Thursday, August 17, 2006

My Week in Dakar

Last week I was working on projects in Dakar, working at an English language summer camp in the mornings and spending my afternoons at the Olympic Pool. Normally, after running around like that for a week I would need some major recuperation time and I’d probably be nursing a cold but this time I felt great afterwards because both projects turned out to be so rewarding.

The summer camp is put on through the US Embassy and takes about 100 of the top high school (or lycĂ©e) students in Dakar who are learning English in school. Our week of summer camp was actually a small part of 2 summers worth of English summer school for these kids that culminated in a visit to Suffolk University (the Dakar branch of the University in Boston) and a closing ceremony. During the week we got to do all sorts of activities with the kids including Ultimate Frisbee, learning about American music and analysis of rap songs, a spelling bee (had I been competing, they would’ve kicked my ass), comedy sportz games, and lots of discussions. One of the discussion topics included immigration and how Senegal and the US are on opposite ends of the immigration struggle with many Senegalese risking everything, including their lives to get to Europe to find work. It was so refreshing being around these students who were really curious about life in the US and really wanted to learn and practice their English skills. I am certain that some of them will end up in University in the US in the future and also as leaders here in Senegal.

As for the second part of my days in Dakar, I recently made contact with coaching staff at the Piscine Olympique in Dakar and let them know I was interested in working with them. The man I met with said they’d like to work with me but he really showed enthusiasm when he saw me swim. He actually asked me to join his club team that he coaches - even though I live 3 hours away. When I showed up on Saturday there was a swim meet going on so I decided to join in and see what I could do on little to no training. Turns out that got me a 2nd place in my former best event 200 freestyle, got beat on the last 50 too. During the week I got to start to learn the ins and outs of how national team trains, got to meet one of 2 swimmers that swam for Senegal in the Athens Olympics, and got an idea of how I might be able to help - technique and training strategy. Since I really never could turn down swimming in an outdoor 50m pool I did get in about 10km during the week and it felt great. I can’t even describe how great it is to be around swimming again, it makes me feel much more at home and in my element.

My next trip to Dakar will be entirely for swimming, the African Swimming Championships are being held at the piscine olympique Sept 11 - 17 where I will be helping out where I can, that might be translating for the South Africans, Nigerians and other English-speaking countries, or it might be helping with meet logistics or with the Senegalese team. The week will end in the annual Dakar-Goree 5km ocean swim which I am planning on doing if I can get over that gross taste of salt water.

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