I could write a blog post every day here. Several actually. If I had the time to sit down and reflect fully. However if I was focused on having the energy to write my experiences fully there’s no way that I could live them fully.
A huge part of this study abroad is focused on reflection on my place in the world and specifically in a world where I am the one with privilege to come somewhere where everyday I am confronted with things that make me uncomfortable. I have expressed before and I will express again how grateful I am for that, and I will do my best not to take my privilege for granted. With all this in mind, here’s my first few days in Senegal.
I arrived late Sunday night. All my confusions of standing in lines and missing my flights in Casablanca delayed my bag, potentially indefinitely. After waiting for a while at baggage claim, I met Lemine, the student affairs coordinator of our program, and then met Emma, fellow student and Samba, another helper with the program. From there we drove into Dakar, about a 40 minutes from the airport. It was dark on the drive to the house where all the SIT students were staying so we couldn’t see too much of the city. I was initially struck by how dark it was even as we approached the city. Street lamp’s were not a given, and most houses were completely dark.
In the morning we met the rest of our classmates (7 total) over a breakfast of croissants and instant coffee. Everyone in the group has different reasons for being here, but we all really have little idea what to expect from the program. Monday and Tuesday were orientation at the SIT building with the US based students. We learned more specifics about the program, tips about interactions and being a part of the culture, especially within our host families, and some basic Wolof to get us by until our classes in the language actually start.
During these days we’ve been having lunch at SIT and learning the éttiquette for meal time. For these meals we eat around a large plate on the ground, the food is absolutely amazing. Our first days ceebujen was unlike anything I’ve had before, and the meals continued to be amazing and different. Generally on the plate is rice with meat and large chunks of veggies all in the middle. Some people eat with their right hand, and some eat with a spoon.
The rain today came down in bucket sized drops. Even as I write this it continues to rain.
Yesterday (Wednesday) we met the 8 Senegalese students who will be taking classes with us during the program. We also met our host families yesterday and took our bags (ha, still not here) to the homes where we will be living for the next 15 weeks.
All the SIT students are located in the same neighborhood and so no one is too far away. I feel very lucky to be sharing my host family with Emma who is a native French speaker from Colorado. In our Family we have 3 kids under 7, a mom and dad, an uncle around our age, a grandfather, a maid, and 2 sheep. We all live on the same level with a courtyard and common area between the rooms. There is also a lovely rooftop terrace above. Yesterday we played with the kids a lot, having fun with kinder surprise toys and a kind of duck duck goose and Rock Paper Scissors. The kids have a lot of energy, but are very much helping with my French, and have already been teaching me words in Wolof.
Today was an exercise in finding ourselves in downtown Dakar. We were dropped off at La place de L’independence and given a cafe name where we would find our Senegalese peer, and then we would combine or clues to find another cafe where we would meet everyone else for lunch. It was my first time in downtown Dakar and it was less crowded than I expected. Maybe as crowded as a typical Seattle street in the summer, except lot of the people who are there are street vendors. I asked some security guards for help finding the cafe and kept my walk full of purpose as I found the Royaltine with not too much difficulty. Nadine and I completed our questionnaire and met with the rest of the group at a very westernized cafe. (There was poutine on the menu!)
After lunch we took taxies back to school to debrief our experience. Much of our conversations focused on the differences and many similarities between the Senegalese students and the US based students. Students from both places pointed out the differences in how we take up space; the Americans are louder, and fill a room with our presence, while the Senegalese students are more likely to let others speak first and speak less loudly. We discussed reasons for this (many) including histories of colonization, expectations in education, and language barriers. We speak mostly in English in class, but when necessary we speak French and have translations.
While we spoke, the rain started up again, pouring buckets into the street and turning the road infront of our school into a river. According to the Senegalese students when it rains, people stay inside, so we talk more; philosophies, education systems and culture. When the rain slowed, Lemain walked the US based students back home. I took a much needed nap and again woke to the rain.
I’ll keep you updated, subscribe if you can’t wait to hear if my bag shows or not (Let me tell you that will be worth an update) and stay in touch.
Always Beautiful Tomorrows,
Our host mother keeps a well tended garden in the front of our house.
In this post’s notes are some line to videos and Books I found prior to leaving.
The Art of Crossing Cultures by Craig Storti https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1857882962/104-8336893-6245566
I found this book while staying in my grandparents’ studio on the cape they were world travelers, and this book provided a sense for understanding the prices of going abroad, and understanding the things will go wrong, but giving tips on how to view those mistakes from a learning perspective. This link is for the most recent edition (I read the first edition)
Someone got a drone and had a lot of fun traveling in Senegal. A great view of the beauty of the country including some of the places where we will be traveling.
A video of Al Roker finding out more about his history in Senegal.
Mailing Address (I Love Postcards, and include a return address I’ll reply!)
c/o SIT – Study Abroad Senegal
BP: 16490 CP10700
Dakar – Senegal