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Lectures and Meals on 3.5 Hours of Sleep

SENEGAL | Friday, 27 June 2014 | Views [289]

There are breakfasts that are worth getting up early for. There are breakfasts that would have been worth getting up at 7 for. This was not one of them.

The best thing I can say about it is that the caffeine in the coffee seemed to be real. It wasn't a bad breakfast. The pain au chocolate was pretty tasty, and the orange juice was good. They also had some fresh fruits. But all I really cared about was caffeine. The coffee wasn't very good, but it was real and not "broken coffee" (the Moroccan name for their milk and coffee drink) so I took it.

The first thing scheduled for the day was a visit to the US Embassy for a safety and security briefing. "We need our passports for that, right?" I asked during breakfast.

Natasha, Erika, and Cynthia exchanged looks. "Do we?"

My experience with embassies (OK, consulates) said "yes, absolutely," but Nisrine hadn't mentioned it. The answer turned out to yes, so they went up to their rooms. Then I realized I'd forgotten my IES badge and raced up after them.

When we came down, our tour guide/professor at the university where we'd later visit handed Cynthia her two bottles of water from the night before. She didn't exactly want to carry them around all day, so back to the room we went. (I didn't need to follow her. I did out of roommate solidarity and, more importantly, realizing I didn't have my knitting. It wouldn't have been worth risking making us late, but if she was going to the room anyway, I might as well get it.) "I thought he was joking," she grumbled.

Then we got in the bus and started driving. "It's a good thing you mentioned the passports, Sabrina," Natasha commented. "Otherwise we probably wouldn't have brought them."

"We need our passports?" Nathan asked. And back to the hotel we went.

I feel like there's a moral in this story. There's certainly an irony, since one of the prime things the embassy will tell you is not to carry important documents (like your passport) on your person, but rather to lock them up at the hotel. But to get that advice, you first need to trade your passport for a badge that proclaims "escort required."

They took away my passport and phone (obviously) and my e-reader (what did they think I was going to do with it? It can’t work as a USB without a cord, can’t take pictures, can’t contact the outside world without wireless…) and gave my chapstick a really weird look at both of their security checks. “For the lips,” I explained, and they let me keep it for use inside the embassy.

The US Embassy was really nice. They had art, my favorite being a wire and bead design on the wall of the second floor. It was also air conditioned and had gorgeous flowers, though they wouldn’t let us take pictures of them, even the ones outside the embassy before they took our cameras away. It was nice enough that, if it weren’t for the whole “It’s 9:00 in the morning why am I up?” it might have been worth the safety and security briefing being utterly useless.

It began with the RSO (when he showed up and led us to the conference room, late. Welcome to Senegal) asking us how many months we were staying in Senegal.

“One week.”

“Oh. OK then.” He had the tact not to ask why we were here, but you could tell he was thinking it.

We’d had a briefing on safety and security in Morocco, and that person had told us “it’s pretty much all common sense.” That was also true for Senegal. There were only a couple of times he’d give country-specific information, and even that wasn’t the most useful.

“Guns aren’t common in Dakar. Usually they’re only used by the police. If you find people who aren’t police using guns… well, it’s not very common.”

Other times his advice was contradictory. He began by echoing the advice of the RSO in Rabat (wear your purse across your body) then he talked about how people would sometimes come up on motorcycles to tourists, grab a purse, and keep going, not caring if you were attached or not. In that case, wouldn’t you want the purse to be in a position where you can unattach it?

He asked if we were leaving Dakar, and we (while, Oussama) said yes, we were spending one day on the Isle of Goree. "I haven't been there," the RSO said, "but I heard it was interesting."

We started laughing, then had to explain why.

At least the building was pretty.

From the embassy we went to the IFAN, the “Institut fondamental d’Afrique Noir. (Why is it “Institut fondamental?” Because it used to be “Institut français,” and so they wanted to change the name, but not the acronym.) And there we got lectured on about research for about an hour and a half.

We were led through a room in a library there didn’t seem to have books apart from reference ones. The weirdest book I saw was what appeared to be an Arabic/Cyrillic dictionary. (Bear in mind we weren’t in Morocco any more. I had to to stop myself from saying “shokran” when people brought me things.) We went on to a smaller room where two people were.

The first talked about all of the physical works and how they were organized, and the second discussed how they were scanned into the computer and how the information could be accessed from there. That part was pretty boring too, actually. They had some interesting things, like notebooks wherein students had (years ago) written a description of at least one aspect of their native villages. And the institute itself kind of reminded me of If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller. But the presentations were overly detailed and rather dry.

We had our yellow books from the Moroccan Center of African Studies stolen, but we were given a different book (Projet Biens Culturels Africains) as consolation for having only gotten one chapter into the last one. OK, so only one of those things actually happened, and it was only one book.

From that room we went into the audiovisual room. Here, someone introduced a couple of videos and played excerpts from him. The volume on the videos was loud, so it was really hard to hear him over the Star Wars-inspired educational videos. He kept pointing to how long each video was. I’m not sure why.

Then we went into one more room where we were shown scanned-in pictures with a mark for copyright on them. It was slightly more interesting than just being shown a lot of historical books. (“And this is one of the books of articles produced by the institute. And this is a book that was written by a Nigerian professor. And this is another edition of the institute-produced books..”)

Then we went to lunch. Originally, lunch was supposed to be between the embassy and the tour of the institute, but everyone goes home at 1:00, so we needed to rearrange things. Which was probably for the best, since it was nice to get out of there for a bit.

We had lunch with Senegalese students sitting in amongst us and the command to “mingle.” Which just led to a lot of awkward silences. Most of them did not seem terribly talkative. They also all seemed to be older, both in appearance and in the comment of someone that he’d been studying marine biology “for six years.” There were a few conversations, but mostly silence.

Lunch was an anti-blind choice between three meals. By “anti-blind,” I mean “the only thing we knew about them was what they looked like.” I could only see 2 of the 3 options, and Nisrine mentioned that one of them was probably fish, so I chose the other.

It was also fish. Fishy fish.

I ate my lunch and mused about studying abroad in Kobe. It would be nice to be somewhere better known for their beef than their fish.

After lunch came the battle to stay awake while someone lectured on about the ethno-religious conflict. I succeeded in staying awake, but not in paying that much attention. I count that as a victory, though, because I stayed awake. (Oussama was fighting sleep, though he still managed two questions at the end.)

Then we went back to the hotel and agreed to meet at 8:00 for dinner.

At 7:00 I woke up Cynthia and asked if she wanted to go to dinner. Startled, she started to get ready, checked her phone and told me that it was only 7:00. I’ve gotten so used to my technology adjusting for time zone changes automatically, I get very confused when it doesn’t. I told her to ignore me and go back to sleep.

By 8:00, we were both up and ready. We followed the instructions to breakfast and were almost seated at a table. We’d been told we needed to go upstairs so, after a little bit of confusion, we asked if there was a restaurant upstairs.

“Oh, yes, yes.” We were led upstairs, and the door was unlocked and lights and air conditioning turned on. We were clearly the first ones in the restaurant.

It didn’t take long for Erika and Natasha, Megan, and Nathan to show up. So we sat down, trying to decode the menu (at least a quarter of the words we did not recognize) and discussed what, exactly, we could have for dinner. We’d been told that dinner would be covered, but drinks would not.

“They didn’t say anything about not having dessert. Only not having drinks.”

“They didn’t say anything about not getting the 21,000 Senegalese Franc (about $42) meal. Only that we couldn’t buy drinks.”

Still, Nisrine and Oussama did not show up. Without clear ideas on what exactly we could get, none of us ordered. (We joked about all ordering the most expensive dish, but most of us didn’t particularly want it anyway.) Finally, 20 minutes later, they walked in like 8:30 was the pre-arranged time. But when they did show up, they said IES would cover not only food and dessert, but drinks as well. So it was worth the wait.

I ordered pineapple juice and got grapefruit juice instead. It was mixed up with Megan’s, which was a fact neither of us noticed until our drinks were half-gone. (How do you not realize the drink you have in front of you is much more sour than it is sweet or vice-versa? 3.5 hours of sleep. You miss a lot.)

I also ordered a margherita pizza and got 3 cheese instead. Oussama told me that if it wasn’t what I’d ordered, I could complain, but this was after waiting for an hour after ordering for them to bring us food. It wasn’t worth another wait.

During dinner, Natasha introduced us to Plague, a game where you begin as a [bacteria, virus, fungus, more] and try and kill everyone in the world. Literally, everyone, since if you get to the point where you kill everyone but the people in Greenland and no one in Greenland is infected, you lose. Megan downloaded it during dinner, Nathan downloaded it that night, Cynthia the next morning, and Erika and I the next afternoon. From that point on, people saying things like “I’ve infected the entire world” and “I’ve killed a lot of people” became pretty standard.

When we wanted to order dessert, we could not find our waiters. “Did they give up on us and go home?” We looked around. Couldn’t find them. Called for them. Couldn’t find them. Used fingers and our water glasses to create high-pitched noises. Still nothing.

Finally, a waiter came over to see if we needed anything. We did, in fact. We ordered dessert and waited.

“Senegal is on a different time,” Nisrine explained.

“That’s what you said about Morocco,” Nathan complained.

“Yes, but it’s worse in Senegal. In Morocco you add fifteen minutes to every time estimate. In Senegal, you add twenty.”

Our food did arrive, eventually. At least, everyone except Oussama’s did. They said it would would be 3 minutes. “How long do you think that really means?”

“23 minutes.”

It didn’t take that long. It probably only took 3 minutes, which is good because we all would have left him if it had taken much longer. We were pretty tired by that point.

We weren’t back to our rooms until around 11, at which point all we wanted to do was sleep for over four hours. And, finally, we were able to. Maybe staying awake during the lectures the next day wouldn’t be quite the struggle.


Tags: embassy, food, lectures

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