I arrived in Dakar, Senegal a week ago last Sunday. I had my first taste of my new life in the Madrid airport, in which I discovered that the Senegalese do not bother with the American invention of waiting in lines. Upon arrival and an almost non-existent customs screening, I was greeted by members of the program staff around 11 pm. I was immediately jarred by the darkness of Dakar after we left the airport; only the major streets have streetlights, and even those are often fluctuating in their utility. Driving through the darkness, one could not help but notice all the people sitting outside–reminiscent of summers in Chicago “chillin on the stoop”. The students were dropped off at a hotel, where we spent our orientation period prior to moving in with our families.
The orientation supported my previous research, and I finished it feeling more safe and comfortable than ever. In between the security and medical orientations, we visited the Boaobab cultural center to learn about Senegalese culture. I practiced eating on a mat with my right hand and found it exceptionally difficult to do so gracefully, and we learned about Senegalese traditional society including superstitions loosely based on Islamic teachings.
What I found most gravitating about the orientation period was how comfortable I continue to feel. I expected to be immediately and emotionally overwhelmed, surrounded by intense heat and foreign language and gawking stares. Instead, I have appreciated the Senegalese terranga, meaning hospitality, which put me almost immediately at ease.
Ba baneen yoon! (until next time in Wolof–the local dialect spoken in addition to French)