Graduation Party



After 1364 days, 25 international flights, 14 transcontinental flights, 7 host families, 4 colleges I am finally graduating from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelors degree in Political Science.

Only 7,9% of Brazilians graduated college. Come celebrate this overrated occasion with me and my Brazilian family!

Half the people I invited are not even in this continent. But I wanted them to know I am thinking of them. If you fly in for this, you will be redirected to the open bar area.

If you speak Portuguese, please come entertain my family. I don’t wanna be the only person they talk to for two weeks.

BYOB! JK, I heard caipirinhas will be provided for those with fake IDs.

The Brazilian



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Tamkharit, the simple life and the discrimination

I’ll warn you up front that the ten following days weren’t nearly as exciting as the first ten.

November 7 | Day 10 in the village: When I walked into my room to go to bed, I saw this huge spider on the corner, next to my opened suitcase. I thought it was a prank; it looked like a sticker or a rubber spider from far away, I’m not sure. It was simply too big to be real. I have seen tarantulas before, and I know they aren’t dangerous. But when you are in the middle of the freaking sub-Saharan Africa, you can’t tell apart what kills you from what makes you stronger. I do have a mosquito net, but that doesn’t keep even bloodsuckers from getting to me. So, I didn’t take my chances. I killed her. Even if that meant having even more mosquitoes flying around! Chasing crickets before going to bed, while the power is out is another current issue.

November 8 | Day 11 in the village: Before leaving Brazil I bought dozens and dozens of bonbons to give my host families and friends. I finally ran out, and I hadn’t even started giving them out yet. I did eat my feelings though.

On a more important note, during my time in the village gender gaps became even more obvious, and I observed a lot about attitudes toward workplace equality or lack thereof. My host brothers don’t help around the house and I was told they couldn’t even prepare a meal if they had to, because that is the women’s job. While visiting schools, my host mother told me that in most religious cities, the number of girls in school is a lot smaller, because they have to stay in the house and work. The idea that through education you can achieve a better life is not inherent to the human being, and it definitely doesn’t rule in Senegal.

November 9 | Day 12 in the village: I just found out that my host mom had 24 host siblings growing up. Her father had four wives and they all lived in the same house, with some of their relatives as well. And I thought growing up with two older sisters and living across the hall from a 15 year old American boy was tough enough.

November 10 | Day 13 in the village: In Sokone sheep are like dogs, and pigs are like cats; people raise them just for the sake of raising them. They are pets – they don’t go on walks or get funny names like Bear or Kodiak but they are pets. And donkey carts are like SUVs, you can fit just as many people in/on, and it is cleaner for the environment.

November 11 | Day 14 in the village: Yes! The City Hall of Sokone finally has Internet and air conditioning in some offices (not mine). No! The village still doesn’t have paved roads or enough electricity power to supply for everyone, not every child is in school and there is garbage everywhere. Can you say PRIORITIES?

November 12 | Day 15 in the village: Every day when I walk to work I hear people yell “toubab,” followed by an awkward silence, as I walk pass them. I understand I am one of the few outsiders and non-Negros in town, but to be honest, I always get a little upset whenever I hear that. I don’t understand what the need is in singling out someone based on their skin color, grounded on your personal prejudices, and racism. What? Is that not discriminatory? So, it would be okay if I replied “Yes, darkie?”

As if the racist slang didn’t suffice, “toubab” is also often followed by “donne-moi de l’argent” (“give me some money”), based on the misconstrued assumption that we are all rich, and come bearing gifts. So, every time I hear someone say “toubab” on the street I urge to go all Race and Culture Studies 101 on them. But I take a deep breath, and keep on walking. They aren’t challenging me to a dual. It’s our fault as toubabs – for reproducing this vice of giving locals money and handouts when visiting. I also understand that they don’t say it with bad intentions. But here is what I have learned; it’s not because they mean no harm, means they do no harm.

I have stated several times my disapproval to the term “toubab,” and I tell them that my name is “Babou Lakhas”, but they insist on the Wolof term.

November 13 | Day 16 in the village: Every country and culture has its own way of celebrating New Years. While the ball drops in New York, and people dress in white and drink Champagne in Brazil, Senegalese kids cross-dress and go from house to house asking for candy and playing the drums. Yet, all that matters is that to celebrate the Muslim New Years, I stuffed myself with chicken, and hung out on the rooftop – away from all the children. It really doesn’t take a lot to make me happy here. I’m sorry I can’t tell you more about what this holiday is, but they explained it in Wolof and I couldn’t understand a thing besides “[lek]” (to eat) and “[guina]” (chicken).

November 14 | Day 17 in the village: I waited until sundown, put on my shortest shorts, my leather shoes and went out for a run. As I passed the city hall, I realized they had left the Wi-Fi on, so I went online to make sure the outside world was still okay. Half an hour later I forgot what I was initially doing and walked back home.

November 15 | Day 18 in the village: I have been doing the no shave November thing all along and hadn’t noticed. I might as well keep it up until the end of the month. Plus, my host brighter says it’s cool. People here can’t grow beards at all. However, I might shave it all soon; the whole beard thing makes my cheeks look bigger. Or maybe it is all that bread.

November 16| Day 19 in the village: My friends and I decided to go to Touba, the holy city of Mouridism and the burial place of its founder, Shaikh Aamadu Bàmba Mbàkke. To get there, we could either take a bus or a taxi. So, when I was told to look for a seven-place car, I imagined a minivan, or an SUV – something spacious and roomy. What I got instead was this old Fiat with the trunk ripped out to make place for three more people. There you go, now you have a seven place vehicle. They sure are industrious!

November 17 | Day 20 in the village: Living in Sokone has showed me how much I disliked Dakar. Yes, it had great burger joints and beautiful beaches, but it was also chaotic, dirty, and neither welcoming nor friendly. I always felt as if I were just renting a room with the family in Mermoz. They didn’t know how to talk to students, they weren’t kind to my friends, and they weren’t honest. It didn’t take too long for me to realize they were taking advantage of me.

In the meanwhile, my host family in Sokone is loving, sharing and caring. My host mom has hosted several students before, and she understands my needs and concerns in the village. She is patient with my language skills and feeds me well. I lucked out here, and I will miss it when I’m back in the big city.

The Women of Senegal – Part 3

For those women who work their butts off in the kitchen, while their men watch TV. For those girls who work all they in the fields, while their fathers sit in the shade. For those who slave away in an overtly sexist, die-hard misogynist country.

Para aquelas mulheres que trabalham duro na cozinha, enquanto os homens assistem TV. Para aquelas meninas que trabalham o dia inteiro no campo, enquanto seus pais descansam na sombra. Para aquelas que são escravizadas em um país abertamente sexista, e extremamente misógino. Continue reading

The Women of Senegal – Part 2

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World Bank once published that “There is no investment more effective for achieving development goals than educating girls.” And as much as I think that it’s a no brainer: educating girls is primordial; I have run into people who disagree.

During my first week with the organization, I had the opportunity to accompany Adji Sanghor in her traveling, and together we visited over twenty schools in the area – where we met with the young girls sponsored by the program “Nos Soeurs à l’école” (“Our Sisters in school”). We spent entire days on the road. The trip was tough, and the roads were awful. It’s not even fair to say there were potholes in the asphalt. Instead, there were some asphalt chunks on the dirt roads. But that is not what I want to talk about. Continue reading

The Women of Senegal – Part 1

Sokone, Fatick, Senegal | Mercredi 6 Septembre 2013

Women’s Global Education Project is a ten-year-old organization founded on the belief that a society thrives when there is universal education, gender equity, and women who are empowered to be independent. Started in 2003 by a former Peace Corps volunteer (who lived in Sokone in the 1990s with the same family I’m living with now), WGEP partners with local organizations in Senegal and Kenya to increase the educational outcomes of young women. UNICEF estimates that worldwide, some 117 million school-aged children do not attend school, 62 million of them girls. Attendance rates are lowest in sub-Saharan Africa, where only 57 percent of girls are in school, and just 15 percent of these go on to secondary school. Continue reading

The locals, the tea and the quality time

Hi, I’ve updated the post with photos from each day and a Portuguese translation :D

October 28 | Day 1 in the village: My host family’s house is still under construction. After losing everything they owned in last years flooding, they had to start from scratch. So today, as I moved in, so did my host brother, sister and her brother in law who were all living elsewhere. We are starting our new lives together. Here, time really is people, and on my first night alone, I hung out with my host family for seven hours straight! We were together the second I arrived, at 19 o’clock, until the moment I went to bed at 2 in the morning. We hung out as they prepared dinner in the living room, and on the rooftop afterwards as they made me ataaya tea. We talked for hours, which made me feel included from the get go, and the host siblings made sure I had everything I needed before going to bed. Continue reading

The second half

Sur le chemin de Sokone, Senegal | Lundi 28 Octobre 2013

I didn’t come to Senegal solely for the academics. What drew me to this program more than anything else was the opportunity to do an internship during part of my stay in West Africa. The idea of spending seven weeks in a classroom in Dakar leaning French, a new language (Wolof) as well as taking country analyses, public health and sustainability and environment courses was great, but spending six extra weeks simply working and experience the pace of life in a small village is what made me sign up for the Minnesota Studies in International Development. Continue reading

We are here to study the ocean

Plage de Mermoz, Dakar, Senegal | Samedi 7 Septembre 2013

Continue reading

The sheep, the Boubous and the Tabaski

Mermoz, Dakar, Senegal | Mercredi 16 Octobre 2013

What a beautiful, cultural and satisfying day! I probably shouldn’t have gone to bed as late as I did yesterday, the little sleep I got did not suffice for the intense Tabaski marathon. In Senegal the feast of Eid al-Adha, know as “Tabaski” in the west African country, is a busy and expensive time for families. Tradition demands that Muslims celebrate the holiday with a freshly slaughtered sheep. It wasn’t pretty, but it was so yummy! Everyone purchases new, flashy, fancy tailor-made outfits in advance and reserve their sacrifice even months before – people can pay between $40.000 FCFA ($85 USD) for a baby sheep 150.000 FCFA ($310 USD)  for an adult male. And you get to feed it, pet it and play with it until Tabaski morning. Continue reading

The sand, the ocean and the bright blue sky

Senegal’s tourism is one of the most important parts of the country’s economy nowadays, and for the past decades it has tried to reach beyond visitors from just France. Senegal is externally bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and the high temperatures all year round make the country a fantastic balneary tourism destination.

Hoje em dia o turismo no Senegal é uma das partes mais importantes de sua economia, e nas últimas décadas tem tentado atrair visitantes além dos franceses. O Senegal é banhado pelo Oceano Atlântico na sua costa oeste, e possui altas temperaturas o ano todo que fazem dele um país ideal para o turismo balneário.

Île de Gorée, Senegal | Mercredi 4 Septembre 2013

Gorée Island was the first place to amaze me – at first for its dark history, but then for its colorful and vivid scenery.  Located 2 km at sea from the main harbor of Dakar, and with a population of a thousand inhabitants, the home of the Door of No Return has become a famous destination for people interested in the Atlantic slave trade. The island was one of the first places in Africa to be settled by Europeans, with the Portuguese arriving in 1444, followed by the Dutch, the British and finally the French. In this tiny island I first learned about the Baobab, a magical plant also known as the upside down tree. Baobabs have a shallow and very wide spreading root system so that they can immediately take up the first rains of the season, and they can go without water for years. These ancient trees live for centuries, millenniums and blooms gloriously in spring. They are believed to have magical entities living inside of them – old souls that just never left earth. So, whenever anyone is born, the first thing you do is bring it under the tree, to receive its blessings, and when they die, you bring them back, to allow them to say goodbye.

A Ilha de Gorée foi o primeiro lugar a me surpreender – a começar pela sua historia sombria, mas depois pelo seu colorido e vívido cenário. Localizada a 2km do porto de Dakar, e com uma população de mil habitantes, a casa da Porta Sem Retorno tornou-se um famoso destino para as pessoas interessadas no comércio de escravos no Atlântico. A ilha foi um dos primeiros lugares na Africa a serem colonizados pelos Europeus, com a chegada dos Portugueses em 1444, seguidos pelos Holandeses, Britanicos e finalmente pelos Franceses. Foi nessa pequena ilha que eu aprendi sobre o Baobab, uma planta magica que é conhecida como uma arvore de cabeça para baixo. Os baobabs tem raizes curtas e compridas que se espalham pelo chão, absorvendo as primeiras aguas da chuva, elas podem viver na seca por anos. Essas arvores vivem por centenas, milhares de anos, e dão flores em toda primavera. Os locais acreditam que entidades magicas habitam dentro dos seus grossos troncos – almas antigas que nunca deixaram a terra. Então, sempre que alguem nasce, a primeira coisa que você faz é leval-lo até a arvore, para receber as bençãos e boas vindas, e quando eles morrem, você o leva de volta, para que possam dizer adeus.

Ngor, Senegal | Dimanche 29 Septembre 2013

To visit Ile de Ngor, the Senegalese load the visitors into a Pirogue (traditional fishing canoe where everyone crams in with their orange vests). The round trip visit to the island costs $500 Francs and only takes five minutes. On the bay side we found quiet white sandy beaches where we swam, relaxed, ate lunch and napped. I call it a successful day!

Para visitar a ilha de Ngor, os senegaleses se amontoam nos pequenos barcos conhecidos como Pirogue (longas canoas tradicionais de pesca cheias de gente de colete salva-vidas). A viagem de ida e volta custa $500 Francos e pode ser feita em menos de cinco minutos. Do lado da baía encontramos uma praia tranquila de areia branca, onde nós nadamos, relaxamos, almoçamos e dormimos. Isso é o que eu chamo de um dia de sucesso!

Îles des Madeleines, Senegal | Samedi 19 Octobre 2013

The third island I have visited has been my favorite so far. Exactly 13 minutes away from Dakar, Le Parc National des Iles de la Madeleine is the smallest national park in the world, and its main island is known as Snake Island – I have not yet learned why/do not care to learn why. The island is formed by steep cliffs that have been carved by the sea over millions of years, and once I climbed over at the edge of the ocean, I fell in love with how peaceful and alluring it was. All I know is that I have decided to be the little king of my own little island! Because of its apparent barrenness and the past inability to cultivate the land of the island, local lore dictates that evil spirits inhabit it which prevent its being populated – one more reason for me to live there all by myself. I think being away from the hectic city lifestyle, the unbearable heat,  and the Senegalese wolof for an entire day did the trick for me, it is fair to say that I have a soft spot for paradise islands.

A terceira ilha que visitei foi o meu favorito até agora. Exatamente 13 minutos do Dakar, Le Parc National des Iles de la Madeleine é o menor parque nacional do mundo, e sua principal ilha é conhecida como Ilha das Cobras – Eu ainda não aprendi por que / não me importo de saber o porquê. A ilha é formada por íngremes penhascos que foram esculpidas pelo mar ao longo de milhões de anos, e uma vez que eu subi em cima da beira do oceano, eu me apaixonei com a paisagem pacífica e sedutora que a ilha me ofereceu. Tudo que eu sei é que eu decidi ser o reizinho da minha pequena ilha! Por causa de sua aridez e incapacidade de ser cultivada, a lenda local diz que os maus espíritos habitam a ilha, e impede que uma civilização se estabeleça – mais um motivo para eu viver lá sozinho. Eu acho que estar longe da vida agitada da cidade, o calor insuportável, e wolof do Senegal por um dia inteiro fez o truque para mim, é justo dizer que eu tenho um ponto fraco por ilhas paradisíacas.

Meu reinado no menor parque nacional do mundo começa agora. Daqui não saio, daqui ninguem me tira.

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