The plane had landed and I was finally in Senegal, after months of anticipation. We got off of the plane and I was so overwhelmed with emotions ranging from anxiety to excitement. In two days, I would be meeting my host family in Dakar and be living, actually living in Senegal. After an interesting customs experience, we dropped our bags off at the Casamara hotel and were told that we have a few hours to rest before a bus tour of Dakar. As I laid on my comfortable bed, trying to reflect on the fact that I had actually just arrived in Senegal, I thought of the drive from the airport to the hotel. I was surprised. Although I knew Senegal was underdeveloped, I never expected to see so much trash, smell so many awful smells, and see streets piled with cars. The pollution was so clear and I was hoping that the bus tour would change my perspective.
We got into two vans and we were on our way. I saw the African Renaissance Monument, many government buildings, beaches, and so much more. It was absolutely amazing and eye-opening to see all of the beauty of this capital amidst the environmental crises that 2 million people live so comfortably in. Yet despite the fun and excitement, I couldn’t get the piles of trash on the beaches and streets out of my mind.
Two days went by and I was meeting my family for the first time. As my new host mother calls over a taxi and we ride home, I had absolutely no idea what I am walking into. As I unloaded my bags onto the dirt road, my mother happily pushed the tin door open with all of her might to show me the house. As soon as I stepped in, I witnessed the beautiful, clean, white tiles spread across the courtyard. She showed me my room and the bathroom, which had a completely modernized toilet, along with a shower and sink. Suddenly, I am in heaven. When I thought it couldn’t have gotten any better, we walked into the main part of the house and I met the rest of my family; I felt at home. This worried me because I knew that it would only be temporary.
Two weeks passed and I was beyond excited to visit my site which was in the region of Kedougou, a town known for it’s beautiful mountains and rivers. I felt bad about how excited I was to finally be out of Dakar, but the idea of being able to breathe in non-polluted air and to actually be immersed into a clean and natural environment, I was finally going to be able to experience true Senegal.
My week spent in Dimboli will never be forgotten. As soon as I stepped off of my bus, I was taken away by the mountains and the sweet smells of wild lemongrass and mint. I giggled when I saw monkeys running across the streets and felt at peace. A little girl, who I soon found out was my sister, walked up shyly and took my hand guiding me to my hut. I was relieved to know that I wouldn’t have access to electricity, running water, or even a big house, like I had in Dakar. This is exactly what I had asked.
Despite the difficulties I encountered with my family in Dimboli (issues that caused me to move to a different site in the Petite Cote), I realized something as I sat under a tree with my families baby goat, who had quickly become my friend. I named him “Samba”. I had grown to love Dakar. Just because something doesn’t meet my visual standards, just because it doesn’t take my breath away with beauty, doesn’t make it unwanted or unloved. I missed seeing the women sitting on the sides of the roads, selling fresh corn and peanuts. I missed the honking of the taxis every time I stepped outside. I miss random kids getting excited over seeing a toubab (foriegner) and running up to shake my hand. I missed hearing the call to prayer five times a day. Most importantly, I missed the kind lady who lovingly took me into her home, and who I now call Mama. I realized just how much I missed Dakar.
I am grateful for all the meaningful relationships I have gained and for all the knowledge that these wonderful Senegalese men and women have kindly shared with me. As I pack up my room in Dakar to move to my new site in Toubab Diawal, I am again overwhelmed with emotions. I love my Dakar family and all of these people who once been strangers and who I now consider my friends. I don’t want to leave but on the other hand I am so excited to see what Toubab Diawal is like and to meet my new family. What I have learned overall is that it’s not the place that matters, it’s who you surround yourself with.