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Senegal: The Warm Embrace of West Africa, Summer 2010


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Dear Dragons,


As I am writing, my mind is racing a thousand miles an hour…Today was the last day of my office job, and I am shifting gears into a mode of exploration and learning, preparing myself for the adventure that we will embark on in just over a month. I cannot wait to meet you. I am so honored to be leading this trip with Liz Connor and Mbouille Diallo, two people with whom I share an amazing bond and who I trust and love like family.

I first fell in love with West Africa in 2005, when I was sent to Guinea (just south of Senegal) as a teacher trainer for an American non-profit on a yearlong assignment. As I settled into my life in Labe, the regional capital of the Fouta Djallon region, I felt my rhythm settle naturally into the pace of life there. Eating rice and sauce out of a communal bowl, stopping for singsong Pulaar greetings with neighbors, friends, and strangers, taking the time each day to buy fresh fruit and vegetables from the market, strapping on my Chacos and exploring the rolling Fouta hills and the sprawling markets, and spending hours on sewing projects with my tailor, Mr. Sow (!) – I loved every bit of it. I came back to the region two years later to lead Dragons’ first West Africa semester program in Senegal and Guinea, with none other than Liz and Mbouille! Now West Africa is part of my life, and it feels right to be going back at this time.

Let me back up a bit—I grew up in rural Iowa, on what most city people would consider to be a farm (50 acres out in the countryside with horses and chickens, a barn, and lots of John Deere farm equipment). Having a mom who worked for the airlines meant that I caught the travel bug pretty early, but my nascent ideas of travel centered around Western Europe. These ideas evolved more concretely as I studied for my undergraduate degree in Political Science and International Studies at Northwestern University, and my experience studying abroad in Switzerland confirmed my belief in the power of learning a second (and third, and fourth…) language.

It was after a year spent in France working as a high school English teaching assistant that I went to Guinea. These experiences defined the contours of my present passions—education/teaching and Francophone West Africa. With this refined outlook, I went to the University of Sussex for a Master’s in International Education and Development. There I learned about education systems in developing countries—the theory that underpins this area of academia, but also many specific issues that I dealt with teaching in Guinea—teacher training, teaching methods, the impact of HIV and AIDS on an education sector, education funding, and much more.

In my most recent job, working as a program manager for a small, Washington DC-based government contractor, I had the opportunity to travel and work on projects in Gabon and Liberia, expanding my konwledge of the region and of international development. But I also learned that my heart will never be in an air-conditioned office in the US, and leading a Dragons trip is the most profoundly meaningful way that I can engage with this region that I love. I am thrilled to be able to share with you a place and its people that are so dear to my heart – my second home. I am certain that you will form your own relationship with Senegal, and whatever that may be, it will impact you profoundly. I am honored to facilitate that relationship. We will all change and grow as we travel across Senegal, and I love facing meaningful challenges with a motivated and intelligent group of Dragons students.

I cannot wait for our journey!

En joni joni, si Allah jabhi,

Christy (also known as Safiatou Tounkara)
christysommers@gmail.com

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Senegal: The Warm Embrace of West Africa, Summer 2010

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Instructor Introduction

Christy Sommers,Senegal: The Warm Embrace of West Africa, Summer 2010

Description

Dear Dragons, As I am writing, my mind is racing a thousand miles an hour…Today was the last day of my office job, and I am shifting gears into a mode of exploration and learning, preparing myself for the adventure that we will embark on in just over a month. I cannot wait to meet […]

Posted On

05/25/10

Author

Christy Sommers

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This is a list of items from Cameron Ott, three time past Dragons student, of things she wishes she would have brought to Senegal the first time she went in addition to the recommended packing list:

Here is a list of items I wish I had brought with me two summers ago that either are not on the packing list or are listed as optional:

Two water bottles (It is so easy to loose a water bottle and when treating water, it is very useful to have two bottles.)

Personal water-purification method such as iodine tablets with neutralizers (Dragon's technically supplies these, but when in homestays it can be nice to have your own method for potable water and the neutralizers are always nice. On the note of neutralizers, any sugary substance, like a sugary drink powder can be used to neutralize the taste of iodine if stirred in no sooner than 30 minutes after the iodine has been applied––flavored drink powders are available in Senegal.)

A heavy-wear pair of flip-flops like Chacos or be prepared to wear your way through a flimsy pair like Tevas in about six weeks

A pocket-sized notebook that can be kept with you for writing down new words

A decent quality ballpoint pen that won't explode in the heat (BIC pens that you get from the bank or hotels don't seem to appreciate the heat very much.)

Facial wipes and/or facial scrub are nice to have to help get layers of Senegalese dust off of your face that can really accumulate with the humidity and use of sunscreen.

A personal med kit might be something that you want to consider. Obviously the program med kit is all comprehensive, but if you have a travel-sized Dramamine or maybe some tea tree oil or vitamin B, you might want to throw them in.

Things that you might want to consider getting Senegal:

Senegalese fabric has many, many uses for items such as towels, skirts, and sleeping sheets and can be purchased anywhere. And on that note...

Senegalese clothing is loose and cool and comes in brilliant patterns that help to hide dirt or spills (as opposed to cotton tee-shirts you might bring from America that also might cling to you in the heat and show even the slightest dust); you can purchase cloth and have it tailored for a good price to fit your every need.

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Senegal: The Warm Embrace of West Africa, Summer 2010

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Things I wish I would have brought the first time

Liz Connor,Senegal: The Warm Embrace of West Africa, Summer 2010

Description

This is a list of items from Cameron Ott, three time past Dragons student, of things she wishes she would have brought to Senegal the first time she went in addition to the recommended packing list: Here is a list of items I wish I had brought with me two summers ago that either are […]

Posted On

05/13/10

Author

Liz Connor

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Dear Fellow Travelers,

I am writing you from a snug little cabin in the mountains outside of Boulder, Colorado. Snow is tumbling down, coating the trees, and silencing the birds. Yes, it is May 13th, but in Colorado it is, indeed, snowing. This landscape is in direct contrast to the land where my day-dreams take me these days, this unlikely place and these beautiful people who have somehow become my adopted home. Senegal!!

But I didn’t really start this letter properly. “Salaam alaikum!” (peace to you)

And you say: “Maalekum salaam” (and to you peace)

And I ask: “Nanga def?” (how are you?)

And as you answer: “Mangi fii rekk”,(all is peace)

And I reply: “Alhamdulilaay!” (thanks be to Allah)

And so we go in Senegal. We take the time to ask. We shake every persons hand in a room. In common conversation we mention God and peace. You, my friends, are about to enter the land of greetings. In my mind, also known as the land of dancing, the land of heat and the land of mangoes. Inhabited by people who may seem very foreign now, the people you meet in Senegal, will likely, by the end of the summer, feel like a part of your extended global family.

My name is Liz on this continent, but in Senegal you can call me Maimouna Diallo. I am originally from Washington State, yet have spent the past 31 years in a state of movement. I obtained my BA in French and Teaching English as a Second Language from Eastern Washington University. My work and travels since have taken me to Switzerland to work as a nanny, Mexico as a first grade teacher, Guatemala as a volunteer, Spain as a student, Greece as a dog sitter, France as a grape picker and language student, and to half a dozen other places as a student of life. I have led 6 Dragons courses. I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with Dragons students in Rwanda, India, Guatemala, Mexico, and of course, West Africa. I first traveled to Senegal in the Fall of 2008, as part of the pioneer West Africa Semester for Where There Be Dragons, but my desire to be in Africa started many years ago, as something somewhat inexplicable and profound. I always knew that my path would eventually have me in a hut, under a mango tree, with several small children pulling my hair and giggling at my skin tone. I always knew that those years of French study would serve me, not in Paris, but rather in West Africa. I am now living in Colorado, where I worked in the Boulder Dragons office for two years at the Staffing Director. Currently I am working towards obtaining a nursing degree. In my spare time, I practice Yoga, paint, run, hike the amazing Colorado mountains, listen to live music, dance and dream about the next adventure.

I love this work! I feel so inspired to know that there is a whole group of students planning and packing and beginning to get excited about our journey. I love the creative energy that I get to conjure as I plan lessons, and as we discuss our itinerary. I love the contagious excitement that I feel when I talk to students and to my co-instructors. And I love imagining us all there, learning and growing and being fully in a country that feels so far away sometimes. What we are about to do is incredible. We are blessed to have this opportunity to travel and to learn from people across the globe. You are lucky to have this chance to step away from you lives and jump into this experience with all of your heart.

It seems that the more I know about education and working in the developing world with youth, the less knowledge I can project into the future of what our adventure will behold. You will each have a unique experience, we will have a unique group experience, and each Dragons program is different from the last. Our role this summer in Senegal is of ambassador of the positive aspects of our own culture, as well as students of the history, culture, and magic of our host country. I only know that the path ahead of us is sure to be life altering in ways that none of us can yet understand. And that is exciting! I have learned that my role as instructor is not so much to teach you about the country where we are traveling and living, but rather to lead you to ask the important questions yourselves .This is your adventure, and I invite you to choose the beauty and challenge of diving into it completely, to ask questions, to dance, to be authentic to the person you really are when “home” is far away.

M’bouille Diallo, Christy Sommers and I worked together that first semester, and we decided that it was time for a reunion tour this summer. Between M’bouilles amazing language teaching skills and infectious laugh, Christy’s wealth of information on development and bad jokes and my ability to get you to self reflect and poor African dancing skills, you are in for an amazing summer. Our first priority this summer is to keep you safe and healthy while we travel. Personally, my second priority is to help you stay “present” or awake, and aware. One of the best things about traveling is that we get to leave our current lives behind in order to dive fully into the “once in a lifetime” experience. You will never again be the “you” that you are now. Love that YOU and throw yourself into this with your heart, eyes and ears open. Give yourself this summer in Senegal. Celebrate the fact that all the busy-ness, all the plans, all the ideas of who you are or were, and how we should be at “home”, can stay at home. I encourage you to write yourself a letter now, of all the things you want to think about and do upon return from Africa. Write this note, and leave it in your bedroom, dorm room or apartment, and start packing. Pack for the person you want to be. Pack for a person who is ready to experience life at its fullest, all the grit and despair alongside with the joy and freedom that life has to offer. Pack lightly and plan to tread lightly, plan to listen more than you speak. Plan to dance and laugh more than you worry.

I know already that the students who choose to Dragons programs are those who are looking for something to challenge them, to move themselves from comfort to learning, to expand the width and depth of their worldviews. I already know you a little bit, Senegal students. You chose to spend your summer in Africa with some intention to go beyond your comfort zone. And that is brave and wise! Congratulations!

In the next few weeks, we will be posting many yaks about our upcoming adventure. Please stay up to date by checking the board often, as we will also post some required reading, questions about your ISP ideas, and small assignments to prepare you for our journey. Also, please post your own introduction letter here! Your fellow students are interested in knowing who you are, and we are as well.

Please feel free to post questions on the Yak board that may pertain to other students in the group. If you have any questions that you would not like to share with the world, you can email me at freemariposa@gmail.com

Blessings and we can’t wait to meet you!!

Liz

Maimouna Diallo

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Senegal: The Warm Embrace of West Africa, Summer 2010

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Salaam Alaikum!

Liz Connor,Senegal: The Warm Embrace of West Africa, Summer 2010

Description

Dear Fellow Travelers, I am writing you from a snug little cabin in the mountains outside of Boulder, Colorado. Snow is tumbling down, coating the trees, and silencing the birds. Yes, it is May 13th, but in Colorado it is, indeed, snowing. This landscape is in direct contrast to the land where my day-dreams take […]

Posted On

05/12/10

Author

Liz Connor

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