A couple of days ago I was lucky enough to hitch a ride with another Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) Sarah, as she scouted out potential eco-tourism sites and activities in the Waalo (the Northern region of Senegal extending from St. Louis to East of Dagana). Richard Toll happens to be on that list thanks to the presence of La Folie du Baron Roger, a 19th century mansion built to house Senegal’s first governor, but I’ll talk about that fascinating piece of history another time.
Serendipitously, I got to catch a glimpse of the town I will be relocating to in the near future on Sarah’s road trip. Boasting a population of approximately 5,000, I was somewhat baffled to see that the local library was a tourist attraction. Granted, libraries are few and far between here, but Sarah and I both agreed that perhaps this pit-stop could be forgone for slightly more extraordinary sites.
Ahh, the local jakka (neighborhood mosque). My experience in Senegal would not be complete without listening to prayer calls 5 times a day, every day. Who needs an alarm when you have Fajar (dawn prayers)? Interestingly enough, my mother still lives on Fajar Road in Singapore. Several words in Wolof (the lingua franca here in Senegal, though French is the national language) are derived from Arabic, thanks to the introduction of Islam to the country, and this is reflected in the names of prayer times:
Fajar: Dawn Prayers (6-7AM)
Tisbar: Midday Prayers (2PM)
Takkusaan: Late Afternoon Prayers (5PM)
Timis: Sunset Prayers (6-7PM)
Geh: Evening Prayers (10-11PM)
Singapore has a relatively large Muslim population as well, so I am used to seeing friends leave class to pray, or witnessing large congregations exit a jumaa (central mosque) on Friday afternoons (Fridays are to Muslims what Sundays are to Catholics, mass-wise). What took some getting used to though, was going to bed or waking up to calls of “ALLAHU AKBAR (God is the Greatest)” blasting through loud speakers mounted on the top of strategically located buildings in the neighborhood, all appearing to center around my compound. It is nice to know that I will not be missing out on that surround-sound experience at my new site.
A walk around town brought us to a tributary branching off from the Lac de Guiers, a large lake located further down South that is a tourist attraction in its own right. While the library’s presence on a tourist itinerary left me perplexed, the river more than made up for it. We caught a local nappkat (fisherman) casting out his nets, and talked to another one on shore who had just brought in a load of…
Or at least, what I believe to be pufferfish, though I had never seen bright yellow ones as large as these were. Whether slated for an untimely death or sale, I was left unsure. I have eaten quite the number of exotic animals in my time, but honestly, when was the last time you ate something bright yellow and prone to intermediate bouts of expansion?
Interspersed throughout the town were several garden plots, so I was happy to see that I would be able to continue my work with a brand new community. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is break out of routine to meet new people who could potentially use your help. If anything, this move will remind me of that, and the need to change up my daily interactions whenever possible. To new beginnings.