3. A Day in Dakar

Sophia Richter - Senegal


September 24, 2014

It’s 6:30 and already I can hear our “domestiques” sweeping the tiled courtyard in front of my bedroom door. It’s the same sound every morning: little consistencies like that make me feel a bit more at home. The domestique? I actually have two of them. They are essentially maids but are treated like family: they live with us and eat with us. I once heard them referred to as “les bonnes  qui fait tout” which means “the good that does everything”. They are very well-respected and well-treated here which makes me feel less like I have maids and more like I have sisters. Awa is 16 and she’ll be headed back to school in October and Yassi is 18 and had to move into Dakar to find work that would support her and her husband. That’s kind of a thing here. Living in the rural villages is getting harder for people because there isn’t enough work. And so people have to move into the bigger cities for work which is continually becoming more scares.

Every morning is pretty routine starting with two options: water or no water? If I wake up to a cool breeze coming from my fan, I dash to the bathroom to take a much-appreciated cold shower. If not, it’s a quick face-wash with my bottled-water. Then I walk up the spiral-tiled stairs to my Yaay’s (mother’s) room to say good morning. She’s always up at 5am for prayer and I make a point to greet her when she returns.

Breakfast is a banana, granola, and some tea which I take to the roof of my school. It has an amazing view of the rooftops of Dakar and around 8am, the air is still cool.

While in Dakar I have been taking language classes for French and for Wolof. It’s amazing how appreciative people are when you try to speak their language. Some of the most gratifying moments when I am with family are when I manage to implement something new I’d learned. It could be as simple as a new word or another greeting, but it always gets laughter and cool handshakes.

From 13h to 15h I return home to eat with my family. It’s usually just the women in the house: my Yaay, Awa, Yassi, myself and any friends of family who decide to pop in for a bite to eat. We all eat around a large silver tray with our right hands or spoons depending on the meal.

The afternoons are usually spent at The Office: an air conditioned room in the neighborhood of Karack occupied by our Global Citizen Year team. Lessons that take place here could range from learning about gender roles to safety in Dakar, to health precautions to drumming and dancing. It’s been so valuable spending these few weeks with my Senegal cohort. We learn so much from each other’s experiences and we are a great outlet to each other for venting stress and celebrating breakthroughs.

Along my walk home are numerous mango vendors. Stands of mangos, baskets of mangos, and mats stretched on the ground covered in mangos. It’s a daily ritual and I’m getting good at picking up the best kind of Senegalese mangos – Hey, it’s the little things right?

The evenings are my favorite. I live in a nice neighborhood called Mermoz. Along my street are boutiques, tailoring shops, a beautiful half-finished mosque, a large courtyard where kids are always picking up a football game (soccer to my fellow Americans), and my front steps. This is where I have learned the most. Every night I sit on my wide front steps and watch Dakar go by in rambling taxis, dressed in colorful boubous and striped business suits. People go by on motorcycles and in running shoes, carrying large buckets of grain on their heads or leading a handful of sheep. This is where I watch the women sell their wares on the street: bags of grain, roasted peanuts, and grilled corn on the cob. This is where I drink ataya (tea) with my brothers and their friends. We often start out a discussion about daily life in Dakar and end up philosophizing about the fate of humanity in broken English and Frolof (French/ Wolof). Most of my language learning happens here too. It’s a funny thing, language in Senegal. There are so many different languages such as Wolof and Pulaar and Serer that you realize how amazing it is the people here are so united. Wolof is the dominant local language second to French. Even though French is the national language, Wolof is the most widely spoken. And yet, especially in large cities, much of the language is lost to more modern words in French. Sometimes I will have to ask two or three different people for the Wolof translation of a French word just because people forget certain common Wolof words. I did meet one man on our front steps who said he spoke “pure” Wolof. He was very proud. Every day, the locals pass by and great me and switch between teaching me new words in Wolof and new handshakes. I’m still not sure which one is more useful – as I mentioned earlier, the handshakes are pretty cool.

There are so many little kids around who all come running at me as I walk up our street scream “Sophie! Sophie! Sophie!”. On my front steps, I’m basically on center stage, seemingly strictly for their entertainment. I make faces that set them into contagious giggles and I chase them around the porch and I read with them from their little french school readers and I sometimes pull out my pencils and we sit in silence drawing the sheep that graze in the football field and under the trees across the street.

My youngest brother once tried to show me how to play a football video game – neither of which I have any experience with: football and video games – and let me tell you I shall never live that game down. But just thinking about him explaining the rules using over-exaggerated hand motions as he mouthed out the french words makes me laugh because we really connected, he really cared and despite all that, I was still as technologically challenged as I had been in the States.

Dinner is around 20h30 here and by that point I’m ready to just go to bed. But meals are highly revered here and I always make a point of being there no matter how much I eat. Though if you think you can get out of picking through a dish, you shall be sourly surprised by the fierce commitment of your mother to fatten you up.

It’s after dinner that the uncertainty of a good night’s rest kicks in. If we are going to lose power, it’s usually right…about…now. So many nights I’ve sat on the tiled courtyard with my back against the plaster walls listening to my brothers talk about anything from which sheep to sacrifice for Tabaski (more on that later!) to the proper English translation of various Wolof words. We might sit up for hours passing the time in hopes that the current would come back on. The prospects of going to bed without a fan are worse than the idea of sitting up outside all night. Either way you don’t sleep but at least out there I have company. With the ritual sighs of relief, the lights flicker on and we disperse.

My days here in Dakar are regular and I enjoy the deeper layers that I slowly peel back as I revisit each nook and cranny of my stomping grounds with ever increasing confidence, knowledge, and curiosity.

Good night Dakar.

Cheers,

Sophia

Sophia Richter