Complimentary Contradictions

Naomi Wright - Senegal


October 4, 2010

Even at nine in the morning it’s 75°C, so I welcomed the realization that the shower’s “hot” knob didn’t mean there was hot water. Nevertheless, its coldness shocked me when I raised the nozzle to my face. I breathed in, sharply.

For whatever reason, it was in that moment that I understood what fifteen hours of travel, a crowded bus commute from the airport, the sight of street-wandering cows, and non-stop French had yet to impress: I am in Senegal.

In the short time I’ve been here, I have been surprised most by two observations.

The first was the ways in which Dakar seemed to contradict itself. The public officials at the airport were brisk, almost abrasive, while everyone I’ve met since has been overwhelmingly welcoming, friendly, and accommodating of my limited French. The air swirls with burning garbage and car exhaust, forming a thick, sour odor. But this too is balanced by the sweetness of blooming flowers and wafts of cooking Tiébou Dienn (cheb-oo-jen), a mixture of fish, rice and vegetables in a spiced tomato sauce, the national dish of Senegal.

Going out to Point D’Almadie (the western-most point in Africa), we saw the immense mansions of public officials and gold-mine owners abutting tin-roof lean-tos. This disparity was iterated when we visited the recently completed statue to celebrate African Renaissance. As one of the tallest monuments in the world, it defiantly holds its US$27 million price tag for most of Dakar to see.

Still, iconic African sounds—bleating goats, laughing children, chirping “petits oiseaux” in the trees—are balanced by the constant boom of bass from some unseen neighbor’s speakers and the rattling of ceiling fans. I am sticky from a combination of sweat and humidity, and yet I feel the parched red earth under foot.

Among all of these contradictions I found my second surprise: I could not be more content anywhere else in the world. Dakar, Senegal is exactly where I want and need to be.

Similarly, there are contradictions within myself. We will learn our apprenticeships in about ten minutes, and meet our first home-stay family this afternoon. I am extremely excited and incredibly nervous. Still, though, I am wholly and completely happy. The goal of this bridge year is to form me into a global citizen; already, I feel at home in this world.

P.S. Update! I just learned my apprenticeship will be in the Millennium Villages in the north in either Louga or Potou, focused on education. At this point it’s still open-ended and a month away, but I’m ecstatic!

Naomi Wright