Today I had a mild moment of panic.
The youngest of my mother‘s children, Mombousso is around ten. She is spunky, sassy and always seems to be working some angle, whether it be getting a new dress tailored or a free lollipop from the boutique next door. Mombousso is impossible to say no to.
Due to a regional exam taking place at school, I had the morning off. And so I dallied all morning: sleeping in, then taking a long, luxurious bucket shower, and attempting to finish a few college applications.
In the midst of my morning of leisure I walked past the kitchen to see my little sister beginning to cook ceebu jënn, rice and fish. She asked me where I was going today, and I proudly, excitedly said “no where!” She then gave me the look that could get away with murder and said “come cook.” So I did.
After watching her fry the jënn, cut a few onions and set the dish to boil she told me we were going. I asked where but was confused at her response. She then yelled for our cousin Mariame to join, and the three of us set out on a sandy path, destination unbeknownst to me.
After a while of walking, we cut through a plantation of mango trees before arriving at a rather large baobab tree. I watched as the duo scaled the tree, reaching heights I couldn’t even imagine. They moved from branch to branch, tossing down fruit without second thought.
I hid in the baobab’s shade, eating a few seeds of the fruit that had fallen, looking up at the girls and I shamefully asked myself is this it? As I stood in my hundred dollar Birkenstocks, J. Crew jeans with both feet planted firmly on the ground, I asked myself is this immersion? Am I really doing it?
Last week I celebrated my hundredth day in Senegal. A few days later marked the halfway point. Yesterday morning I blundered through a conversation with my parents over breakfast. After they asked a series of questions that I failed to correctly answer, my mother looked at me and said “Thiaba, how long have you been here? Four months?” The “so then why does your Wolof suck?” was implied. I didn’t have an answer.
But she’s right. My Wolof does suck. I have mastered all the greetings— all except naka mu? which I freeze whenever I hear— and I can perfectly say where I am going or where I have been. I can recite the three meals of the day- ndekki, añ, reer- which is typically a huge crowd pleaser. But beyond that, my Wolof is questionable to say the least.
What is immersion if not language? How do I connect with my family if I cannot even speak to them? These questions racked my mind, as the familiar feeling of panic began to rise just a little.
Mombousso and Mariame gathered all the Fruit from the ground and we turned to return home. Mombousso, as she always does, held out her hand waiting for me to grab it as I always do.
We walked home silently, all seemingly lost in thought. I am not sure what filled the minds of Mombousso and Maraime but mine became set.
I am not sure what exactly I’m doing, immersing or merely just skipping by. But with Mombousso and the rest of Keur Madaro by my side, I am happy to be doing it.
An amendment to my last blog in which I classified Senegal as “strange”:
I recently finished reading Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist in which a young boy, Santiago, has abandons his sheep in Spain in pursuance of treasure and great adventure. Upon the boy’s arrival in Tangier, he remarks, “this wasn’t a strange place, it was a new one.”
And I found that the same goes for Senegal. And I, just as Santiago was, am in search of some great unknown treasure.