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Tiana: Families are like Fudge — Mostly Sweet with a few Nuts: Ma Deuxième Famille

January 25, 2010

Day two began with a trip to the bank to exchange dollars for CFAs, our first visit to WARC (the West African Research Center, where we’ll be studying) where we bought our new cell phones, ate lunch, and met students from other programs Then we were taken to our respective host families.  The third of these events is the highlight of this post.

In a word, my family is génial, great!  Coming in, I was as nervous as could be and as awkward as ever.  Will they like me?  Will I like them?  What do I say?  How do I act?  Who’s who?  What’s that?  Where am I?  All questions that were playing in fast forward and on repeat in my brain.  It’s my first night here, and I still feel a little mal à l’aise, but I have been placed in a wonderful family.  Maman is kind, gentle, helpful, and is constantly making sure that my room is to my liking, that the food is pleasing, that I feel welcome.  Even more than this, she’s reminded me multiple times today that this truly is my home, and that she hopes that I, too, consider it as such.  I have secured a contract with Matar, who I believe is related to my host family in some way: he is going to help me improve my French and learn Wolof and I am going to help him improve his English!  Even today, he and Maman helped me with my pronunciation and comprehension of several Wolof greetings.  Also, there’s a little boy (whom I believe is my sister‘s son) who has claimed me as his wife!  I know his name, but I don’t know how to spell it, so once I do, I’ll let you know.  I met so many family members and friends today, old, young, brothers, sisters, grandchildren, cousins, uncles, friends, all willing to give a large smile, a ça va, and a warm bienvenue!  I am so thankful to be here!

I am the first student to stay with this family.  Maman has lived in this neighborhood, Mermoz, for thirty years and has been building this villa for several of those years.  She never had a room to offer to a foreign student until this semester.  She is a widow with eight children, three sons (one of whom has, sadly, passed away) and five daughters (of whom two are currently in France).

The villa is wonderful!  Upon entry, one walks down a long hallway and can either mount the flight of winding stairs or stand in the open-air foyer space.  The living area is nicely decorated, with black leather couches, a glass coffee table, and a television.  My bedroom is on the second level, or the première étage, and has everything I need: a desk, a bed, and a large wardrobe.  The bathroom is just a few steps from my door.  The showers are cold, but I know that I can get used to that sans problème.

I’ve found it exhausting to be so constantly speaking French the past two days.  It’s also very rewarding.  Not only have my listening and speaking skills been challenged, it seems they’ve also improved tremendously, even in just 48 hours.  I was nervous, having skipped French this past semester, that I would not be able to communicate, but I don’t think I am doing as horribly as I anticipated.  Matar says I speak very well, and that he initially thought that I was French because of my accent!  That was such an encouraging compliment, and put me at ease a little bit in terms of language usage.

Despite how welcome I feel, how much I already love what Maman calls my “second family”, and how much I am enjoying the challenge of integrating myself into this culture, I am also (as mentioned before) somewhat ill at ease.  This is, I believe, just an inevitable and transient consequence of my journey to this very different setting, and I know that, but as much as I know I need to learn what I’m learning about living here by trial and error, by asking a zillion questions, and by putting myself in challenging situations, a part of me wishes that I could skip this introductory process.  I hope that, in my time here, I can find as many ways as possible express my appreciation for what they have sacrificed to allow me to stay with them.

A brief FYI:  In my second post, I mentioned that I expected cohabitation with different insect species than I am accustomed to during my stay here.  Enter Hector, the large cockroach that sure seems to enjoy wandering about my bedroom.  Yes, I named a cockroach, but only because I thought it would make me less afraid of him if I personalized his existence a bit.  Alas, my efforts were in vain.  I am still afraid of him, even though he’s much smaller than me in comparison, and I have no idea what to do or where he is!  Do you think they have exterminators here?  There’s also a fly that is always up and about in my room.  I should probably name him, too…

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