Getting settled: Bridge year in new Senegalese home

This post by Fellow, Ananda Day has been cross-posted from the Current TV News Blog.

Home’s a pretty big deal to me, its where I feel safe and comfortable, where all my roots are, where I go to relax, breathe, and just be. From what I can tell my new home here in Senegal, which I will be staying in for six months, is just a tad bit different. First, it’s all hustle and bustle. Eleven children (of which three pairs share the same name) divided between two sets of parents in the two parts of the house, a restaurant to run, relatives and friends always coming and going, and cooking and dishes are forever being done. Not quite the same ambiance as my Dad, cat, and I.

Then there is the hierarchy that exists. Bali and Awa clean and cook for the house and restaurant, only the women do any chores, older people get more food and respect, and then there’s the fact that while they think of me as part of the family, I’m still separate from it. Growing up with two brothers and a sister, we all did our equal share of chores, whether it was vacuuming or the dishes. When eating, we were given equal shares of food which were not divided by age or sex. This difference in hierarchy has led me to feel as if I’m playing politics at home, for everything I do has a different significance and every American expectation of equality is out of place. Along that line, independence is a very different thing here. No matter what I do, be it going to the bathroom or work, I am always asked what I’m doing, for permission must be granted to do almost anything (not going to the bathroom, thank you very much). Back in America I have a freedom to go almost anywhere, and a Dad who just wants to know if I’m okay, not what I plan to do after showering. All at once I am the most independent that I have ever been, far, far away from everything that I know, and yet the most dependent as I have rules and expectations from a family and culture that are foreign to me. True, I probably couldn’t imagine a more different home. Nevertheless, I still eat breakfast with my ‘dad’ here, enjoy helping to cook, do my own laundry (it just takes a bit more work here), and have the sanctuary of reading (as I am lucky enough to have my own room). Being here for almost two months, I know that I’m not at home yet. It is possible though, so I’m looking forward to having over four months to find out.