404 Error (English)

Note: Most of my blogs will be uploaded about 10-14 days after I actually wrote them. This is due to several factors, the main ones being: lack of access to internet, and the revision and approval of my blog.

I wrote this in a night of insomnia on my second day in Senegal. It is a bit of a long one, so click here if you want the short version.

I write these words on Sunday, September 1st, 2014.

Hello, everyone! I am writing to you straight from Dakar, Senegal, where I am taking intensive language courses before heading out to my assigned village. I’ve been here for two days, and never, have I ever sweat so much in my entire life. The temperature here is brutal. Okay sooooo…

It’s 4 in the morning here and I am dead awake. Insomnia, anxiousness, etcetera etcetera etcétera… you know the deal. Writing helps drain my mind a bit, and with all the things keeping me up, I think I’ll be doing a lot of writing tonight. Let me start by telling a story:

On Saturday afternoon, the Cohort took a walk around the local village in Dakar where we shall be staying in for the next month. We were guided by local women who only spoke French. I only understood half of what was said. As we walked deeper into the village, the tour guide told us that we were approaching the homes of some of our homestay families. To my surprise, my family was the closest. I didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t nervous, but I also wasn’t ready. I chose not to think about it.

We crossed a basketball court/soccer field and headed into a very tight street. Unpainted, unmaintained houses and apartment buildings sat on both sides of the sidewalk-sized street, making the road feel more like a hallway. We barely walked down the road to arrive at my house. I didn’t even notice it. The tour guide just suddenly said: “Jose? Where’s Jose?” (sidenote: they pronounce my name the French way, so it sounds like “Gio-se”). At the time, I was at the back of the group, lost in my own little world. I quickly reacted, though, and I walked towards the front, straight up to the tour guide. Without skipping a beat, she told me, “This is your home. Your mother is not home, but this is your sister.”

A small, shy Senegalese girl, about 8 years old, stood in front of a doorstep just a few inches from me. She wore an all-pink clothing attire. She seemed a tad bit afraid. I reacted eagerly and friendly and started waving my hand at her and saying “Bonjour”. On the inside, though, I was just as afraid of her, simply because I didn’t know what to do. I became paralyzed after this. I wanted to introduce myself, but my mind got a 404 Error. Content Not Found. All the French I had learned this past summer disappeared in an instant. I couldn’t even remember my name. I just kept smiling while she stared back, confused. This stare off lasted about two seconds, tops! But I swear it felt like minutes.

I laughed nervously. “And this is your other sister,” the tour guide abruptly said while pointing to the inside of the apartment room. My other sister?! Yes, my other sister. I was so paralyzed by the sight of my first sister that I hadn’t noticed that right behind her was the home I am to live in for a month, and inside it another confused Senegalese girl. I swear, right now, I can’t even remember what she looked like. I don’t even remember if she was older or younger. I didn’t get a good look of the house either. It looked small, though… Very small.

My reaction to meeting my new sisters surprised me, because I thought I’d be good at the whole “meeting new people” thing. Breaking news: I suck at it. But, upon reflecting, I noticed that my reaction was actually just a continuation of the attitude I’ve had ever since I arrived at Senegal—one of insecurity and discomfort. It was for that very reason that I was on the back of the bunch during the entire tour. Don’t get me wrong; I’m emotionally and mentally more than fine. I’m handling that side pretty well. But socially, I’m a wreck. I’m too afraid of saying something nonsensical to speak the little Wolof or French I know. I’m too skeptical of the locals to even wave or greet them in any shape or form. I prefer staying in my hotel room than playing Soccer with the kids on the street or walking the town with the Fellows. I’m without a doubt one of the most reserved Fellows in their interactions with their country, and anyone who knows me well knows I’m not like that all. I’m not happy about this.

I have always considered myself a very sociable person capable of meeting new people with ease. But here in Senegal, where I’m a foreigner that doesn’t speak the language, I have discovered that I lack the confidence to get myself out there. This is the first thing I must change if I expect to get the most out of this experience. It’s my first real challenge. I hope I can work with this challenge immediately, but for now, I’m just happy that I’m aware of what needs to be changed. Tomorrow, though, when I officially move in with my Dakar host family, it’s time to accept the challenge. I’m going to make my sisters love me.

There are a lot of other things that are keeping me up, but if I were to write about them, this blog would be endless. I’ll leave them for another occasion. Despite the hard first few days, I can ensure to you all that I am doing more than fine. I am here with a great team of 17 other Fellows, and they are some of the greatest people I’ve ever met. All is good, and still very, very beautiful. Just hotter, though.

The sun is coming up now, and I can hear the Muslim call to Morning Prayer. So, I better go get some shuteye. Today’s the day I formally meet my family, and I plan on being able to say “Je m’apelle José”, at least.