A Week in Mbodiene

Alisa Nelson - Senegal


October 14, 2014

Featuring: a new family – new languages – love in the form of sickness – some folklore and a baby goat – and tea

A NEW FAMILY

I have six siblings, plus an older brother who doesn’t live at home. My father brings home fish that aren’t quite dead yet and my mother sings to my two-year-old sister.

I struggle to speak.

My brother teaches me new words.

All of my clothes are dirty.

My sister helps me wash them.

It rains.

My siblings play outside with me.

NEW LANGUAGES

I thought I spoke French. It turns out that my vocabulary consists mainly of a few words: oui, non, s’il vous plait, and merci. Still, French is usually my main language of communication because I don’t speak much Wolof (a Senegalese local language). But my host mom doesn’t speak French, so I try to understand and reply when I can. Or my siblings translate what she says… into French.

Needless to say, I’m learning a lot.

LOVE IN THE FORM OF SICKNESS

I didn’t think I would get sick.

But sure enough, on my second day in my permanent home, I found my breakfast on the ground in a corner of dirt behind my bathroom. I went to sleep, but when my mom got home, she insisted on taking me to the health post. I was tired and sick and I couldn’t think of how to tell her I didn’t want to go. I struggled almost as much trying to talk to the French-speaking nurse.

Some things my mother brought me:

Medicine.

A fish.

Fresh juice.

Two bananas.

My mom is kind and generous – no one should worry about me not being well taken care of while I’m here.

SOME FOLKLORE AND A BABY GOAT

I was sitting in my yard looking up at the stars when I saw it out of the corner of my eye. I thought it was a rat. My dad went to catch it and brought back not a rat, but a hedgehog.

“Make a wish and touch the spines,” he told us. My siblings and I gathered around and one by one touched the back of the hedgehog.

That night, a baby goat was born. My family named it after me.

TEA

There is a wonderful, sweet green tea called ataaya. We drink it most afternoons. My brother was teaching me the right way to make it – enough tea and water, way too much sugar. I fanned the fire. I poured the tea back and forth to make foam. After the first of three rounds, my brother left.

I poured some water. Lots of sugar. I even added mint for the third round.
Nexne,” my family told me. “It’s good.
It tasted terrible.

This was my first week in Mbodiene, a coastal town of about 3000 people that will be my home until April. I’m still not sure what my apprenticeship or normal daily life will look like, but I will try to have more updates soon!

Thank you for reading!

 

Alisa Nelson