Blog 2: The Toubab in Tivaouane

Silvia Craig - Senegal


November 14, 2019

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After frequently justifying an “audacious” decision,

Embracing a future with an unconventional vision,

College is on hold for a year long stall, 

Instead of a campus I have headed to Senegal

 

Over two months gone with five left to live,

My placement has proven abundant in challenges to give,

Trying not to countdown but rather be present,

Forgetting time is a difficult lesson

 

Being left unfazed by more each day,

Though confident life here will never feel blasé,

I do not believe I am substantially changing as some said I would,

But rather being pushed to define my limits as everyone should

 

Tears have been shed and homesickness felt,

Working through the ubiquitous challenges that have been dealt,

Culture shock has been more significant than I ever would have bet,

Despite the obstacles, my decision is not something I regret

 

Dealing with the intertwined language and cultural barrier,

Branching past my initial taciturn nature has made interactions merrier,

My broken Wolof and French navigates conversations in a way that is not sagacious,

And unless there is good context present most discussions seem capricious

 

Host families demonstrate the axiom that is Senegalese Teranga,

Abounding hospitality makes feeling like a burden a never-ending saga,

This keur ga cares for me with a rather high degree of assiduity,

My special treatment and helplessness make it impossible not to feel guilty

 

Carefully watching to make sure I am happy, healthy and full,

With few chores and food constantly pushed to my side of the bowl,

While luxurious, this level of dependence on others has been rough,

Cultivated consternation from a lack of independence has been tough,

 

Devouring dishes filled with sundry spices communally,

New manners, including using the right hand, have come naturally,

Meals of mainly starch and fish required adjustment to the monotony,

Though unhealthy and repetitive, I still find myself looking forward to Añ, Réer ak Ndekki

 

The presence of foreigners in my city is nonexistent,

So, going outside has meant being met with stares and teasing that’s persistent,

The “Toubabs”, “Japonesas?” and hisses demonstrate my reduced invisibility,

Learning to handle overly confident men asking about my marital eligibility

 

Faced with the misconceptions and idolization of my nationality,

Skewed beauty ideals in pop culture and skin-lightening products are a reality,

Hard to not pass judgements in a place with more apparent gender norms,

Meeting hardworking women who run businesses, raise kids and handle the chores

 

Confronted with a lackadaisical work ethic at apprenticeships,

Offering many chances to take charge or practice patience,

Instead of work, social and cultural engagement are a priority,

Working with inefficiencies and different power dynamics for gender and seniority

 

Restlessly laying around with my rakk bu jiguen having plenty of time to kill,

Or worse, watching the ridiculous French-dubbed telenovelas featuring Blonde Bill,

The ennui of some days feels infinite before they pass,

Afternoons are long but the weeks are starting to become fast

 

Finding the littlest things and sights to be the most enrapturing moments,

Including stargazing, using a new word (correctly), and beignets that cost a few cents,

Streets showcasing resplendent women in tailored dresses walking by,

My favorite is soaring silhouettes of birds conspicuous against the encompassing blue sky

 

Lessons on how life and happiness exist regardless of dilapidated goods and infrastructure,

Sifting through beliefs and practices I disagree with to find the beauty in this culture,

Recognizing it is not my place to judge as I come to be a student and observer,

With each erroneous assumption erased there are new questions to ponder

 

While the future promises many good things to come with comforts, friends and family,

Remembering to let go and trust that clocks will keep ticking steadily,

A third of my time in Senegal has already come and gone,

Being present is the best way to spend my numbered days left in Tivaouane

 

Terms:

Teranga – The generous hospitality that is a point of pride in Senegal

Keur ga – Wolof for family/household

An, Reer ak Ndekki – Wolof for Lunch, Dinner and Breakfast

Toubab – Term for a foreigner

Rakk bu Jiguen – Wolof for younger sisters

Tivaouane – The name of my city, it is pronounced Ti – wah – wuan (so it rhymes!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Silvia Craig