my heart’s aflame, my body’s strained (but God, I like it)

Victoria Tran-Trinh - Senegal


November 2, 2009

Yesterday was the day of days – the Senegal fellows’ move to their rural homestays. Saying my goodbyes to my host family was much sadder than I thought it would be, and I really hope I can visit them when my language skills have increased. The sadness was quickly replaced by excitement, though, when we all piled into the van to be dropped off one by one in Sangalkam and then Sebikotane. I was lucky enough to be last and get to see where everyone is living. While my new house is quite nice, in some ways perhaps nicer than my house in Dakar, there is no question that Seibkotane is indeed a rural community.

img_3948First of all, the road to Sebikotane was the longest, bumpiest road I have ever traveled on. By the time we arrived, I had been bounced fully out of my seat at least a dozen times and hit my head on the ceiling once. However, we passed a lengthy stretch of what looked like a hundred twisty, almost skeletal baobab trees. It was worth the head trauma just to see this unforgettable landscape. Then, our arrival itself was much more of an event than it was in Dakar. Gaya, Hilary and I were received by a delegation at City Hall that included the mayor, vice-mayor, one of each of our host parents, our mentors and various other folks. Afterward, we met some village elders near Gaya’s house and one of them gave us a blessing. It was obvious that the community in Sebikotane was excited to receive us and that we would be well taken care of by everybody here.

I got to my house and met my family, which includes a group of chickens and the biggest rooster I’ve ever seen who sleep outside my bedroom, and a goat who sounds like an extremely ornery old man. Then at night, my very pleasant host mother and very jolly aunt took me on a little tour of the neighborhood. We stopped at two houses, both of which housed many of their family members. It was very nice to meet some of my extended family and know that they are just around the corner. However, “around the corner” is not the same here in Sebi as it was in Dakar. Even with the aid of two flashlights and some family members, the walk was long and very… rustic. The sounds of cicadas and crickets were deafening, and I had to try my best not to trip on the rocky, dusty paths. I was glad my host mother had thought to bring a light.

My most poignant “not in Kansas anymore” moment happened today. I was happy when my mother and aunt called me to help prepare lunch. We were making ceebujen, which we Fellows had made once in Dakar. I was handed a dull knife that was all blade; I have no idea what happened to the handle. After laughingly observing me peel one cassava and half a potato, my aunt took pity on me and set a giant bowl of rice on my lap. I was relieved. I knew I was supposed to pick out all the inedible bits in the rice. I’d done it before. It is rather satisfying to sort meticulously through the grains, swirling the rice with your fingers and grabbing any objectionable morsels. I started sifting and noticed that these particular gray specks were moving. This rice was not studded with pebbles…but with tiny, crawling BUGS. My face must have been comical as I reluctantly pulled out one minuscule creature after another, because my mother and aunt were laughing even harder than they had while watching me struggle with the vegetables. Impelled by the thought that I’d potentially be eating any insects that I overlooked, I rapidly fell into a comfortable rhythm of swirling and grabbing. I continued sifting the rice for at least 20 minutes after my aunt said it was fine, because every so often a critter would surface and taunt me.

I really like my rural host family, and my head and heart are pulsing with an assortment of emotions. I feel both very comfortable and a little bit awkward. I’m indescribably excited to start working at the preschool, but am intimidated by the obstacle of language. My host family here is Pulaar, so they are dead set on teaching me their native tongue as well as French and Wolof. To be conversational in three languages in six months seems nothing short of impossible. This is incredibly daunting. All I can do is focus on French and Wolof, and hope that my efforts in every language pay off. Inshallah.

Victoria Tran-Trinh