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Another Day Another Destiny

SENEGAL | Friday, 27 June 2014 | Views [334]

 The next day was slightly better. Assuming you define “better” as “easier to stay awake” or “shorter.” For a definition that doesn't include either of those, it was about the same.

Breakfast was the same as the day before, except that they didn't have juice glasses out when Cynthia and I arrived. Cynthia poured her orange juice into a coffee cup, but I wanted coffee, so I poured myself some, took a coffee cup off a different table, and returned for orange juice. I left somewhat guiltily with my stolen coffee cup full of orange juice at the same time a waitress was arriving with actual juice glasses.

We left the hotel and went back to IFAN for another lecture. This one was about problems in the Sehal region, specifically problems in Northern Mali. The lecturer was pretty good, just kind of quiet. And also everyone's concentration was shot when our professor/tour guide started clipping his nails.

 Right after he started doing that, I glanced over at Erika, who was sitting next to me. Her face was so uncomfortable that I had to look away quickly and control my expression. A bit later I caught Cynthia's eye and a similar thing happened. I stared down at my notebook until he finished, knowing that if I looked at anyone else who confirmed what a bizarre thing this was to be happening, I would start to laugh.

 After the lecture, Erika said she'd thought no one else was bothered by it, since everybody kept meeting her look with a kind of “so what, Erika? It's no big deal” look. Everyone else in the group later confirmed that it was so bizarre to, in the middle of an academic lecture, start clipping your nails, we weren't quite sure how to process it. None of the Senegal professors seemed to think it was a bizarre thing to do, but from Erika's perspective none of us seemed to think that either, so we might have all been in the same position.

 For lunch, we had to make the choice between having lunch where we'd had it the day before, or having lunch back at the hotel. I think we were all leaning slightly towards lunch at the hotel, so back we went.

 Well... back to the bus (without a working air conditioning) we went. For about half an hour while the tea kettle, coffee maker, sugar, and cups were transported from the lecture room to the room in the university to the back of the bus. Apparently it is crucial that we have tea and coffee at the Isle of Goree. I also watched as they loaded a stack of books in (including one on fish that was on the top) and then took them back out.

 Nisrine had ordered pizzas when we got to lunch. She did not order any margarita. And since Senegalese pizzas (or at least the pizzas at the hotel) seem to be made from a different kind of cheese (the three cheese pizza from the night before had claimed to be mozzarella, gruyere, and a different kind. I'm not sure which of those are prominent in the other pizzas, but I don't think it's mozzarella. Or it is and the sauce or crust are just really different) that I'm not terribly fond of, I'll never eat a margarita pizza in Senegal. (Probably.)

 We had free time after lunch, which Cynthia and I (and I'm pretty sure everyone, Nisrine and Oussama included) just spent hanging out in our rooms with working air conditioning and bemoaning the humidity. I dream of deserts. (Except not literally. I daydream about Rabat and jumping into the ocean, and I sleep-dream about cats.)

 At 3:00, we met to go to a church. The professor kept telling everyone how the church was right across from a mosque, and then once we were there he said it again as a general announcements. I'm not sure what he thought our perceptions of religious buildings were, but apparently he thought it was an important point to be made.

The person who was supposed to be giving the lecture got into a (minor) car accident and never showed up. (The embassy official had warned us that car accidents were super-common before he realized none of us would be driving, or even really taking taxis, so it wasn't a huge concern.) so someone else gave it. For someone who hadn't been expecting to give a speech, he did a pretty good job (I think he had the prepared text of the person who was involved in the car accidents. He was certainly reading off a sheet of paper.

The talk was about religion in Senegal. It had interesting points, like how in one family you could get three different religions without a serious conflict. (Everyone non-Senegelese agreed that for the most part marriage wouldn't be much of a conflict, but if there were kids, the couple would need to reach a compromise.) But for the most part, the room was hot and the lecture wasn't all that enthralling.

The air conditioning back at the hotel was lovely.

The students had agreed to meet at 7:30 for dinner. Nisrine had dismissed us without acknowledging our time. In fact, she said we needed to pay for dinner, which wasn't what the schedule said. But when around 7:30 all of the students had shown up, Oussama and Nisrine still hadn't.

After much careful reading of the menu and looking up a lot of words. (“Tournedos au bissap. What's 'bissap?' in English?” Google translate: “Bissap.” “Well, that's useful. Regular Google, what's 'bissap?'” Wikipedia: “Bissap is a hibiscus tea popular in Senegal.” “That's actually useful. Now what's 'tournedo?'” “The British spelling of tornado.”)

Finally, we ordered. I (and about half the table) ordered a roasted chicken with fries. The chicken tuned out to be a little tough, but at least it didn't come with a head. Erika (who was sitting right next to me) ordered fish that didn't.

I whimpered when it arrived, then closed my eyes to eat my fries without seeing a fish staring up at me.

“Are you actually scared of it?”

“I don't like fish with heads. They just stare at you.”

“It's not actually looking at you, Erika. It looks more like it's facing towards...”


“I. Know.”


“Oh, it's the eye. That's supposed to be good luck to eat.”
“And in some cultures, it's really rude to refuse it.”

“Hey, Sabrina. Want the fish eye?”
“Sumimasen. Wakarimasen.” It was a bit late in the trip to pretend I spoke no English, but they let me go with that one. 

At least it's really easy to eat fries with your eyes closed. By the time I was ready to try the chicken, enough of the fish had been eaten and disrupted. The teeth were still there, but the eyes were gone, as was much of the flesh. You could still see the shape of the fish if you concentrated. I tried not to.

After we'd finished eating, but before the waiter had come back, Oussama showed up. When we asked him if we were paying tonight and pointed to the part of the program where it said dinner was covered by IES, he said that we weren't. So we all ordered dessert and left him with the bill.

It was a good meal. And it ended before eleven, though we all went back to our rooms and slept. Fortunately, though, we didn't need to be up quite as early as originally planned. (We needed to catch a ferry the next day, but because of elections we were going to catch a later ferry.) So we got another solid night of sleep and could almost forget about what our flight times were.

Tags: fish, lecture, religion

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