Jërëjëf samay xarit!

Weekly Post


Asalaa Maalekum! It’s likely that Mrs. Blackwell’s class will not see this post, as their school year ends tomorrow. But DANG, what a sweet and goofy group of kids! We started off our final celebration by learning how to say Hello (Asalaa maalekum; maalekum salaam!) and How are you? I’m doing well! (Nanga def? Maangi fii rekk!) in Arabic and Wolof. We listened to some Youssou N’Dour, passed around some goodies I brought back to Dakar (including wax fabric, a hand-woven box, jewelry, bin-bins, and glass paintings), and talked about some of the highlights of my time in Senegal. There were many good questions, from the kiddos as well as Mrs. Blackwell! I felt welcomed from the moment I stepped into the classroom, seeing the smiles break out across the students’ faces. “It’s Rheanna, she’s here!”

As a parting gift, I left the kids each with a plastic bracelet wrapped in wax fabric and a sothiou (pardon, I’m not sure of the Wolof phonetic spelling), a Senegalese toothbrush made of a particular kind wood that is supposed to be chewed and scrubbed against the teeth. They wanted to use them as magic wands, which was to be expected, and we parted on a high note as the class ran outside for afternoon recess to show their friends the goodies and feed off that end-of-the-year energy that seems to be universal in the elementary school experience.

My experience in Senegal felt heightened throughout the 4 1/2 months I was there when the thought constantly streaming through my head was, “I can’t wait to tell my class about this!” It gave me a lens to view my experiences through that encouraged me to pay closer attention to my surroundings, remember conversations I had with people, take photos of things I may have ordinarily passed by. I looked forward to the questions from Mrs. Blackwell’s class each week, as sometimes they, too, added a perspective to my experience that I would not have considered before. The brash curiosity that comes from kids is an untapped resource for discovering new angles, ideas, pathways to things we wouldn’t necessarily consider as adults.

Jërëjëf, samay xarit – Thank you, my friends. This semester would not have been the same without you. I hope I’ll be reading about your own adventures soon enough.

Ba beneen yoon, insh’allah – until next time, God willing.

Much love, 



Ba beneen yoon, insh’allah

Weekly Post


Asalaa Maalekum, everyone! As you know, I left Senegal two weeks ago, but this is my final blog post until our in-class celebration (!!!). I wanted to spend this week’s post reflecting on my semester as a whole, as a sort of goodbye to Senegal and Dakar. The first part of this post will be a longer piece of writing, and I’ll use the rest of the post to share some of my favorite photos from the last 5 months.

The day I left Dakar, I spent an hour doing a meditative reflection at my favorite spot overlooking the ocean. After sitting and thinking quietly to myself for the full 60 minutes, I focused my energy towards writing down what I thought would have a lasting impact on me once I return to the States. I don’t believe that one’s life has to be ‘changed’ for better or for worse after visiting another country, but I do believe that we are impacted and also impact upon the places we visit, regardless of how long we are there or what we are doing. Here are a few things from that list:

  1. Aesthetics. Beauty is an incredibly subjective thing – this means that what we as people decide is ‘beautiful’ is not only based on personal preference, but is also very affected by what we are taught to see as having value from things like our parents, the media (TV, advertisements, magazines), and the culture we live in. Some Senegalese ideals of what is considered beautiful, valuable, and desirable are different from those of what we might typically see in Oregon. Living in a culture where my skin tone, clothing, hair, mannerisms, and general way of living in the world are often different from those of the people around me helped me to have a wider perspective than what I have been taught to see as being ‘beautiful’.
  2. Patience. Senegalese culture, much like many other cultures around the world (e.g. Spain, where I currently am typing this), generally has a different concept of time than most places do in the U.S. What we might consider to be ‘late’, i.e. 15 to 30 minutes late, would not necessarily merit an apology in Dakar. This is not better or worse than cultures that generally stick to a tighter time schedule, but it is an adjustment for someone who is used to things happening on time. The time difference mixed with the struggle of speaking different languages, not knowing the transport systems well, and other unforeseen mishaps could turn what would be a half-hour meeting in Portland into a full-day affair in Dakar. Patience is a lovely virtue – when you have the ability (and flexibility in your schedule) to let things go and enjoy the ride, humor and charm can be found in places you wouldn’t normally expect.
  3. Sharing. As I mentioned in the food post, it was startling to me how much I had taken the concept of sharing things for granted until I spent time in Dakar! My experience in the U.S. has been that there is a constant feeling that there is ‘not enough to go around’; not enough money, food, time, things. This leads to a sense of urgency and the idea that if someone else has something, that means there is none left for you. This is so silly to me. I hope to bring the habit of always sharing my food, time, conversation, objects with other people when I can back with me to my life in Portland.
  4. Acknowledgement. At first, the constant greeting of everyone all day long felt exhausting to me in Senegal. I didn’t understand why it was necessary to say hello to someone you didn’t know very well, just to continue a conversation using the same questions and responses every time. What I came to understand for myself is that the importance was not always the content of the conversation, but rather the fact that you recognized another human being and acknowledged their presence in the space. Sometimes, people don’t need a long conversation about deep topics – they just need to feel seen and heard. Not everyone wants or needs to be recognized and acknowledged in the same ways, but the simple act of saying hello can go a long way in making a person feel appreciated.
  5. Humility. I know it’s cheesy, but I think that, (within the bound of reason), life is just too short to get hung up on feeling embarrassed. There were so many moments living in a foreign country where I said or did the wrong thing, inevitably ending in being laughed at by a local person who could so clearly see my cultural faux-pas (missteps). Don’t take yourself too seriously; never be too shy to dance.

Tomorrow is my last day abroad before getting on a plane back to the U.S. I’m sure that when I come in to visit, I’ll have a few more insights and reflections after experiences being back in the States. I’m feeling scared about coming home after being away for 10 months, especially for ‘reverse culture shock’ (the shock of experiencing your home country after living abroad) and for feeling overwhelmed with seeing so many people I have missed so much.

My biggest hope for this blog project was to inspire you all to think with a more open and curious mind about Senegal, West Africa, and Africa in general (which you have more than proved to me with your amazing country reports!), and to encourage you all to feel excited about travelling in your future. What language would you like to try and learn? Where do you most want to visit in the world? I want to hear everything. 

I’ll save the thank yous and goodbyes for next week. For now, here’s a short highlight reel of my semester in Senegal. ❤


Big mama baobab down in Kaolack.


Mother dearest.


Diané, the best teacher ever.


Papmodou Tall, my Senegalese BFF.


Dan working on his ‘luteur’ stance.


Exploring Ile d’Ngor.


My sweet host dad, Pa Sarr.


Marieme’s Birthday.


Finished product of a workshop I held with the kids at my internship.


Queen of the Desert


Ba ayubés bii di ñew, insh’allah! (See you next week, God willing!)



Photo (vidéo) de la Semaine: Week 9

Photo of the Week



Asalaa Maalekum, everyone! OH my goodness, I love your country report projects so much! I cannot wait to see them all in person. Thank you so much for putting so much time and energy into these reports – I can see how hard you worked. I am so, so proud!

This week, instead of a photo, I wanted to share this video I took of my friends Annabelle and Matou going through the typical Wolof greetings. Greetings in Senegal are VERY important, and can take up to 15 minutes just asking questions about friends, family, work, or just the weather! At the end of this post after your questions, I will post a transcript of what Annabelle and Matou are saying in Wolof and English. How are Senegalese greetings similar and different to how we greet people in the U.S.? 

  • William: What is your favorite vegetable? My favorite vegetable is a lemon cucumber! Have you ever had one?
  • Rueben: Legos are extremely fun and they are the best thing you can ever play with. I whole-heartedly agree with this statement.
  • Sigourney: Do you like to play video games? I do, but not often. My dad makes video games, so I grew up with them around me all the time.
  • Grace: What is your favorite type of soda? I really like Sprite.
  • Ayan: Was that a picture of the school? That picture was of an elementary school I went to, but not actually Ayou’s school, unfortunately. I didn’t have an opportunity to go to her school!
  • Eric: Do they have Rubric’s Cubes? Do you have walkie talkies? They DO have Rubiks Cubes! My friend in Senegal, after reading my blog post, reached out to tell me that she saw a man selling Rubiks Cubes on the side of the road. I’m not sure about Walkie Talkies, but I would imagine they do have them!
  • Ayan: Do they have X Boxes? I never saw any X Boxes. Maybe for some of the more wealthy families? I didn’t really see any video games besides iPhone games.
  • Eric: do you have Takies? (hot orange chips) I never saw any Takies in Senegal, but I DID see them this week in Spain (where I am right now)!

Thanks for your questions! Ba beneen yoon, insh’allah.


– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – — – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Transcript for the Video ‘Wolof Greetings’

(Cultural Note for the Video: In Wolof, instead of saying how is your family, one will usually say where is your family. Saying ‘I am here’ or ‘they are here’ means not only that they are physically there at home, but also that they are mentally and spiritually present and healthy.)

Matou: Ko kan la? Who is it?

Annabelle: Man laa. It’s me. 

M: Yow la kan? You, who?

A: Man laa Annabelle. Me, Annabelle.

M: Aaah okay na nga def, waay? Ah okay, how are you, friend?

A: Maangi fii rekk! Yaangi ci jamm? I’m here! You’re in peace?

M: Waaw, maangi ci jamm. Yes, I am in peace.

A: Alxamdoulilah. Ana sa waa kër? Praise be to God. Where is your family?

M: Ñungi fii. They’re here!

A: Ñungi ci jamm? They’re in peace?

M: Ñungi ci jamm. Yes, they’re in peace.

A: Alxamdoulilah. Naka suba si? Praise be to God. How is your morning?

M: Suba san gi nii rekk! Maangi ci kawam. The morning is here! I’m on top (I’m doing great).

A: Alxamdoulilah. Praise be to God.

M: Alxamdoulilah. Yow nag, naka suba si? Praise be to God. And you, how is your morning?

A: Maangi sante Yallah. Maangi ci kawam. I’m thanking God. I’m on top of it. 

M: Naka ligéey bi? How is work?

A: Nungi nii! Nungi nii, mungi dox. We’re here! We’re here, it’s working great.

M: Mungi dox bu baax? It’s working really well?

A: Waaw, bu baax u baax. Yes, really really well.

M: Naka njàng bi? How is school?

A: Alxamdoulilah, maangi ci kawam. Praise be to God, I’m on top of it. 

M: Aah, baax na! Aah, wonderful!

A: Waaw, baax na. Ana sa yaay? Yeah, it’s great. Where is your mom?

M: Mungi fii! Mungi ci kër bi. Waaw, mungi neelaw, waaye, dafa teel. She’s here! She’s in the house. She’s sleeping, it’s early in the morning.

A: Dëgg la, kaay. Nuyul ma sa waa kër! It’s true. Say hello to your family!

M: Insh’allah dinañu ko dégg. God willing they will hear it.

A: Maangi dem. I’m leaving.

M: Nuyul ma sa waa kër! Say hello to your family!

A: Insh’allah dinañu ko dégg! God willing they will hear it!


Weekly Post

Asalaa Maalekum, everyone! This week I wanted to shine a spotlight on just a few kinds Senegalese music and dance. Feccal means ‘dance!’ in Wolof. Music and dance are intertwined in Senegalese culture, so much so that it’s hard to talk about one without the other. Something I experienced on a regular basis was that in situations where people in the Pacific North West (Seattle, Portland, etc) might feel shy about getting up and dancing, Senegalese folks never seemed to have that hesitation. If there was music, it was only natural that someone would be grooving along. This post will be mostly videos – feel free to watch just a minute or two of each, to get an idea of the sound or movement, but I highly recommend you watch all of the last video on this post!

First we have Sabar, the traditional drumming and dance of Senegal.  Sabar is a historically Serer music and dance (my host family is Serer!), originating hundred of years ago in the Senegambia region. Sabar dance is big and full of energy, using the dancer’s arms and legs to their fullest. I only saw Sabar being danced a few times while in Senegal – at a dance performance, and at my brother’s wedding. Though it’s not danced as often as other, more modern dances, even my 6 year old sisters knew the basics of Sabar and would try them out every time a song came on while watching TV.  (It was adorable).


In Wolof, Mbalax means ‘rhythm’, and it is used to describe the specific rhythms used in Sabar music. However, the rhythms of Sabar and the more modern genres of jazz and pop fused together to create it’s own genre, also called Mbalax. Youssou N’Dour is the most famous Mbalax singer in Senegal, and I’ve heard it said that his music has done more for the country than all of the NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations – organizations that do aid projects in Senegal, usually) in Senegal combined. Any time Youssou N’Dour came on the TV or radio, each of my family members would stop what they were doing to sing and dance along. Some other famous Mbalax singers are Pape Diouf, Coumba Gawlo, and Cheikh Lô (though Cheikh Lô is more of mix of genres).


The Kora is an instrument native to West Africa, specifically in Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, and Burkina Faso. It’s a 12 stringed double-bridged lute harp (wow!), and is traditional to the Mandinka peoples. It’s made with half a calabash shell, wrapped in cow hide to create the drum base. How is the Kora different or similar to other ‘classical’ music and instruments you have heard? 


Senegalese music and dancing isn’t all Sabar and Mbalax! People listen to all sorts of pop, rap, jazz, and hip hop from all over the world (every time I introduced myself I received a “Oh, Rheanna? Like the singer? I love her!). However West African pop, mostly from Nigeria, was by far the most popular. This song was blasting everywhere during my time in Senegal, accompanied by the dance Maître Gims does in the video. Most pop songs come along with a specific dance, much like the Whip Nae Nae, that everyone knew how to do. The few times I went out to the clubs, people would be dancing their hearts out to Nigerian pop until 6 in the morning. Do you like this song? Do you think it would be popular in the U.S.? Why, or why not?


There are many, many more kinds of music and dance styles from Senegal that I would love to explore with you, and hopefully I can play some for you when I come visit! This video above was made by a dance studio right next to my house in Mermoz, making an A-Z alphabet of different styles of African dance. How many did you know about before this video? Which ones would you like to try out?



Me, caught in the middle of a Sabar dance circle at my brother’s wedding. 

Ba ci kanam, insh’allah!



Kii, jangkat la!

Weekly Post

Asalaa Maalekum, everyone! I left Senegal this week after the end of my program, and will be in Europe the next few weeks. However, I have some posts lined up about different things in Senegal for the remaining few weeks of this blog! The other week, I finally had a chance to interview our resident jangkat, or student: my little sister Ayou.

Ayou is 9 years old, in the year CE2 at her elementary school. Senegal has the same school system as in France, which is very different than the U.S. Instead of grades 1-5, the French use a different system:

After the first few weeks I was in Senegal, Ayou had the misfortune of getting hit by a car on the way home from school. She was okay, but ended up on the couch for a month away from school with a broken leg. Now, I’m pleased to say that Ayou is up and running with the rest of the neighborhood kids, working twice as hard at her studies to catch up! Ayou is funny, sweet, and has a sharp sense of humor that will snap at you if you’re not careful. Here’s our interview with your questions!

Emma: What do you like to do for fun? I like to play with my friends. That’s all!

Grace:  What types of food do you eat when you go home for lunch? Ceebu jën (cheb-oo-jen), chou kandia (shoo con-juh).

Rayne:  What is your favorite? Soupe kandia (soopa con-juh) is my favorite!

Connor:  Do you have middle school and high school? Yes.

Grace:  Do you have colleges and do you get homework? Yes! Yes, we have homework. Mostly exercises. And lessons to read. Mostly the math. But I don’t like math. You calculate, and calculate, and calculate, and that’s it!

What is your math like?  Do you have to learn fractions and negative numbers? Addition, subtraction, division, multiplication! Yeah, I know about fractions and negative numbers.

Do you have recess?  Yes. There are two recesses (called ‘creation’ in French) that are 30 minutes each.

Givonne:  Do you have to go to school in the summer? Yeah! In Senegal, school is closed for vacation between October and January.

Eric:  Do you have teacher planning days? Yes.

Do you have report cards? No, I get my grades back in my notebook at school and at the end of the year I get all my grade on a piece of paper.

Ayan:  What do your play grounds look like? Yes. There are rocks, and sand, and a field for the boys to play in, a place for the girls – it’s a little square box that we sit in and write on the ceiling who gets to be the next president of our friend group. I always vote for Kolibala, she’s my best friend!

Eric:  Do you have field trips? Yes. We go to Hann Park, the fair, and the swimming pool.

Do you have outdoor school? Non, not really. I don’t really know. I don’t think so.

Grace:  Do you have any class pets, as in animals? No.

Ayan:  Do you have a mascot? No, there isn’t one.

Eric:  Do you have iPads or other electronics? The teacher has an iPod!

Do you have cell phones? Non, but sometimes a kid will have one yeah.

What do kids get in trouble for the most? Fighting each other. Today one kid but rocks and sand in the president’s eyes!

How long do you go to school each day? What time does school get out?8am to 1pm and then from 3pm to 5pm.

Rheanna! Give me 50 minutes to do something. Fifty minutes? That’s a lot. Yeah, I need 50 minutes to do something really important. Like what? Drink water. You need 50 minutes to drink water? Yes. Wait for me there.

Eric:  Do you do class photos?  Do you have picture day?  Do you have yearbooks? Yes, yes, no!

Genevieve:  Is there a library there? Yes.

Grace:  Do you have teacher appreciation week?  What specials do you have, like PE or Art? Yes! The ‘gentillesse’ (in French: the kindness). We have sports, not art.

Eric:  Do you have chalk or white boards? Blackboards.

How many questions are left? Only five, don’t worry. Uuuuuuuugh.

What do you wish your school had? I don’t know. More races!

Eric:  Do you have Legos? No, what’s that?

Genevieve:  Do you read comics? No, not yet.

Are we done yet? Soon! Hold on, just two more! 

Grace:  What do your classrooms look like? There are tables, white walls, and a blackboard.

Genevieve:  Do you have a dog or a cat? No, no dogs or cats.



Ayou and Laura at Laura and Cheikh’s wedding.

Thanks for the questions, everyone!

Ba ci kanam, insh’allah.



Photo de la Semaine: Week 7

Photo of the Week


Asalaa Maalekum, everyone! This is the Monument of the African Renaissance, finished in 2010 as commissioned by the former president, Abdoulaye Wade. It is 49 meters tall (about 147 feet!) made out of bronze. The inside is hollow, and tourists come from all over to climb the steps and take an elevator up to the head of the giant bronze man. It is the tallest statue in all of Africa! I have some friends who run up and down those steps every morning for exercise. Think you could run up these stairs every morning? Would you try?

Léegi léegi, insh’allah!


Photo de la Semaine: Week 6

Photo of the Week

The dress of my darling friend/teacher Simone

Asalaa Maalekum, everyone! Did you know? Senegal is famous for it’s abundance of African wax print fabric. It’s called ‘wax’ because of the waxy texture, which is more or less shiny/stiff depending on the quality. Wax fabric comes in any color/pattern combination you could possibly think of. Things I have seen printed on African wax fabric include spray paint (with hand attached), toothpaste, electric fans, bathtubs with showers attached, shrimp, lightbulbs, flashing camera (with hand attached), dismembered fingers, and dinner plates with whole fish. If you look in the ‘About Rheanna’ section of the blog, you can see me wearing a dress my host aunt made out of of wax I picked out at HLM, the biggest wax fabric market in West Africa! What kind of wax fabric would you want?

And now to get to all those awesome questions!

Emily: Yes I did like [the finger henna]. Thanks, Emily! So do I!

Rayne: In the city, do they have bathrooms for both genders or just one? Most of the bathrooms I see are single-stall bathrooms designated by ‘male’ or ‘female’, or else as gender neutral if there is only one.

Samantha: Do they have clothing stores like Ross? Not really, no! Some people get their clothes from used clothing markets where clothes are sold in little market stalls at low prices, but most people get their clothes hand-made by tailors out of wax fabric! I’ve had four dresses made while being here – none of them cost more than $14 each.

Grace: Do you see tumble weeds in the desert? No, Lompoul was not a desert with tumble weeds.

Connor: Was it difficult adapting to Africa? Well, that’s hard to say, as Africa is HUGE with many countries, many climates and many, many different cultures. I’m not sure if I would be able to easily adapt to any other African country besides Senegal. As for adapting to Senegal – many things were very hard. The first month I was here, I was constantly sick from the change in food. And even though I speak a pretty decent level of French, it was really hard to adjust to everyone mostly speaking Wolof all the time. There are dozens of cultural things that were difficult to adjust to completely, which I’d love to talk about sometime. Thanks for the question!

Jacky: Was that snapchat for the picture of the fingers? Ha! Yep, you got me. 🙂

Emma: That [slavery] is terrible. I completely agree, Emma.

Does slavery still happen in Senegal? Do the English come take people away? Legal slavery was abolished (ended) by France in 1794, as well as Senegal since it was under the rule of the French. However, legal slavery in Mauritania, the country just north of Senegal (which I posted about last week), was not abolished until 1981! That’s only 35 years ago. It is very probable that even though slavery was ended in Senegal, there were still people from Senegal enslaved in Mauritania. Unfortunately, although slavery is no longer legal anywhere in the world, illegal slavery still exists everywhere, including the United States. It is simply harder to see because of how hidden it is.

William: I never actually knew that slavery was going on in West Africa. Well, it technically isn’t anymore, at least not legally. Had you learned about the trans-atlantic slave trade and slavery in the U.S. in school before?

Reuben: I do not like slavery especially because I am Black. I saw the movie Django. Dang, I haven’t even seen Django yet! I hear you, Reuben. I don’t like it either. As a white person, it is hard for me to imagine what Black people must feel when reading about things like this.

Ayan: That’s sad. I agree, Ayan.

Thanks for all the great questions this week. I can’t wait to interview my sister with your great interview questions, as well!

Ba ayu bès bii di ñew, insh’allah! (See you next week, God willing!)





Cosaan senegale: Ile de Gorée

Weekly Post

Asalaa Maalekum, Mrs. Blackwell’s class! Thanks for all your awesome questions last week, I’ll answer them later this week. This week, I’m going to focus on a more heavy subject in cosaan senegale (Senegalese history): the slave trade and history of Gorée Island in Senegal. This is waaaaaay too large of a topic to properly tackle in one little blog post (some people dedicate their lives to studying this, not to mention the ), but I’m going to do my best to give you an introduction to this part of Senegalese history that continues to have a huge impact on Senegal today.


The port of Gorée Island – fun fact, ‘Ibrahima Sarr’ is my dad’s name!

Gorée Island is right off the coast of Dakar, a 20 minute ferry ride from downtown. It is a tourist destination as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site – President Obama himself came to visit in 2013. The history of Gorée is that it is widely believed to be one of the main trading ports used in the trans-atlantic slave trade to ship West African peoples out to the Americas and Europe for slave labor.

A very, very brief and summarized historical interlude:

The region of West Africa now known as Senegal and the Gambia (the smaller country download (4).jpg
within the borders of Senegal) were home to many powerful empires of African people before Europeans set foot on West African soil. Mansa Musa, a king during the Mali empire, was rumored to have so much gold that during his religious pilgrimage to Mecca (a very important Islamic religious site) he brought thousands of men along to carry his pounds of gold bars, erecting cities for him and his entourage at every stop along the way. Of course, whether or not all of that is true is not certain, but what is important is that his reputation alone reached all the way up to Europe during the 1400s.

In the 15th century, the Portuguese set foot on West African soil in search of gold and trading opportunities, including the trade of slaves. Though slave trade had existed within African countries long before then, the arrival of Europeans in West Africa (Senegal has been passed back and forth between Portugal, the

download (5).jpg

General map of the trans-atlantic slave trade

Netherlands, Denmark, France, and England up until the final colonization by France in the 1800s) began the long history of taking African slaves overseas to work on plantations for European enterprises. Between the 15th and 19th centuries (that’s 400 YEARS of slave trade), it is estimated that at least 10 million African people were enslaved and transported to Europe or the Americas to work. Though the majority of slaves were taken from Central Africa, especially the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a large portion of slaves in the trans-atlantic trade were taken directly from the Senegambian region.


La Maison des Esclaves and the Door of No Return:


Myself and some other tourists exploring la Maison des Esclaves, which has been turned into a museum about the trans-atlantic slave trade.

The ‘Maison des Esclaves’ (House of Slaves) on Gorée is large, bright, spaceous, yet interspersed with small, cramped rooms with barely any light. These rooms are credited towards being the last stop for enslaved African people on their way out to sea to be transported across the Atlantic Ocean – a deadly journey where the majority of people died before reaching the shore due to illness, malnutrition, and suffocation from being shackled side-by-side in impossibly cramped quarters.

Within la Maison des Esclaves, there is an opening in the back of the building known as the ‘Door of No Return’, commonly discussed as being the last door enslaved Africans ever went through before heading out on to the dangerous open sea.


Today, the idea that Gorée was the most important slave port in West Africa, or even that there were many slaves there at all, has been debunked. There were other places in Senegal that had more enslaved people taken from (namely Zuiginchor), and it has come to light that the Maison des Esclaves may not be much more than a symbol representation of what some slave houses were like. However, just because some of the facts around Gorée are more likely myths, it is only a small myth within an enormous, overwhelming truth. The trans-atlantic slave trade was real, it was horrific, and the effects of its damage can still be found all over the world. Today, Gorée stands as a sort of symbol and memorial to all of the people who were taken from their homes in West Africa to a life, if they lived, of brutal torture and slavery.

13149856_10209688177347933_258598374_n (1).jpg

The plaque above, found at la Maison des Esclaves, reads: “Millions and millions of men, women, and children today are saying ‘no’ to the misery and the shame, because the men who were treated as slaves by the people in power knew in their heart that they were men. And many have died in those three centuries so that no one will ever forget it”.

What do you think about Gorée Island? Did you know about this part of West African history?

It is impossible for me to try to explain the entirety, or even a relatively small portion, of the history of the trans-atlantic slave trade and colonialism in Senegal. I encourage you to learn more about the history of slavery – in Africa, in Europe, in South America, and especially in the United States. It is a part of the world’s history that will never, in our lifetimes, not be relevant and important to understanding how our world works today.

Do you have any questions about Gorée and the history of slavery in Senegal? I can do my best to answer them later this week.

Ba ci kanam, insh’allah.





Photo de la Semaine: Week 5

Photo of the Week


Taking my morning Nescafé at school.

Asalaa Maalekum, everyone! I know this is just supposed to be a one photo post, but I felt like the three together were essential this week. Last night I had the honor of having my host mom, Yaayboy, help me do my nails the Senegalese way. Yaayboy entered my life a little later than everyone else, which makes little bonding moments like these feel especially important to us building a relationship. She was supposed to be in Italy for three weeks, but ended up being gone three months – there is a superstition in Senegal to never tell people when you’re coming home, as telling people when you’re returning might bring about bad luck on your journey. Two months into my stay I came home as usual and – BOOM – there she was in the living room!

Anyways, back to the nails – Many women here choose to color their nails with henna (fuddën, in Wolof), a reddish-brown dye powder made out of a local plant. You mix the powdered henna with water and carefully mold the paste onto each finger, making surely to tightly secure each fingertip with a strip of plastic. I kept the henna on all night long (you wouldn’t believe how hard it was to try to scratch your back in the middle of the night with plastic baggies on each finger!!) and washed it out in the morning. The dye on my fingers will wear off in a few days, but my nails will stay stained orange until the nail grows out! I keep getting stopped in the street by Senegalese people telling me how beautiful my hands look. What do you think of this beauty trend? Would you try it out?

I’m so excited you found time to write some questions this week!

  • Reuben – Do you like the color of the water (of the Lace Rose)? Yes! I felt lucky it was so pink when I went to visit, I’ve heard that depending on the day the pink doesn’t show up very well.
  • Ayan – Why do you guys play in the dunes? Why WOULDN’T we? Wouldn’t you? It was so fun!
  • Mrs. Blackwell – Aren’t the dunes hot sand? The thing about the desert is that while it can get very hot during the day, it can get equally as cold at night. When we arrived in the early evening, the sand had already cooled down enough to feel refreshing. When we left the following day around 11, it had just started to heat up enough to feel unpleasant on my feet.
  • Grace – Why is the color of the sand the way it is? Ha! Actually, I edit my photos to make the colors a little brighter and more fun depending on the photo. The sand was a solid, goldeny beige color.
  • Rueben – Lots of people when I think of Africa. Does this mean you think more of cities than of deserts, when you think of Africa?
  • Danny – I rode an ostrich in Vietnam. That sounds awesome, dude.

    What a beautiful backdrop for using the bathroom. (This is also a more accurate picture of the sand).

  • Kalab – When you slept in that tent on your trip, where did you go to the bathroom? Excellent question. Luckily, a friend of mine took a photo! There were little square enclosures made out of leaves and branches woven together that surrounded a toilet and a bucket of water to wipe your bottom with. I suspect the toilet water went into a bucket buried underneath in the sand, as there’s certainly no plumbing out there.
  • Justin – Why is the sand cool? Read my response to Mrs. Blackwell above!
  • Rayne – Do you have to show your passport every time you go to a new country in Africa? Another great question! Usually, yes, you have to show your passport just like you would have to for any other country. However, since we literally just put one foot into Mauritania, they didn’t make us show any ID.
  • Grace – In a cafeteria at school, do the students have to offer their food to other students? You know, I’m not sure! I’ve never been in a cafeteria setting. What I do know is that most students and adults that work actually go all the way home to eat lunch, or else buy lunch at a pop-up restaurant on the road selling ceebu jën. It’s normal for lunch breaks to be 2 hours long so that everyone can go home from work to eat. In those cases, since you are either eating around a big plate with your family or everyone has their own plate, it’s not necessary to share.
  • Emma – Have you ever heard of the book Long Walk to Water? You know, the first time I heard about that book was from you all! I can’t wait to read it some day. Did you like it?

Thanks for all the excellent questions this week! Can’t wait to Skype this Friday.

Ba àjjuma, insh’allah! (See you on Friday, God willing!)



Sama weekend bi ci St. Louis

Weekly Post

Asalaa Maalekum, everyone! Hope your weekend was as great as mine! ‘Sama weekend bi ci St. Louis’ means what you probably guessed it means – My weekend in St. Louis. Last Friday, my program in Dakar took all the students up to St. Louis and Lompoul for a three-day field trip. St. Louis is 264 kilometers north of Dakar, near the border of Mauritania.


Sweet cutie cow takin’ a snooze under a pirogue.

On Friday we piled into buses early in the morning to drive the four hours straight to St. Louis. We were on the trip with our professor who teaches a class about Environment and Development. This photo above was taken at a fishing village on the coast of St. Louis. We learned about how with global warming increasing the sea level one meter closer to shore each year, this village is predicted to be flooded in only twenty years. What do you think the effects of global warming will be like in Portland? 


La barrage de St. Louis!


Walked 15 minutes and ended up in Northern Africa, whoops.

For another part of our Environment class, we visited this dam that separates fresh and salt water in St. Louis. With short walk north past the dam, we reached the border of Mauritania! The Mauritanian border guards all spoke in Arabic and were very kind to let us take this cheesy photo. Northern African, in general, is regarded very differently than West Africa, where Senegal is. For starters, the majority of people in West Africa are Black. The majority of people in Northern Africa are lighter-skinned, Arab peoples. However, like Senegal, there are a few North African countries that also speak French as well as their local languages. Why do you think so many countries, so far from France, speak French? If you looked at a map of Africa, could you point out which countries were in Northern Africa, West Africa, East Africa, and Southern Africa? 

From St. Louis we took a day trip up to the National Bird Sanctuary of Djoudj. We saw pelicans, wild boars, and of course the usual donkeys. Many of the birds were already gone, as we’re headed into the off-season for the park (I was so sad to miss the flamingos!).

Saturday night, we headed to Lompoul, a small desert in the middle of Senegal. Lompoul is not technically a part of the Sahara desert – in fact, that the Lompoul desert exists at all is a bit of an anomaly. Senegal is part of the Sahel region, which is the region of land south of the Sahara that mostly consists of grasslands.

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One of the tents we slept in at Lompoul. So peaceful.


Camel rides!

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This one’s name was Joe.

We arrived in Lompoul a little before dusk, and the lot of us started off sprinting towards the dunes. The sand was soft and cool between our toes, and the steady silence of the desert was delightfully refreshing after months of the noisy, crowded streets of Dakar. I would have spent a week in that silence, doing nothing but reading and napping and playing in the dunes.

If I had the chance, I would have loved to travel south to the Casamance region of Senegal. Down there is full of lush greenery, I’ve heard, and a stark difference from the desert/grasslands areas of northern and central Senegal and the dusty, beach-lined coast of Dakar.  I was able to travel all the way to south east Senegal, which is famous for having a gorgeous waterfall and steep hillsides. It’s amazing how varied the landscape of Senegal is depending on which area you go to. Do you associate Africa more with the desert, grasslands, jungle, or something else entirely?

I know you all have a few posts to catch up on, so I’ll keep this one short and sweet.


Tryin’ out my raptor impersonation in St. Louis.

Ba ci kanam, insh’allah!