Sunday, September 28, 2008


(Photos, top to bottom:  waterproofing/Plastidipping the soldered tetherline connections with the 6th graders;  the 9th grade team poses with their newly painted vehicle, the Scorpion.)

I'm working with two ROV design teams:  a group of about 15 middle schoolers, grades 6-8, and a group of four 9th graders.  Both teams have designed and painted frames.  At this point, the kids are learning how the electronics are installed and configured;  they are doing an apprenticeship, observing and assisting, while I lead.  The roles will reverse with our next round of designs, presumably this winter.

The middle school frame, called the SS-MS Sub by designer/builder Derek, is further along, with the lights and thrusters installed, wired, soldered, and waterproofed.  It's likely we'll have the control box constructed and the ROV in the pool in early October.  The vehicle's equipped with two video cameras, two 20 watt halogen lights, and three bilge thrusters -- two 800 gpm for the horizontal thrusters, and a 1000 gpm for the vertical.  The tetherline's 10 meters long, determined more by the amount of wire I have than the desire of the group.  

Clearly, the speed of the work is a tribute to our experience at ISM in the last several years, particularly with respect to the last ROV, the Sea Monkey, the design of which inspired our current frames.  Misha and Kevin's insight last year continues a model for us now.

Hangin' With the Pelicans in Ngor

(Photos, top to bottom:  fisher-pelican and goats;  US flag in alley;  looking across from Ngor village to Ngor Island)

Randi and I joined the Behar family on a walk through Ngor village yesterday afternoon.  NGor is situated just north of the Almadies, toward the north end of the Cap-Vert Peninsula.  The island of Ngor is just across a protected bay, popular with swimmers, snorkelers, and surfers, with a point break on both ends of the island.  

This fishing community is Lebu, as is much of the peninsula.  They maintain a unique relationship with pelicans, a kind of you-scratch-my-back-and-I'll-scratch-yours.  The local pelicans, while unrestrained, hang out like pets.  They accompany the fishermen out on the water, and help locate fish, for which they are fed.  Thus the relationship.  A few select Lebu communicate with the pelicans, through pelicanese (my term).  Sure enough, there they were, hanging out on the beach, with the goats, and the traditional Senegalese pirogues (boats), not shy at all about our presence.

The Story of Al Mahdi

(Photos, top to bottom:  entering grotto Ngor;  image of Issa Sedinya;  grotto opens to the sea;  returning into the cave;  mark of Allah on ceiling of the cave)

Senegalese culture has great depth, as is illustrated in the following story.  Note that all source material/quotes were drawn from

On the 4th of May, 1883, a forty year old Lebu man from the village of Yoff (located on the north end of the Cape Vert Peninsula, just north of Dakar) declared himself to be the Madhi, the reincarnation of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH -- Peace Be Upon Him).  To one of his two wives he declared:  "O you caste Fatima, be patient.  God has given you a husband never given to other women.  Know that your former partner Limamu is different, because God has done what he wanted.  By his Will, He asked me to guide men and jinn to Him."

The Madhi refers to "a man of the family of the Prophet who will come at the end of time, and fill the earth with justice and equity."  It is cited in the Koran.

As you might imagine, the declaration of oneself as the Madhi attracts controversy and debate.  The Saudis might not be too keen on the Madhi arising in primitive West Africa.

Sedinya Limamu wandered "in the alleys and squares, as a pilgrim, calling aloud to his fellow citizens, 'Answer the call of God, come to me, I am the messenger of God, I am the Madhi whom was expected.' "

At first, he was perceived by many as having gone off the deep end, mentally ill.  The sudden change in behavior, which immediately followed the death of his mother, was suspect and ridiculed.  

But Sedinya Limamu was insistent.  "Oh my brothers, oh my sisters," he said, "I am a boon for you that God offers you my advise:  Obey the Commandments of God;  imitate the behavior, action, and model that I am.  God has placed in me the soul of Mohammed.  The black color of my skin must not induce doubt.  My white skin in Mecca is blackened today."

As his reputation as a Holy Man spread, so did the number of conversions and disciples.  He condemned traditional animistic practices (the cult of Rab) and, miraculously, was able to heal by his hands (termed gifted Magnetics by a French magistrate) those who were unable to be cured by traditional practices.  

There are many such miraculous acts attributed to Sedinya Limamu.  As a result, Yoff experienced a large influx of curious followers, eager to see and hear the Holy Master.

Sedinya Limamu died on November 2nd, 1909.  His son presided over the funeral prayers in the presence of a large gathering.  The Madhi was buried in Diamalaye, by the sea, a place where he liked to come to pray.  An elaborate mausoleum today marks the grave.

Chief amongst the many legacies left by the Madhi is the founding of the Layene Brotherhood, one of the four prominent Sufi Brotherhoods in Senegal. It is centered in the Lebu communities of the Cape Verde Peninsula.  The Layene is the smallest of the groups, represented by only about 1% of the population of Senegal.  (The other Brotherhoods include the Qadiri, the Tijani, and the Mouride, founded by Amadou Bamba.)

The reason I refer to this story of Sedinya Limamu is in its relevance to the present-day community of Almadies, a neighborhood where many expats and ISD teachers reside.  Almadies derives from the arabic Al Madhi, the Chosen One, the reincarnated Prophet.  

Interestingly, few seem to be aware of this rich story.  It particularly speaks to the depth and layering of Senegalese culture and history. 

In the heart of the Almadies, not far from the former Club Med and the very upscale Meridian Hotel, there is along the ocean side of the coast road a white wall painted across its length with multiple images of a mysterious-looking fellow, whom I now know to be Sedinya Limamu's son, Issa Sedinya, who arose as a Holy Man in his own right.  (One of the miraculous stories attributed to Sedinya is that his image could not be captured in photographs.)

Randi and I walked through this area a few weeks ago, recognized it as a sanctuary, and were curious about it's significance.  

This sanctuary is one of the holiest sites for the Layene.  It is a vertical cave, into which one descends by a ladder, into a grotto, with immediate access to the sea.  The Layene website, cited above, has this to say about the grotto of Ngor:  "His light stayed here for 1000 years.  Each night that light traveled the world to see on what land and with what people it would launch the appeal of the Madhi.  The cave is now visited by thousands of faithful who come from all over the world.  During the ceremonies of the call, the Layene community organizes a pilgrimage with prayer and remembrance."

Randi and I visited the grotto yesterday afternoon with a family of one of my 6th grade students.  The father is very interested in history, and is French fluent, and proficient in Wolof. Their Senegalese  house guard also came along, so we were able to make a personal contact with the caretaker of the sanctuary, who allowed us to enter, with cameras.

I spoke with the caretaker (through two translators, English to French, French to Wolof), and explained that I was a teacher, that my students tended to live in protected cultural bubbles, and that we would be doing a history of the Lebu.  The caretaker explained that an old man who hung out at the sanctuary would be the person to talk to about the history, that we could come anytime to speak with him.  The caretaker offered his cell number.

We are surrounded by a cultural, spiritual/religious, and historical depth here, unlike anything I've experienced.  It is an oral tradition, and continues as such.  How easy it is to float on the surface, engrossed in our lives, and miss it all.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Pride in Being Regular, I Want a Baobab, & Class Update

On the topic of poo, I'd like to offer this announcement, about which I am enormously pleased:  


Walking around the neighborhood, as we did yesterday and today, you come across the occasional boabab tree.  They are quite majestic, difficult to fit into the frame of my camera, even with a wide-angle lens.

I want my own baobab tree. They sell them just down the street, little baobabs in small planter pots, perfect for the classroom.  They're so cute.  My own Little Prince tree!  

I am aware that a wide variety of traditional medicines come from the baobab tree.  It's a goal of mine, in the near future, to interview a vendor of plant medicines in Dakar, and make a collection of the plant products.  What a fun unit:  The natural history of the baobab.  A very generative topic!

School is well underway now, as we enter into the fourth week.   We've begun a study of the English writer David Almond (author of Skellig and Kit's Wilderness), focusing on the themes of transformation and empathy.  We've also begun our first major Inquiry Unit, entitled The Scientist & the Historian, focusing on the nature of the two disciplines.

I'm pleased to announce that the ISD-ROV Team has completed its first working frame, courtesy of 6th grader, Derek B.  Next week we'll spray paint Derek's frame, and begin wiring the lights and thrusters.  I imagine we'll have it in the water in the next several weeks. 

Check out BOT for lots of new media, just uploaded.  You'll need a new username/password to enter the media sections of the site.  Email me for further information.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Where are the t-shirts?

Photos (top to bottom):  ISD teachers and friends gathered prior to the Dakar-Goree Island Open Water Swim, including Mike-the-surfer-dude, Devon-the-dolphin, Tod-tippy-toes-tiger-shark, Thia-the-tarpon, and Marissa-the-I've-done-this-swim-like-a-bizillion-times-now;  gathered for the start (is that an IOC-certified start rope?);  blast-off into the shorebreak;  the destination on Goree Island.

I didn't exactly do the swim for the t-shirt solely, but it was definitely a motivator.  I mean, how many people do you know have a Dakar-Goree Island Swim t-shirt?  They're a collector's item!

I felt sorry for the gal who lost her goggles just prior to the start of the annual Dakar-Goree Island 5K swim last Sunday.  A bunch of swimmers were in the water, keeping cool, getting loosened up, playing in the three-to-four-foot swells.  The shore break was large enough to rip your googles off if you weren't careful. 

The start of the race was in an obscure location, on the southeast side of the peninsula, somewhere, I wasn't driving, thankfully.  We arrived early, an hour before the announced 11:00 AM start time, though word was that the race never started on time, a noontime departure was more realistic.  So wait we did, in the heat, with limited water, in advance of a 3 mile swim.

Given my level of fitness, or lack thereof, I was satisfied with my performance.  That I BEAT THE PANTS OFF MIKE D left me with a mild sense of euphoria . . .  (insert wink)

We are advised to avoid swimming in the sea around the peninsula after a heavy rain, being that the runoff is likely contaminated enough to delight a microbiologist.  Good to know this being that it poured the evening prior to the race;  the beach was flooded in areas.  While I suspect that I ingested about a quart of motor oil, and know that I swam across a plastic bag or two, others in our group complained strongly of the water being polluted.

The swim ended on the island of Goree, the largest slave-trading center on the African coast from the 15th - 19th century.  As is common for such a swim, I left the water feeling a little disoriented, but was guided ashore by a mob of helpful folks handing out cans of Red Bull, bottles of water, other things, then to a table where they wanted my name, all the while I'm thinking, t-shirt, t-shirt, t-shirt.  (insert voice of Homer Simpson)

Randi was there to help her red-faced hubby.  She had taken the ferry across earlier, and had a chance to explore the island.  

Note the additional photos taken of the swim start and around Goree Island on BOT at 
http://www.becauseoftime/ISD/ScenesDakar.html (see Gallery 10).

As Randi and I stood on the beach at the close of the race, a little boy hovered, like a bird waiting for crumbs to fall.  He wanted my goggles.  We both left disappointed: he without his googles;  me without my t-shirt.  Marissa had looked into it.  The response from a race organizer was, We may have some later, code for, I want you to feel good about the fact that there isn't a chance in hell of your getting a t-shirt.

A visit with the pharmacist

I'm ill, down with the usual, a bronchitis, came on very quickly last week, no clouds before the storm, it just hit, wham, and I was out of the classroom on Friday.

So what are our options when sickness strikes?  And how do you distinguish between the usual and of malaria?

There are certainly more options here than in the States.  If there is an emergency, one can call on the Senegalese equivalent of EMS, referred to here as SOS Medicin.  SOS is manned by physicians, who are able to diagnose your malady and prescribe meds in your home.  It is not limited to life threatening emergencies, as in the States, but any situation in which immediate care is desired. I might have called on Thursday afternoon, were it not for the fact that I have no idea how to describe our street address.  

An alternative is to consult your local pharmacist, who is able to prescribe meds based upon your description of symptoms.  A doctor's script is not required to receive so-called prescription drugs.  By example, we have a lovely modern pharmacy just down the street from us, run by an English-speaking pharmacist, with whom I met on Friday morning.  No appointment, no line, just walk-in.  

For our physician friends, the pharmacist gave me four things:  a vitamin C tablet that fizzes like Airborne; Fervex,  a granulated antipyretic, analgesic, anti-allergy, to be mixed with hot water;  Roxithromycine, an antibiotic manufactured in France;  and Aerius, to treat allergy.

Total cost:  about $30.  Total time in the pharmacy:  about 15 minutes.

There are, of course, physicians in private practice, and several hospitals with whom you can arrange clinic appointments.  We will eventually establish a relationship with an English-speaking GP, particularly when it comes to ruling out malaria, or other aggressive and unfamiliar diseases/symptoms.

There is even a mobile lab that will come to your home, do a blood draw, test for malaria, and report the results a few hours later.

There are a whole lot of bugs and allergens here with which this poor old body is unfamiliar.  Being preventative, and responding immediately when feeling unwell, will be key.  This illness came on very quickly, the symptoms more severe than usual, and I'll certainly need a few days to get my strength back.

Tropical cyclone conveyer belt

On the evening of August 28th, we experienced a dramatic electrical storm in Dakar, which has since developed into a named cyclonic storm, Ike, currently bearing down on the Caribbean with 115 mph, category 3 hurricane force winds.  Several days later, we had another strong system pass over us.  This system, given the name Josephine, has fizzled in the past day, and is not expected to re-intensify. 

Last week, an ISD colleague remembered the strength of the north African storm which eventually became Hurricane Katrina.  It, too, passed over Dakar, tracking west.

Should you be interested in learning more about the connection between the Saharan Air Layer (SAL) in north Africa, and tropical hurricanes in the Atlantic, see the media links at (Gallery 11).