Literally translated, the above sentence reads “Little by little one catches the monkey in the bush.” The essence of this Wolof proverb highlights two virtues that I’ve had to cling to with my entire being during this transition — patience (in making mistakes and learning from them, in integrating as much as possible into this society) and hope (that ça viendra, it will all come together in time).
Our first week here ended in memorable fashion (then again, what isn‘t memorable these days? ). With the amount that I’ve learned so far, it seems as if I’ve been here for months, not days. On Thursday, I walked to WARC with Elisa, a student from Mount Holyoke who lives about a minute’s walk from my house. We aren’t in the same program, but we study at the same school — It’s so nice to be making new friends here! That morning at the center, us MSID-ers watched the Senegalese film Bamako, which addresses the issues of globalization and development by recounting a trial between the World Bank and the people of a Senegalese village. After the powerful movie, we discussed the main themes, and our discussion ended with the question, “What is the solution to the problems and inequalities currently plaguing the process of globalization?” Wow. It’s a big question, and part of me feels like there is no possible answer because the topic is so multi-faceted, but it was really cool to debate about it within our group. It’s interesting how even just taking the time to talk about something makes you feel even one step closer to helping make a difference.
Friday was quite low-key. We went to WARC and got our syllabus for the semester (and my goodness, is it a busy one!), took our lunch, and held a question and answer session about the first few days in Senegalese family life.
I absolutely love my Senegalese family. I can already tell that I am going to miss them when it’s time to go home in May. There is no way that they replace my God-given family, mind you, but I know that they’re already taking their place in my life. Every day, it seems that they get more and more used to me and I get more and more used to them — I love it! We laugh together a lot, and a lot of the time it’s because of something ridiculous that I say or do, but it’s always in good fun! I think mealtimes are my favorite, first because we always eat dinner together as a family, with up to seven or eight people at a time sharing one giant plate of deliciousness, and second because that’s where a lot of the laughter happens. What I love about laughter is how universal it is, how the joy that it springs from isn’t limited or restricted and how it can be understood no matter what language you speak, no matter where you come from. This family reminds me a lot of my family back home. It’s obvious how much they love, respect, and enjoy one another, and it’s a beautiful and incredible honor to be a part of it.
Now Saturday. Saturday was probably my favorite day so far! We toured Dakar, the capital of Senegal in which we live, which is located within the borders of a peninsula that is surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic Ocean. This is such a gorgeous city!!! Our first stop was La Porte des Millières, constructed in the year 2000 to herald the new millennium and the beginning of a new regime. From the cliff that we stood upon, we faced the ocean and could see l’Ile de Madeleine, an uninhabited island, in the distance. To our left was a stunning, sandy beach where some people were swimming and the waves were pounding the rocks and shore. We hopped back on the bus and went to the next stop, the Presidential Palace.
It’s a stunning building, really, and quite similar to America’s White House, with a vast expanse of grass and rows upon rows of palms and other beautiful trees. We were able to take a picture with the soldier guarding the gate — I stood directly to his left, and it turns out that the gun slung across his shoulder was pointed directly at my temple!
Our next stop was my absolute favorite spot of the visit, and probably will end up being one of my favorite places in the entire world. When we first arrived, the view was rather unassuming and desolate; it was an ex-military bunker now inhabited by struggling country folk and artists who can’t afford to live in the city. But a small jaunt from the bunker towards the ocean gave way to a breathtaking sight. And when I say breathtaking, I mean it literally takes your breath away. I heard the waves crashing before I saw the view. We reached an outlook perched on a cliff, looked down, and saw a small, rocky inlet where gigantic waves were crashing in. The inlet was surround by tall, vertical stone columns and opened only to the ocean that fed it with the great waves. Walking down the pathway, we came to the edge of another cliff, below which was a calm, shallow tide pool the teal color of a peacock’s feathers, which was surrounded by bright, sky blue, rolling ocean waves. There was a Senegalese man who had scaled down the cliff and was sitting, almost out of sight, below us. I caught his eye and waved, receiving a bright smile in return. I could sit entranced on that cliff all day and never become bored or under whelmed. The ocean stretched so far and wide, I swear I could see the curvature of the earth!
After reluctantly leaving the military encampment, we visited La Regie des Chemins de Fer du Sénégal, the train station, which was just en face de La Place des Tirailleurs, a monument dedicated to fighters from the World Wars. Next on the agenda was the Pointe des Almadies, another stunning beach, with incredible seashells of all shapes and sizes, which was on the coastline of a charming little village. The Phare des Mamelles, a lighthouse, followed. It’s situated at such a high elevation that you can see for miles, looking down over the city and the water, being nearly blown over from exposure to the strong winds. We mounted the winding stairs to the tippy top of the structure (and I nearly collapsed with fear, realizing for the first time in my life that I just may be quite weary when it comes to heights), where we got to see the giant mirror that rotates within the lighthouse, reflecting light and serving as a beacon for boats and planes alike that approach the peninsula.
We also saw one of the mammoth light bulbs that they use; it is seriously bigger than a grown person’s head! The Monument de la Renaissance (a highly controversial and politically charged topic in Senegalese society today) and La Mosquée de la Divinité (which stood facing another gorgeous stretch of beach and ocean) were our final two stops, and we returned to WARC for lunch (I ate Hawaiian pizza!).
The tour helped to introduce us to a new level of understanding in terms of this society. On one side of the street, you’ll see stretches of incredible, intricate villas with lush gardens in the lawn, foreign sports cars in the garage, and guards at the entrance, while on the other side of the street you can see what looks like a slum. The contrast is vast, and I began to feel a level of frustration with, well, with I don’t quite know what yet. When I look at this city, I see nothing but charm and beauty, despite the extreme poverty within. I ask myself — why is there so much poverty, why isn’t this beautiful place more popular with tourists, why do construction workers have only hard hats as safety equipment, why, why, why? Are there even concrete answers?
Later Saturday evening, a new friend, Anta, who lives just down the street from my house, showed me around the neighborhood and answered some of my questions. It was late and dark outside, but it was still good to see some of the surroundings — She showed me several supermarkets and places to eat, as well as the easiest way to the nearby beach. I was then introduced to her husband, brothers, and some friends and then we walked the short distance back to my house. Anta is so nice and she was extremely patient in explaining and repeating things that I didn’t understand. Everyone seems to be that way: incredibly kind and altogether helpful.
One final piece of news is that I have now been given a Senegalese name! Maman chose it for me, with the help of my sister, Mariama. Alors, je m’appelle Xadijaa (pronounced ha-dee-jah). Xadi for short. I like it!
Well, we’ve had a full week of warm sunshine, more than enough to send back to Minnesota, so that’s what I’m doing right now — Sending smiles and sunshine your way!