When I saw the Philippines vs. Senegal basketball game on the TV in my families’ home, my cheeks moved into a consuming smile and happy tears sprung to my eyes. Because culture shock ain’t no joke.
My life in Senegal is hard to undersand. Wolof sounds like everyone is playing a practical joke on me and actually talking in gibberish. My French comes in and out unpredictably to the massive frustration of my ten year old little sister who when I don’t understand something will sassily say J’AI DIT (I SAID) and then the sentence louder. Personal space isn’t a Senegalese concept.
But as a born and bred Tarheel, I understand basketball. Growing up in Chapel Hill, watching big basketball games was a must. My dad and I would go up to the neighborhood restaurant and eat calamari and a veggie platter while cheers echoed off the walls when a point was scored. When Chapel Hill won I would feel happy tightness in my chest, and when they lost I would console myself with hope for the next game.
I understand basketball. So when Senegal scored a point and my older brothers jumped off the couch in excitement, I understood. I felt the familiar tightness. When Senegal was about to loose and my sisters slowly retreated from the TV while my die hard fan older brothers clung to hope, I understood.
I also understood more than I would have a week ago. On the backs of the jerseys of the Senegalese players were their last names. Faye, Diallo, Mbathie, etc. My grandmothers maiden name is Faye. Diallo usually means that person is Pulaar. Mbathie is my family name in Dakar. I understand that.
Baby steps. There is hope, because if by now I’ve learned what last names mean, maybe tomorrow I will bargain for my own fabric at the market, and eventually maybe I will be in on the practical joke that is Wolof.