I am Coumba

Elise Petersen - Senegal


October 28, 2016

This is a day in the life of “Coumba”

 

I wake up around 7:30-8:00am and begin the day by staring aimlessly at my light blue mosquito net until I have to pee so badly I finally get out of bed. I race to the bathroom (and by bathroom I mean the hole in the floor), and try to heave closed the rusted metal door that will never actually close. After that’s all over and done with, I get ready for the day by taking my morning bucket shower and cleaning my room (look at how responsible I am, mom!).

You don’t know happiness until you start your day running barefoot next to the ocean, watching the huge, colorful, canoe-type boats drifting under the rising sun. I get a lot of weird looks from the people I pass, most likely because running in sand requires you to pick up your feet extra high. I may or may not resemble a jogging ostrich.

When I get back Maman Khady (my host mom) asks me why I look like a “tomate” and if I’m sick. I haven’t figured out how to say “ no, that’s just my face” in Wolof yet. I take another shower because I most likely fell into the water or sand at some point.
Breakfast begins with a whole baguette filled with Chocopain (Nutella without the hazelnut) and instant coffee with enough powdered milk and sugar to pass for something from Starbucks. This is accompanied with an episode or two of Telenovelas (a Spanish Soap Opera) that my host mom gets so in to that I find myself also getting excited when Pedro realizes he’s in love with that one girl that cries a lot.


On weekdays, I walk 15 minutes to the school. On one side the paved yet worn road, and on the other beautiful, overgrown trees and bushes that all seem to be spikey if you for some reason decide to touch all of them while you walk to school.


The school is a collection of small stone buildings clustered in a circle in the sand. Each classroom is filled with 50-100 students and one teacher writing on the chalkboard at the front. Even though there is no AC and everyone is squished like sardines in their desks almost every student is involved, and eager to answer and ask questions. So far I only sit in on English classes; helping the teacher with pronunciation, and trying to figure out why everybody asks me if I’m “fine”.

I’m only at school for about 2 hours, after which I walk home in the boiling lava hot sun, with what feels like 100 students all attempting to teach me French and Wolof along the way. When I get home I shower yet again, then eat lunch out of the communal bowl with my mom, Sida (our maid), and my four brothers. We eat Thiebou djiene (rice and fish) every day for lunch and it’s always delicious!

After lunch I like to sew with my mom’s lovely foot-pedaled sewing machine as she sits next to me fixing my stitches, and softly singing. I have yet to make something by myself, but I like the sewing more for the bonding than the product. The rest of the day I study French and/or Wolof next to the ocean, draw the flowers that close while they sleep, read a book in my room, or dance on my rocky, uneven roof.The ending of my day is spent eating dinner out of the bowl with my family. This could be anything from noodles and onion sauce to donuts (they always tell me to eat more because I said I want to get a Senegalese butt). I sit outside with my sister discussing Justin Beiber and Religion, watch more Telenovelas, and then shower for the last time.

I tuck my mosquito net under my bed, put on my mumu and fall asleep to the buzzing of my fan and the chirping of the crickets outside… and sometimes on my mosquito net.

I never thought that I, Elise, would have the courage to do what I’m doing. Through the struggles of living away from home, and the steady culture shock creeping in I have discovered that I can’t just be Elise here. Here, I am Coumba. The name given to me by my family and the name that makes me Senegalese.

Elise Petersen