Chapter 2: The New Ways of Doing Old Things

Xandra Coleman - Senegal


September 20, 2018

On my way to being dropped off to my host family for the very first time, amidst an utter lack of traffic lights and street signs, I saw three versions of a stop sign.1. A post holding up the mere metal outline of a stop sign with no hint of red

2. An empty post where a stop sign should be

3. A bright red stop sign which was taken off its post and placed leaning against a merchant’s stand.

The craziest thing was that the sign didn’t read “arrêt” or the Wolof equivalent, but the English word “STOP.”

My first week with my host family can be described by these moments where things feel or look vaguely familiar, yet, at the same time, they are completely foreign and now in a completely new context. In other words, I’m going through the process of learning new ways to do old things.

In my new Senegalese context, my name is Assé Bane which is also the name of my eight year old sister. My new home is in Pir in a compound containing a majority of the extended family, so along with my little sister, two little brothers, yaay (mom in Wolof), and one older brother, across the sandy yard lives my aunts, cousins, uncles, grandparents in-law, nieces, and nephews in their own small concrete houses.

Every morning, just like in the states, I wake up, wash my face, shower, and use the bathroom. The only difference is here the shower is in a separate metal outhouse with a sink-like faucet as the shower head (unless the water is turned off, then it’s a bucket shower), and the toilet is a squat toilet with water as the toilet paper. The cool water is heavenly with these hot days.

After the morning wash, instead of opening the fridge, at around 8:00 am my yaay and I walk over to the market, a place which lay in browns and grays every night but miraculously sprouts vibrant color from clothes and vegetables every morning. There, we buy all the food and supplies needed for the day. Then, at around 10:30 when my stomach can’t rumble any louder, we head back for breakfast.

Gone are the days of cereal or pancakes. Here are the days of being fed an entire half of a baguette spread with mayo and pepper, chocolate spread, and occasionally sliced boiled eggs. In case anyone is curious, my yaay will fight me if I don’t finish the entire breakfast. My yaay and I sip oninstant coffee while my younger siblings drink powered milk with sugar made with the same boiling water.

The rest of the morning and early afternoon is taken over with the processes of cooking and cleaning. My aunts and female cousins like to quiz me on the names of the food stuff bought at the market. I’ve got to say, I’ve gotten pretty good. In fact, foodstuffs now consist of about two thirds of my slowly increasing Wolof vocabulary. No one in my family, besides my older brother, speaks any English or French. Either that, or they are insistent that I learn Wolof first and thus refuse to speak it. All the women sit talking, washing, chopping, smashing, and cooking outside the communal square concrete building that works as the hub kitchen. Sitting and working with these women is like participating in the production of Thanksgiving dinner everyday. After lunch which takes place around 2:30, the rest if the afternoon is much less structured. Sometimes we make attaya, a Senegalese tea drink, and sometimes I visit the other fellow in my town. There we may play jump rope games with the little girls using a long old electrical cord they found, and other times we play volley ball with the boys. So far my time here has been an amazing roller coaster of getting used to the new ways of doing day to day things, and, of course, being exposed to completely new things.

To end off here is a list of three observations of Senegal:

1) Everyone here loves their sugar. I’m talking three scoops in the coffee type love.

2) Senegalese women take pride in their fashion. Paris and Milan can’t compare.

3) Walking fast is a completely foreign concept.

Xandra Coleman