I wake up this morning in my cosy (small) room, slits of sunlight creeping through the curtain, the sound of the fan blended with the sounds of my host family preparing for the day outside. The morning starts with an array of “Sala Malay kum” ‘s and ” Nanga def”s , Ça va? Ça va. After choosing an outfit that will keep me cool for the day and applying mountains of anti-mosquito spray, I join the commotion outside.
My days vary, when I go to the tailor shop in the morning I quickly devour my breakfast – baguette with chocolate spread and hot chocolate – but the days when I rest (noppalu) I sit with the family outside beneath the mango tree, a soft breeze blowing past, laughing about something that happened yesterday. The mornings feel long here and my time is often always spent outside as a steady flow of people trickle in and out , more “Nanga def”s and “Bonjour”s, more family to meet, more names to learn.
Lunch rolls around between 2:30 and 4pm , some variation of ceepujen – rice and fish – we gather around the bowl, everyone keeps to their section and eats till they’re full “Lekk naa ba suur!”
After lunch I make my way to the tailor shop for the afternoon shift, exchanging greetings along the way to the fruit vendor, the jeweller, the kids playing football and even the ever so inviting men shouting “Tubaab”. The ten minute stroll through the market is flooded with smells, sounds and sights of some place filled with excitement and desire. Excitement to see your friends pass by, excitement to see new faces – especially white ones! – walking through. Desire to sell enough produce for the day, desire to gain new customers from around Tivaouane. The first few trips were tiresome, countless hisses and shouts, “Tubaab kaay”, “Amnga jekk?” but as time passes and I grow confident enough to break out of my comfort zone the walk becomes uplifting as I greet the vendors and make new friends daily.
Working in the tailor shop is always eventful and such great fun, I work in a compound of shops – tailors, blacksmiths, jewellers and shoemakers- and each vendor is my friend. We greet them, we laugh with them and we learn with them. I’m learning to sew, to iron, to cut and I’m learning to be social in a whole new environment.
I’ve been to weddings (in my pajamas), naming ceremonies, birthday celebrations and religious festivals, but my evenings here trump all of these. The evenings are spent packing chakri into small bags to be sold from the house. As my host mum starts the process at 5/6pm adding water to the power, sieving and re-working, I know the evening has begun. She cooks the chakri and the air is flooded with a smell so familiar yet alien, a smell that fills your nostrils and reaches your soul with a warm hug. A strange concept to imagine but it’s the most comfort I feel at any point in the day. I chat with my host siblings and my host mum, we laugh a lot as I become more expressive with my Wolof. More people stop by to buy chakri and sowx and the evening is filled with an air of content and lots of sleepy faces. Dinner comes later , usually around 9/10pm which was not an easy adjustment but always worth the wait. Sweet or savoury we gather again and everyone enjoys the last hot meal of the day before settling down to sleep. Sleep comes even later than dinner for my host family and most Senegalese but I wouldn’t say I’ve adopted that aspect of the lifestyle just yet!
In a single day there can be ups and downs, but I find it’s important, to remember the downs, to not forget the feeling, but to focus on the ups and squeeze every good feeling out of them because those are the moments that make this place worth being in.
Wolof – language spoken in Senegal
Tivaouane – name of the town where I live
Sala Malay Kum – greeting in Arabic
Nanga Def – greeting in Wolof (how are you)
Lekk naa ba suur – I ate till I’m full
Tubaab – meaning ‘foreigner’
Tubaab kaay – Tubaab, come [here]
Amnga jekk? – Do you have a husband?
Chakri – Senegalese food made from wheat
Sowx – yoghurt – eaten with Chakri