My New Skills

Charlotte Benishek - Senegal

November 23, 2011

Before I left for Senegal, I expected to learn most through my apprenticeship. However, much to my surprise, I have gained numerous skills and insights from just participating in everyday life in a rural village in Senegal for a month. Although I haven’t done much formal work for my apprenticeship yet, I acquire new skills daily. Consider the following:

Getting my hair done, Senegalese style
  1. I have developed ninja-like reflexes from using my sandal to smash the cockroaches (and spiders and crickets) that foolishly thought I would be willing to share a room with them.
  2. I can navigate the public transportation system with ease. “Navigation” consists of squeezing into the back of a pickup truck with fifteen Senegalese strangers and a similar number of babies for an incredibly uncomfortable 45 minute ride to Millennium Village Project offices. I’m also no longer particularly phased when the vehicle makes several stops to allow goats to be tied and hoisted onto the roof.
  3. I know the proper Wolof phrases to deflect the frequent requests I receive for my sandals, money, or oranges I’m buying. (“I only have one.” or “It is my father’s money.”)
  4. My neck is now much more flexible – a consequence of it being pushed into positively inhumane positions for minutes as some family member enthusiastically braids my hair into cornrows.
  5. Timing. I have learned the perfect timing of latrine trips to avoid being stared down by approximately twenty cockroaches as I use the bathroom. Avoid the latrine at all costs from about 7PM to 7AM.
  6. Bucket showers. I’m a whiz at knowing exactly how much water to put in the bucket, the precise order (and fine art) of throwing water over my body to maximize efficiency, and again, when to avoid the “shower shed” (coincidentally the same times that I avoid the latrine).
  7. I now run Senegalese style, meaning that I greet every person I pass on the country road where I run in the morning with a breathless “Asalamalekum!” People often respond by offering me a ride on their horse cart, having no concept of running for running’s sake.

Charlotte Benishek