Friday, February 29, 2008

Random scenes

Yesterday on my way from the orphanage, I stuck my camera out the window of the taxi a few times. Generally I don't like taking photos (I hate looking like a tourist, just on principle), but I wanted to give an idea of what life is like here.

Football (soccer) is ridiculous here. People go nuts. When Senegal has a big match, the streets empty and from my apartment on the fifth floor I can tell when our team has scored by the simultaneously roaring of people gathered at televisions across town. It is very sweet, and I always smile at the sense of community the games bring, although it is annoying when I need to get a cab. So this first photo is of a sidewalk athletic store, with caps and jerseys for various football teams.


Music is gigantic here, and Senegal is considered to be the center of African jazz. (Have you ever heard of Youssou N'Dour? He is from Dakar and allegedly plays in town sometimes.) I thought living here was going to be this fabulous opportunity for me to hear all sorts of music, but -- and I am not exaggerating even a little bit -- music starts at 1 am and ends at 7 am. (We thought Flanagans was bad!) To me, this is just unreasonable. There is a music here called mblax, which is a mix of jazz, native African and Caribbean rhythms. Sounds cool, huh? Well, I will just have to buy the CD. So this second photo is of a sidewalk music store. They are everywhere alongside the roads.


Drumming is really big here. One day I was walking along the beach and I saw this man high up in a little dugout in a cliff wall with his face turned up to the sky, drumming madly. It was an incredible glimpse. People here are very engaged, artistic and spiritual. At any rate, I would like to buy a drum and take a class, but I actually feel a little intimidated. I would do it if I could drag a friend along with me, but so far no one is interested.



The next photos actually are from Saint Louis (4 hours north of Dakar), but they have these boats in Dakar as well. West Senegal is one big fishing port, and the fishing is done in these beautiful painted boats, called pirogues. Generally just two to five men will go out on each boat, which (I have read) they rent; boats cost abot $7,000 USD each. The boat bottoms are made from kapok trees; the trees are cut, hollowed out, packed with some sort of mud and left to sit for a few years, after which they are pliable and can be straightened to form the bottom of the boat. They last for years and years. We live about 3/4 mile from the sea, and from 5-6:30 every night we smell FISH. It can be pretty stifling, depending on how the wind is blowing, I guess. It smells to me like toasted dog food. I don't now why.

Our guide gets the prize

Eric and I went fishing one time with some friends, just to see how it is done. Basically, you get a plank of plywood with some really thick fishing line wrapped around it, and two hooks on the end. You put some shrimp on, unravel the line (we went down to about 60 feet), and give it a jerk when you feel something. I tried because I thought it would be hard, but it was not hard at all. Furthermore, because we were fishing so deep, the poor little guys' lungs all had exploded from surfacing so fast, so there was no sense even to throw them back. I have attached a photo of our guide, who had a very successful day. Here, he has caught two fish at once! He actually also caught an octopus, which was what turned me off to the whole endeavor for good. It was so beautiful and alive and writhing when he brought it up. As it was dying, I put my finger to one of its little sticky suction cups, and it latched on weakly. It was just so sad. All of us were bummed, I think. (Except the guide. He could sell whatever we didn't want to keep for ourselves.)


This last photo is a roadside art sale. Not very good (the photo nor the art), but I'm including it because there's actually a person in it (I don't like taking photos of people without asking). She is dressed in very typically. The women here are beautiful, and very outgoing and sweet. I have a good time joking with them, although they all charge me too much for my vegetables, and don't think I don't know it.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

At the Orphanage

Here are a few photos of the orphanage in Dakar, where I spend most mornings or afternoons during the week. There are 45 children here ranging in age from a few days to 10 months old. Sadly, all of their mothers have died, but of the 45, only about 11 are truly without families. The rest eventually will be taken by an uncle or cousin or some such, but often these families just either cannot afford the time off or the formula or all of the other things that are required to raise an infant. So this orphanage, run by Franciscan nuns and by nannies-in-training, supports them in the interim. They see to all of the children's needs for the first ten months. Their families often come and visit them on the weekends or sometimes during the week; it is always very sweet to see them with their babies. After 10 months, the babies go to their families, and the orphanage provides additional doctor visits or vitamins, etc., for an additional year. It is a very solid program and has been running on private donations for 50 years.

During my first visit I was afraid it was going to smell like pee or just be terrible and that I was going to hate it, but actually I LOVE it! I love going there, I love all the little babies and even though I leave exhausted and peed and spit upon and with the crying of babies still ringing in my ears, I always am glad I went and I always feel like it was good work to be there.

feeding time

The first photo is of feeding time. You grab a baby, you grab his/her bottle, and you join the circle of feeding and burping, after which diapers are changed (instead of baby wipes they just run their little bums under the faucet, and instead of pampers they use cloth diapers wrapped with cut up plastic grocery bags). (I actually did not recognize these cloth as such, because they're just long rectangles with string ties on each of the four corners, and so I once tied one on as a bib. The women didn't really laugh at me, they just very politely took it off and replaced it with a bib. I didn't realize until a few days later what I had done.)

play time

Then we lay the babies out on the mats for playtime (above). Some of the babies cry all the time, and those usually are the ones that get picked up the most; the quiet ones sometimes hang around all afternoon, smiling and just looking around and never getting hugged or even touched until it's time to be changed or moved back to the cribs. I've started to make a point of picking those little ones up the most. We each in a pinch can hold two or three babies at a time (yes, even me), and I try to have at least one of them be one of the happy ones. Although they're all happy once you pick them up. Almost entirely.


This third photo is of one such child. (Sorry, I can't rotate it.) My sweet Aminata. Aminata is five months old and the most amazing little baby. She smiles so easily and sincerely that you think she adores you most of any person she's ever met. And then you see her do the same thing for someone else two minutes later... She almost never cries, even this past week when she has been sick with what I suspect is the highly contagious foot and mouth disease that has been circulating around the orphanage. It is a viral disease that causes blisters that scab over, and although it's a bummer, it supposedly runs its course in six to ten days. A few of the other babies have had it as well but I've just now figured out what it is (by going online -- to, if you ever need to self diagnose. It is awesome! Scary pictures of all sorts of things, though, so that you're full-on itchy after five minutes of browsing.) Anyway, even though I've been fine so far, I have decided to take a few days off until this thing passes through the center. Once you get it, you're supposed to be immune to it, and I think it will be over soon.

Welcome to Us

Well, here I am. A blogger! It feels kinda weird, but I've been reading other people's blogs about Ethiopian adoption this past month (to try and get a handle on court dates, wait times, etc.,) and they've been really helpful to me. So I thought, well, maybe our story would be of some use to someone else down the line, and that I'd give this a try.

Here is our story, in a nutshell: We are from Montana, we are living in Dakar, Senegal, and we are adopting a baby from Africa.
She is four months old and perfect and precious. Ethiopia prohibits us from publishing photographs, and so we will not, but trust us. She is all that! Friends of ours went to CHI to pick up their child last week, and they took photos and a VIDEO of her for us. The video is 41 seconds but tells us everything we need to know. I have watched it about 140 times in three days. I watch it and cry; I watch it and wish; I watch it and know.

Because we are in Dakar and living in a one-bedroom apartment downtown (not our final residence), we cannot distract ourselves with the baby shopping and room decorating and general nesting that most parents get. Which is good, actually -- we're going to try and raise our baby like the Amish :). Very simple, no electronics or plastics, home-made organic baby foods, and of course all the books she could ever turn the pages of. Crazy, you say? Perhaps. But we are living in Africa, so if anyone can do it, we can!