A New Kind of Home

Semira Sanchez - Senegal

November 11, 2011

In my room. Fan on. Raining outside. Its 10:30 am on a Sunday.

While I sit here pondering what to write as my first Senegal post for Global Citizen Year, I feel as if I should give the post some justice. I want people who read my post to go through a mix of emotions. I want them to feel the experience that I have had in just this one month I’ve been here. I want them to be scared, be intimidated, laugh, maybe even shed a tear or two. But in order for someone to feel how I have felt, or experience what I am doing here, they would have to be put in the situation itself.

Just in this past month I have come to fall in love with Senegal. The people, its food, and just the atmosphere itself have yet to make me feel unwelcome. My family is a major part in my “love potion.” In Senegal I have two families one in Dakar and one in my village where I will be staying for 6 months, in Palmarin, and I feel part of the family in both. In this past month I have stayed with my family in Dakar and one week with my family in Palmarin.

I remember the first time I met my family in Dakar. I walked into the home with my 21 year old brother Siré blasting “Roman’s Revenge” by Nicki Minaj and Eminem in his room and I knew, right then and there, I was home.

My family has yet to treat me like a guest. Ever since day one, they have welcomed me with open arms and have made me their daughter, sister, and friend. Everyday I see every member of my family and more. It took me a while to realize who was who, and who was living in my house, and who was just a guest. My elder host sister Adja used to quiz me the first few days to see if I remembered everyone’s name. Now I finally realize who’s who. I have 5 brothers. The eldest being 35, and the youngest being 21. I have two sisters, Adja and Amita. A 4-year-old nephew named Cheré and a 2-year-old niece named “Mama.” And then there is my dad, who comes in and out of the house constantly. He doesn’t talk much, but he has a very gentle aura to him.

Last but not least is my host mom.  She is probably one of the most organized, cleanest, strong willed women I’ve ever met, other than my mom back in the States. She’s also really funny, and we joke around with each other constantly. My mom is a very popular woman in the neighborhood and people are constantly coming in and out of the house. Some come in to use our water, some get their hair done, some buy fish, some even just come in to talk to my mom to see how she’s doing. There is barely ever a quiet moment in the household.

Around the second day of being in Dakar I took out the photo album that my mom gave me of my family and friends. I showed them to my host sister Adja. With the French I knew, I was able to explain my family to her. I was able to explain about my mom being from India and my dad being from Venezuela. I was also able to explain my younger goofy brother, and how he’s my best friend. I didn’t get my album back till the next day when I woke up and found my sister explaining my family to my mom. After that it was like the game “telephone.” My host mom then started showing her friends; my sister started explaining my family to my other siblings, who were then explaining my family to their friends. I’m not going to lie; it was a bit flattering. It was as if they were proud of having me in their household.

My second family lives in Palmarin. The week that we were there was the first time I felt homesick. Not because the family was mean, or even the village was unsuitable. But it was a totally new environment for me. I spent the first hour of my time in Palmarin in my room “sleeping.”

My family in Palmarin is a little smaller than the one I have in Dakar. I have a mom, dad, and four siblings. My siblings consist of René (7), Agatt (5), Jean (2), and Lily (2 months). And these children are probably the happiest children I have ever met, not even my family back in the States laughs as much as they do. My dad in Palmarin reminds me a lot of my dad back home. He’s very “to himself,” but when he talks, he has something to say. He is also very goofy, and we play pranks on each other constantly.

He owns a boutique in the village. I guess you could call it Palmarin’s “Wal-Mart.” The week I was there I worked with him at his boutique. I got to know the people in the village and I also got to learn a little bit of Sereer, which is the local language. When I come back to Palmarin, my dad says that I am going to learn Sereer so fast in his shop. I think he has a personal goal for me to become fluent in a month, because he quizzes me constantly, so we’ll see how that goes.

I find myself a little disappointed that I will soon have to leave my family in Dakar to go to Palmarin. Not because I don’t love Palmarin, but because the relationships I’ve made in Dakar with my family are so strong, it’s as if I’m leaving my family back in the States all over again. But then again, its time for me to build new relationships with my second family, which is already on a strong start, even though I stayed there for a week. I will also start working at a school when I return back to Palmarin. I’m going to help teach English and American culture to middle school students. Wish me luck!

Semira Sanchez