Immersion

Lily Goldberg - Senegal


October 10, 2011

“Communication has been cut off at the knees. Coherent sentences left hanging in confusion, and words reduced to indistinguishable sounds. I’ve found myself clinging with grateful desperation to the few French and Wolof words I know, and my knowledge is meager. It is one thing to be in a foreign country staying in a hostel with friends and English speaking adults. And quite another to be suddenly thrown into the home of people you don’t know at all, whose culture you are newly familiar with, and whose language you barely speak.”

This was my initial reaction from weeks ago when I first came to live with my host family in Dakar. Since then communication has of course improved some, but still many things are lost in translation. And compared to modern Dakar, visiting my host village in Ross Bethio was an entirely different experience. It had its goods and bads, ups and downs. The main downside being a lack of modern plumbing, but that was expected. The upsides are numerous, the leading factor being a wonderful sense of family and community that I had never experienced before.

Being in the village was just peaceful. The slow, worry free, laid back lifestyle took effect over me. My thoughts hadn’t been that clear in a long time, and it was a wonderful sensation to just be able to relax, lay back, and gaze at the blue sky or starry night. The welcoming, friendly, curious atmosphere made me feel at home in only a day or two. It didn’t matter that I could barely speak to them, they accepted me right away and showered me with food and clothes and warmth.

Though it took a little time for us all to open up fully, I can now honestly say I more clearly understand the concept of being immersed.It is something you cannot fully imagine, you have to just experience it. It’s not just the unfamiliar culture, or food, or language, it is the combination of it all, along with many more unrecognizable differences in your everyday life. These changes, small or large, pull you down beneath the undertow of culture shock. And I find myself swimming through words I don’t understand trying to rise above the next crashing wave of foreign experience. And each time I fail and the waters of confusion wash over my head, I am both shocked and embarrassed, but also refreshed.

I find with each failure an even larger urge to keep trying. I am desperately eager to learn the language, and I feel real enthusiasm to learn with the help from my village family. Learning a language is one of the most impossible frustrations that seems can only be cured by patience. Patience, time, and motivation. And time I have, though also I have a small fear that time too will suddenly disappear, with all things familiar. So I am making an effort to make each moment count. During this last week in Dakar I am spending some nice last times with my host family, and keeping an open mind for what lays ahead. I’m so excited for village life and my apprenticeship, though I really have no idea what it will be about. All I know it is environmentally related and that’s good enough for me. Que sera sera.

Lily Goldberg