sweet goats in the road, sand in my shoes. I kept walking and kept walking until I found the road a French man had pointed me to from afar, and I turned right. Into the neighborhood of Ngor: a stall selling paint rollers, a wood shop with shavings all over the ground. A woman was negotiating something with her daughter and I stopped for directions yet again. Come with me, she said, I'll walk you to the beach. Past a circle of women in marvelous, bright dresses, sitting in a circle and talking, past a flock of children who danced to the radio. When one of the boys came up to my guide I thought at first he was begging, but he just smiled all crooked little boy teeth and my guide danced with him straight through the flock of kids. Onwards we stopped to chat with a group of teenagers, around the corner, past baby chicks, 'hello' to the man at the telephone shop, around a left corner, stop to say 'hello' and chat a bit with an elder woman, who said to me (in effect) "you're in good hands with this one," meaning my guide. Just when I was testing myself to see if I'd remember the route to get home on my own, we tuned around one more little corner, and there was the beach-- the water a deep, dark blue. We walked down towards the surf a little ways where two girls were selling fruit, one was a niece-in-law of my guide and they greeted each other with laughs and smiles, and then I thanked her for walking me, and wandered off down the beach. Europeans who had spent the day scuba diving were just getting off a boat, kids played soccer, a group of boys bailed out a long fishing boat with buckets, and goats lounged easily beneath cannopies that flailed in the wind. People stopped to say 'bonjour, ca va?' and at first I was a bit hesitant to talk to everyone-- but then I realized I could let my guard down some's just to say hello, and how are you? Which is the custom, and is slowly softening my hardened New Yorker shell...

Yesterday a trip to L'Ile de Goree, and last night a lasting conversation with my homestay mother on the roof of our house. The sun set while she prayed on a small prayer mat, facing east, and afterward we ate in the soft dark, talking and exchanging histories.

More soon, xo Jeanne