Finding My Place

The morning call-to-prayer rings sweetly in my ears and I awake to the still hours of dawn. I hear the swift sounds of the Senegalese broom against the concrete floors of my compound and notice that my host sister has already begun her hard day’s work. As I routinely tie my shoelaces and head out the door for my morning run, I see familiar faces emerging down the road, beginning their daily chores. Women sway their hips with large basins towering atop their heads or tug hard at a rope to raise water from the well. I question why it is the women who put in a day of backbreaking work, while some men remain jobless. As the day proceeds and I make my way to the local secondary school, children flee their spots of play to race after me shouting, toubab, the Wolof word for foreigner. In the classroom, students crane their necks to look at me as I sit correcting their papers. Open-eyed, they watch me as I move shyly across the room, writing their lessons on the chalkboard. I wonder why they are so eager to point out the differences we have, rather than the similarities we share. In the afternoon, I observe my coworkers raising hundreds of thousands of fish from the sea, placing them against a measuring tape to record the data. Later, they repeat this process except by raising mangrove seedlings from the soil and haphazardly replacing them in uncultivated areas. I question why people who are supposed to be conserving the environment seem to be treating it so carelessly. I return home to a family of ten, where a moment’s silence is unheard of. Bucket showers, caring for the livestock, and eating out of communal bowls make up the remainder of my day. Shoes and hairbrushes disappear, making their way back to me at a later date. I struggle to understand why they insist on bearing the lack of privacy that comes with having a crowded household. When I arrived in Joal-Fadiouth, Senegal, I was presented with a community exceedingly foreign from mine; I was overrun with questions and utter confusion. It was when I gave up my position as a spectator and became part of the community that I began to receive answers. While I help my sister grind pepper or do the laundry, I see that women here, like men, play their own roles and take pride in theåÊwork they do. Men are expected to build the house as women are supposed to maintain it, men are expected to put food on the table as women are asked to cook it. When I become a friend to the kids in my community and a teacher to my students, I notice them calling me by my Senegalese name, “Mosaan”, rather than identifying me as an outsider. When I raise fish from the sea or mangroves from the earth, I find that in a developing country there isn’t a more time efficient manner to record data and the fish being collected are not wasted, but given to those with little to eat. As for my family, I’ve learned that we value community and the act of sharing. When I began to see this as my community and began to ask why we do these things rather than why they do those things. I realized that differences aren’t what drive us apart, separation is. I came to Senegal for the opportunity to integrate and immerse in the developing world. I’m learning to ask questions rather than give answers, and discovering that although it’s often strenuous, the path to understanding those questions starts with living and working with others. In a globalized world, in which we are confronted with people seemingly different from us, the only way to solve the challenges we face is to recognize that, as my Senegalese counterparts would say, “̱oo far”, we are together.