Hi everybody and greetings from Dakar! It has been a whirlwind last couple of weeks and I can’t believe that I am nearing the end of my Fulbright experience. I have very mixed emotions about leaving and I’m definitely in denial that it’s actually happening next week!
To catch everyone up on what’s been going on with me, the weekend after my family left to head up to Toulouse, I took a long weekend vacation to visit Savannah and Charity (two of the Fulbright ETAs in Senegal). The entire weekend was quite lovely, I’m so glad that I was able to see a completely new part of the country and also catch up with friends that I hadn’t seen in awhile. They spent their entire grant teaching in Ziguinchor, which is located in a southern region known as the Casamance.
When you look at the map, the Casamance is the southern swath of Senegal that is separated from the rest of the country by the Gambia (shouts out to arbitrary country borders thanks to colonial bullshit). Everyone raves about the Casamance because of its verdant vegetation and unique culture, so I’d been interested in visiting them since I got here. Normally traveling there over land or by ferry takes hours and hours, so I decided to treat myself and splurge on the 45 minute plane option.
The first thing that struck me about Ziguinchor was the incredible amount of vegetaion bursting from every corner of every street. With the exception of the Sine Saloum, I’ve pretty much spent the last 8.5 months in extremely arid locations, so I could not stop admiring the beautiful greenery at every turn. Although it’s one of Senegal’s biggest cities, Zig is much smaller than Dakar and it was nice to walk down relatively calmer streets and take in all of the afore-mentioned foliage. The rainy season was also already in full swing down there, so it was an adjustment to avoid the occasional downpour after Dakar’s recent muggy heat.
My first night in town, we went to see Wally Seck in concert along with a few of Charity and Savannah’s American and British friends. For those who are not up to date with Senegalese pop music, this is a pretty big deal, especially because it was only 2,000CFA to get in (approximately $3.25). In true Senegalese fashion, the event was billed to start at around 8pm and we showed up at midnight with time to get reasonable places in the crowd and wait a little bit before Waly actually came on. The energy in the stadium was awesome and we danced for hours, despite the rain periodically falling throughout the entire concert.
The rest of my visit was pretty relaxed in comparison such an exciting first evening. We went to the pool at one of Zig’s more luxurious hotels and Charity and Savannah showed me around town on foot. The city is located on the Casamance River, so there’s lots of beautiful water views, pirogue traffic, and abundant fishing. We also had lunch with their landlords, who made us some absolutely delicious Lebanese food. There’s a fairly large Lebanese population in Senegal, many of whom have been born and raised in Senegal for generations, so it was interesting to chat with them and hear their opinions about life in Ziguinchor. The entire weekend was so relaxing and rejuvenating and I was so excited to catch up with friends while also exploring such a unique part of Senegal.
The day after my return, I spent the 4th of July with some American friends at an embassy-sponsored event. It felt very funny to be sitting by the ocean eating a grilled cheese and drinking a beer surrounded by red, white, and blue, but it was also nice to celebrate. The following weekend, I spent all of Saturday visiting my friend Assa, who I had met during my fieldwork in Yaféra and hadn’t seen since February. She’s from there originally and was in the village visiting her extended family, but now lives in Pikine with her husband, their daughter, and the rest of the her in-laws.
Pikine is a largely working class suburb of Dakar that definitely contrasts with the ex-pat filled neighborhood I’m currently house-sitting in. It was so great to catch up, see how much her toddler had grown over the past few months, and hear a little Soninke for the first time in awhile. All in all, it was a lovely day except for the torrential downpour during my trip back into Dakar, which of course resulted in a torrential downpour in the bus. The next day was our final frisbee practice of the summer, which was definitely a surreal feeling as I left Ebbett’s Field for the last time!
This past weekend, Savannah, Charity, Sam, and Olivia (four of the remaining ETAs still in Senegal) came to stay with me as part of a last hurrah in Dakar before ending their grants and heading home. It was so fun to have house guests and we had a great time doing a wide variety activities. We ate a bunch of foods that don’t really exist outside in Senegal apart from in Dakar, including bougie beachside brunch, take-out pizza, and gelato.
We also visited the Plage de Ngor, which is a crazy-busy public beach, celebrated another friend’s birthday, and toured the house of Senegal’s first president Léopold Sédar Senghor, which was simultaneously so luxurious and quite retro. I felt a little jealous as they one by one headed off to the airport to go home, but then promptly remember that I only have about two weeks left in Senegal and then in France before I’ll be home!! I definitely have a range of emotions about this time frame, which I’m sure I’ll get more into in my final post…
When I haven’t been gallivanting around over the past few weekends, I’ve continued to work on my project as I slowly but surely continue to analyze my data and write up a final product. The biggest update has been that I presented my findings to the Geography Department along with another visiting scholar who studies migration and was in Dakar for a few weeks. I was extremely nervous to give the whole presentation in French, but it ended up going quite well. You can read more about the event here! I’ve also been meaning to share this relevant New York Times article from a few weeks ago, it discusses economically-motivated emigration from eastern Senegal and provides some beautiful visuals of one of the regions I was in!
Throughout these last few weeks, it’s been interesting housesitting at this final location, as it’s just a few blocks away from the American Embassy and is known for being home to a huge population of foreigners who work at embassies, NGOs, and the UN. Particularly after spending so much time in rural Senegal, it feels strange to be in a neighborhood where taxis are extremely aggressive trying to pick up toubabs and people are surprised when I want to do mundane things like run over to the boutique to grab some eggs or walk 15 minutes to the bus stop.
Part of me feels frustrated that prices in this neighborhood are significantly higher than almost anywhere else in Dakar and that there’s a certain connotation when you say you’re heading back here, because I don’t associate myself with that type of lifestyle in Senegal. On the other hand, I am a highly educated toubab who’s being paid a lot of money by the US government to live in Senegal and I can’t pretend otherwise. The whole arrangement has definitely given me a lot to think about and as usual, forced me to confront my own privilege in another new way. Anyway, cheers to the final stretch of my time here and thanks so much for reading!! Can’t wait to see many of you so soon (: