Becoming a Part of the Family—Highlights continued

Aly Counsell - Senegal


December 30, 2013

December 11, 2013

Here are more highlights of my time in Ndande so far.

This afternoon, I was walking through one of the main streets in my neighborhood, which is lined with small boutiques and tents where men weld iron.  In front of one of the boutiques, there were several women selling food, and I knew one of them, so I veered off the path to greet and talk with them.  This particular woman is the mother of a young woman who works at the preschool in Ndande. When I started volunteering at the preschool, her daughter was the one who walked with me (since we live close to each other and the preschool is on the other side of the village).  After only a few days, I knew the road well and could have easily walked on my own, but I’ve kept going to her house to walk with her because her family has been incredibly warm and inviting to me.  Every morning that I go to meet Ndeye Maguette, I’m welcomed by her along with her younger brothers and sister and her mother.  Though they know full well that I’ve already had breakfast, they always offer me what they’re eating and I always accept a cup of coffee. Today, when I saw Ndeye’s mother, she was selling cere (millet flour couscous), and after we talked, she reached for a bag and said, “Here, let me give you some cere.”  I was humbled by her generosity and didn’t know how I could possibly thank her in Wolof for all that she has done for me and all the kindness she has shown me, but I replied, “You are so nice.  Thank you!”  And then she looked up from filling the bag with cere, and said, “But of course.  You are my daughter!”

Most people who I meet in Senegal are confused, and sometimes even a little upset, that I don’t speak French.  Senegal is a former French colony, and French is still the official national language of Senegal, (though only those who have learned it in school know it), so oftentimes white people who come to Senegal are French people coming for business, or other Europeans (or Americans) who at least know French and can communicate with people.  So, being white, I’m most often greeted in French when I meet new people, at least before I tell them in Wolof that I don’t speak French.  Though people are usually delighted and entertained that I speak Wolof, unfortunately, since I’m still only learning the language, people are sometimes frustrated that I don’t speak French and am limited to my meager Wolof vocabulary.  However, one night, I was walking around the village in Senegalese clothing because it was a holiday, and I heard some women that I passed talking about me.

One woman said, “Look!  The Toubab is wearing Senegalese clothes!”

And another said, “Oh yes, that’s Adja Sarre!  Her mother is Kine Sarre.  But she’s not a Toubab.  She doesn’t speak French.”

“Really?  She doesn’t speak French?”

“Yes, she speaks Wolof! She’s a real African!”

Another one of my goals for this year was to learn how to cook Senegalese food.  Over the summer, a few weeks before I left for this trip, I attempted to make my favorite Senegalese foods, ceebu jen and yassa, and let’s just say that they were…disappointing.  But I’ve been learning, little by little (or, in Wolof, ndank ndank). Actually, as it turns out, my host family shares the same goal for me, and they say that by the time I go home, I will cook like an African woman and will have to invite all of my friends, relatives, and neighbors to my house in Redmond to eat my Senegalese food.  I started out by learning how to properly peel and cut the vegetables that go into the ceebu jen, which is a dish of rice, fish, and vegetables, and now the vegetables are my daily responsibility.  No matter how little work I do, the women in my family are incredibly encouraging of my efforts, and even on the first day when I only peeled a few vegetables in the 4-hour process of making ceebu jen, my mom, sisters, and aunt, said, “Adja, YOU are the one who made lunch today, ok?  When someone asks you who made the ceebu jen, you tell them that you made it, ok?”

At Ndande’s high school, I go to four different levels of English classes for one day a week to observe and assist.  One day, I was in a class with students who have been studying English for four years, and they were reading a passage about girls’ education.  Their teacher, a Senegalese woman who also happens to be my Wolof tutor, read the text aloud, and when she finished she looked over to me and said, “Adja, you should read it so that they can hear a Native speaker say the words.”  The students seemed to be really excited about that idea, so I turned to face the class and started reading.  At this point, the students hadn’t heard me speak English very much.  So when I read words like “asked”, “culture”, and “expenditure”, that are particularly difficult for the students to pronounce or are different from British English, some giggled at hearing how different and foreign-sounding my accent was.  For most of the students in the class, it was the first time they had heard English spoken by an American.  But by the time I reached the end of the passage, the giggles had subsided and the entire class of over 50 students stood up with beaming smiles and gave me a standing ovation.

When I first came to Ndande, there were two toddlers in my family that were terrified of me because they had never seen a white person before.  They would cry at the sight of me, run away, and do anything to avoid me at all costs.  Since then, both of them have decided that they actually love me, but it took a very long time for that to happen, particularly with my cousin Baye Mor, who is just over a year old.  It took an entire month for him to not cry when he saw me, and even then, if I looked at him for too long or his mom told him to greet me, he would start crying. But now, after a very slow and gradual process, whenever he sees me he smiles, giggles, and says, “Adja!!!”

I hope that these snapshots have given you a window into what I’ve been doing in Ndande since October, and I look forward to sharing more stories with you over the next few months.

Aly Counsell