With freezing cold water running over me, I can hear the goats braying in a neighbor’s yard. Since I last posted, I have moved in with my family, visited downtown, and started classes. These developments have most of all shown me my gross under- (and occasionally over-) estimations of what my life would be like in Dakar.
I was fortunate enough to be placed in the Sacre Coeur 3 neighborhood—the Upper East Side, Georgetown, or Lincoln Park of Dakar. Though my family is far from its wealthiest inhabitants, our residence is quite comfortable. Instead of showering in a bucket as expected, I instead shower in the bathroom I share with my two brothers and two sisters—using a moveable shower head without hot water and a drain which sits next to a toilet without a seat. While my grooming habits have certainly been adjusted, I realize how much my family values my presence and happiness. While the two girls and our maid share one room with two beds and a cot, I have my own room with a bed bigger than that of my dorm at Georgetown. Though the outlets are unreliable, I have a light that always works and a window to look out on our courtyard where the maid cooks and cleans.
Similarly, while I expected to be able to navigate the city relatively quickly, I have been amazed by the bustle of Dakar. Cars share the streets with horse-carts and pedestrians, particularly perilous without working streetlights. There is no grid system for streets in Dakar, so a wrong turn or “shortcut” can lead to walking through a shanty-town with no turns back to the main road. The market is filled with goods for sale, which I cannot buy without aggressively bartering in the local language. Though nearly all the Senegalese speak perfect French, learning and practicing Wolof is more necessary than I expected. The residents prefer to speak Wolof with one another, and requiring them to speak French with me is another way I stand out as a toubab—or foreigner.
Despite my clear difference, the Senegalese have been incredibly warm and welcoming. It is considered rude here in this communal society not to greet people on the street, so locals often strike up curious conversations with the American students. My family views me as their own daughter and honored me with the Senegalese name of Halaal Djiatou – the name of their deceased great aunt. Though they occasionally engage in sessions of Wolof with one another where the words fly completely over my head, they have been patient with my communication struggles in both French and Wolof and enjoy helping me through my difficulties. My younger sister, 19, commented to our neighbor that she was happy I was so open; the entire family jokes with me and teases me like I am one of them. Their favorite thing to hear me say, which they taught me, happens when I do something I’m unaccustomed to successfully. I proclaim, “Je suis Senegalaise. Mah Dof Dee!” meaning “I am Senegalese.” (in French) followed by the slang expression which translates from Wolof closest to the English “I’ve got skills!”
I hope to continue skillfully navigating this transition, and promise more in the future. Ba baneen yoon (until next time)…