Be a Fool

Madeleine Balchan - Senegal


October 27, 2010

My heart was beating to the rhythm of the African drums. The floor was wet and slippery because of beads of fallen sweat. The man in front of me was moving his hips and knees in ways I’d never seen before; I tried to mimic his movements.  The woman dancing next to him turned around and we locked eyes. She laughed, like every other Senegalese person I’d made eye contact with on the dance floor. I grinned back and kept dancing.

Three hours earlier, I felt underdressed and consciously foreign as we entered the Youssou n’Dour concert behind a woman wearing a dress comparable to an American wedding gown. We sat for about an hour waiting for the concert to begin, speaking English and not interacting with anyone beyond our group. Finally, the legend took the stage and we took the floor. Without inhibitions, I imitated and created dance moves, making new friends and probably looking like a complete idiot.

A great way to connect with people is to invite them to laugh at me. Dancing is prime, but Wolof is a great tool too. “Toog naa ci siis bi lekk naa”, “I’m sitting in a chair and eating”, I profoundly announced to the room during dinner tonight, probably with the wrong intonation and mispronunciation. “Jamm rekk” “Peace only” I respond to a greeting from a boutique owner around the corner, before realizing after switching to French that he was asking my name.

In two weeks I’m leaving Dakar and most of the other Fellows. My apprenticeship is in the Millennium Villages in Louga; I’ll be working on community gardening.  In the village they probably speak French sparingly. My strongest Wolof vocabulary comes from a translation of “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes.” But I’m ready, because I’m comfortable with making a fool out of myself.

YouTube video:

Madeleine Balchan