Monday, March 8, 2010

Senegal and back again!

I may not be as witty as Daniel but here I am, another upperclass(wo)man to give you a different perspective on life at Macalester. I'm Melinda and I am an Environmental Studies major, Political Science minor, and a junior at Mac. I am from a mix of Santa Barbara, CA and the Twin Cities (by the time I graduate I will have spent an equal amount of time in both California and Minnesota). I am a tour guide coordinator for the Admissions office, I volunteer once a week at a local high school helping students prepare for college applications, I spent two years on Mac's varsity women's water polo team, and I'm on my third caffeinated beverage of the day so this post may be a little ridiculous (like my life in general).
Oh did I forget to mention that I spent the last semester studying abroad in Senegal, West Africa? Well I did and I’ll never be the same. Now hot showers are a little more wonderful, I miss meals like ceebujen (rice and fish) and yassa (an onion and chicken dish), my meat isn’t slaughtered in my backyard 10 minutes before I eat it, and I know about 50 words of Wolof (a common language in Senegal). I know I am incredibly lucky to have hopped on a plane in late August and flown to a developing country, then four months later traveled back to the developed world and my hot showers and unlimited refrigerated food.
While in Senegal I lived in the capital, Dakar, for 2 months with my first host family and took classes on international development, ecology and conservation in Senegal, and Wolof. Each morning, I would either catch a cramped bus with three other girls from my neighborhood or we would walk for over an hour in the heat and humidity to get to our school. I explored the city, learned to haggle for cabs and goods at the markets, and swam at every beach I could. Below are some amazing pictures from my time abroad!
Yoga on the beach in St. Louis, Senegal
A woman at a well in Mbam, Senegal
Pounding millet in my backyard
Right when I became comfortable in the city the classroom portion of the program ended and all the students were dropped off in villages alone, across Senegal, to work for grassroots development organizations. I lived in Mbam, a village of about 2,000 people with a host family of about 15 people. My life in the village slowed to a daily routine of nescafé and a baguette for breakfast at 9, maybe doing work with my supervisor for my internship for a few hours, and then hanging out with my host family all afternoon. Life could not have been more different from my busy life at Mac.
Now that I am back at school my academic life has kicked in high gear. It was not as hard as I expected to jump back into my classes and my social life. It’s true, now I need my google calendar to keep my life straight and remind me of all the meetings, classes, theater shows, lunch dates, and pilates classes I have to be at. Time in West Africa is so fluid and relaxing, it wasn’t a problem that I spent 5 hours in my backyard reading, playing with small children, and cutting onions for dinner. At Mac five hours is sometimes the amount of sleep I get in a night.

I wouldn't have it any other way. Living in Senegal was one of the best and hardest experiences of my entire life but that is the same for my time at Macalester. The difficulties might be completely different, like having to write two ten-page papers in one weekend compared to tryng to get directions in Wolof, but I love it all!