Dallen ak jamm!! AKA, welcome to Senegal!! This phrase was printed on a huge banner in our main classroom at the Tostan Training Center where I’m currently staying during my first week in Thiès, Senegal. That phrase is written in Wolof, the second national language, behind french, in Senegal meaning it’s spoken by nearly 50 million people. But what to know something funny? I’m not actually going to be learning Wolof! I am one of the lucky, not said in a sarcastic tone, that gets to learn Serere Laala, a language spoken by about 12,000 people in Senegal. Now keep in mind, UNC Chapel Hill has about 18,500 undergraduates so I will learn a language, or really I should say mi waa kajang a language, that less people speak than attend a state school in North Carolina, USA. And I couldn’t be more excited.
Since I left home I’ve constantly been mentally and physically exhausted. But at the same time, I’ve never been happier. At Global Launch I met some of the most amazing people I think I’ll ever get to meet. I was able to listen to amazing speakers who changed how I want to live my life, connect with people deeply and genuinely, and most importantly someone mistook me and my new soul sister, Izzy, as Stanford students. We both agreed we’d add that moment to our resumes.
Fast forward to last Friday when we pulled an all nighter because, hey, we were going to have to get up at 3 AM to head to the airport anyways so why not make the great decision to make our two day journey even more tiring?? We headed to SFO around 4:30 AM after some encouraging but sad see you laters to the fellows going to other countries. Our group mama Caroline some how managed to keep all 23 of us in check during our two flights and slight flight delay in JFK and by 11 AM Senegalese time we had arrived.
They tell you to not have expectations about what other countries will be like and I honestly thought I had done a good job of doing that until I arrived and realized everything was surprising to me. It was cooler than I thought it’d be, there was AC in the first room I went in and getting a visa took about 30 seconds. But these observations were trivial compared to my first real look at what Senegal is like from one’s first glance. If you’re from the U.S., and haven’t seen this way of life for yourself, I don’t think it’s possible to describe the feeling of seeing such blatant poverty. To be totally honest, I was shocked and scared. What did I get myself into? Can I do this? But then we arrived at Tostan and I calmed down. The next day I met people who work at the compound and my eyes opened up. Of course, they don’t represent all the people of Senegal, but I really think and hope that they represent the attitude of most of them. Senegal is said to be the country of Teranga, or hospitality, and that is 100% the feeling you get the second you talk to just about everyone here. They are eager to talk to you in Wolof or French, they want to dance with you, listen to music with you, feed you and whatever else they can do to show you they care.
Soon I will leave the safety of my little compound and go out into my village of Pambal. But I’m not scared. My host family is amazing. My mom told me she’d teach me how to make Attaya (Senegalese tea), how to cook, and how to properly eat with my hands. I’m slowly learning how to not use toilet paper, I’ll learn how to take a bucket shower, I’m hand washing my underwear, and I’m VERY slowly learning Laala. I’ll be working at a health post and learning how to tailor. I’m excited for what’s to come, the good times and the bad. I know I have the support system I need to make these next 7 months amazing and I can’t wait to share it with you all.
Jerejef! Merci! Thank you! And bi kiim na jamma. Oh! Also, please enjoy the first photos from my first real outing in Thiès, ignore my sweat.
Finally got money.
Our new friend in the meat market.
Cathedral of Santa Anna.