Saturday, September 20, 2008

Those lazy, hazy days of Ramadan

Yep, its that time of year again! So grab your mat, find a cozy spot in the shade and prepare to do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING until the sun goes down. No eating or drinking sounds like a great way to spend this holiday season.

This is my second Ramadan and this time around I've decided to stand my ground as a non-faster. Sure I get dirty looks as I energetically jog past my villagers in the late afternoon heading for my daily run but I am not Muslim and I've decided that I am firmly against fasting from a health standpoint. Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers both fast eventhough its horrible for them and their born and unborn children. In addition, kids are not fed as well either and are daily served this milk and rice mush that I would imagine tastes something like the substance Oliver Twist just couldnt't get enough of. Poor guys.

Inevitably all aspects of life in Senegal are slightly more difficult when no one is eating or drinking so life goes a little bit slower.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

I was only in it for the free sandwich; The Gorée Island Swim


I had heard about this really cool thing that Senegal does every year where a bunch of crazy people strip down to their skivvies and swim out to this island where free sandwiches and redbull flow like wine. Its called the Traverse de Goreé (or the Gorée Island swim to the American community--Gorée Island is a historical island off the coast of senegal where slaves were captured by the Europeans back in the day). Boy was I dissapointed when I swam my happy ass all the way out to that island (nearly two hours) to find no such sandwich, but only a tiny package of biscuits in its stead. I got this rediculous looking swim cap burn (that circles my inner face like I used too much blush but only up half of my forehead) for nothing.

Just kidding! To be fair we did still get red bull (eventhough red bull makes me vomit and I gave it to some nearby 10 year old kid who swam and beat me horribly by a multitude of minutes), a bottle of water, a swim cap and a t-shirt. That makes the two hour swim worth it, right? Even the part near the island where we swam through copious amounts of garbage and water that smelled like gasolene...yeah I think so!

In all honesty the swim was actually a lot of fun. There were two swims, one was supposedly 8km (for the ULTRA crazies) and the shorter one was said to be 4.5 kilometers although up until the race we thought it to be 3 to 4. There were around 600 participants in the shorter swim and 15 Peace Corps Senegal swimmers, a huge increase from last year! There were also 4 volunteers from Gambia that swam as well. We all made it to the island without hopping on a boat or drowning which I think deserves mad props.

When we signed up we were told that the race started at 10 am but in true Senegalese fashion, once we got there, were told that it had been pushed back to noon--big surprise Im sure, and the race eventually started at 12:20pm. Our star swimmer Megan almost sabotaged our entire outfit by losing her goggles in the surf seconds before the race, but fortunately found another pair just in time to dive in and kick ass, being the first female swimmer to reach the finish line and fifth over all. Your humble narrator was quite a bit farther back in the crowd (no need to mention numbers...).

As the race started it was sort of crazy with everyone jumping in the water and you have to be careful not to get kicked in the face, or to be the person doing said kicking, but eventually everyone spreads out and you find yourself pretty much alone and wondering frequently if you are getting anywhere at all because the island doesnt ever seem to be getting any bigger. Angela and her sister were good sports and would wait for me to catch up every so often so we could stay somewhat together. Towards the island there are boats shouting at you where to go and yelling "Go! Go! You are almost done!" It was really neat. After turning a corner you see lots of banners and people on shore. Upon finishing and getting out its like a big party with loud music. Other Peace Corps volunteers were on hand as well to cheer on their Peace Corps swimmers. It was really exciting. "Yes, we did it. We're alive."

I could have really gone for that sandwich...