Sunday, February 22, 2009

Kid Stuff: Goldilocks on Trial, & the ISD Volleyball Tournament


Two events of note took place at ISD thus week:  the middle school performance of Goldilocks on Trial,  produced by Mrs. Dietrich, and the ISD Invitational Volleyball Tournament.  The performance of Goldilocks on Trial was terrific, both well-performed and well-attended.  Sixth grade student Tyne W. (South Africa) is featured in photos 1 and 2 above. 

The ISD Invitational Volleyball Tournament included middle school teams from ISD, Dakar Academy, and several local schools.  Photo 3 & 4 features sixth graders Filipa F (Portugal) and Yoel B (Israel).

A Sunday Afternoon Visit to Ile de Madeleine


R and I spent the afternoon on Ile de Madeleine with Eric G., a visiting friend from Seattle, Todd, and a French colleague of Eric's from UNHCR. 

It's a little iffy getting to Madeleine these days, at least that's how I perceive it, with the winter swells up, and the off-shore winds howling.  The swells were up, running over 6 feet, but they didn't prevent us from getting access.

We wandered the island with two Senegalese guides.  Here's what I learned that was new:

It was confirmed that the jinn who inhabits Madeleine is male, and that the female jinns who inhabit Goree, N'Gor and Yoff are his wives.  The Lebu people from Dakar had traditionally come to Madeleine for make sacrifices to the jinn in hopes of attracting good fortune.  With the founding of the National Park, and the prohibitive cost of getting to the island, the people stopped coming, and today carry out sacrifices on the mainland.

The shell mounds are, according to our guides, in part, attributable to the Lebu.  The guides explained that the Lebu visitors reused intact prehistoric ceramic pots, so while the pots themselves are very old, they may have been reused in recent times.  

Today, Lebu fishermen still land on the island, but limit themselves to the easternmost beach, choosing to remain of the margin of the island, thus not provoking the jinn.

We passed a baobab tree adjacent to a small clearing bordered by stones.  A guide explained that the site was a sacred place, like a mosque, and that one should remove their shoes when entering the spot.   A marabout from Dakar periodically comes to this place to seek the presence of the island's jinn. 

Photos 1-5 were taken in the same locale, around several large shell mounds.  The little ceramic vessel in photos 2 & 3 was the first I've seen.  Photo 4 & 5 show the distribution of ceramic shards and shells.

By the way, the water's COLD, 64 degrees F!

So much to learn and experience.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

An Overview of Senegalese Society

I ran across a nice overview of Senegalese society, traditions and beliefs on the Lewis & Clark College website.  It is succinct and consistent with what we've learned since moving to Dakar.

In searching for images of Senegalese people, I ran across People of Senegal, from which the images above were gleaned. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Senegalese Prayer Flags, & Fossil Mystery Solved

Photos (top to bottom):  Prayer flags in Tibet & along the Corniche in Dakar;  comparison of fossil with recent find.

Based upon what we've observed here, plastic bags and bottles are a huge environmental catastrophe.  They litter the ground everywhere, like colorful spring flowers, and wherever there is barbed wire, there hang Senegalese prayer flags, flapping in the breeze, a tribute to the god of long-chain polymers.  

A fossil previously described in an earlier entry has been identified, thanks to ISD high school biology teacher, Gabi H, who recently found a turtle jaw on a local beach.   As the photograph above shows, our fossil is very similar to the turtle jaw.  Case closed:  it's a turtle. 

Friday, February 13, 2009

Don't Blame Me, It's My Pre-Frontal Cortex

Please note It's not just the hormones . . . for an excellent article regarding the biochemistry of adolescence, particularly relevant for parents of sixth grade students who suspect that their child has been abducted by aliens.

WAISTed: The West African Invitational Softball Tournament

For more photo of the WAIST Tournament see BOT (Gallery 7).

Peace Corps volunteers from around West Africa have converged on Dakar for the West African Invitational Softball Tournament, a three-day event which, for many volunteers, is a welcome departure from their isolated village life.  

WAIST is an appropriate acronym for this colorful event, both for the amount of alcohol consumed, and the partying that carries on well into the wee hours.

There are two softball divisions, competitive and social, though there should probably be a third division called I'm-too-tired-to-get-the-ball-into-the-strike-zone-but-do-you-like-my-mismatched-knees-socks-and-pirate-sword.

The event is sponsored by the US Embassy here, and includes softball teams from the Embassy, ISDakar, Dakar Academy (a boarding school which serves the children of parents doing missionary work), USAID, three Senegalese teams, and a smattering of others.

The top picture above was taken above the Club Atlantique, and shows ISD to the left, the sea to the right, and more toubabs than the pool deck has seen in the past year.  No doubt the Club profits nicely with the WAIST tournament, from the sale of Gazelle beer alone.  

Three Shorts: Huddling 'Round the Brazier, Constructing Reference Maps, & New Fossil Finds


Three shorts for the week:

It's mid-winter in chilly Senegal, with low temperatures dipping into the low 60s.  Brrrrrrr!  During the evening, house guards keep warm by huddling around their braziers, generally used to warm tea.  See photo 1.  I've seen metal trash can lids also used to contain a small wood fire.  It's rather homey, like camping out, with the flickering of flames illuminating spots along our little street.

In class, we're transitioning into a study of ancient Egypt history and culture.  We began by creating a set of reference maps of Egypt, north Africa, and the eastern Mediterranean.  Photos 2 & 3 show Selma, Ben, Damir and Will tracing-in map boundaries projected onto poster paper from an overall projector. 

In connection with our study of Ancient Egypt, we've begin a unit on myths and mythology, opening with a reading of an edited, kid-friendly version of Gilgamesh.  As I've explained to the kids, Gilgamesh has got everything you want in a story:  hunky heroes, pretty girls, scary monsters, and lots and lots of action.  You'll find the version I'm using here.  I have cleaned it up, mind you.  

The ISD fossils keep rolling in.  Filipa found a bit of jaw (photos 4 & 5) on Friday, and Haziq found several pieces of ceramic (photo 7) in the seashells used as ground cover around the school.  The shells likely come from the Joal, a town south of here, where they are found a great abundance, often in mounds, associated with people living in the area hundreds to thousands of years ago.  Note photo 6.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

An Evening of Lutte Sénégalaise

At the invitation of G., Randi and I attended lutte senegalaise, Senegalese wrestling, on Sunday afternoon.  Lutte is a very popular, and widely-followed sport here.  It is a grand spectacle, with elements similar to what we know in the States as WWF (World Wrestling Federation), the difference being that this is the real-deal, and all the apparent show is purposeful.  Note lutte and Wiki for background.

While preceded by hours of ritual preparation, the actual wrestling matches are quite brief, perhaps thirty seconds or less.  Essentially, the first one down looses.  That's it.  Winner take all.

The stadium grounds were abuzz with activity, and awash with competing rhythm, with four drumming groups performing.  Wrestling clubs, led by their star athletes, together danced to practiced choreography, postured for their cheering fans, and applied what appeared to be layers upon layers of juju, in the form of grigris, liquid potions, and fetish.  One wrestler taunted his adversary prior to a match by throwing an animal hide on the ground and whipping it, as if to say, that'll be you, buster.  Just prior to the start of a match, one wrestler followed the competition in the center ring throwing what appeared to be symbolic darts, juju bullets.  Take that you swine!

For video clips of the evening, see lutte1, lutte2

A Search For the Heart of West Africa 5


Almamy & I returned to the Medina Fetish Market on Sunday morning.  Note my earlier related entries at Heart1 Heart2 Heart3 Heart4.  The aim is to survey the products being sold   -- what each is, and how it is used -- as a way to reveal the underlying, core beliefs associated with this region of Africa.  Here is a description of the items collected:

Photo1:  Shows some of the products at the market in bags, corresponding to photos 11-14.

Photo 2:  (top) hyaena paw, used to attract respect, as in one's home;  bottom left to right:  unspecified bird feet, promoting learning, recommended for the classroom;  cobra head, used to offer protection from attack;  peacock foot, used to ward off pickpocketing;  jackal paw, promoting intelligence and understanding;  leopard paw, used to promote loyalty.

Photo 3:  (top) used in the treatment of a specific rash;  (left pair) used specifically in the treatment of diabetes (strips from each are taken, washed, that water disposed of, then boiled in water, soaked overnight, then used to make coffee, drunk x 3/day);  (right pair) used specificaly for the treatment of a childhood disease, the symptoms being a thin frame and a swelled belly.

Photo 4:  these two sea shells and turtle shell are used as container only, and contain no magical properties as such.  Horns are also commonly used as containers.

Photo 5:  (top) appears to be a chunk of tree sap, used specifically by the marabout to attract as an incense to attract jinn;  (bottom) a porcupine stomach, is boiled and drunk to protect oneself from bad potions.

Photo 6:   incense mix, wards off jinn.

Photo 7:  (top) vultures are thought to live a long time;  this vulture died of old age, and was found lying on it side (the opposite side of the skull shows greater decay, with bones exposed);  the properties of long life are thus conveyed to one's business and financial investments;  (middle, bottom) the powder is meant to be mixed with the crocodile skull;  the vendor offered to have the two sewn-up for me in a leather pouch.

Photo 8:  (top) boil, ablution, protection from bad talk;  (bottom) cotton plant leaves, boiled, water added to coffee, drunk three times/day.

Photo 9:  (left) a grass, used to attract good fortune, can be soaked and the water used in ablution, or packaged as is;  (center) used for the treatment of sexually-transmitted disease;  (right) used specifically in the treatment of irregular menstruation.

Photo 10:  mix, A. has used, attracts good fortune, used in form of tea.

Photo 11:  this mixture of two things (10 + 17 from my notes) is a love potion, makes one attractive.

Photo 12:  (top-right) good if added to milk powder, similar properties to viagra;  (top-left) used in the treatment of breathing/cough-related issues, applied as incense;  (bottom-left) used in the treatment of River Blindness, helps one to see clearly, add to water, strain liquid, use on face;  (bottom-right) used in the treatment of injured ligaments, such as arthritis, sports-related injuries, applied directly to the surface of the afflicted area.

Photo 13:  (left) mixture of three things (2+3+6 from my notes), used to attract good fortune;  (right) used for treatment of headaches.

Photo 14:  (left) to be add to millet or tamarin, used for the treatment of sexually transmitted disease;  (top-right) a mixture of two things (1+5 from my notes), used to ward off evil; (bottom-right) used to dispel bad dreams.

These items are used in one of several ways:  packaged as is, boiled and drank as a tea, soaked or boiled and the water used in ablution, or with which to wash oneself, taken directly by mouth, or applied topically.

An English-speaking vendor explained that these products represent the natural ingredients containing the same medicinal properties as our Western medicine, simply packaged differently.  

Such vendors sold the raw materials used both by marabouts (who would inflate the price) and the individual buyer.  Consulting a marabout offered privacy and anonymity that was not possible out on the street.

He explained that an evil-doer, bent on messing with an annoying neighbor, might concoct a potion, and leave it outside their door, or a public area frequented by the hapless victim.  Such curses were characterized as a communicable disease:  whomever stumbled into it became afflicted.

Note an extended audio conversation between a vendor, A. and myself on BOT