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Princeton Bridge Year: Senegal 2016-17


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    [post_content] => It's finally here - Transference. We first mentioned Transference during Orientation week when we walked through the full course progression and how the group, the program, the i-team, the interactions, the activities would all change throughout the year in response to where we were in our experience.

And so, here we are. Transference marks an end, but also a beginning. This week is about reflecting on our year in Senegal and how we can continue to carry this experience with us back home.

We will be away from most internet communication, diving in deep during group discussions and solo reflection time, from May 22 through 27.

Best,

BYP Senegal
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May 22-27 : Transference in Toubab Dialaw

I-team,Princeton Bridge Year: Senegal 2016-17

Description

It’s finally here – Transference. We first mentioned Transference during Orientation week when we walked through the full course progression and how the group, the program, the i-team, the interactions, the activities would all change throughout the year in response to where we were in our experience. And so, here we are. Transference marks an […]

Posted On

05/22/17

Author

I-team

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    [post_content] => Hello!

Last weekend, we travelled to the community of Ndem, located about 3 hours East from Dakar and close to the holy city of Touba. Our schedule included discussions and reflections on service and development, a tour around all the different workshops and projects, and the opportunity to craft some little items on our own.
Here are some impressions the group had:

Naomi: “Many of the most meaningful moments of my visit were embedded in conversation with Fatou, an American-French woman who converted to Islam and lives in the Bayefall community of Ndem with her children, and husband, Moussa. We discussed the idea of aspiring to a peaceful inner disposition, pure and stable in spite of life’s challenges and adversities; oneness; and the subtle, underlying truth that perhaps there is no certainty nor truth in our lives, but that we can find peace in accepting that and taking things as they come. There is beauty, calm, peace in the simplicity of two souls meeting on a mat, full bellies, outstretched arms and minds and hearts.“

Kailey: “I have never seen a community as intentional and united by a shared vision as the village of Ndem. It gives me a great deal of hope that people are able to exist and thrive in such solidarity out of respect for one another. Ndem's focus in the areas of human dignity and spiritual reflection is a clear example of the positive impacts that can be gained from living in a collective society.”

Ashley: “Wherever you go in Senegal, you might meet someone with whom you share a name. At the beginning of this year, I chose the name Aicha. In Ndem, we met Aicha Diack, daughter of one of the members of the Daara at Ndem. I was astounded by this young woman who speaks four languages – Wolof, French, English, and Spanish – and is living on the cusp of two societies. Of all of the things that I saw and all of the people I met, I was most impressed by this young woman and for the first time I really understood what it means to look up to and appreciate the characteristics of my tuurondoo, my namesake.”

Elke: “Ndem, rising from the arid land of the Baol, reminded me that all is possible as I saw their deep spiritual devotion and success in utilizing fair trade to support human dignity. The most important piece is knowing what are your overarching values and letting those drive your actions. - Also, the birds in rural Senegal always make me catch my breath!”

Lauren: “Maam Samba is a shop I have visited in Dakar but in Ndem we got to see the several processes it takes to create these beautiful articles of clothing. I also loved the opportunity to make jewelry with some of the artisans there.”

Tilmann: “Visiting the community of Ndem was an important reminder. First of all, whenever I leave Dakar I am reminded that Senegal is much more diverse than Dakar has me think, and much more rural. Second of all, Ndem is an outstanding example of alternatives to what is a preconceived, standard way of living life in the West. Ndem is a Baye Fall community, which is a religious sub – group of the large Mouride brotherhood, and believes in the value of sharing, work as spiritual service and expression of something beyond our comprehension, compassion, communal life and service. And they don’t just talk – they mean it and live accordingly.
I was also stunned by the development aspect of Ndem: in 30 years, the community has achieved what so many organizations have failed to do for decades, which is bring water, sanitation, electricity and decent employment to rural areas. The community of Ndem has mastered all of these, without much outside assistance.
My favorite moment was when we were asked to water all the trees and plants in Ndem’s communal garden – there is something calming in watering plants and listening to the birds in the trees.”

Every student in the group: “The mangos were delicious.”

By the way, the picture shows the group in front of a big Baobab tree marking the entrance to the village!

For the readers interested in learning more about the community, here are some links:
- http://www.ndem.info/
- http://maamsamba.org/
- http://www.aubergedakar.org/

Ba ci kanaam,
Your Bridge Year Senegal Group
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Our Excursion to Ndem

Tilmann Herchenröder,Princeton Bridge Year: Senegal 2016-17

Description

Hello! Last weekend, we travelled to the community of Ndem, located about 3 hours East from Dakar and close to the holy city of Touba. Our schedule included discussions and reflections on service and development, a tour around all the different workshops and projects, and the opportunity to craft some little items on our own. […]

Posted On

05/15/17

Author

Tilmann Herchenröder

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    [post_content] => April 25th has always been a special date to me. So many interesting and intriguing things have happened on this day throughout history. Oliver Cromwell, the leader of the Commonwealth of England during its 20-year stint as a republic, was born on this day in 1599. Ironically, the English Convention Parliament voted to restore Charles II to the English throne on the same day 61 years later. In 1792, April 25 holds the honor as the date that the guillotine was first used to execute someone during the French Revolution. In addition to all of this, one of my heroes, Ella Fitzgerald, was born on April 25, 1917. And even though all of this is important and particularly significant based on things that I like, something even more important to me happened on this day.

On April 25, 1998, my mom gave birth to her first child. That child happens to be me.

So now I'm sure that you understand why April 25th is so important to me. Still, I should explain that birthdays are a HUGE deal in my family. Every year, each one of the five of us would start the build up to our birthday with the start of our "birth month." For me, that meant April Fool's pranks and telling everyone that I knew on the street, "My birthday is this month."

Every single member of my family would then pitch in to prepare for the birthday celebrations. Most times that preparation began with jokes that maybe we would just skip that particular day. There would also be the requisite questions: what do you want to do, what presents do you want, do you want to go anywhere special, etc. Because I am a huge nerd, the answer to many of these questions had to do with books, history, and National Parks. Still, every year, my parents and siblings would do their best to ensure that I had the birthday that I wanted.

Unfortunately, that all changed when I had my 15th birthday. I started boarding school that year and so my whole outlook on life changed. No longer could I rely on my parents to talk to my teachers for me. I had to go and purchase my own snacks. And (most importantly for this Field Note) I had to celebrate my birthday without my parents and siblings present.

My 15th birthday was actually pretty difficult to go through because I had to completely reframe the way that I celebrated birthdays. For the first time, I didn't wake up to special birthday waffles. The only way that I was going to get waffles was if I walked to the dining hall and made them myself. Still, I had friends and the ability to Skype with my parents. All of this meant that even though it was different and difficult, I still managed to have a birthday that I enjoyed and made me feel special.

After that, celebrating birthdays away from home got easier, but I still longed to go back to a time when I would be surrounded by family. I had a small dose of that feeling last year on my 18th birthday when my friends - who had come to be a family of sorts - worked with my family to set up a surprise party and a series of "happy birthday" videos from friends and family around the country. I was surrounded by my family both physically and figuratively (yay technology!) and I had an amazing birthday.

Actually, after that birthday, I was really looking forward to celebrating my next four birthdays much closer to home. Again, though, life threw me for a loop and I ended up spending April 25, 2017 in Dakar, Senegal. Still, the experience was completely different than I was expecting.

Before coming, I thought that this birthday would be like my 15th birthday - far from home and family. I thought that I would be putting up with a lackluster celebration rather than an exciting day filled with smiles and goodwill.

Thankfully, I was completely wrong.

After 7 3/4 months living in Senegal, I now have a family here. Not only do I have the other Bridge Year students, who definitely know more about my bowel movements than my real siblings, I also have Elke and Babacar who have seen me more often in the past 8 months than my parents have seen me in an 8-month stretch since September 2012. In this way, I now have a family within the Bridge Year community in which I feel welcomed and loved.

Additionally, I have my homestay family. I never thought that I would be in an environment in which I felt so at home with a family with which I do not share blood or a first language. And yet, here I am, at home surrounded by a family full of love and laughter and joy. I felt all of that love and joy during my birthday. I felt it when my homestay sisters made sure to wish me happy birthday IN ENGLISH. I felt it when my nephews got in on singing the happy birthday song in French. I felt it most when my homestay mom made sure to sing the loudest as she came and gave me a hug before I blew out the candles on my cake.

Even though I had to celebrate my birthday 3000 miles from my family and my home, I was still in a comfortable place surrounded by people who love me. Honestly, when it comes to celebrating the best day on the calendar (in my humble opinion), what more could I ask for?
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Princeton Bridge Year: Senegal 2016-17

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April 25th

Ashley Scott,Princeton Bridge Year: Senegal 2016-17

Description

April 25th has always been a special date to me. So many interesting and intriguing things have happened on this day throughout history. Oliver Cromwell, the leader of the Commonwealth of England during its 20-year stint as a republic, was born on this day in 1599. Ironically, the English Convention Parliament voted to restore Charles […]

Posted On

05/9/17

Author

Ashley Scott

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    [post_content] => Only 4 more weeks…I can’t believe it!

To give you an idea of what my life at this point looks like, I want to share a list of goals and things I want to do in the last weeks. I will equally use it as a reminder and hope that you, reading this, will remind me at times, too!

Here we go:

1.       Create a list of Wolof proverbs: I started a little project collecting Wolof proverbs. It is a great way to learn the language but I also adore some of the simple wisdoms inherent in Wolof and Senegalese culture.

2.       Go to a Jazz concert in Dakar: Dakar is supposed to have a decent Jazz scene. Although I have been to many concerts here by now, I have not been to a Jazz club yet!

3.       Spend as much time as possible entertaining and being entertained by my homestay siblings

4.      Sell in a boutique: In the past months I pretty much went to the same corner shop just outside my homestay’s house every day. The owners are my friends, so one day I want to join them selling bred, soap and all sorts of other things to people from my neighbourhood. It is also a good time to chat, of course!

5.       Urban trek: With one of our dear instructors, I want to explore Dakar walking and just see what I will discover!

6.       Go on beach walks with my family: My host mum and me had planned to do so for a really long time but never got to do it…

7.       Learn how to cook 2 Senegalese meals: So far, I have only been eating and helping out in the kitchen but of course I want to be able to cook some of the tasty dishes that filled my stomach so many times in the past months.

8.       Visit Dèn: This community that we have visited throughout the year has grown close to the group. I would love to go back there, meet some familiar faces and take time to say goodbyes.

9.       Take my hostfamily on a trip to one of the islands, or maybe somewhere in Dakar

10.   Find time to think about what the experiences in Senegal meant to me, what I take from them, and what that means for my future. And finally: take care of myself!

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Princeton Bridge Year: Senegal 2016-17

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4 weeks, 10 goals

Tilmann Herchenröder,Princeton Bridge Year: Senegal 2016-17

Description

Only 4 more weeks…I can’t believe it! To give you an idea of what my life at this point looks like, I want to share a list of goals and things I want to do in the last weeks. I will equally use it as a reminder and hope that you, reading this, will remind […]

Posted On

05/9/17

Author

Tilmann Herchenröder

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    [post_content] => This Friday Bridge Year Senegal will be traveling to the village of Ndem. Home to a member of our iTeam, Ndem is a small artisan community 113 kilometers East of Dakar.

We'll be spending the weekend with the community learning about the products that they produce and their way of life. Speaking of, their way of life does not include much in the way of technology, so we will be away from reliable internet access starting on Friday, May 5 to Sunday, May 7.

Keep an eye out for a reflective Field Note upon our return!
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Princeton Bridge Year: Senegal 2016-17

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Weekend Trip to Ndem

Ashley Scott,Princeton Bridge Year: Senegal 2016-17

Description

This Friday Bridge Year Senegal will be traveling to the village of Ndem. Home to a member of our iTeam, Ndem is a small artisan community 113 kilometers East of Dakar. We’ll be spending the weekend with the community learning about the products that they produce and their way of life. Speaking of, their way […]

Posted On

05/2/17

Author

Ashley Scott

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Even though it’s one of my largest commitments here in Dakar, I’ve largely avoided writing about my service placement until now. I think I took for granted that service would always be a part of my time here, and therefore prioritized writing about things that felt more immediately relevant or significant, like program trips or meaningful interactions or sudden revelations. And now I’m left with the mammoth task of summing up a part of my Bridge Year that has been incredibly long-term, complex, challenging, and beautiful.

 

I generally describe Empire des Enfants as a “shelter for Senegalese street children”, for the sake of presenting it in terms my American peers can understand, but it is far more complex than that. I can’t begin to explain my job without first explaining the talibe system that exists here in Senegal. Giving a basic summary of this cultural phenomenon feels like a daunting task, for three reasons: 1) I am still learning and forming thoughts about it myself, 2) my presentation is likely the only exposure for many of my peers to understand it, and 3) I believe that what little spotlight the issue does receive in Western media is not wholly representative and, in general, a poor reflection and simplification of a complex system. Please note that I am making this attempt at an explanation cautiously, albeit rather imperfectly.

 

A “talibe” is a student of the Koran, usually a young boy, who learns Arabic and the tenants of Islam under a “marabout” (Islamic teacher). The practice of talibes originated in rural villages, where families would send their young boys to study with the local marabout in hopes of them gaining religious wisdom and becoming leaders. Though marabouts are expected to provide the boys with lodging and care as well as lessons, families generally cannot pay the them for their work. The marabout is unable to fully accommodate all his students (and there can be up to fifty); thus, the students beg around the village for their daily meals, receiving leftovers and offerings from each household.

 

In rural Senegal, this practice works well; families develop relationships with the local talibes, supporting a few that they are familiar with daily. The talibes are not only fed, but the mixture of various leftovers in their bowls is considered sacred nourishment. Begging also reinforces the importance of humility, a central teaching in the Koran, so the practice is used as a learning tool as well. The only criticism I would have of the talibe practice in this form is that often, marabouts do not provide traditional education in addition to Koranic lessons. Many talibe “graduate” with very few marketable skills, their only option to become a marabout themselves— but then again, becoming a religious leader in a place as religiously indoctrinated as Senegal is a very respectable, and realistic, option.

 

The talibe system becomes most problematic within the framework of urbanization, a trend that has rapidly taken hold in Senegal as working-age villagers migrate to larger cities like Dakar in hopes of finding a job. Nowadays darras (the name for “schools” run by marabouts) are often located in large urban centers, like Thies or Dakar. Marabouts will recruit boys from rural villages to take them to their urban darras. Sometimes these darras are even across country borders— many of the kids at Empire, for example, are originally from Guinea or the Gambia. Parents will let the marabouts take their children because they are impressed by the opportunities in a large city, and because they value religious education. Once in the city, less honorable marabouts give religious classes only once or twice a week, and provide squalid, unhygienic, and overcrowded living facilities, where diseases often run rampant. The talibe in cities beg for money instead of food, which goes back to the marabout and his family. Many talibe are expected to meet a daily quota, and will be punished (which often means physical abuse) if they return to the darra with this quota unfulfilled. I have seen time and time again that many talibe in this system are undernourished, diseased, exposed to violence and aggression, neglected, mistreated, and uneducated. This is not to say that all marabouts are bad; however, this system allows an incredible amount of abuse and manipulation in a large population of West African children.

 

Empire des Enfants is a 24/7 shelter that provides schooling, activities, a doctor as well as medication, a place to sleep, meals, and loving adult figures for talibe that the system has ultimately failed. Empire has a relationship with local hospitals where injured or sick talibe often end up (many experience some form of violence or disease on the streets). After paying the medical bill, Empire gains legal custody of the child and continues treatment, if necessary, through a certified doctor on-site. Other children are found in similarly difficult situations (for example, sleeping in the marketplace at night, as was the case with one child I talked to) and informed of Empire, though ultimately it is their choice to come or not. Empire’s goal is to return each child home. They extract whatever information they can from the child, reach out to his home village, and arrange transportation so that whenever both the boy and his parents are ready, he can come home.

 

I was absolutely inspired by Empire's mission and listed it as my first choice out of the service sites. When I actually came to Empire, I was dismayed to find that much of my actual “job” was undefined— I wasn’t sure where I should be working, who I should be working with, what I could do besides assist with classes in the school, and so on. It was incredibly frustrating. My mindset has changed radically since then. I’ve realized that in a place like Empire, results cannot be measured by projects completed— although I have initiated a few of those as well, an Anglophone social media account and a Wolof curriculum— but that true impact happens in the interactions I have with “my boys”. This means playing soccer, making up secret handshakes, having conversations, drawing together, making music, dancing, singing the “Days of the Week” song, and so on.

 

There are moments when the weight of Empire’s work hits me. It is especially poignant when I’m interacting with other talibes outside of Empire, which happens quite frequently— I pass dozens on my way to work every day. Sometimes I think that seeing talibes as victims was easier than seeing them as young boys. There is a darra near my bus stop and I have made it a point to give the talibe there either food or some other small gift, like a bracelet or a sticker, when I see them. I generally don’t believe in giving money (though sometimes I do, if I have nothing else), because I know this goes directly back to the marabout, whose practices I don’t know and therefore can’t support with an easy conscience. Once, while my program was waiting for a ferry to Banjul around midnight, I started speaking in Wolof to a group of talibe near a sandwich stand. Though our conversation was fairly insignificant (we discussed the differences between Dakar and the Gambia, and settled that the most significant contrast is that the Gambia has more trees) and lasted only fifteen minutes, when I turned away, I burst into tears. Generally, I'm not at all emotional; my sudden vulnerability surprised me. Those boys could have very well been the boys I work with every day. Why were they out so late? Where would they be spending the night? When they got back to the darra, who would be there to greet them? To feed them? To support them? What would their future look like? The closer I get to my boys at Empire, the more these questions torment me.

 

Another time, when I was doing an activity on the roof of Empire, a few boys began shouting at something in the street below. When I peered over the edge, I realized there were a group of talibe gathered outside, with their ragged clothes and beggar’s bowls in hand. We exchanged greetings with them briefly— “How are you? Are you in peace?”— as though our strange relationship to each other didn’t exist. When I returned to work, I felt conflicted. Did those talibe seek to come inside Empire? Did they know about the resources available to them? In what way is Empire just a small bubble, an “in-group”, when so many other kids live on the outside? Or maybe those kids were happier living in their darras, were healthy and cared for and learning. I’ll never know. And this “not knowing” is probably the most difficult part of my job.

 

However, though these reflections are often painful, work is something I look forward to. Who wouldn’t? My daily job is to “give childhood back” to some of the most brilliant, funny, charismatic, talented, vivacious children I know. And quite frankly, I think service will be one of the hardest things to leave when I go home. I will miss the singing, the dancing, the arts and crafts, the handshakes, the lessons (they are all incredibly eager to learn), the spontaneity of everyday life. I don’t expect to find another place like Empire. I refer to the boys here as “my boys”, and I mean it.

 

When you get down to it, the kids at Empire are really only kids. They are not defined by their backgrounds or their hardships. They are as rowdy as the next 8-year-old, as mischievous as our little brothers back home (before this, I never had had a little brother— now, I have anywhere between 20-60 at a given time). They take selfies on my phone, they dance, they sing, they are curious about anything and everything. When I first arrived, I thought I would be working with talibes and victims. Now I realize that I am simply working with children.

  [post_title] => The Belated "Service Site" Post [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => the-belated-service-site-post [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-05-02 10:19:29 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-05-02 16:19:29 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://my.wheretherebedragons.com/blog/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 577 [name] => Princeton Bridge Year: Senegal 2016-17 [slug] => princeton-bridge-year-senegal-2016-17 [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 577 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 263 [count] => 68 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 3.1 [cat_ID] => 577 [category_count] => 68 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Princeton Bridge Year: Senegal 2016-17 [category_nicename] => princeton-bridge-year-senegal-2016-17 [category_parent] => 263 [link] => https://my.wheretherebedragons.com/category/princeton-bridge-year/princeton-bridge-year-senegal-2016-17/ ) ) [category_links] => Princeton Bridge Year: Senegal 2016-17 )
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The Belated “Service Site” Post

Kailey Dubinsky,Princeton Bridge Year: Senegal 2016-17

Description

  Even though it’s one of my largest commitments here in Dakar, I’ve largely avoided writing about my service placement until now. I think I took for granted that service would always be a part of my time here, and therefore prioritized writing about things that felt more immediately relevant or significant, like program trips […]

Posted On

05/2/17

Author

Kailey Dubinsky

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    [post_date] => 2017-04-24 16:51:17
    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-04-24 22:51:17
    [post_content] => 

Before my family’s arrival to Senegal, I felt pretty apprehensive about the visit because I had no idea what their expectation were. They never explicitly told me why they were coming, and with no background information I was not sure whether they wanted a touristy experience or an authentic one, more similar to mine. Fortunately enough, it wound up being a combination of the two. Some of the activities on the itinerary included visiting Ile De Goree, Lac Rose, Saint Louis, Village Des Arts, the Renaissance Monument, lighthouse, fabric market, and of course spending time with my host family and group mates.

Constantly being on the move for ten straight days was exhausting yet fulfilling. And visiting all of these places was great and all but for me, it was the little nuances that made the trip special. Like seeing how incompetent my family were in terms of communicating took me back all the way to September when I was in the same boat. Since neither of my parents speak French or Wolof, they were completely reliant and dependent on me. The tables truly turned as I have never felt so responsible for them in my entire life, as I ordered their meals, bargained for their clothes and taxi prices, arranged their lodging, and translated for any conversation they had. Over the week I received many compliments on my Wolof vocabulary, but it wasn’t very fair because my family had not been here for six months. I, debatably fortunately, came to Senegal knowing some French, but more recently have wanted to improve my Wolof, the local language. At first this was not the case, as I was overwhelmed in a new environment and felt much more comfortable communicating to strangers in a language I knew. But now I communicate more in Wolof, and usually people are surprised when I know sentence structures outside of the basic greetings. They exclaim things like “you speak Wolof”, or “who is teaching you Wolof”!  I think they are most shocked because most foreigners don’t take the time to learn the local language, which I personally find quite absurd. I don’t know whether to get excited when Senegalese say my Wolof is excellent or be frustrated at that the fact that other Westerners don’t take the time to learn the local language.

Sharing a room is also one of my fondest memories, as my sister Sarah stayed with me while my parents were at the hotel. She had so many Senegalese dinners, washed the dishes, and danced and colored with my host sister countless times. I missed having a roommate and spending time with my sister.

But the best part had to be seeing my two families come together. Yes, they are different and complex in their own ways but the impact that they both have had on my life is indescribable.

[post_title] => When your two families meet [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => when-your-two-families-meet [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-04-24 16:51:17 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-04-24 22:51:17 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://my.wheretherebedragons.com/blog/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 577 [name] => Princeton Bridge Year: Senegal 2016-17 [slug] => princeton-bridge-year-senegal-2016-17 [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 577 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 263 [count] => 68 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 3.1 [cat_ID] => 577 [category_count] => 68 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Princeton Bridge Year: Senegal 2016-17 [category_nicename] => princeton-bridge-year-senegal-2016-17 [category_parent] => 263 [link] => https://my.wheretherebedragons.com/category/princeton-bridge-year/princeton-bridge-year-senegal-2016-17/ ) ) [category_links] => Princeton Bridge Year: Senegal 2016-17 )

Princeton Bridge Year: Senegal 2016-17

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When your two families meet

Lauren Johnson,Princeton Bridge Year: Senegal 2016-17

Description

Before my family’s arrival to Senegal, I felt pretty apprehensive about the visit because I had no idea what their expectation were. They never explicitly told me why they were coming, and with no background information I was not sure whether they wanted a touristy experience or an authentic one, more similar to mine. Fortunately […]

Posted On

04/24/17

Author

Lauren Johnson

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    [post_content] => Every now and then a group member walks into the Program House with one laughing and one crying eye because of yet another absurd statement someone has made about Senegal. Sometimes, they make for funny stories but sometimes they are also frustrating.

There are two types of misconceptions about foreign places and peoples: the ones that are incorrect but not harmful, and the ones that are incorrect and do tangible harm.

Some days ago, when I was skyping my family, I told them about a conversation I have had about atheism with my host brother – to me a meaningful moment since I was very cautious to bring up such a topic in a deeply religious environment. It took some time for my family to understand why, and my explanations. From their perspective, it seemed obvious that I (or even Princeton before I moved in with my host family) would share my religious affiliation. Certainly, in exchange programs I had participated in in Germany, that was the case. After I had explained the context of the situation, my family understood much better – and that particular misconception was clarified without any further ado.

I have had less positive experiences with misconceptions, however. One of the most common statements I have heard tourists or foreigners living in Dakar make is that Senegalese try to “rip you off”. Meanwhile, I cannot count how many times I was offered food or products for free…

The problem with such a statement is that it has judgemental implications on our perception of a culture we are not part of, and that there is hardly a way to disprove it. You will meet individuals in any country in the world who want to take advantage of you, especially if you are a foreigner. That in itself says nothing about culture, whatsoever. (Note: the people who would make a statement about being ripped off usually do not even know anything about what would be locally acceptable pricing – and so no basis to judge if a price is too high.)

It’s a tricky field to navigate. When we have visitors that want to learn about Senegal and a group member starts explaining a cultural note, I find myself in disagreement a lot of the times, even though we have been on the same program for months.

Why? Because culture is an interpretation and not an actuality. Talking about culture, then, is interpreting an interpretation. You see how complicated it is.

Before we dive into borderless relativism, pretending anyone was entitled to say anything about any culture, let’s take a step back. There are some important distinctions to be made:

1)      The first one is whether I am reproducing someone else’s opinion, or whether I had a genuine idea based on personal experiences.

2)      The second is whether I make my statement from a place of respect.

3)      The third is my intention: am I actually trying to express my opinion and am willing to change it upon receiving new information? Or is my statement, in fact, a justification that I make up to hold certain opinions and engage in certain actions?

4)      The fourth one has to do with harm: Is my statement potentially harmful to others? If so, then maybe you should not make it, even if you believe it to be true.

5)      And finally, whether my perception is self – affirming (in which case you are trapped in a cycle). For example: Imagine I believe everyone around me is unfriendly, so I start being unfriendly to strangers, so they start being unfriendly to me, and so on…

Given all of the above, I can’t tell you that you are wrong, and I won’t. But I can tell you that my experiences are different and that you should reconsider. And I will!   [post_title] => (Mis)conceptions [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => misconceptions [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-04-24 16:49:23 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-04-24 22:49:23 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://my.wheretherebedragons.com/blog/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 577 [name] => Princeton Bridge Year: Senegal 2016-17 [slug] => princeton-bridge-year-senegal-2016-17 [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 577 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 263 [count] => 68 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 3.1 [cat_ID] => 577 [category_count] => 68 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Princeton Bridge Year: Senegal 2016-17 [category_nicename] => princeton-bridge-year-senegal-2016-17 [category_parent] => 263 [link] => https://my.wheretherebedragons.com/category/princeton-bridge-year/princeton-bridge-year-senegal-2016-17/ ) ) [category_links] => Princeton Bridge Year: Senegal 2016-17 )
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(Mis)conceptions

Tilmann Herchenröder,Princeton Bridge Year: Senegal 2016-17

Description

Every now and then a group member walks into the Program House with one laughing and one crying eye because of yet another absurd statement someone has made about Senegal. Sometimes, they make for funny stories but sometimes they are also frustrating. There are two types of misconceptions about foreign places and peoples: the ones […]

Posted On

04/24/17

Author

Tilmann Herchenröder

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    [post_date] => 2017-04-05 10:27:58
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    [post_content] => Today marks a new chapter of our Bridge Year experience. We the students were tasked with planning a ten-day excursion completely on our own. The budget was set but where we wanted to go and what exactly we wanted to do was up to us. After a few meetings, we decided on a trip to both the Sine Saloum Delta and The Gambia. I've outlined the trip itinerary below.

Thursday March 30- Saturday April 1: Niodior
Activities include replanting mangroves, clamming, immigration talk

Sunday April 2- Monday April 3:
Activities include kayaking, mangrove hike

Tuesday April 4- Wednesday April 5: Sokone
Activities include Wednesday weekly market, batik dying, meeting with USAID literacy program director

Thursday April 6- Saturday April 8: The Gambia
Activities include National Museum, Arch 22, old town exploration, Abuko Nature Reserve

Sunday April 9: back in Dakar!

During our trip we will have limited wifi connection. Field notes will be posted periodically to keep you all updated, and we can't wait to share some more of our incredible experiences with all of you.

Thanks,
Lauren Johnson
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Princeton Bridge Year: Senegal 2016-17

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a ten-day excursion

Lauren Johnson,Princeton Bridge Year: Senegal 2016-17

Description

Today marks a new chapter of our Bridge Year experience. We the students were tasked with planning a ten-day excursion completely on our own. The budget was set but where we wanted to go and what exactly we wanted to do was up to us. After a few meetings, we decided on a trip to […]

Posted On

04/5/17

Author

Lauren Johnson

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    [post_date] => 2017-03-30 09:18:25
    [post_date_gmt] => 2017-03-30 15:18:25
    [post_content] => I'm sure that everyone who travels knows that things are different at their destination. In fact, I'm sure that they know that even the most basic things will be different. I've decided to talk more about one of those "basic" differences that I've observed between the United States and Senegal: breakfast.

Like in the United States, breakfast is the start of everyone's day here and is generally eaten in the home. The similarities kind of end there. Breakfast here is not eaten around a table or even a communal bowl (like lunch and dinner). Instead, people eat breakfast sandwiches before heading out for the day.

Another big change is the self-reliance required to have breakfast and the need to cook. Unlike in the United States, where most people will be able to have a good breakfast without cooking anything - shoutout to cereal - that doesn't really exist in Senegal. Nearly every single breakfast option requires some form of cooking. Not only that but, unlike in the United States where people will generally cook for more than their own plate (think Sunday pancakes with the fam...), everyone has to cook their own breakfast. That means that everyone must rely on their own cooking skills or that of their mother to actually eat before leaving the house in the morning. Blessedly, the ingredients are (usually) supplied. Unfortunately, I didn't know how to make breakfast when I first arrived in country.

Back at the beginning of homestays, I had absolutely no idea how to make my own breakfast or how to go about asking about breakfast. In other words, I would have starved if not for the careful attention of my older sister/cousin, Astu. She was my savior at the beginning of the program and even now, her role in ensuring that I eat every morning is quite extensive, but only because of the way that my family does breakfast.

I'll take this opportunity to explain my family's breakfast habits. There are about 14 of us living in my compound, and breakfast never includes all of us at the same time. Usually, Astu goes out to buy the breakfast items that we'll need: everything from bread and eggs to powdered milk and sugar (for tea and/or coffee). Then, she'll bring everything back to the kitchen and prepare breakfast for my father who cannot prepare his own breakfast due to his impaired eye site. Then, she makes her own breakfast. While Astu is doing all that, other family members (including myself) will wander into the kitchen, scope out the options for the morning, and then proceed to make our own breakfast sandwiches. Most days, Astu picks up enough eggs for everyone to have a two-egg "omelette" - read, scrambled egg fried in oil. When everyone finishes eating, there is no cleanup, nor is there a way to even mark the completion of a meal. Instead, everyone just goes about their business.

There's also another option for breakfast: breakfast ladies. These wonderful women cook breakfast food every single night before setting up their stalls well before life here is truly up and running. Each breakfast lady has her specialty and everyone who goes to breakfast ladies regularly has a favorite lady. My breakfast lady (who has the best beans in Dakar) is named Khady. Every morning she has a wide range of dishes to offer: beans, peas, "omelettes," french fries, spaghetti, boiled potatoes, and onion sauce. Obviously, the selection of breakfast foods is very different here, but I've come to love it all the same.

Breakfast has become much more of a note-worthy ritual since arriving in Senegal. Now, I have to rely on my older sister or a breakfast lady and I had to get used to all new foods. That was a little tough at first, but then I remembered that I'm not a huge fan of American breakfast foods and so I adapted quickly. In fact, I think that I like breakfast here more than I back home. I truly look forward to the next day's breakfast sandwich every night before going to bed.
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Cracking Eggs to Make an Omelette: Breakfast in Senegal

Ashley Scott,Princeton Bridge Year: Senegal 2016-17

Description

I’m sure that everyone who travels knows that things are different at their destination. In fact, I’m sure that they know that even the most basic things will be different. I’ve decided to talk more about one of those “basic” differences that I’ve observed between the United States and Senegal: breakfast. Like in the United […]

Posted On

03/30/17

Author

Ashley Scott

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