I arrived in Senegal about a week ago, but have been moving around a lot since then. When I arrived, I stayed in Dakar with Akema, the American director of Senecorps, the NGO that I work for. Mame Fatou, my host mom from two years ago is a good friend of Akema's and was staying there as well. It was so wonderful to see Mame, she extremely welcoming and warm. On Saturday, Akema, Mame and I came to Thies (more on this later) and I moved in with Mame. However, by Monday, I moved again because Mame had to go back to Dakar to take care of her hospitalized husband. I'm currently staying with the Fi family, a very educated, Catholic and extended family in Thies. Even though I miss staying with Mame, they are very kind and helpful.
Dakar was interesting. Within just a few days, Senegal was extremely different from my last visit. Two years ago, when I was here (also for a month), I never met a single American and spoke almost completely in French. I lived with Mame and stayed in Thies almost the entire time. First of all, I've been speaking a lot more English. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. There are two other American volunteers working for Senecorps and I've been working a lot with Akema on the administrative things for the NGO. In Dakar, I also went to see a movie, went to a nice restaurant, only used flushing toilets and spent some time at a Belgium World Bank economist's large, luxurious house. This was particularly interesting. I wanted to ask this man a thousand questions about his work in Senegal, but he was a friend of a friend of a friend... and already offering so much (his house) so I had to hold back. However, despite how pleasant this posh Dakar experience was, I am very happy to be in calmer Thies.
Getting to Thies was quite an adventure. Akema was planning on driving to Thies in her Senegalese car, but the morning of the intended commute, the car broke down. She called some mechanic who had fixed something in her house previously, and he showed up with some friends. They gave her a ride back to the apartment and said that they could probably fix her car by 3:30pm. She said 1:30pm and they said, ok we'll call you then. At 1:45, he still hadn't called, so we called mechanic-guy. No answer. So we left the apartment and went to look for this supposed mechanic shop. Someone on the street points to a junkyard. We walk through the walled entrance into a scrap metal and broken-down car yard. Kani (Akema's Senegalese friend) starts asking around for our guy. He comes over and tells us to take a seat on some old car seats that have been placed against a wall for a waiting room. We ask about the car and don't sit down. An old guy comes over and asks if we are too busy to sit. Sitting is a very important part of being polite to a visitor in Senegal. We still don't sit. The guy comes back and says the car is actually not at the yard, but with his friend in the same place where Akema left the car and that he is working on the car. We debate walking over there, but decide that it would be too much of an infringement on male ego. We go back to the apartment and wait. The mechanic friend eventually comes to Akema's apartment to tell her that he is very sorry but her motor is completely broken down. She doesn't fully believe him, but doesn't want him to mess up her motor more, so she says she'll leave the car with him. It will take a week to fix.
We then walk down to the street with all of our stuff to see if we can get a ride to the garage to catch a shared ride to Thies. The first taxi that pulls up says he can take us all the way to Thies. There is a lot of traffic between Thies and Dakar. It is the day before Easter (Paque), there is even more traffic. It's only about 50 miles between Thies and Dakar, but it takes us about four hours There is so much stopping on this road, that markets have been set up along the way for people to sell stuff to bored passangers. We bought bananas and phone cards. When we finally get to Thies in the dark, we drop off our first passanger in one side of the city and then are about to head to our final stop when the car stops. At least it made it this far, though. The driver gets out, looks at the engine, and decides he needs to push. Me and some random guys start pushing the car, it gets into gear and starts. We happily arrive at Mame's house in Thies and it breaks down again. Mame gets her nephew who is a mechanic and they both stay for dinner. I am exhausted from sitting all day very happy to be in Thies. Quite a Senegalese ride.