9 July 2007

Growing up in Dakar

Yesterday I came across an amazing travel blog where the author worked with handicapped children in Senegal. She detailed her cultural experiences so well that I was happily transported to my childhood in Dakar. I was grateful that Karen would take the time to share her wonderful cultural experiences in Senegal and I welcomed this third party introspection into my childhood.

Karen's Travel Blog

For most people the thought of electricity cuts, water rationing, bug bites, food poisoning, rampant poverty, dusty unkept roads, overflowing sewers/garbage does not spell a happy childhood but for me, these things are inseperable from the magic of my early years. The person I once was, who took nothing for granted, is the person I admire today. After many years in Australia, with so much wealth surrounding me, I have grown to be very different from the frugal, empathic little girl that I once was. The wisdom of my youth has left me somewhat so that I have sadly grown to expect a certain level of comfort and to expect certain standards from my environment. Isn't that the way of the developed world? Still, though I know that this child still exists somewhere. I am reminded of my past frequently. I laugh everytime I see a water restriction ad in Brisbane. One of them advises: "Turn off the tap to save water while your brush your teeth." Well it's rather obvious, I think...

Here are some of my recollections from growing up in Dakar until the age of 9:

-the dirt and garbage littered streets - I thought Australia was amazingly clean when I first arrived here
-the never ending noisy constructions along our busy street
-daily walks to school past the unfortunate lepers
-maimed children wheeling themselves in tin carts
-children polishing shoes for a living
-the amount of people living on cardboards near the markets
-the stinky but exciting Marche Sandaga
-being spoken to in French, Wolof, Lebanese or basic English
-the mosquito bites that would leave me with no respite
-not showering for days due to water shortages
-watching the maids handwash our clothes and hearing that squishy soapy noise that as much as I tried I could not replicate, much to their amusement
-helping the maids sweep the floors with the reed broom
-getting whacked with the reed broom by a furious maid
-being frightened whenever the maid 'prepared' a live chicken for dinner
-learning traditional dance moves from Casamance with the locals
-playing awesome traditional games at school
-the friendly villagers outside my school gate who used to sell strange fruits that our parents forbade us to buy (for health/safety reasons) but which we ate all the same, like green mango with salt and chilli, the orange, pulpy 'mad' which is delicious and tangy especially with a little sugar and chilli, or the 'pain de singe' (monkey bread) powdered and served into a paper cone...
-the delicious Senegalese dishes: Domoda, Maffe (chicken/vegetables in peanut sauce served with rice), Yassa (fish or chicken in lemon sauce), fish pastels (fish filled pastries served with tomato paste and onion),Thiep Bou Dien (Senegal's national dish, tasty fried fish and rice served with a large array of vegetables including manioc and gombo, my favourites), couscous...
-Shelling and eating boiled peanuts
-Growing peanuts for fun
-Trying to wash my teeth with a plant called a soutiou (spelling?)
-Wearing a boubou and tying my brother to my back using a pagne.
-Singing the Senegalese lullaby, "Ayo Nene Touti" to my little brother.
-Listening to the maids recount legends and myths from their village.
-The resounding call to prayer and the "Allah w akbar" belting out of public speakers from the mosque minarets
-the elegant Senegalese men in their long white robes and fez
-the coquettish Senegalese women in their multicolored textiles and ample gold jewellery
-getting my hair done in rastas, as a toddler
-coconut vendors by the road on the way to the beach, buying coconuts and breaking a hole in the husk to drink the juice, then eating the tender pulp afterwards
-climbing rocks by the Atlantic sea
-climbing poles in the schoolyard
-climbing anything really....
-the array of pirogues lined up along the beaches
-swimming in the Atlantic ocean, among abundant seaweeds and pungent fish smells
-Losing consciousness and almost drowning in the Atlantic ocean and coming to after being rescued by Italian teenagers, only to watch my mum running frantically towards the beach. (scary memory that one)

How wonderful. I feel that I must write more on this subject very soon.


Mariana said...

I have good memories from Senegal, but unfortunately, my parents didn't allow us outside the house for safety reasons and we were very restricted. I remember the maids telling us ghost stories before we slept and the guard teaching us wolof and buying us chewing gum. I also remember rushing to the terrace to see the concord passing right over our heads (well at least it felt that way!).

There was one place I loved going, almadie beach. It was so nice! The island of goree was also beautiful.

We should *talk* some more. I'm reading your blog and getting to know your experiences. I also travelled when I was young because of my dad's occupation. I was born in the Cape Verde Islands and currently live in Portugal. Before coming here in 1988, I lived in the States for 3 years.

It's great to meet people with similiar experiences ;)

Laura said...

How exciting, yes, we should talk more. Do you have a Facebook profile?

I'm 32 turning 33 this year. So looks like we just missed each other in Dakar! That would have been amazing though, if we were in the same class. I actually remember a girl there called Gihan Daoud. She had green eyes and golden brown hair. She was really lovely. Then there was this other girl, my first friend, called Nasrin. She had a lovely Andalusian complexion and jet black hair. On my very first day of school in Grade 1, I remember that she wore a white dress with pretty layers and a white ribbon tied on her back. We played a game during class: reaching out across the space between our desks and holding hands behind the teacher's back. It was fun until I became very afraid of getting in trouble and I ended up ignoring her attempts to play the game with me because I wanted to be a 'good girl'. Sad isn't it?

Yes, we used to go to les Almadies almost every weekend. I wasn't allowed to swim at the beach but we stayed in the main restaurant/pool at one of the resorts. I can't remember the name but the restaurant owners were Vietnamese.
Once when I was 6, I left the resort with a little Mexican girl and we trotted off to the Mexican embassy next door. I didn't even tell anyone where I was. So here I was playing with the puppies at the Mexican embassy when my parents eventually found me. It was my little adventure!

The vomiting ordeal sounds very familiar. I can imagine your pain and the humiliation. That's just so horrible for kids to go through. Do you know there is a Facebook Group for that school? But I know none of the members as they are much younger than me. They post comments about the 'good times' they had and how cool the teachers were. I suppose the school's err...policies would have changed over time so that this younger generation is not as traumatised as we were *chuckle*.

Nice speaking with you.