Tuesday, September 30, 2008

English Conversations

Our project in Senegal consists of one-on-one conversational English practice using the Bible as the basis for reading and conversation. The program is a non-threatening and friendship-based approach to helping people practice their English skills. Each lesson is approximately one hour long. To begin with, we had an information meeting. This meeting was advertised in the newspaper and by word of mouth, and many people came! They were amazed that they could get free English lessons and get to know someone from the U.S. at the same time! Most of the ones who came were young men in their 20's. Many are university students. A few are Catholic and most are Muslim.
We begin our lessons at 9:00 every morning and finish at 8:00 every evening during the week. That makes for very long days! But what rewarding days they are! Where else do you get to spend an hour a day talking to people about important things in life! We quickly have become good friends! And their English is improving!
Some come every single day, and others come several times a week; it just depends on their schedules.
I wish that I could write more about the individuals, because their lives are fascinating and because they are real people with real hopes and dreams. However, in this medium, I do not feel that it is wise to write such personal things without permission. I hope that you will understand that the important thing about the whole project is the people, and that is the part that I am limited in writing about. (Please write to me personally or talk with Ron or I for more information.) I will, however, post a few photos of some of the people:

Monday, September 29, 2008


Traveling anywhere in the city of Dakar is quite an experience! Buses are quite common, but there is no published map of the routes. That makes riding the buses impossible for visitors, especially non-French speaking ones! Taxis are the only logical way to travel.
There are several interesting problems with taxis, however. First of all, very few taxi drivers speak English. Many are recently from village areas, and they can't even read French. That makes it very difficult to even have written directions or addresses to show the taxi drivers. We try to pronounce the French names of where we want to go, but they have a hard time understanding our poor French! Our best way to explain the location of the church building is to show them the logo of a nearby take-out Chinese restaurant!
Many of the taxi drivers are new to driving, especially if they have recently come from villages, where no one owns a car. Bribery to obtain drivers' licenses is common.
Also, negotiation of price is the norm, especially when the taxi drivers see Americans! They start off telling us a very high price. Then, if they refuse to come down to the price we have been told is reasonable, we must look for another taxi and start all over again with the negotiation process. Fortunately, there are many taxis! As we are walking down the street, if a taxi driver sees us, he will honk his horn, hoping to get our business.
Another problem with taxis is the poor condition of the cars. One could find better cars in the U.S. junkyards! (Notice the photo at the top of today's blog!) One evening our taxi stalled, and Ron had to get out and help push the taxi to get it going again. Another time we had a flat tire. Flat tires are common, as tires have little tread left!
Following are some photos. First is a picture of a lady and her children getting into a taxi.

Next is Ron trying to give directions to the driver. A nice man came over to help when he realized that Ron was having a difficult time. We did not notice until we looked at the photograph later what the man's shirt said! (You can click on the photo to enlarge it to see the print on the shirt.)

Next you can see the inside of one of the taxis. First is the picture of the front seat covers, and the next one shows the view behind the back seat.

This is a traffic scene. Wouldn't you like to ride here with a new driver?

Taxi drivers like to keep their taxis clean.

Many taxis have "things" hanging from the back bumpers. We saw a number with cow tails on the back!

***Just a note: If you are new to reading this blog, I still have a lot of catching up to do about our trip to Dakar. Computer use was very difficult while there, so I am predating all of the blog material. Keep reading!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Dakar Church

Our first Sunday in Dakar was a great experience! The church building is about a twenty minute taxi ride from our apartment. There were about 75 in attendance. There are all ages of people, many of whom are young families with children. Bible class is first, followed by the worship service. There are two children's classes and two adult classes. One of the adult classes meets up the stairs on the roof, and that class is taught in English. The other class is taught in a combination of French and the native Wolof language. The first photo is of the outside of the building. The blue tarp on the top covers the classroom on the roof. Notice that there is no parking lot! There is room for one car in front of the building, and there are a few parking places on the street beside the building. This photo is of the inside of the main room. Every Sunday morning someone arrives early to set up all of the white plastic chairs for the worship service. There is no air conditioning, but there are about eight oscillating fans that are attached to the ceiling or to the walls. One learns quickly to choose a seat where air can be felt! In the following picture, notice that the men are sitting together. None of the husbands sat with their wives. That makes it really difficult to learn which husband goes with which wife! In the following photo you will see the oldest man of the congregation. When I asked someone how old he is, that person said, "He is really old---he must be at least 60"!
Next shows the stairs leading up to the classroom on the roof. The best seats in this classroom are beside the left wall, because the most consistent breeze is from the front left opening in the tarp. The next picture shows Nelson, one of the teachers in the English Sunday School class. He is a great teacher. This is the view from the roof.
Take the time to listen to the following video of the church singing. The singing is so enthusiastic and inspiring!! The happiness is contagious!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

New Friends--George and Diana

Some of the first people that we met in Dakar were church members that live across the hall from our apartment. George is one of the members of a 6-man committee that leads the church. He and his wife Diana have two children, Jethro, age 4, and Prisca (short for Priscilla), age 9 months. George and Diana speak French and English, but Jethro speaks only French. He is in preschool now, but he will not learn English until he is a little older.

The first day that we arrived in Dakar, Diana and Faith (the preacher's wife) treated us to a meal of fish and rice, a traditional meal from Ghana, their home country. In the photo Diana is on the left, then a worker, then Faith. They are standing in front of the doorway to the apartment. Notice the sewing machine in the photo. I asked Diana if she sews, and she said "No, I have a tailor who comes here to sew for me."

These are photos of their apartment.
On the table are water bottles, which are necessities in Senegal! The tap water is not safe to drink.

George is a very talented man. He teaches classes, leads singing, and does many other works.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Street Scenes

The first impression of Dakar is that it is not a vacation spot---but it is a place full of people that need the Good News---and we are happy to be here!
Some thoughts are: "Where is the green?" "Everything is a shade of brown--except for the women's beautiful, colorful African dresses." "No one looks like me." "There is a sea of faces." "How can there be so many tiny shops?"

Here are pictures of some of the street scenes on the way from our apartment to the church building.

The next photo is of the main street that we travel every day to the church building. In this one you can see that there really are trees in Dakar! Notice one of the "round abouts". These can get quite interesting during heavy traffic times---with all the taxis, buses, cars, horse carts, motorcycles, and people crossing on foot----all at the same time!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Our Dakar Apartment

Our apartment in Dakar is small but much better than we had anticipated! (After the first three weeks, we moved to another apartment, and this one became Sharron and Jane's. Pictures of the other apartment will come later.) There is a bedroom/living room combination, a small kitchen, and a bath. Windows on each side of the bedroom provide good breeze----if there is a breeze blowing! There is a TV, but it does not work. There is no washer/dryer, dishwasher, garbage disposal, or a/c. But we do have everything that we need. Here are some pictures of the apartment.

Next is a photo of the bed---with a mosquito net. We have seen very few mosquitos in the apartment, but we have seen (and felt) more around the church building. The fan on the wall above the bed is very welcome during the hot nights!

The next two photos are of the kitchen. Notice the propane tank which is used to operate the stove. Above the sink is a roll-up metal shade. All of the windows have shades like this one.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dakar, Senegal 2008

Our long-awaited flight to Senegal finally came! (Senegal is on the western coast of Africa.) We had spent several months preparing and studying for this Let’s Start Talking trip! The flight was uneventful, but the arrival in Dakar, Senegal was interesting. The airport is nothing like we are used to in the States or even in other countries. It was very old and dirty, and there was no evidence of effort to make it attractive or convenient for visitors. The only slightly “modern” part was that there was a conveyor belt for baggage pick-up. There was no baggage search or security area for checking people coming in from other countries.
Once through baggage claim we started looking for someone meeting us. We had been told that either David or George would be holding an LST sign so that we would recognize who they are. No one was there! We stood inside the building for a while and then went outside to look. Taxi drivers were everywhere, and they were all wanting to take us somewhere. It got a little scary when they started arguing with each other about taking us. One man was telling us, “Don’t trust that man. He is not telling the truth.” Finally we decided that it would be best for us to go back into the airport. After over an hour of waiting, we found someone with a cell phone that would help us to call George. As it turns out, he was there at the airport all the time---he just was not allowed to come anywhere close to the door because of security. He was waiting for us to call him!

Because our arrival in Dakar was at 4:30 a.m., it was still dark on our journey from the airport to our apartment. About all we could tell was that there were a few good roads, some bad ones, and some that were dirt with very deep holes that one must navigate. The closer we got to the apartment, the worse the roads got. The apartment building turned out to be nice, especially for African standards. There was no electricity on our arrival, so we went up three flights of stairs by flashlight! We were so tired that we were just happy to see a bed! We knew that we could not sleep long and still be able to get ourselves on the Senegal time, so we decided to just nap for an hour or two. It felt great!
Pictures of the apartment will follow in the next blog……….