My first New Years in Senegal was more than I ever imagined! In all honesty, it’s been a little bit of a struggle being at site.
First, I am spending everyday trying to speak a language I hardly know. I got a tutor, who I will hopefully meet next week. My family has told me that my Wolof hurts. Apparently, I learned words in Wolof that no one uses in the city, for example: “to use” in Wolof is “jefandiko” however, when I asked my 14 year old namesake why she was using a knife to eat her watermelon she stared at me blankly. My 26 year old sister had to explain what it meant. That’s when I was told to use the French word from now on “utiliser.” Afterwards my family continued talking about all the Wolof I use that’s village Wolof.
Second, meeting people and remembering their first and last names is really tough. These are names that I’ve heard so rarely in my life, that I have difficulty remembering them. If everyone in my community had American names like: Heather, Katie, Francine, and Rachael, life would be a breeze. Not only that, there is an expectation for you to remember people’s last names, what?! Last names also kind of sound similar or have multiple ways of spelling them. Then the next time I see them, I get quizzed! The most interesting part about this is that most my community now knows who I am because I stand out: I am not Senegalese. This leads to many problems because a lot of people will greet me like they know me, but I don’t have a clue who they are, because I met them in passing, or they learned who I am from someone else in the community. This will just take time for me to get to know my whole community (if that’s possible, I’ll do my best!).
Third, I am my family’s first Peace Corps Volunteer which leads to a very interesting set of problems. Showing my family what American culture truly is, is awkward and strenuous. They have expectations and images of Americans drawn in their head, and they haven’t figured out that those are all stereotypes, but how do I explain what a stereotype is in a) a language I don’t speak well b) a concept that is totally foreign because diversity is limited. This is also a family that claims they understand Americans because my Aunt studied in Ohio for a year. But in fact just like how every culture views another culture, they don’t really know the values behind the actions of the people. Going back to the concept of “Toubab”/”Chinowa”/”Ching Ching,” it hurts for someone to call me a name based on the color of my skin. Here, such an idea of it being disrespectful is nonexistent because of the lack of diversity. To them, it’s just a word, it’s a name your community calls you, without concern for what your real name is. It’s a word referring to anything not Senegalese.
So with all these things ruminating in my head, I’ve struggled being positive through my 3.5 weeks, but New Years was AWESOME. My cousins and younger siblings have finally started opening up to me.
After dinner I sat in the living room reading Gone Girl when my Uncle and his wife approach me and say “let’s go walk around,” my mom says to me “you too, go with them,” so I grabbed my jacket (yes, I was cold), and we left. I asked my Uncle where we’re going and he said to get “glaces.” While we were walking, I wracked my Wolof brain for what that meant, I couldn’t figure it out, so I just followed. We walked down the main road, until we reached a gas station. Inside the convenience store, we open up the ice cream case. OH! “Glaces” is the French word for “radi” in Wolof or as it is known in English, ice cream. I should have figured that one out, I love ice cream! We all picked out our ice cream bars, and left the gas station. Across from the gas station there was a restaurant, and my Uncle led us inside. He ordered juice while we ate our ice cream.
These kids love making faces instead of smiling for pictures.
Finally there’s a smile! This is my 4 year old cousin, his name is Batu!
On our way home from getting ice cream, we stopped and bought fireworks from a seller on the side of the street. The fireworks were not the kind of fireworks we think of the States, they are little ones, even less scary than Sparklers. More like a one time Roman Candle. We also bought a watermelon.
In this picture above Batu, is my sister and namesake, my other sister, Fatu, and Batu’s brother aka my cousin, Mamadou. They are holding their fireworks :). When we got home we cut the watermelon, and the kids got to set off their fireworks. Batu was terrified. I tried to pick him up so he could see better, he squirmed and ran head first into a cement pole outside the house (it was very cute). Earlier in the day I made chocolate cake with an oven that had no temperature markings (it was slightly overbaked, but still good) in which my family and I enjoyed after watermelon. Then the kids and I danced around our living room and goofed off until we all got tired. At the end of the night I was so full. I don’t think I have ever been so full in my time in country. It was a great entry into 2016.
On a side note: I will be doing profiles of people who have influenced me during my service on my instagram for this next year, so check it out!