First Impressions

Christian Gath - Senegal


October 16, 2015

First Impressions

 

It was dark when the minibus stopped in front of the first premises along side the road descending the national park. One of the only partially paved roads coming from Dakar in the West and leading via Kedougou all the way to Mali to the East. Few seconds earlier we had passed a sign announcing Mako to be the next village. As the bus slowed down, my mind turns, besides the name of the village and the telephone number of my host mother I know nothing about this place. A Google search of “Mako, Senegal” had revealed nothing but a small dot on Google maps and a picture of a hippo crossing a dirt road.

Knowing that I would be the first one to be dropped off I sit right next to the door.

 

My supervisor opens the bus door and I exit the bus, hearing the goodbyes of all the other fellows in my back, my eyes stare straightforward into the darkness in which the shapes of a woman, two young man and an uncountable number of children start to delineate as my eyes get used to the darkness. The woman lifts her arm and the shine of a weak flashlight falls on my face as I take my first step on the red soil. My supervisor and her exchange few words in Pulaar before someone grabs my suitcase and the light of the torch leads me through the gate of the property. My hands are grabbed by the children, which are then told off by one of the young men, he introduces himself as Mohamad Moictar Ba, my host brother and forth on roommate. We enter a small room with two beds on opposite sites of the room. Mohamad points at the left one and mumbles in broken English that this was my bed, while he drops of my suitcase in a corner of the room. He asked me whether I would like to shower or eat first, I decide for eating since the whole family seems to have waited with dinner for me.

 

I squad down around a big bowl with the oldest brothers of the family. One of them asked me if I could eat with my hands or would need a spoon. Willing to immerse myself fully into this new experience and culture I politely deny the spoon, knowing that the coming meal will probably be more messy for me than feeding a petulant baby. Impressed I watch the technique of my host brothers, how they form the rice ball along the side of the bowl and then almost elegantly shove the formed sphere in their mouth only using the tips of their fingers. My tries to copy end with more rice on the floor and my pants than in my mouth. As in Dakar meals are quite short here, so in little over ten minutes the bowl is emptied, and Mohamad shows me the shower, on the way to the little stall at the fare end of the property he points with his torch at the well in the middle of the courtyard and tells me that this is where I would get water from. I take the first bucket shower of my life, hang up my mosquito net and fall asleep on the bamboo construction that will be my bed for the next month.

 

All this was two weeks ago. Today the same mosquito net is hanging from the ceiling stained in some parts where the mosquitoes bit through the net. My hand-riceball-eating-technique has improved greatly and by now I figured how to throw the bucket into the well to make it fill with water. I can even introduce myself in Pulaar and can almost memorize the names of all my family members. With me we are eleven, 7 boys, two girls, two wifes, my host father died a few years ago.

There are two houses, one with a metal roof and a classic hut. I live in the metal roof one. Next to the well there is a big mango tree in the courtyard around which life happens. I still sometimes reach to the right when I enter my room in the dark, feeling for a light switch only to find bare concrete. The school I will start working in is about half a kilometer walking distance away, the next internet café 40km (25miles) and a bakery right across the street.

As I am writing this, sitting under the mango tree on a plastic chair and let my eyes wander from the green mountains in the far, to the roof tips of the huts on the adjacent land, to the goats and chickens strolling around the backyard, to my host mother making attaya (tea) next to me, hearing the cry of a donkey from the road and the crackle from the minaret from the close by mosque announcing the call for prayer to start in a few seconds it is hard to grasp that this place will be home for the coming year.

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Christian Gath