I have now been in Senegal for three months and am beginning the last quarter of my journey. I cannot believe how quickly the first three months went and I know I can’t even fathom how much this trip has changed me yet. But for now I’m just relishing all the daily crazy adventures!
For some blogs about the first part of my trip you should check out my personal blog at http://toubabtales.wordpress.com ! I’ve celebrated Eid al-Ahda here, visited the largest waterfall in Senegal, become obsessed with café touba, bissap juice, and fataya, trusted my life to taximen, planted trees in northern Senegal, and met incredible people. I’ve learned so much about culture, politics, values, social norms, perspectives, and to be cliché, life. It has definitely not been an easy road though.
I agree with Shane (read: blog below) about deciding to study in a non-anglophone country. I spent the greater part of the first couple months here just trying to be less confused about everything. What you just asked me a question, Mama? Well it had the word “lekk” in it which means to eat, so…yes I’m hungry? You’re hungry? I haven’t eaten yet? We’re having dinner? It’s been particularly interesting in Senegal, where the official language is French but the language spoken most is Wolof. Many people also learn English in school – people my age tend to be able to speak it pretty well (luckily for me my host sister is one of those people). So, I have three classes in French (one being Wolof…taught in French), three classes in English, speak Wolof and English at home and French to one of our maids Seyni, speak French and English to friends while they speak English back to me to practice, speak French to new people I meet but Wolof to taximen and boutique owners, and listen to everyone around me speak Wolof when I’m not part of the conversation. Basically I’m at a WoloFranGlish stage in which I can’t actually speak any language properly anymore (in fact, yesterday I am positive that I made a sentence using words from all three languages). The fluidity of language is really cool though – there are some things I’ve realized can only really be expressed in one language or another, certain words in one language that don’t exist in another, and ways to communicate even if you are reduced to a second-grade level in every language.
Everyone who encouraged me to come to Senegal thought I would be fluent in French when I got back – I’m not even sure if I will be fluent in English anymore. But there is so much about a language that can only be learned by immersing yourself. For example, I still remember the level of boss-ness I felt when I realized I had had a conversation over text messages only in Wolof and a little French at the end. I not only texted in a different language, but used abbreviations. Text speak. I could pass as a Senegalese preteen! There are also a lot of colloquial phrases and local sayings that you would never learn in a classroom; and regardless of how much more of the language you actually learn, you definitely get better at conversing quickly and without translating in your head. Right now my technique is working – we’ll see what happens when I get back!
I am living in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. At 2.5 million people, it’s the largest city I’ve ever lived in and I am adjusting to city life as well as a new culture. There is so much right at your fingertips here, if you’re willing to deal with public transportation of course – cultural centers, concerts, beaches, theater, crazy night life (Dakar ne dort pas, yo), football games, restaurants and street food, and a conglomeration of people. Being in the capital city is basically experiencing Senegal on steroids – you are closer to the politics, the organizations, the people that make (or don’t make) things happen. Before I came, I had some expectations of Africa and I definitely heard others’ expectations of what my life would be like here, and I’m happy to say that Dakar has crushed those expectations into a fine flour-y powder, mixed that flour with many other ingredients and made cookies out of it (weird metaphor, told you I can’t speak English anymore). If you might be interested in studying here or in an African country, I highly recommend it!
There’s so much I want to do in this next month that all the excitement is kind of stressing me out. I’ve been able to travel all over Senegal already but there is so much left to do! On the agenda for the next month is Lac Rose, a lake that turns pink during the dry season because of certain bacteria in the water; Saint Louis, the former capital of West Africa; Ngor Island just off the coast; finding a Mexican restaurant because I’ve been craving tacos for like 5 weeks now; making Thanksgiving dinner for the family; and visiting the holy city Touba. Inshallah! (If Allah wills, pretty much the slogan of our program). I will keep the world updated on my adventures – thanks for reading!