Monday, January 31, 2011

i kinda feel like jesus christ

ok maybe he's not quite the right person to compare myself to. actually this will be a terrible comparison and i will probably go to hell for it. but you know how when he was crucified and all, he was in all that pain with every step he took, you know, because he got lashed and all? well my situation is not exactly like his but pain with every step wouldnt be a huge over-exaggeration. the amount of thorns and spikes and needle like seeds/rocks in the sand in my area is beyond bordering excessive. pretty much every couple of steps i take, i have to pause to remove a spike from my feet or a thorn that has pierced through my flip flops and is sticking into me. i'd like to think of myself as becoming more weathered, more rugged, maturing physically. and there are more cases to attest to this physical abuse my body has to withstand.

the other day, i was riding a bus car back to my village, you know the ones where i sit on top and the cars drive too close to trees. well, i guess i wasnt paying attention for a split second and WHAM! i get smacked by an acacia thorn tree. for a second, i thought my eye was leaking. turns out there was a cut/scratch on my eyelid right where my eyelashes were... aka way too close to my eyeball for my comfort.

the cuts arent deep but thats not the point. in this country, there's just too much sand and dust and shit in the air. im totally going to scar. but hey, i got scratched by a lion whilst i was in africa... right?

as i await the arrival of funding for my causerie project, ive decided to build "improved mud rocket stoves". ideally, they cut down wood consumption, speed up cooking time, as well as decrease the prevalence of upper respiratory infections due to smoke irriation from the cooking fire. that's if i built everything right, in terms of dimensions, raw material ratios, whatnot. well, now i gotta wait 3ish weeks for the stove to dry til we can try it out. that means 3 weeks of kids not breaking it or goats not breaking it, an impossible feat really, but if allah willing...

the building of the mudstove also hurt. i didnt sift the millet chauf (clearly completely my fault) well enough and now i have splinters and scratches all over my hands from working the clay with my hands.

my friend kim's mom had a baby so i went to its baptism. kim lives in an ethnically pulaar village (mine is wolof) so new traditions, new experiences? ive never been to a pulaar baptism.

turned out to be a ton of fun. the food was amazing, the music was great, the dancing was fun to watch, and the people were just nicer and smilier. if the stupid pulaar men in my area would stop harassing me, pulaars would be just awesome.

oh and i think i sprained my knee on the bike trip to kim's village. my 2 months of bike inactivity which included 1 month in america being idle and gluttonous wasnt very good on my body. it is dying.

in about 5 weeks, i will have been in senegal for a year... wow

Thursday, January 20, 2011

and 10 months have passed...

notice anything different?! yes ive started posting pictures again. the girl was never able to fix my camera so i had to buy a new one when i was in america. i have ventured away from canon (sadface) but this new discovery is not really a downgrade. welcome panasonic lumix into my life. it is waterproof, dustproof, sandproof, shockproof, and freezeproof (uhh what do i possibly need that for here?!)... pretty much indestructible, which is perfect for this country. we will put this camera to the ultimate test - can it last until the end of my service in this country that is not very friendly to electronics? we shall see...
(thanks varun for your suggestions and help though. after much consideration and research, i decided to go with this one but +1 for looking out)

anyway, whilst in dakar for new years, we went to the beach. yes it was 80 degrees. ive never been in warm weather around winter time so this was quiet exciting. i may go to warm places from now on when the snow starts to settle in nyc. miami anyone for new years in the future?

the sunset was beautiful. of course we climbed a mountain of garbage just to get to the lighthouse on top. didnt really realize that there was a road wrapping the otherside of the massive hill.

my camera has a ton of cool features and this is one of them. the quality is actually amazing for a camera that doesnt have a lens that can extend or retract. +1 for awesome purchase.

after returning to village and hanging out with my siblings for 2 weeks straight, i dont think i really ever want to have kids. they are just so misbehaving and naughty! but i guess cute nonetheless. i gained a new little sister (see below)

so this is what yang yang looks like now...
remember when it used to look like this?!

the non-rainy season versus the rainy season of this desert is such a ridiculous contrast. im loving the cold season and kinda scared of the hot season that is slowly, slowly creeping up on us...

the mango tree i planted last august or so is looking pretty good. it's grown at least...

however the state of my garden is abysmal. dad and mom say that the eggplants were soo beautiful and then goats got in again and destroyed everything. dad and i are currently in the process of extending and reinforcing the barrier around the garden to make it impenetrable.

is that... a baby lettuce?! why yes! i have pepiniere'd lettuce but this photo was taken before the chicken and rats got into the garden and obliterated the pepiniere. i no longer have any lettuce or hot peppers... sad face

the ONLY exciting news about the state of my garden is that the tomatoes have all been left alone and now they are starting to turn red aka soon we will have tomatoes to eat... yay!

my causerie project has been approved so now i just sit and wait for the funding to arrive. in the mean time, let's build some mud rocket stoves (i'll take pictures) and read a ton!

til next time... maybe around valentines day?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

introduction to some foods of senegal...

ahh the foods of senegal, how i really dont miss you but i do crave you, thanks to your abundance of MSG in every bite. people have asked me what the food is like here so i thought id give an introduction to the cuisine that predominates senegal.

the very basic and most popular (shall we say national dish?) is ceebujen. literally translated, it means rice and (of) fish. it's basically fish and vegetables and rice. the rice is seasoned and can be white or red depending on the sauce you use (the red comes from the tomato paste, white without). vegetables depend on the season though in richer households, there will be an abundance and variation - though always thoroughly boiled to the point where nothing retains its nutritional value. fish can be fresh or as not fresh depending on where you live and your access to fish. the fish is also stuffed with spices.

there can be many variations on the ceebujen. sometimes there's lemon. sometimes there's bissap sauce. and sometimes theres an onion tomato sauce with the occasional fish ball drizzled on the rice. this variation is called ceebucaga (literally rice of prostitute).

then the other very popular and traditionally senegalese dish is called yassa. yassa is pretty much an onion sauce over white rice. there are occasional vegetables like carrot and potatoes but otherwise, not as plentiful as the fish and rice dish. yassa can come with meat (yassa yapp), fish balls (yassa boulette), or chicken (yassa ginaar). the picture is of yassa boulette.

then there are the heavy and rich sauces on top of white rice. below we have maafe gerte yapp - a peanut sauce over white rice with some meat. variations can be substituting the meat with fish. i dont have a picture of another dish called domada but it's also a thick and rich sauce that is more tomato based and usually with fish balls.

this is a variation of fasi which is a tomato onion sauce over white rice with vegetables and some form of protein. depending where in the country you are, they cook it differently so it may not look like this anywhere else.

one dish that is not very high in my book is called ceebuyapp which is just rice and meat. it's only because the meat in this country just isnt that great and a lot of the time, it's different organs and body parts. the senegalese really prize the liver and intestines, etc. although the good thing about this dish is that the rice is usually very flavorful (aka MSG saturated) and it's usually served with a very spicy mustard/hot pepper sauce.

most of these plates are generally found at lunch. lunch is probably the more exciting meal out of all the meals. dinner is usually not very fun so i havent really taken any pictures but dinner for me is usually rice with beans and dried fish (baxal nebe) or rice with peanuts and dried fish (baxal gerte) or one of the above where the rice is very soggy (daxin bopp). i generally enjoy dinner though because it's plain and simple and there are different variations that we wont get into but are quite good (ie baxal goorjigeen, baxal peuhl, laxubissap)

aside from rice, millet (cherri) is extremely popular. millet is pounded into a fine grain so it's like couscous, only more of a sandy texture. millet, however, is more nutritious than rice. theres a bean sauce, and leaf sauce, and a tomato sauce. sometimes post meal, milk is added to the millet as a dessert (though not a very fulfilling one at that).

the millet can be worked into little balls and then mixed with yogurt (lax ak sew) which is a very delicious sweet dish.

of course senegalese food has also adopted some western ideas and especially in larger cities where people are wealthier, dishes like the one below are more affordable and perhaps more common (?). you have a grilled chicken stuffed with spices, french fries, with a side of peas and an onion sauce.

since it's a predominantly muslim country, there isnt a lot of pork consumed here. but if you go to a sereer ethnic town (there arent any where i live) where many sereers are catholic, you can find plates like this - grilled pork with french fries and tomatoes on top of a bed of lettuce.

and there you have it. a basic introduction to senegalese food.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

appreciation, the return, 2011

i have returned home to africa - yay!
america and shanghai were amazing.

there are many things and people i would like to thank in this post. let's break it down by categories

1. i would like to thank america for being as wonderful as it is. you are simply amazing, with your abundance of, literally, everything - the copious varieties and options as i walked down the aisles of target, the bountiful cuisines (even choices on menus) readily accessible at all hours of every day, the unlimited supply of water (cold AND hot), heat, gas, electricity, internet and phone service, the extensive availability of technology and electronics at my fingertips, such as a washing machine, or a drier, an oven, a car, or a flat screen tv with crystal clear quality, displaying the millions of channels of cable that immediately broadcast news, or soap operas, or movies, or reality shows into my temperature-controlled living room with comfortable couches and comforters and pillows. thank you america, for your bars and clubs and lounges, your free thinking, and acceptance of different opinions, for your highways without potholes and your seemly public transportation, your toilets that dont have a swarm of flies above them, your movie theaters with popcorn and nachos, your ethnic foods and beverages. thank you america for your seasons, your supermarkets and delis, your smart phones, your time schedules and promptness. thank you america, for everything, and i will see you when i get back.
2. i would like to thank all my friends in america (and shanghai) for still being friends with me (haha). no matter how dirty i've become, in physical appearance, in behavior, or the stories and experiences i tell, you are there, holding in the vomit that my life stories do induce. you sat with me through my gluttonous vacation, we danced, we ate, we drank. i will see you all in 16 months... not a very long time at all.
3. i would like to thank my family, for allowing me to see the world, allowing me to be different than the usual mold, allowing me to be me.
4. i would like to thank all the musicians, that have gotten me through all those wonderful times in senegal. just to name a few: owl city, la roux, bruno mars, mike posner, katy perry, girl talk, kill paradise, silversun pickups, david guetta, taio cruz, far east movement, lady gaga, jay sean, and the members of the glee cast.
5. and last but not least, i would like to thank my senegal friends (namely my linguere family) who put up with me, my quirks, my uselessness, my neediness, and my shit. without you guys, i am nothing...

just some pictures to sum up my trip...

went to visit vivi in shanghai! look how dark i am haha

this is what shanghai looks like these days... kinda like nyc

one of the most tasty chicken wings ive ever had, courtesy of jess' bday and the sunburnt cow

another view of shanghai from the park - beautiful, clean modernity

nothing like these in senegal

countryside shanghai and it snowed!
now back in senegal and spent new years in dakar. it was... interesting. ended up not going to the akon concert in st louis because big crowds give me anxiety these days and akon isnt so great anyway... so we hung around in dakar and ate, drank, and danced. but because local people dont drink here, instead, they shoot fireworks at each other. at first it was kinda pretty, albeit ridiculously loud. then it was kind of crazy, idiotic, dangerous. our group (since everyone was white and thus stood out) was targeted many times and i actually got hit twice. we had to run into bars to avoid the danger outside for most of the night. why would you ever shoot fireworks AT each other? and at close range? and the children were doing it too. thank you allah for not making me lose an eye or two that night haha...

hello 2011! new years resolution: keep at it.

anyway, heading back to village tomorrow. have a new camera so will take pics and post again in 2 weeks or so!!