Happy belated New Years everyone, I hope 2017 has been off to a good start! The last couple of weeks have been going well for me, I finished up my vacation with a few days of relaxation before getting back to work just after the new year began. For those don’t know, I am leaving Dakar this upcoming weekend to spend approximately four months in rural Senegal working on the fieldwork aspect of my project. Thus, the last few weeks have been devoted to preparation for this new adventure!
As I have mentioned in previous posts, my central research questions seek to understand how migrant-led development in rural Senegal has changed over time and how this evolution might impact recipient communities, particularly given legal and economic changes in the migrants’ host countries. In other words, as it becomes more difficult for Senegalese migrants to enter certain countries (and thus more challenging for them to join and contribute to hometown associations), how are the livelihoods and quality of life in their home communities impacted? For my fieldwork, I will be heading out to the Senegal River Valley in the eastern part of the country to interview local elected officials, development actors, return migrants, and community members on their perceptions on my research questions. I’ll be spending time in villages in the departments of Bakel and Matam to compare the responses in different sections of the valley.
Almost every single Senegalese person I’ve met here in Dakar has responded almost exactly the same way when I tell them I’m going to Bakel and Matam. They raise their eyebrows and say something along the lines of “Wow it gets really hot out there. And it’s really far away from here. Why exactly do you want to go there again?” My explanation is that this region of Senegal is home to the highest rates of emigration towards France, as well as the strongest influence of community development projects done by the diaspora and its associations. These trends continue similar research questions to my MAP work at Grinnell. Interestingly, one of the main findings I’ve had in my work thus so far in Dakar has been the importance of free circulation within West Africa thanks to the ECOWAS, as regional migration is much more common than Western media portrays it to be. However, when studying intercontinental migrant associations, the Senegal River Valley is the place to be.
If you want to learn a little bit more about these questions, here‘s an awesome New York Times article that discusses regional migration in the context of climate change and here‘s a great NPR piece that discusses Senegalese migration towards Europe.
I am extremely excited to finally have the chance to see this part of the country in person, after having studied it for several years now. At the same time, I am nervous to readapt to a new linguistic, socioeconomic, cultural, and geographic environment. Stay tuned for more updates at some point soon (although they may take a little longer to make it to this blog, as I’m not sure how frequent my internet access will be).
As a result of this impending trip, I’ve been trying to take advantage of all the comforts and activities that Dakar has to offer. Over the holidays, I was house-sitting for an American family, so I’ve been able to hangout with their adorable dog and cook some vegetarian meals for myself! I’ve also been sampling a few of the city’s different restaurants, including some excellent Thai food! It’s going to be a long time before I have access to the big city amenities again..
Last weekend, we had the opportunity to go to Thiès for the day, which is a regional city about an hour and a half inland from Dakar. Ryan, one of the Fulbright ETAs, is stationed there, so it was great to have a resident show us around.
Brenna and I braved the sept place for the first time, meaning we paid less than USD$3.50 each way to catch a ride in a eight-seat (seven passengers plus the driver) station wagon from one city to the other. While definitely affordable, let’s just say that Senegalese public transportation is definitely not for the faint of heart!
While a major city by Senegalese standards, Thiès is much smaller than Dakar and it was awesome to experience its peace and quiet. I didn’t realize how much I had missed wide, tree-lined streets! We visited the city’s central market, an artisanal market, the train station (Thiès is the rail capital of Senegal!), and had some excellent food and drink.
However, the highlight of the day was definitely the Thiès history museum, where we were treated to a fascinating personal tour of the former French fort and learned all about the region’s history before, during, and post colonialism. It was so great to have a change of scenery and we returned back home feeling very refreshed.
This past weekend back in Dakar, a few of us went sea-kayaking, which was absolutely incredible. I didn’t take any pictures from the kayak itself for fear of endangering my phone, but the views of the coastline and fellow boats out on the water were spectacular. It was so peaceful to paddle around and briefly escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Brenna and I also visited the Musée Théodore Monod d’art africain, which is one of the oldest art museums in West Africa. The main gallery was home to some beautiful artifacts from around the region, but the two visiting exhibitions were particular highlights.
The first was a textiles exhibit featuring a wide variety of styles, techniques, and periods and interesting explanations for their different cultural and fashion implications. The second was very modern and featured one artist from each country on the continent. Each piece was related to the theme of “Lumières d’Afriques” and dealt with the rise of Africa in the 21st century in the context of its economic and technological development. The exhibit was well done and it was very interesting to see the artists’ diverse range of styles and mediums.
That’s all I’ve got for this week. As always, thanks so much for reading, I really appreciate all of the lovely feedback I’ve received so far (: