Diverging Personalities

Hilary Brown - Senegal

April 1, 2010

Round, giggly, and full of life, my host mother is a real character. Her two daughters describe her as cheerful and kind to everyone. While this is true, figuring out how to spend so much time with her without, frankly, going crazy has been very difficult and involved much frustration for me. As the woman of the house and mother of three children, I expected her to be mature and confident; however jumping up and down with glee when her husband gives her money and throwing the occasional temper tantrum, she sometimes seems much more a child then a 32-year-old woman.

The first month I was expected to be her fourth child but having that relationship proved to be extremely difficult. It took a good month and a half for me to adjust, find that I could make my place as a third adult in the family and make things that used to annoy me about my host mother funny. Little things tended to get to me: once, she tried to explain to me that in Senegal burping is acceptable but passing gas is rude, whereas in the U.S. passing gas is acceptable and burping is rude. Since she does not know the word for either in French and I do not know in Wolof she proceeded to belch every time she wanted to say the word burp and because she can’t pass gas on command act like she was pulling something out of her rear end every time she wanted to say that. To balance all that, I give her every opportunity to teach me something she is an expert at such as washing clothes, ironing with hot coals, and Senegalese cooking.

Getting to this point has been the most challenging part of my GCY experience thus far but now that I am there it will also probably be the most valuable. As well as having forced me to learn how to adapt both to personalities and cultures living with this woman has given me an inside view at the life of a young, uneducated, Senegalese mother.

Since almost everyone I know before this year has gone to or will go to college until this experience I had never truly known what being uneducated means and grasped the importance of education. My host mother and many of her friends quit school when they were around the age of twelve, some because they had to work, others because they just did not want to go. It is amazing to me to see the great differences in their demeanor and actions verses that of my friend’s mother who lives across the street and finished high school. Understanding that this is greatly the reason to my host mother’s naiveté and why she does not understand things such as you can not believe everything you see on TV has been eye opening and possibly one of the most important lessons I will take away with me.

Hilary Brown