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Tiana: Reflections of the first two weeks

February 4, 2010

Every day, I take notes in my journal about the occurrences of that 24-hour period.  Many of the stories that I’ve recorded over the past two weeks have already been shared, but I’ve composed a list of the anecdotes, observances, and other who-knows-whats that were left behind:

Observation Number 1: Height?  5’10”.  Age?  20.  Marital status?  Single.

Somehow, height, age, and perhaps even marital status seem to be correlated in the minds of several people that I have had the privilege of meeting.  Take Moiss, for example.  Moiss is a 29-year old that works across the street from my school.  While walking to WARC from the supermarket one fine day, Zawadi and I were called over for a brief conversation with him.  After basic introductions were made, the topic of relationships was addressed.  (Note: It seems that inquiring into your status in terms of personal relationships is about as common as asking how your day is going!)  Discovering that both Zawadi and I are single, Moiss proceeded to ask for a reason for said single status.  He mentioned that I, particularly, should be either in a relationship or married by now because of how tall I am.  Later in the week, I was asked my age, and truthfully responded, “Vingt ans”, 20-years old.  The inquiree’s reply was “Wow!  You’re tall for being so young!”  Both conversations were incredibly interesting, and both Moiss and the other were, of course, incredibly nice people, but such associations just struck me as odd!

Observation Number 2: If you’re open to them, they’re open to you – Not everyone is a creeper.

My eyes have been opened to the courage and resilience required to function as a minority in a society. Coming to Senegal, I was incredibly weary of practically everyone, paranoid almost to a fault.  Granted, there is a level of discernment needed when it comes to forming new acquaintances, but if you automatically assume the worst in someone or try to find ways to place them in the ex-communicate column, you’re going to miss out on a lot.  Enter Moustapha and The Man at the Shop Around the Corner (abbreviated: TMSAC).  Moustapha is my elderly neighbor.  One day, as I was leaving for class, I heard a man greet me with “Asalaa Maleekum”.  I was absolutely startled for a moment because I hadn’t seen him there, but as our conversation continued, I discovered he was harmless.  With broken English, he proclaimed, “Me, I thinks we should be friends.”  I agreed, and we’ve had a couple of brief conversations since.  Now TMSAC, he works at, you guessed it, the shop around the corner in relation to my school.  I often go to the little shop (which, quite honestly, looks quite unassuming and slightly dangerous upon initial inspection) to buy a giant bottle of Kirène purified water before school starts.  TMSAC is always there, and he is every bit the conversationist.  Knowing full well that I am learning Wolof at WARC, he one day pretended as if he knew no Wolof (although, of course, it is his native language!) and told me to teach him what I know!  I was able to recite the basic salutations and ask some basic questions, which he would respond to in fluent Wolof, and he offered an encouraging, “ça va venir”, “it will come” as I stepped out the door to head to class.  I love these kinds of conversations, and I’m very excited to participate in more as the semester continues!

Observation Number 3 : Life in a Senegalese community is just as wonderful as it seems from an outsider’s perspective.

I note this because, in a recent conversation with Maman, she mentioned that life with me in the house is no different than before I came.  “We haven’t changed anything!” she insisted.  They eat the same foods, pass their time the same way, interact in the same fashion, etc. and are allowing me to be a part of it!  Maman and I went on to discuss how beautiful the city is, how friendly people are, how much we love life here.  “People are always talking about the poverty,” she said, “Always focusing on what’s wrong, always concerning themselves with the problems and difficulties in Africa.  But we live comfortably, we live well, and we love it here.”  Despite the poverty, disease, and what have you that are absolute realities here and seem more grave than in the States, there is hope.  And everywhere I look, there is determination; there is someone who wants to make a difference, and that’s always where change starts, isn’t it?

Observation Number 4 : I love the noises here!  I love cold showers!  And I love my family!

Every evening, an interesting soundtrack can be heard just outside my window.  For example:

“Meeoowbssshhhbaaahahahvoooshmaaahhh!”

Can you guess what may make such a sound?  In fact, there are three things — First, cats.  There are several cats that hang out at the neighbors house that sometimes find their way to my door.  It often sounds like they’re either wrestling or having a full-length conversation, but either way, c‘est pas grave.  Next come the planes.  The airport is quite close to where I live, and the planes are often so close to the ground, you have to duck your head to avoid them (that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea… 🙂 ).  And then throw in the goats that my brothers raise on the roof of our house.  They’re cute, funny little things, and I laugh every time I hear them, just because it’s so interesting to be living a floor below a bunch of goats.  Combine these three noises, and you honestly get a pretty sweet, albeit unique, harmony.

On to the topic of showering.  Never in my life did I imagine that I could ever get used to taking cold showers!  But the fact is, plain and simple, I don’t mind it whatsoever!  First of all, it’s certainly a good way to wake you up in the morning, and secondly, it’s incredibly refreshing.  Not to mention, it encourages conservative use of water resources, as staying in too long could render you hypothermic.  I do believe I will come back to the States regularly exercising this new habit…

And again, I will update you all on my family.  They’re just great, plain and simple.  I had the opportunity this past weekend to hang out with them a lot.  On Saturday, I sat with Mariama and Cholo while they prepared lunch.  I was kind of just sitting there observing and studying when Mariama handed me a beautiful photo album to look through.  It was filled with pictures of Maman (who, if I understood correctly, had participated in the pilgrimmage to Mecca) and various friends and family members, many of whom I was able to recognize!  When I finished, several of my brothers and sisters began looking through it, reminiscing on that day, and laughing at recollections of old stories — I couldn’t understand what they were saying, as it was, of course, in Wolof.  But it was a beautiful moment.  I wish I could have snapped a picture!  The grandkids then came over, and I was once again the student of their French lessons (and also, this time, of their dance lessons!).  I also had the opportunity to sit in on the class that my brother teaches.  Children from throughout the community come to our house a few times a week for extra help with homework and exercises that they have from school.  They range in age from around four years up to probably around fifteen years old.  My brother invited me to join them this past weekend, and the kids quizzed me on translating vocabulary from French to English, from English to French, and then from English to Wolof!  It was so much fun, and it just goes to show how much you can learn from other people, regardless of age or any other factor.

Observation Number 5 : I’m craving gummi bears.

This one speaks for itself. Aside from these, I will quickly add that Maman is in Guinea this week for a funeral (and I miss her a great deal!), that class continues to go well (I just had my first Public Health class, and I just know that I‘m going to love it!), that us MSID-ers are headed to Toubacouta, a village a few hours south of Dakar, tomorrow for a group excursion (which promises some interesting stories!), and that I have yet to sustain any mosquito bites!

In closing, my neighbor, Lisa, braided my hair on Tuesday night!  It hurt quite a bit yesterday, and at first it felt like I was bald, but now it’s loosened up nicely.  I was walking through my neighborhood Wednesday morning, and several people that I usually greet during my walk to school said I looked like a “vraie sénégalaise”, a true senegalese!

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