Tiana: Joal—the final stretch

May 8, 2010

Where has the time gone? I’ll tell you right now that it seems way too soon for me to be leaving Joal. I’ve just begun establishing friendships that I swear could last a lifetime, and now it’s time to go home? It just isn’t quite sitting well.

Anyhow, buckle your seatbelts, folks! I have a whole bunch of information to share with you from the past few weeks. First, let’s begin with current events:
Joal was hit with a heat wave at the end of April. Everyone was sweating bullets, and there was virtually no way to escape the heat. The day at work was rather dull. I was mistakenly called “Doc” by one of the mothers accompanying her ill child, and I really like the sound of it! After leaving work and eating lunch with my family, I drank a mixture of bouye and bissap juice to rid myself of some lethargy and headed to the beach that afternoon to cool off. As I was walking along the shore looking for shells, I heard a chorus of children shouting, “Tiana! Tiana! Tiana!” I looked up and saw some of the neighbors swimming just down the coast, Fatou, Papi, and Ami among them, and strolled over to join them. Taking pictures and shell-searching for the afternoon was so much more enjoyable with people to laugh with and pass the time with. Fatou helped me collect shells, and we all headed home at the same time, together. The kids and I made shadow puppets for practically the entirety of the evening, and voila, another day in Joal was finished.

Thursday afternoon, my host aunt (but more like an older sister) Agnes invited me to the beach with her and her English-speaking friend Lamine. We all camped out under a palm tree with some delicious lait caillé, or sugared milk, and spent the afternoon chatting, taking short walks, and looking through an English grammar. Once I got home, I learned that nine-month old baby Aissatou, a neighbor of mine, is now nicknamed after me! Her mother now calls her Aissatou Tiana! I was blown away by the compliment, and had a nice Wolof conversation with the mother in the process. After dinner that evening, I headed to the center across the street. My friend El Hadj and his friend Alioune tutor middle school children every evening. Mamadou instructs English, as he has his diploma from the university at Dakar in English language, and Alioune tutors math. I went and helped out with the English class a bit and have been going every night since! If I didn’t want to be a pediatrician, I think I would want to become a teacher!

Friday was rather uneventful, but with one particular note. I somehow forgot to wear earrings to work on Friday, and for some reason, literally everybody noticed! “Tiana, where are your earrings?” “Tiana, you look different. You’re not wearing earrings!” It seems that jewelry is absolutely integral to female culture here, something I didn’t notice until that very moment because it’s a normalcy for me to wear it!

The weekend was a lot of fun! I had previously planned to go to Mar Lodj, a small, paradisiacal island in the Sine-Saloum delta, but decided instead to rest with the family for my final full weekend in Joal. (Of note: when I come back here, I am definitely going to Mar Lodj! It’s supposed to be incredible!) I began my 20+ page internship report on Saturday, but quickly tired of it and decided to go to the beach and soak up some sun before lunch. Then after lunch, I went back to the beach, but this time with friends! El Hadj, Amadou, Alioune, and I all camped out under a palm tree for a couple of hours and made tea! One thing that I love about being here is that I have Senegalese friends, more specifically Senegalese guy friends—y’all back home know that I’m really shy, so this is a welcome departure from the norm.
When I got home that afternoon, my host dad’s friend, Madia, brought an American Peace Corps member by our house to introduce us. I had heard that there was another American girl working in Joal, but had never met her before. Alexis has been here for around two years with the Peace Corps working in environmental education. She speaks practically fluent Wolof and has spent a lot of time here, so it was fun to hear her perspective on the city, on Senegalese life, etc. I ended up going to dinner with Alexis, Mike, Brian, and Jacob (Mike and Brian are also Peace Corps members here in Senegal) at the Taverne du Pecheur. It was so nice to have a break from the daily grind of French and Wolof!

Sunday was as low key as ever. I hit the beach twice. Played with the neighborhood kids outside of the social center across the street. Learned to make baignets with the instruction of Mam Clo. Went to help out at English class. Went to sleep…

The following week came and went in record time. Monday, we took a good number of pictures at work, because it wasn’t only my final week, it was that of Dr. Bangura and two other interns also. I went on a walk through Joal with some colleagues from the clinic. We tried to go to the museum that used to be Senghor’s home, but it was closed, so we went to the bridge of Samba Dia. We made a heart in the sand, lined it with shells, and took pictures of each of our initials within the heart. Dorky? Sure. But it was really nice to spend time with them outside of work. On the way home, we did just fun random things—found a stray bill for 10,000 FCFA (the equivalent of about $20), stopped by a sand art shop, picked flowers that were growing from cactus, walked along the beach, and then parted ways. After dinner I went to English class and then helped Mama out with her homework! She has a penpal that wrote her a letter and drew her a picture, and she was to respond in kind. It was so sweet; she kept asking me what she should say, what she should draw, if her French was spelled correctly, etc. I loved it!

Tuesday, I intentionally woke up before sunrise so that I could run over to the middle school and photograph it. I do not regret getting up early whatsoever! It was stunning. The sun rises just over the basketball courts and behind a layer of palm trees. Once you pass through the school grounds, there’s a door that opens to the bras de mer, the arm of the sea, and you see the sun rising over a forest of baobabs, Fadiouth, and the cemetery. WOW! Before work, I stopped by the neighbor’s house to greet Massif, the sweet puppy there. The work day was short, and I ended up going home early because work was so slow, giving me the opportunity to help Agnes cook lunch! She showed me how to make the traditional plate, ceeb-u-jen, and allowed me to pound the spices, pick through and cook the rice, peel and clean the vegetables, and even help with the dishes! This was monumental, as I have wanted to help in that capacity since I got here, but haven’t really felt comfortable doing so. After lunch was ready, I climbed up to the roof to wave to the kids as they came down the long road from Fadiouth, then we all ate together and passed a peaceful afternoon and evening.

Have you ever had a day when your alarm goes off, you hit the snooze, and then sleep way too late because the snooze doesn’t work for some reason? Welcome to my Wednesday morning! I slept in until 8:45, the time that I usually leave for work, and had both Agnes’s in the family calling to me through my closed door to see if I was alright. It was an eye-opening experience for me, and here’s why: Typically, in such a situation, I would be completely panicked (heightened heart rate, irritable disposition, grumbly, etc.) as I really dislike being late. I believe I can safely say that Senegal has changed that in me quite a bit. The general mentality here is founded in patience and the practice of taking things in stride, two things I never quite realized I needed so badly to learn. At work that day, I took weights and temperatures for the incoming children, one of my absolute favorite tasks, despite its simplicity. I love being able to interact directly with the kids in Wolof, and I’ve found that their reactions to toubab presence at the clinic typically fall into one of three categories: You’ve got the kids who just stare at you, as if you were an extraterrestrial being; then you’ve got the ones who wail, as if you were there to hurt them in as many ways possible; and then there are the ones who fall in love with you at first sight, come to shake your hand, laugh and play around, etc.

Work on Thursday was calm, and the work day was wrapped up with a departure party for Dr. Bangura and the departing interns. That afternoon, I went again for tea with the guys at El Hadj’s house, then took in the sunset from the beach, ate dinner, and went to English class. I wasn’t just the assistant that evening, I actually ran the class! It wasn’t anything super special, but it was really neat to be a part of. I picked a song in English for the students to listen to (“Too Good to be True” by Lauryn Hill), had them listen twice and write down words that they heard and understood, then wrote the lyrics on a chalkboard so they could copy and keep them. After carefully reading through the lyrics together line by line, I played the song twice more, and we all sang it together! It was so much fun, and I swear that if I didn’t have my eyes set on becoming a pediatrician right now, I would choose education in a second!

Friday was the first day of good-byes. To Dr. Eugenie, the caring, intelligent pediatrician whom I hope to emulate should I one day become a doctor. To Dr. Bangura, the jovial, driven almost-pediatrician from Guinea who is always pushing me to question what I see. To Fatim, the equivalent of an older sister, who confides in me and allows me to confide in her. To Astou, who always helps me with Wolof, calls me her “xarit” (friend), and dreams of one day travelling to America. To Modou Gaye, the kind and helpful, whom all of the patients love. To Sali, who is always laughing and trying to convince me to let her tress my hair. To Doudou Diouf, who always welcomes my presence with a giant smile and jolly conversation. To Demba, the understanding and compassionate social worker, undeterred by the difficulties he faces. To Babou, the chauffeur, so friendly and welcoming. To Maguette, who was one of the first friends to help me to feel comfortable here. To Mere Ana, my adoptive Senegalese mother, always encouraging and wise. And to so many others. I took pictures of the people and the facility, and walked away with a heavy heart, feeling quite like I was losing a part of myself in leaving.
I proceeded after lunch to go to the beach solo. But not solo for too long. I was soon joined by a group of young neighborhood boys and their dog, Blackie. We all chatted a bit, the boys with their boundless energy ran around the beach and played with the dog, then walked home together. Just outside of my house, where the boys should have continued and where I should have entered, there was a boy of about four years that would not leave my side! He clung to my legs and my hand, even as his friends called to him, tried to come and grab his hand to guide him away, tried to pry his hand from mine! I had to call my aunts Clemence and Agnes to come help! It turns out they knew the boy, whose name is Youane, and that he lives about a two minute walk from my house. His mother is Senegalese, but his father is French, so the conclusion we came to was that the boy, identifying me as a toubab, saw me perhaps as some kind of relative? In any case, it’s a cute memory to have, and was a good dose of medicine for what was a bit of a sad day.

There is no word to describe how fun Saturday was! Earlier that week, I had scheduled the morning for going to the basketball court with El Hadj and shooting around a bit, but it ended up such that the kids would come with and that there would be a May Day event at the court for the staff of a local factory that works in the fishing industry. The morning began with a game with just the kids, Mama, Robert, Jean Jean, Pape, and a couple of others with whom I wasn’t familiar. Then more big people showed up, and I played two-on-two. El Hadj and I won. The kids then had a game. Then we big kids did again, but this time in a three-on-three set up. I played once more with my siblings before they went home, and was subsequently incredibly surprised to have a jersey thrown at me so that I would stay and join in on the full-out, full-court game being organized for the factory workers! I was the only girl and, for the most part, was dwarfed by these tall, fast, muscular men who can jump very high, but I really enjoyed myself, and rest assured, I held my own, even gaining some respect in the process. It was a competitive and exhausting morning, but it could not have been any better!

That afternoon was another filled with tea under a palm tree at the beach, listening to the rolling waves and enjoying the company of Amadou (who made the wonderful ataaya) and El Hadj.

Sunday came all too quickly, and I was filled with feelings of bittersweetness all morning long. We did one final round of tea (that I made all by myself!), I took some final pictures, ate a final breakfast and a final lunch with the family, made a final stop at Omar’s boutique, took a final walk to the beach, and hesitantly said some final good-byes to family, neighbors, and friends. Badou came about a half hour early at 3:30 pm, which I was not prepared for, so everything was a bit more hurried than I had hoped. Just before leaving, I went to say goodbye to Mam Clo and Papa Ernest. That’s when I started crying. Then I made the short walk to the front door of our house where Agnes, my host mom was standing. I thanked her, wiped away my tears, and stepped outside to say goodbye to everyone waiting by the car. The kids, Ernest, El Hadj, and Jean-o, Jean Claude and Aliz, Paul (my host dad), and others were all gathered around. I said bye to them all, thanked Paul for absolutely everything (and, believe me, “thank you” does not suffice), and climbed into the waiting van. Waving as we pulled away, and receiving a dozen waves in return, I began my final trek to Dakar.

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