Tuesday, July 27, 2004

crazy taxi experience

nothing too exciting to report. it's the first weekend we've been in yoff and not traveling around. francis and i, along with kassoum (our student partner) and marian went up to the village of mekhe on saturday, for a visit of the village by the global environmental fund. they have just begun the process of awarding mekhe with a $50,000 grant over three years to buy solar ovens. it is also the village that abdoulaye toure (the promoter of solar ovens that we are working with) lives in for part of the time (he has two wives there and one here in yoff). it was interesting to see the process of how grants are awarded and the importance of this site visit. also the women of the village will be implementing the grant, so they played an important role in the discussion.

that night the other interns and i talked a couple of our senegalese partners, ronald and lamine, to take us out to a discotechque, so we can experience it one time. they don't get going until after midnight, so that's when we headed out. somehow it ended up the me and 3 other interns (all toubabs) were in a cab, with no idea where the club was. ronald had given the driver directions and the name of the place when he negotiated the taxi fare. we get to dakar and the driver asks us where we're going. we had no idea, told him what we thought the name of the place was (which wasn't quite right). he took us to some random club and wanted us to get out. we refused, since it was clearly not the right place. he then proceeded to drive down virtually every street in dakar, hoping to somehow stumble on the place. after 15 minutes of circling around and one attempt at asking directions, we saw ronald standing on the street corner and met up with the rest of the group. i guess we learned that even when drivers say they know where they're going, they're probably just saying that to get your money...

the solar oven project is going smoothly. we have a design and just need to print out detailed drawings to give to transtech so they can start making the molds. we have also started some tests on the original solar oven at the university, which will serve as a baseline that we can compare the performance of the new oven to.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

the gambia

the seven other CRESP interns and i (along with a senegalese co-worker) went on a trip down to the gambia this past weekend. it was a full day affair going down. we left thursday morning and 9 hours later, after a taxi, a bus, an hour of haggling at the gambian border, another bus, a ferry, and a taxi, we made it to safari garden hotel in fajara (outside of banjul). we'd met gerri and maurice (the owners of the hotel) a few weeks earlier when we were in louly. they had come up to see the village and meet marian because they are setting up an eco-village down in the gambia and were interested to see how things were done in senegal. their hotel was great, a nice restaurant, a pool, close to the beach, and most importantly, free breakfast.

francis and i attempted to work on the design for the solar oven the first day (since we were supposed to present a detailed design to transtech- the plastic company, on monday), while john and nicole played golf (on a course that had 'browns' instead of 'greens') and the others went off to see crocodiles and monkeys. we wandered around banjul in the afternoon, mainly visiting albert market and being harrassed and followed by many people trying to sell us things.

saturday was the best day. gerri and maurice arranged to take us down to kartong, the eco-village they're helping set up. the women and children of the village gave us a great welcome with drumming and dancing, then we were taken to see the sacred crocodile pool. then it was on to another part of the village that maurice had never been to (even though he and gerri go down there every weekend), where they make palm oil, palm wine, and distilled cashew alcohol (which we got to try). then we visited the river port, the border between the gambia and casamance (senegal) and saw the oyster drying and shell industry there. for lunch we went to a UNDP sponsored site, where the youths of kartong are working to build an eco-area with trails and a restaurant. the highlight of the day was at the end, when we ended up at the site of gerri and maurice's future eco-camp on the beach. the nicest beach i've ever been to, totally secluded, warm water, beautiful sand. their plan is to build the eco-lodge in a sustainable manner (ie using bamboo for furniture), train the villagers to run it, and after 25 years, the ownership will be transfered to the villagers.

the trip back to yoff was another long adventure. everything was okay going back to the border, the bus we had arranged for was there to pick us up. nikki, bob, and linda were dropped off halfway at louly, where they're doing a nutritional survey. shortly after dropping them off, a little past the town of mbour, the bus started making a funny noise. the driver stopped, tried to fix it, drove about 30 feet, and stopped again. he realized that it was broken, and since we'd paid him, it was his responsibility to get us back to yoff. luckily alioun (the senegalese partner) was there to negotiate and translate from wolof. we ended up on the last 6 seats of a bang-bang bus (car rapide) packed full of senegalese. that was quite an adventure. but it was a great trip and we eventually made it back here to yoff.

Monday, July 12, 2004

st. louis

5 other interns and i went to st. louis this past weekend (located in northern senegal bordering mauritania). we stayed at a beautiful hotel (the 4 of us girls had an air-conditioned bungalow) with a really nice pool, located next to the beach, and most importantly, hot water. probably the nicest showers i've ever taken. even when it is constantly more than 80 degrees outside, taking cold showers everyday does get a bit old. the main part of town is located on an island with european style architecture. st. louis is where the french started their colonization of senegal, so i has a very european feel to it. ate some great food at the restaurants, exactly what i needed to revitalize myself for more senegalese food this week. there's a big fishing industry there, so there's one area where there's racks and racks of drying fish. let's just say the smell is pretty strong. another trip this weekend to the gambia for 4 days.

otherwise, the solar oven project is progressing really well. one company here in dakar who makes products out of recycled plastics has offered to make the preliminary mold for us for free. all we have to do is provide them with a design and they claim the turn around time will only be 2-4 days (which is amazing speed for senegal). hopefully this will reduce the cost of the solar oven significantly, so that it can be successfully distributed throughout senegal.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

4th of july festivities

on saturday we went and saw the national senegalise team play zambia in a soccer match. there were drummers drumming the whole time during the game, which made the atmosphere more lively. the scoreboard in the stadium is broken, but since it's soccer it wasn't hard to keep track of the score. it would've been nice to know how much time was remaining though. senegal won 1-0, but everyone was very unhappy after the game even though their team won. i guess quality of play is more important than a win.

we went to a 4th of july celebration sponsored by the embassy on sunday. guards in front of the area, we had to go through a metal detector, and pay to enter. they were selling american food though (hot dogs, hamburgers, cookies, etc) which was a nice break from the daily thieboujian (rice and fish) normally served at lunch. being surrounded by so many americans again was a bit surreal, we could've been anywhere in the US.

on the way home, nikki and i saw a wedding dance celebration outside of our house. our host sister was in the wedding and invited us to watch. it was similar to the village dancing, a large group of (mostly) females and kids gathered in a circle with drummers on one side. people would go up and dance in the middle for a minute or so then go sit back down. right after we sat down, the lead drummer came over to us and pulled us into the middle of the circle. by this time it was pretty dark, so there's was a spotlight set up so that the video camera could capture all the action. the two of us just stood there, with 100 people staring at us, until another woman came up to dance with us. of course we had no idea what we were doing, but everyone was very amused by our attempt at senegalise dancing. when we went to sit back down the drummer came back to us and told us since we danced we now had to give him money. so we did and sat back down. the next day kids in the neighborhood whenever they'd see us yelled 'toubab' (white person) and started dancing and laughing. so we paid money to be embarrassed in front of all the people. i have a feeling our dancing might be the highlight of the wedding video, the portion the couple shows to everyone. oh well, after that i don't think i'll be embarrassed dancing again.

Friday, July 02, 2004


the other interns and i have just returned from louly, a village about 2 hours south of dakar. we helped with a baseline survey of the village, which involved going around to all 50 households, asking them individual and household questions, and then weighing and measuring all the people who were present at that time.

it was interesting to see the difference between the city and a village without running water or electricity, still dependent on argriculture as the sole source of income. i must say it is nice to be able to take a shower again and wash off all the built up dirt, and to have access to a fan again.

yesterday evening, our last night in the village, there was a village dance with griots (musicians- drummers). the villagers were extremely amused by us toubabs (white people), especially when we tried to dance. dancing is a big public display, with a couple people dancing inside the circle of people watching. the locals would drag us up one or two at a time to dance with them and we'd amuse them by trying senegalise dancing moves, which involves moving various parts of the body very quickly...