A Week in Mbodiene

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


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.


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.


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:


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.


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.


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!