Today Alyssa and I left the big city of Dakar for her home town of Theis. I'm on a "word a day" program with Alyssa and yesterday's word of "bachna" came in handy. Bachna is a versatile word that literary means "I'm good" but practically means, "no thank you I am not interested in your ray-bands, rolex or tissues; nor do I need Orange credit". A Bachana and a hand in the air, possibly followed by "non-merci" usually will be sufficient to get the street vendor to realize that I'm not interested or at least loose interest in me.
Alyssa warned me that the trip to the Dakar garage to get a septpalce was going to be the toughest part of the trip yet. It definitely was a bit overwhelming, but Alyssa is a pro at negotiating and I'm truly impressed with how well she has acclimated to the country. There have been multiple occasions on my trip so far in which the person trying to sell us something mentions to another Senegalese person that it will be very hard to negotiate with Alyssa because she speaks such good wolof. I find this pretty ironic as they are acknowledging that Alyssa speaks wolof, in wolof, right in front of her.
Alyssa rated the septplace ride itself an 8 on the scale of 1 (terrible) to 10 (perfect). We only took one unplanned "shortcut" and the 25 year old French stationwagon held together (somehow). However even the tension from riding in a car with zero safety features driven by a teenager couldn't keep me from being in awe of what I saw on the road. Dakar gives the sense of an industrial city, however very quickly you are thrown back into a post-apocalyptic image of the world. It really struck me how different a world they live in and it really sunk in why the work like Alyssa is doing is so important.
Spending the first few days in Dakar was a good introduction to Senegal, but I was ready for the move to Theis today. After an introduction to the family they lost interest in me in 10 minutes because I don't speak wolof, so Alyssa and I took a walk into the peacecorps center. Instead of a bustling city street in Dakar where everyone is competing for your attention to may a buck, I was struck by the sense of calm in Thies. Only a few people really took notice of us and mostly it was children who just wanted to come greet a toubob.
After the center we presented the family with gifts from america, which consisted of of post-valentines day chocolate that I bought and a couple puzzles and toys for Ahmed. New toys threw Ahmed into a frenzy; we had to assembly the puzzle twice, which was thankfully only 28 pieces. The toy car I got him needed a beef-ed up suspension for the tile floor on the compound so we transitioned to water rockets. Ahmed is eager to learn and wasn't even deterred when a water rocket leaked and he had to change clothes. Just by interacting with Ahmed and the rest of the family I can tell they see Alyssa as just another part of the family and one who is able / willing to take car of the baby and play with Ahmed.
And now a segue into food.
I have to be honest and say that every meal that I've had thus far has been at least pretty good (well its just before dinner time at Alyssa's host house so I'm sure I've jinxed myself). I've sampled some of the traditional food such as local Thiof (fish) with bissop-flower sauce. We also had one of the more surprisingly good meals at Goree island where we picked one of the many shacks on the beach to eat. I had one of the best burgers I've had in a while, complete with a fried egg and fries inside the burger. Alyssa had calamari which was fresh and almost perfectly cooked; it was truly good food karma to find this place. The only place we've gone to twice is a new bakery in dakar that opened up and serves pretty impressive quiches and the closest thing to a bagel you are every going to find in dakar. It had just opened up and Alyssa quickly started the Peace Corps phone tree on this spot. Finally, I had my first communal meal with Alyssa's host family. It was rice, fried fish and onion sauce. While I can completely understand how 2 years of repetitive taste like this could make it repulsive, I actually enjoyed it and after I was done I was only forced by Zibata and Alyssa's host mom to have one more bite before I left the table.
...For all of those that are confused by this post; I (Matt) am visiting Alyssa and will be "guest blogging" at least a few times during my week and a half stay. I hope you can cope with loosing Alyssa's great blog for a few days.
P.S. Pictures (will be) up!
Messy, but Warm
10 months ago