I’m sorry that I’m not good at this whole constant updating thing. It’s not that internet is that scarce, but rather that there is a long process of coming to terms with everything here—needing to figure it out for myself before I write it for the world. This process, however, is nowhere near through, but I decided it was about time I sat down to share a little of what I’ve been through these past two weeks.
I’m now in my second week of school, enjoying a light load relative to Macalester. I have four classes—International Development Theory, Country Analysis (including a French language component), Public Health and Social Services, and Wolof. The classes are good, but are scheduled for large chunks of time, which leaves random mornings/afternoons/evenings free. So far, I am enjoying my Wolof class immensely. I didn’t think I would be so interested in learning this language, but it is a fascinating language and contradicts so many facets of language we take to be self-evident coming from a Latin based language background. For example, in Wolof, you don’t conjugate the verb; you conjugate the pronoun for different tenses. They also don’t have adjectives, but rather verbs to describe states of being. Also, it’s really interesting to learn about the influences Senegal has undergone. Like how with technology-terms, most languages share the same word: radio, computer, internet…But in Wolof, even the word “table” was borrowed from French: taabal. Being here has also made improving my French seem like a smaller priority while here: it really isn’t the language of the country, the people or the cultures. So for now, Wolof is where the heart is.
I found out where my internship for the second portion of the semester will be. I will be living in Touba, which is the holiest city in the country and the home to the largest Senegalese Muslim brotherhood, the Mourides. You should google it; because it is a beautiful city from what I can see. I’ll be working with an organization called ASCODE. I don’t know much about what they do yet, but do know that they help refugees abroad in addition to helping to build infrastructure in communities here. I’m really excited to see what it’s like and among all of the students here, there is definitely excitement building about what it will be like to be really immersed in Senegalese culture, away from the other American students, our air-conditioned classrooms and internet access.
Aside from school, I had a very exciting past weekend. On Saturday, I went to the centre-ville with a few friends to visit the largest market in the city. We spent the day wondering around the city feeling totally overwhelmed by all of the vendors shoving things in our faces and trying to guilt us into buying their products. We also visited the oldest market left over from colonial times, where they sold fish, vegetables and Asian foods. It’s strange, but there is actually a large Chinese population here and their foods seem to be integrated into household meals here. After hours of walking, we went to the most beautiful cove on the edge of downtown. Aside from the really dirty water, it was picturesque: canoes lining the shore, kids jumping off of a boulder in the water, women preparing food in front of their houses overlooking the water. It was a good end to the day and then my host family had Indian food for dinner and watched the Indian soap operas that are popular here, which was an even better end to the day.
On Sunday, I visited my host sister’s sister with her. She lives in Grand Dakar, which is the neighborhood bordering my own, but is a neighborhood that has a completely different feel. The streets are unpaved, every woman is carrying baskets on her head and the streets are filled with music streaming in from doorways covered by only a sheet. I felt a little like a kid sitting in on an adult conversation about taxes; only understanding a Wolof word here and there. Then, later that afternoon, I went back with my friend on a three hour walk that uncovered 5 or 6 neighborhoods of the city. We sat in on a church service and passed others as it was a Sunday afternoon, passed what looked like a Chinese mansion, watched basketball and football games…It was a day of discovery and seeing the city from another perspective, one that has existed under my nose for two weeks now.
This morning, Melinda and I went to a market by my house and to a tailor to pick up a dress I had made and drop off fabric she got to have an outfit made. It was a fun experience and the first time I really maneuvered the city on my own, trying to get from one exact location to the next without a local person with me. We managed to meet up in a location we hadn’t been to before, go to a market (any only get called Toubab (white person) by a few kids), find the tailor and the way back to my home with no problems. The whole time, I couldn’t help but think about how just two weeks ago I didn’t imagine ever being able to remember the route to and from school, not to mention how to get around multiple neighborhoods in my vicinity. I still have a long way to go before understanding this city and country, but petit a petit—little by little.