Tiana: Hakuna Matata: it means “No Worries”

February 1, 2010

There is many a good thing to be said for the rhythm of life in Senegal.  It’s relaxed.  No rushing.  Almost completely devoid of any hints of stress, anxiety, worry, etc.  Last week, Waly told us, “Here, it’s you who control the time; the time doesn’t control you.” It’s very different than back in the States where we, or at least I, feel almost constantly “pressed for time”.  Like I have to be somewhere, do something, see someone, and if I’m not doing any of these three things, I’m somehow wasting my life.  Well, if “time is money”, I’ve learned here how much more valuable people, relationships, and experiences are than any kind of currency.

Sundays in my family are sleep-in days!  I found that after the Monday thru Saturday week of orientation, I definitely needed that extra sleep!  The grandkids were over for most of the day, and they proceeded to give me a French vocabulary refresher.  Doudou, my aforementioned little ‘husband’, had a batman mask and his sister was quizzing me on the anatomical features of the face.  She would tell me the French word, I would repeat it, and then I would test her on the English word.  We then sang, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” together (in English!), which she had learned at school!  So there I was, seated on the stoop just outside my house, with my adorable niece and nephew, sun shining above, neighbors and friends passing by the house and offering a kind Asalaa Maleekum…It reminded me of the Rascal Flatts song “Mayberry”, only in Africa!

And here’s yet another example of how amiable people are, and of how wonderful my family is: Bassirou, my big brother, spent a good 45 minutes trying to connect my itty-bitty computer to some kind of wireless network from home.  It worked for about five seconds, and then quit, and when we finally gave up, he said, “Well, you are now a part of this family, and in this family, we share everything, so if you ever do need to use my computer [because his connects to wireless from our house], you can use it when you need to.”  How nice is that!  Another thing I’m beginning to understand more profoundly here — true generosity, true selflessness.

Monday, class began.  But it certainly doesn’t feel like class when you’re sitting in a conference room at WARC, doors and windows open to allow the light breeze and the sound of rustling palm leaves in.  Our instructors are absolutely delightful, and the structure of the program is such that we, the students, can pseudo-dictate the topics of discussion in our classes, what lessons we want to do, etc.  Here is a brief breakdown of my coursework:

1) Country Analysis: Here we’ll be learning about the daily realities of Senegalese culture.  For example, on Thursday we went through a list of Wolof proverbs that serve as a basis for life here.  We’ll be talking about economy, traditional society, policy, ethnic groups, legends, etc, all to better inform us about the country and to allow us to better understand what we see every day.  This course also has a French component, where we’ll be intensively working on French communication, perhaps some grammar, but also some more pertinent, cultural information (e.g. on Thursday we learned about SMS French, or abbreviated French used in text messaging — bjr = bonjour!).

2) International Development: I have very little background in international development coursework.  Correction, I have zero background in international development.  This course, with it’s discussions and analyses of the definition of development, structural adjustment, the worldwide food crisis, etc. promises to be the most challenging for me, mostly because I’ve never before been very privy to economic or political strategy.  So far, it has been incredibly interesting to learn about!  This week, we took a look at Socialism as it applied to newly independent African countries back in the 60’s.

3) Wolof: For those who don’t know me, I have a colossal affinity for learning languages!  I loved learning Spanish back in high school, I’ve loved learning French and Russian, and I love learning Wolof!  It’s been a little bit tough to start a language from absolute scratch, but I know it will come.  We worked on salutations and some grammar this week, and goodness knows I can’t wait to continue.  It’s a lot of fun to learn a different language (Wolof) when the language of instruction is already in a foreign language (French)!

4) Public Health and Social Services: I haven’t yet had this class, our instructor was ill on Monday, but I’m so excited for it!  It seems to offer a introduction to the practice and structure of health and social service systems here, a critique on access to healthcare, an overview of infectious and tropical diseases, nutrition issues, and reproductive health — It seems just perfect!

5) INTERNSHIP and Research Methodology!: This is what I am supercallifragilistically excited for!  I went in to talk with Waly about my internship placement on Thursday, and had no idea that they’d have such a perfect match to cater to my interest in pediatrics and global health!  From mid-March to early May, I will be working at the Centre de Pédiatrie Sociale de Joal, the Center for Social Pediatrics in the beautiful, costal city of Joal, Senegal!  I am so excited and so thankful!  I don’t even know specifically what I’ll be doing yet aside from passively observing a bit, but it will most certainly be another wonderful chapter in this adventure!  Before the internship segment of the program, we’ll have a course in research methodology to build our research skills and prepare us for communication and interaction with the community at our internship sites.

This week in class, we covered everything from Socialism in post-independence Africa to salutations and ways to present yourself and others in the Wolof langauge to an analysis of Senegalese proverbs to a review of animal vocabulary in French, with several trips to the beach distributed between classes.  It’s cool to be learning so much and confronting so many obstacles and challenges here while still feeling so worry-free.  As they say in the Lion King, Hakuna Matata!


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