Friday, January 25, 2013

Siblings Abroad: The Island Life

After our mom flew back to the U.S. my brother and I went to Cape Verde, a little Portuguese-and-Creole-speaking island nation off the coast of Senegal.  We didn't get out to as many of the islands as we would have liked, but we did enjoy the ridiculously blue water at the beaches around Praia, on the main island of Santiago, and we walked along the black sand beaches and climbed up the volcano on Fogo.

One of the nice things about Praia are these little outdoor gyms plunked down along the shoreline -- I thought they were playgrounds for kids (and kids do seem to like them) but there were a decent number of adults using them, too. Also, tidepools.

To get from one island to another you can take a ferry or a plane. We went to a little travel agency and got tickets to fly to Fogo and then ferry back; it was just what worked for our schedule and price range. The airport was pleasant and had wireless internet and truly magnificent vending machines. Hot chocolate, cold beer, ginger soda, Kit Kats, ham pizza-flavored chips, yogurt flavored gummies - you name it and drop some change in and a metal coil will push it your way. The prosciutto-flavored Ruffles were really good, but I think the best snack we had were the bananas. The Cape Verdian bananas are exponentially better than the bananas we get in the U.S.

We spent an afternoon in Sao Filipe, the main city on Fogo, and then headed up to the caldera to see the volcano. It was beautiful, and it was cold, especially at night. The next morning we got up early to hike up to the volcano peak (2,829 metres (9,281 ft) - the sunrise was nice, and the shadow of the peak on the rim of the caldera was really neat.


 Once we got up to the top there were sulfur vents and a spectacular view ans two gaggles of pleasant enough middle-aged French and Belgian tourists (though one of them apparently thought that French was some sort of secret language and made a comment about our inadequate footwear; she was quite startled when I replied that our sneakers were working just fine, thanks).

At the tippy top there was a part where you had to scramble up and over using a cable hand-rail, and, feeling a little loopy from the altitude, I chickened out. Ben and Josef, our guide, went all the way up, though, and then came back for me. They were quite gracious about it, even.

   Like Mt. Shasta, coming down was much more fun (and a zillion times faster) than going up. On Fogo it was gritty volcanic sand instead of snow (our shoes were packed painfully full of rock powder by the time we had bounded all the way to the bottom) but it was still really fun to careen full-speed down a slope that we'd spent all morning walking up.

There were more sulfur vents at the bottom of the hill (I stuck my hand near the opening of one and it was hot and steamy and smelled of egg) and a variety of other minerals that made for these lovely rainbow-ish swathes of color across the smaller craters. 

We cruised back to the little compound where we'd let a room, eating tiny apples from the apple bushes and tart grapes from the grape bushes (impressive that things grow in such a sparse landscape) and had a very nice lunch of leftovers. 

I have to go back to my site now (work stuff beckons) but will be back in a week or so to post the best of the rest of my travel photos. Hope you're well & enjoying 2013 so far!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Families in Senegal

Just after Christmas my mom and brother arrived from California. After they landed in Dakar they got to sleep for a few hours before piling in to a "sept-place" station wagon for the long drive down to Kédougou. We hired Seydou, one of the best drivers in town, and shared the car with PCV Ilana and her visiting family, which made for a much more comfortable ride than would have been possible on public transport.

We spent a day in Kédougou, where they got to see the market and the tailor and visit the wonderful Regional House. It was great except that this is brush- and field-burning season and the air was thick with smoke and dust. Then we headed out to Salémata, where I got to introduce my American family to my Senegalese family here, which was really great. We spent time just hanging out on the family compound, played with the little kids and chatted with my host parents.

My mom decided that she wanted to have her hair braided and my host sister Kesso (a professional-level hair stylist) was happy to oblige. I made henna from scratch, for decorating my mom's feet and the neighborhood kids' hands, and by the end of the visit everyone said that mom was clearly African now. It was really good to be able to bring my American family by the health center, to see some of the latrines being built, and to meet my friends around town, to have dinner with my friend Maimouna, and just generally to show them my life and work here. We dayhiked to the Bassari and Bedik villages, tried palm wine, saw monkeys, hormbills, and a chamelon. It was abundantly clear that host family was really glad to meet my mom and brother -- I've never eaten so well in my time here, and when it came time to leave they showered them with gifts of baobab powder, fonio grain, shea butter, and local crafts.

From Salémata we headed back to Kédougou (to pick up things from the tailor, belatedly celebrate PCV Patrick Hair's birthday, stroll by the river, where we saw a monitor lizard) and then on to Toubacouta. While stopping for lunch in Kaolack we had the good fortune to run into PCV Dan, who came with us to Toubacouta, showed us around, and was just generally very good company. We kayaked through the mangroves, walked with the lions at the Fathala Park, had several lovely dinners, and lounged our way through some very  lovely sunsets over the water.

After that it was on to Mbour, where we stayed in a great little beachside bungalow-style hotel and enjoyed more than our fair share of the delicious Liqueurs de Warang - Passionfruit, Citrus, Ginger & Bissap (like hibiscus), Corrosol (soursop), Cashew Fruit, and Creme de Warang (choco-cafe-banana cream). After the beach we headed up to Dakar, which is kind of an awful city for tourism (harassment, trash-strewn streets, grime and noise abound) but visiting Goreé Island with PCVs Nic & Ivy and their visiting family was great, as was rooftop dinner with our friends Rachel, Emily & Xavier at a fantastic Ethiopian place.

We met up with my host brother Saliou, who lives in Dakar, where he goes to University. I'd never met  him before (but I have greeted him on the phone when he calls Salémata on holidays and the phone gets passed around) and he turns out to be smart and gracious and a really good English speaker. As Family Time in Senegal drew to a close my mom, brother and I saw one of the loveliest sunsets ever, just off Point des Almadies (the westernmost part of Africa), and then headed over to the airport to drop our mom off for her flight.

All the translating, introducing, arranging transport, long car rides, bargaining and explaining were exhausting at times but I'm extremely glad that my mom and brother were able to visit. It was wonderful to spend time with them, after I get back to America they'll have a much better understanding of my Peace Corps service than they ever could have gotten from photos and e-mails, and it means so much to my host family and friends that they came to visit  from so very far away.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Out of Office

My American family came to visit so I took the rest of my vacation days and haven't been online much  at all lately. I'll be back in Senegal (all too) soon and will be post pictures and updates as regularly as the internet connection allows. 

In the mean time here is a photo of the ocean in Praia. It's very much a postcard-come-to-life-type-place, lots of warm waves and tropical fruit. Hope your year is also off to a beautiful start! 

Praia, Cape Verde