I wrote these words on Friday, September 19th.
I have now been in Senegal for three weeks and away from home for a little more than a month. It’s been a while since I’ve last uploaded a blog, and I know that many of you are very curious about what I’ve been doing and—more importantly—how I’ve been doing since I arrived here. That’s what this blog post is for—updating. It’s a bit dull of a post, so please don’t expect any life-changing anecdote or a grand life lesson. It will also be pretty long. However, I promise to you that this will be the first and last of these kinds of posts, for I wish my blog to be a window into my thoughts, and not a chronicle of my day-to-day:
I arrived at Dakar, Senegal on the morning of Friday, August 29th. Dakar, the capital city of Senegal and one of the most important cities in West Africa, is a large city situated in the farthest tip of the West African coast. We mainly rested and took tours of Dakar the first two days. With its half-finished abandoned buildings, easily floodable and heavily polluted streets, overabundance of street vendors and beggars, and heavily inconsistent water and power services, Dakar was noticeably a city with a lot of progress left in its future. However, with its rock solid public transportation (*cough cough* get it right AMA), cheap cost of living, warm and vibrant inhabitants, mouthwatering fruits, and rich culture, Dakar also demonstrated to be the perfect location to live while we learned to adapt and live in this new country.
On Sunday, I moved in with the host family that would attend to me in my short time in Dakar. Sunday couldn’t have been a better day to move in; Senegal was playing Puerto Rico in the FIBA World Cup that day, so breaking the ice and cross-culturally bonding became easier-than-usual tasks. My home consists of two (and a half) bedrooms, one (and a half) bathroom(s), and 6 to 8 occupants: two parents, two housemaids/babysitters (super common job here, apparently), three kids and me. My sisters, ages 7 and 9, warmed up to me pretty quickly, probably because of my camera and playing cards. My 15 year-old brother, who knows a bit of English, became upon my arrival a translator, tour guide, help desk, basketball teammate, and at one point even my nurse. My mother and father both work, so I only see them in the morning and at nighttime, but they are both very helpful and welcoming.
On Monday, In-Country Orientation (ICO for short) began. ICO is the third section of the program (directly after the Summer Campaign and Pre-Departure Training) and consists of language-learning in the morning and group seminars in the afternoon. The afternoon seminars span a wide variety of topics, from Risk Management to Cultural Competence, to more abstract ideas like “vision”, “purpose”, the meaning of life, even. ICO’s main purpose is to equip us Fellows with the proper mindset needed to have the most fruitful experience possible at our specific sites. What makes ICO so powerful is the “In-Country” part of it. The city and its culture became our classroom, and our everyday interactions with the people, our exams. Being in this new, still mysterious country provides a refreshing new lens onto the concepts of family, life, values, and what I thought to be the definition of poverty.
These first two weeks have not been short of challenges. Many of us in the Cohort have had to deal with a variety of issues. You name it, and I can assure you that someone’s been through it. Personally, I got hit with a very tough case of food poisoning, which, more than bringing me down physically for a few days, really affected my mental and emotional state for a few days. My ability to learn a language effectively is not as strong as I thought it would be, either. My progress is steady, but slow. Since I’ve always considered myself a lightning-fast learner, my pace in learning Wolof and French is teaching me a lesson on patience and consistency.
Saying that this has been an easy, pleasant month would be a straight out lie. It has been pretty hard. Nonetheless, we’re are all happy to go through these challenges, and the Cohort’s morale is high. Every day has its own new lesson, and needless to say, we are all learning more in these few weeks than what we could have ever learned in one semester of college. We have experienced moments of pure bliss and moments of pure frustration. Sometimes, these moments are only a few minutes apart. In short, the first two weeks were crazy, but the good kind of crazy.
This week, though, we have all been staying at our specific sites to get to know our homestay families and the way of life of our sites, but also to cool off a bit. A break from Dakar was very much needed for me, hehe. In fact, I’m writing these words from the living room of my in-site host family’s home. But more on that later. Next week (by the time that this blog is up, actually), I’ll be back in Dakar until the end of September to finish up with ICO. While Dakar has been fun in its own special, convoluted way, we’re all looking forward to October. I’ll keep you posted.