City Boy

Matthew Travers - Senegal


January 9, 2013

After living in New York City for a year, commotion has grown to be the norm for me. I thrive in the chaos, the shoulder-to-shoulder metropolitan density. My hometown of San Jose is a modestly urban city as well, which has led me to naturally gravitate towards a lifestyle full of traffic and Starbucks coffee shops always within a mile radius. That being said, living in Dakar was a comfortable transition for me coming from this city kid background- there was at least the strong and vibrant presence exclusive to big cities.

iphone, we are not in Brooklyn anymore. If you could say that Dakar is Senegal’s New York City, then my host site in Sandiara is perhaps a small farm in Kentucky.

Every morning I wake up at 6:30 and slip on a pair of rubber boots and trudge to the feed shed, filling a wheelbarrow with the proper balance of grain and vitamins. All the birds eat first: the chickens, roosters, ducks and turkey are served their breakfast and a refilling of their water dispensers. Then the rabbits patiently wait for their food, along with the pigs and cows my site hosts. Last to eat are the two Senegalese and one Californian who feed all the animals, me being in charge of preparing the coffee and the occasional omelet from the cracked eggs of the day before.

In one swift motion, I have loaded all of the ways I came to know as the norm onto a donkey-drawn cart and watched it trot off into the sunset.

My mode of transportation is still cramped, although instead of the subway, I travel in 1970s Mercedes Benz vans that could potentially fall apart before reaching my destination. The closest thing to a shopping mall is the weekly Saturday market, where one can buy animals, vegetables, and cloth, amongst a wide variety of other random commodities. The Brooklyn accent was simple enough to imitate, but if there is someting I want to say now, it must be said in French or Wolof. New York is known for its melting pot of international eateries: In Sandiara, it is the same breakfast and some variation of rice for lunch, every day.

This farm culture has been a challenge to digest, sometimes literally. When I wake up in the middle of the night, my first reaction is to search for the cockroach that disturbed my rest. I have come to terms with the fact that I will be dirty for the rest of my stay.The African sun is relentless- it doesn’t care if it is the middle of the afternoon and you have a hen house full of manure to shovel. Yet, through this whole process, I can’t really complain.

I am learning to appreciate the things I might have otherwise overlooked in the urban jungle. I love the glow of the moon in villages that don’t have electricity, as well as the simplicity of having nowhere to be and nothing urgent to do. There is something so comforting about the pace of life here and how the smallest of differences become relatively bigger.

Still, there are many things a city kid does not know about the farm. Sometimes here in Sandiara I feel like I am running around like a chicken with its head cut off. I can employ this expression with confidence after seeing fifty chickens give this idiom a bit more context. All in a day’s work, I suppose.

Matthew Travers