Monday, February 11, 2008

chinese new year in senegal

the 7th was chinese new year (or, lunar new year, if you want to get picky about names) which is one of my favorite holidays. so, "cool kid chris" (who is chinese american too), "san diego chris" (who, though caucasion, speaks chinese better than me and cool kid chris combined), JC, and i planned to go to dakar to eat at a chinese restaurant that san diego chris had discovered. (fyi, there are three chris's in my stage so i bestowed upon them nicknames to differentiate between them all.) we were joined by a few other honorary asians -- caitrin (who's brother lives in china), margaret, and liam -- who were wise enough to skip out on the weekend trip to mbour (as tempting as that sounded too) for good chinese food.

i had been looking forward to this moment for weeks on end as nearly every day i desperately crave chinese food all the time and couldn't wait for the gastronomic explosion that i would experience. the only sucky part about the whole deal was that we had to go to dakar, which we'll be going to next week (WAIST!) and is also terribly expensive, but ultimately, there was nothing that was going to keep me from getting chinese food -- not even the quasi-terrible food poisoning that i got earlier in the week that had my body expelling its contents for three days (and in the sick-bay for a morning).

so yesterday (saturday afternoon) after training and an awesome spaghetti lunch, we packed up and headed out to dakar. after sitting in traffic for an hour or so (dakar traffic SUCKS), we finally got there and excitedly headed out to run some dakar errands and satisfy our hankerings for good, non-senegalese food. first we stopped by the gigantic toubab grocery store where you can get all kinds of crazy american and european products and after having spent so much time in the village, a place like this is terribly overwhelming. after my initial shock, i immediately found the wine section and as there was no way i was going to eat good chinese food with crappy gazelles (one of the two not-so-great beers in senegal), i suggested that we all purchase a bottle of wine to share. my suggestion was wholeheartedly agreed upon and we spent probably 20 minutes bewildered by the array of options we faced and finally left with 5 bottles of wine. (i also got a nestle crunch bar!)

the other dakar errands involved going to what we thought might be a chinese grocery but it just turned out to be a store owned by a chinese guy who had all kinds of things like swivel chairs and flat screen tvs and chinese cooking utensils BUT NO CHOPSTICKS, going to the market for fabric where i found exactly what i was looking for, and stopping by citysport, a toubab sporting goods store that sells things like real adidas and ellipticals (very tempted to buy one for my hut) and equestrian britches and saddles (??). at citysport, cool kid chris and i found badminton racquets for only 1900CFA (definitely the cheapest thing in the store) and being in a very chinese state of mind, we excitedly bought two sets and made plans for an entire week of badminton.

finally we headed out for dinner and decided to walk the 45 minutes there rather than spend the money on cabs and after kind of getting lost, we found the restaurant. (actually, we smelled it first, as there is no sign or clear indication of the place being a chinese restaurant.) upon entering, we were greeted by the sounds of a bunch of chinese guys getting drunk off a drinking game and it was bizarre hearing chinese being spoken and seeing so many chinese people in one spot. we were ushered into our own room where there was a big table with a lazy susan and a nice breeze and we excitedly prepared ourselves for the feast.

the menu -- the only menu -- was handwritten in chinese in a notebook and being that neither of the chinese kids read chinese, san diego chris was left with the job of doing so but being out of practice we decided just to go into the kitchen and see what they had and figure out what we would be eating. with the combined languages of chinese, french, wolof, and english (a senegalese guy who spoke french, wolof, and english worked there), we managed to order 8 great dishes (including spicy tofu, springrolls, garlic sauteed napa cabbage). there was a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding so we didn't always get exactly what we thought we were getting but it was delicious nonetheless. paired with a bottle of white and a few bottles of red, we were stuffed and giddy and happy by the end of the meal and i couldn't even believe that i was once again tasting chinese food.

i was quite impressed with the establishment, considering that they have a very limited array of ingredients and they were happy to serve us and by the end of the night we made friends with the owner and took a picture with him and promised to come again, which is a promise i think will be easy to keep. it was loads of fun celebrating and wacky having to speak four languages at once -- there were times i was saying "waaw" ("yes" in wolof) to the chinese guy and asking for things in chinese to the senegalese guy -- and i was utterly and entirely satisfied. the best part of the night: we all wound up only paying 3800CFA (a little less than $8USD) per person!

after dinner we headed back to the dakar regional house where we drank the rest of the wine and hung out and watched movies, too full and unambitious to go out and explore dakar nightlife. we'll do that next weekend.

after a good night's sleep we headed out to ngor, an island off the coast to sunbathe and relax a bit. an interesting thing about ngor: up until now there hasn't been too many things in senegal that have completely baffled me. yes, there have been strange things but i have taken it all pretty well in stride (or so i'd like to think) but today i met the sea sheep of dakar and couldn't stop staring. the sea sheep are basically just sheep that are raised on the beach and are the biggest freakin' sheep i have ever seen. i guess because of the fishing industry and the tourism/restaurants on the island, the sheep eat incredibly well because they are gigantic and healthy and astounding. moreover, they are bathed in the saltwater so they are all glistening white and clean and immaculate -- nothing at all like the grimy nasty things that live in the village. i'm sure everybody got sick of me freaking out about the sea sheep but they were really incredible and just, never in my life did i think that i would see sheep on the beach.

anyway, we got a few hours of good sun at ngor and then sat at one of the beach front restaurants where they serve fresh seafood for cheap. we got fish sandwiches and JC and i split a platter of gigantic shrimp and we once again feasted like kings for under 5000CFA each. i spilled beer all over the place and was attacked by flies but overall it was a pleasant morning and we headed out of dakar destressed (after what was kind of a crappy week for some of us, including me) and ready for the last week of IST.

upon arrival in thies we went to "the big faim," a new toubab-owned restaurant that boasts free wireless, flat screen tvs, real ice cream, excellent food, a dj, and projector with which soccer games are shown. today was the final game of egypt versus cameroon of the africa cup. africa cup 2008 (in ghana this year) has been happening for quite some time now and its been a lot of fun watching the games everyday. part of africa cup's slogan is "one continent, one passion" and it is quite true and andy made note some time ago that if it weren't for futbol, the world would be amassed in war (far more than it already is) as it really is the international peacekeeping tool and based on my experience of africa cup 2008 in senegal, i wholeheartedly agree. i cheered for cameroon (based on the premise that when i lived in paris i lived a few doors down from the embassy) and the game was a good one but egypt won with a slightly not-so-exciting goal but the reaction was fun, as we were in a room full of mostly egypt supporters and when the goal was scored, the dj blasted some jams for celebration.

so now it is the end of the weekend and tomorrow starts the last week of IST. last week was pretty rough on my physical (food poisoning!) and mental (girlish emotions!) health so hopefully this week can be better. soon i will be back in the village and away from all of this, so i am going to just soak it all in and live it up. can't believe IST is almost over already and i've been here since september and next month a new wave of trainees enter country and i will no longer be the novice!

23 comments:

Dada said...

dear caca,
Lovely journal. Through your pleasant writings, dada can vision a bunch of young people were celebrating their life and youth. Yes! Indeed, work hard and play harder!! Praise God and may Him bless you all!!

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