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Grace: A day in my Senegalese life

August 6, 2011

So we’re technically not supposed to be learning any Wolof for another 3 weeks when we start the class with the other students because if we start learning now we’ll get ahead in the class, but while living with a family who speaks primarily Wolof, it really can’t be helped.  Plus Aisha (the 12 year old girl I mentioned in my last post who I found out is actually almost 11) loves teaching me Wolof words. 

I’ve mastered all the greetings (you have to say like 10 different things every time you greet someone, so this is quite an accomplishment), what to say during meals like “Sourna” (I’m full), “Nairna” (it’s good), and random phrases like “Howma” (I don’t know) and “Rafettna” (it is pretty). I’m practically fluent.  Except that the pronunciations are so hard that most of the time people have no idea what I’m trying to say, but they smile and tell me I’m good at Wolof anyway.

And it’s hot. It technically averages like 10 degrees cooler here than in Atlanta, but without A/C and with sporadic electricity, it feels 50 degrees hotter.  The electricity means fans and cold water, but when it’s out (which is like 50% of the time) the only option is to sit and bake. Or use a hand fan, which I do a lot.  My right wrist is going to be so strong by the time I leave Senegal.  

So as for what I’m doing apart from trying to make the throat noises involved in Wolof words and not melting, I wake up every day at about 8am, take a shower (even though I took a shower before going to bed too…like I said, it’s hot), get dressed quietly as to not wake up Aida, my sister, and then eat breakfast (usually tea and bread with a nutella-like spread, butter or laughing cow cheese) by myself.  The rest of my family gets up at 5 am to eat breakfast and then goes back to sleep after (this is just for Ramadan, not normal).  Then I walk about 5 minutes to the street where the other 2 American students are living and meet them for the 25 minute walk to class. 

By the time we get to class, I am totally sweaty and gross and look like I haven’t showered in days even though it’s barely been an hour. But the classrooms are AIR CONDITIONED so YAY. Sometimes I actually get kinda cold in class, it’s crazy. Then we read difficult French articles that have to do with Senegalese politics, and learn lots of vocabulary/grammar, and speak lots of French.  After class gets out, we go to the computer lab for a few minutes (the internet is really fast so that’s awesome), and then figure out some place for lunch.

Because of Ramadan, most of the restaurants are closed, except for the really Western, expensive ones.  The last two days we’ve just gone to a little grocery store and gotten random stuff for lunch, but these meals have not been very nutritionally balanced (example of grocery store meal: big bottle of apple juice and a piece of cheese). We definitely need to figure out something new to do for lunch because we can’t spend $10/day at the expensive restaurants, but we can’t eat crap either. And I feel bad asking my family to make me lunch when I get back since it would be prepared just for me. 

Anyways, after lunch (wherever that may be), we have gone to the beach a couple times.  Which was fun until I got sunburned (typical.)  Then I come back home, where my family is usually napping or watching tv, and join them in these endeavors.  Oh, and I shower.  Definitely shower.

At about 6 or 7, the guy in the mosque calls out that the day of Ramadan is over, and my family (which at this point has expanded to include my cousins and aunts and uncle and maybe some others) eats dates and drinks coffee.  They give me tea, not coffee, but I don’t really know why…either they think I don’t like coffee or the coffee is only reserved for the Ramadan-ers.  After the coffee/tea, they lay out rugs in the courtyard and do the evening prayers.  For this, Tapha and Babacar (he’s back! But he’s leaving again tonight…and I now know its for his job) and my little cousin Suleyman and my uncle (if he’s there) are on one rug leading the prayers, and the women are are on the rug behind them, heads covered, echoing what they say.  But I’m a little confused because my brother Mario never prays with the men, and my mom and grandmother never pray with the women.

After prayers, everyone just kinda sits around and talks (in Wolof, of course, so I’m totally lost), and then we eat.  We sit on the floor of the courtyard on mats around a big bowl, which usually has rice with some sort of meat and vegetables.  It’s usually pretty spicy and super good.  No offense to my Togolese friends, but Senegalese food is much better. 

And after lots of them saying “Lekel, Lekel” (eat! eat!) and me saying “Sourna, Sourna” (I’m full, I’m full), the meal is over and everyone sits around and talks again. We usually eat some mangoes (YUM), bananas and oranges for dessert too.  At this point, I usually just play with Aisha and Suleyman because everyone else is talking in Wolof about things way beyond my vocabulary.  We play this game that’s kinda similar to red light/green light, and another game that’s similar to Sorry!, and they teach me Wolof and I teach them English and we laugh at each other’s mispronunciations.  It’s a lot of fun, but I’m pretty sure my family thinks I’m like the most immature person ever, because I’m always playing with the kids instead of being with the adults.  Oh well.  It’s funny though, because sometimes Suleyman and Aisha’s mom, who is this super dignified looking woman, always in full Muslim garb, plays with us.  She’s super nice and fun, but it’s just kinda strange watching her run and freeze during the red light/green light game.  

Everyone just kinda drifts off to bed, to watch TV, or to friends’ houses as they feel like it, and I usually go to bed at about midnight, once it’s quiet enough outside my bedroom to sleep. And then it takes me at least an hour to fall asleep because chances are there’s no electricity/fan, and I’m roasting. 

So yeah, that’s a typical day in the life of Grace right now.  Today was a little different because I didn’t have class (it’s Saturday), but I went to the pool with Aisha and Suleyman instead, and that was tons of fun.  They were incredibly impressed that I could do a hand stand AND a flip underwater, so my self-esteem got a nice little boost because at home, I’m not exactly the most talented person in the pool.  I can’t even dive.

Okay, anyways, I better go ahead and post this before the inevitable electricity blackout.  Sorry there aren’t any pictures, but the internet is too slow for those.  I’ll try to post some of my family/house eventually.

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