I have no idea how long I’ve been here but it isn’t particularly important. It’s been anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours and yet it really doesn’t matter.
Within minutes of my arrival in Gueoul, I had fallen in love. My father, Baay Cherno, greeted me with a warm smile and a firm handshake accompanied by a lot of Wolof words that I didn’t understand.
“namenala te ya ngi dogue ñew” (later translated to “I missed you before you were even here.”)
Sorry, let’s start from the beginning of the 14th of September… back when I was still in Dakar with my original host family. Where I am known as Sam Ndiaye or “toubab” (Wolof for foreigner).
00:00. I slowly zipped up my suitcase and rolled it into the corner of my now pristine room. I had now spent two weeks living in Senegal, specifically in the suburb of Sicap Baobab located in the outskirts of the city of Dakar. I was preparing to depart on a week long visit to the town of Gueoul, (this is where I will be spending the majority of time during my stay in Senegal) and only needed a week’s supply of clothes to survive, so everything else was piled into my suitcase and then left in the corner to gather dust.
00:03. I slid beneath my mosquito net and awaited the wicked side effects of mefloquine to kick in (vivid dreams). Although I knew my joyous dreams would be interrupted rudely at 5:45am by my alarm.
05:45 I enjoyed the concert I was at with Riley and Vruj (some of my new friends from Global Citizen Year) and was awfully confused as to why Medhane (Donny Oh) was taking so many selfies (for the older generations of people reading this a selfie is a picture you take of yourself).
07:00 (original departure time for local site) I heard a faint vibration from across the room. A quick glance at my watch allowed me to discover that I had slept through my alarm and was late for the bus. As I answered my phone Mouna asked me of my whereabouts and I told her I was on my way (a slight bend of the truth). I was filled with anger and disappointment in myself for sleeping through my alarm and causing everyone to leave late. I ran out the door and waved goodbye to my host father, Ibrahima, who smiled and waved back although the expression on his face was one of surprise and slight confusion. Probably due to the fact that I had spent a good 5 minutes the previous night explaining to him that I would leave promptly at 6:30am.
07:20 I received a phone call from Oumou (my team leader) letting me know that everyone had gone to the shop around the corner and if I showed up before they got back there was no reason to worry.
07:34 I arrived at the school where I had been taking French and Wolof lessons for the past two weeks. To a crowd of smiling faces and a mix of giggles and chuckles. “Morning sunshine” planted a much needed smile on my face.
Now, this seed of a smile would stay with me for the rest of the day. And at first slowly, but then rapidly growing into the great Baobab of a smile it was. By the time I arrived in Gueoul I was grinning from ear to ear and I couldn’t stop!
But that is skipping ahead.
08:15 We now learned why we had not departed yet, (it wasn’t my fault!) Jahshana was too sick to travel and Oumou had rushed off to find a doctor and make sure she was okay.
09:30 By now I had eaten more than my fair share of other people’s cookies and we were just about ready to head out.
10:30 We arrived in Tivaouane and shortly pulled up to what must have been the biggest house in the town. When we left Rachel she was sitting in front of the 55″ TV.
11:30 We left Mouna in the hands of a pretty awesome goat and a brilliant cooking show.
13:00 We said Au Revoir to Medhane and continued our way up north to Pire for lunch with Eli’s very generous family.
14:15 We arrived at Eli’s and sat around the tv, which was playing an English movie with Arabic subtitles. That was amazing. When Eli’s newly adopted brother brought out the cold Sprite I felt almost as bubbly inside as the Sprite did.
15:00 We began eating ceebu jen (pronounced cheb bu jen) and it was exactly what I needed, my energy levels had been dangerously low and this was just the boost I needed to keep me moving. However, our break was not yet over. The skies decided to open, and drop everything that they could our heads. The tin roof made the sound of a thousand drums beating which echoed throughout the room, causing conversation to be slightly difficult.
“It occurs to me now that we have only dropped off 3 people…” Max said.
That made sense, it hadn’t been that long, then I looked at my watch and realized how much time we had spent traveling so far, my brain was confused.
I have no sense of time in Senegal even when I wear my watch, and it’s because my inner clock is broken. Maybe because it finally doesn’t matter. Here everyone lives in the moment, and it doesn’t matter how long that moment is. 5 minutes can last anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 minutes and nobody would bat an eyelid either way.
15:45 Baba Lo showed up out of the blue. Granted I had no idea who he was at this particular moment but what I got from a lot of broken English, a tad of French, and a little Wolof, followed by a wonderful translation from Oumou was that he was Eli’s host brother’s friend and he was just visiting Pir but he lives in Gueoul. Anyway, I now have his number and more adventures with Baba Lou are to follow throughout the year.
15:50 We hit the road harder than Jack and as our journey continued the smile on my face widened. And it continued to do so.
The lush green plains stretching farther than i could see from both my left and my right gave me nothing but happiness. The other fellows didn’t quite feel the same, I assume because none of them were looking out the window. Instead they were napping.
16:20 Max’s house is my favourite house so far, it was beautiful inside, the architecture was brilliant and was very surprising, European style designs on the roof of the deck and large pillars supporting everything.
From the roof of his house we watched the small town operate slowly and the storm from miles away reek havoc upon itself. It was marvelous.
16:45 We left Max and made good time!
17:10 We were sitting in Aly’s room relaxing by the high tech fan, we journeyed out to her patio and were introduced to her incredibly marvelous bathroom, fully equipped with a sink, a mirror, a shower, a sit down toilet and a locking door.
Alxamdulilah! (Praise be to God) while the ladies hung out in front of the mirror I gazed at the tree in her yard, it reminded me of my grandfather (grandpa Cherry) and Great Gran (who recently passed away at the impressive age of 99.) Both avid bird watchers, I snapped a few pictures of the little things flying amongst the branches in hope that I could send them off to grandpa and he could join me on my journey more fully by bird watching for me.
17:45 While Oumou was off having a private conversation with Aly’s new mother my watch began beeping madly. It was at this moment in time when I realized why I had not woken up on time, I wasn’t being a heavy sleeper, I was being an idiot.
17:55 we were on our way again approaching the end of our journey.
Once again my head was out of the window with a smile glued to my face.
We headed to Kebemer. Once we had arrived the rain caught us again and we didn’t leave for quite some time.
18:30 I made a dash for the car, I made it, although I was a little damp.
I’ve discovered that one thing that Africa is good at is raining. Well at least Senegal has quite a knack for it.
And then there was one… I sat alone in the car apart from Oumou and Cheikh the driver of the vehicle.
Now it felt as if I had no face, only a smile. The rain was coming down but my face was still out of the window, enough to get drenched.
The sun was close to setting and as it went down the sky got more and more beautiful. I was filled with one emotion, happiness. I couldn’t explain why but I was so unbelievably happy to be exactly where I was. A few tears of joy escaped me at that moment, although they just blended in with the rain that was running down my face so no harm done.
19:00 “Oh I forgot to tell you, I think your mother might be expecting.” were the last words I heard as I hopped out the car. Thanks Oumou! I never could have figured that out! My very pregnant mother is very pregnant, and still that might be an understatement.
19:20 Oumou entered the room and had an interesting look on her face to say the least. I had assumed that she had gone out of the room to talk to my father about the stipend he would be receiving in order to keep me alive and semi-healthy. Well, when she returned she looked at me and said “I need to show you your room…” I got up and followed her into this empty room, the floor had traces of the sheetrock all across it and the bathroom was doorless, sinkless, showerless, and in fact, all it had was a beautiful porcelain drain in the corner of the floor. I probably should have freaked out a lot, but it actually excited me. Up until this point I had been looking forward to really roughing it and this gave me the idea that I might just finally be able to do that. I was informed that they would fix it up and add everything I needed before bedtime. (It is very homey now)
19:45 I sat with my family and thoroughly enjoyed every second of awkward silence, my large family made no sense to me as far as relatives go but i knew that they all welcomed me and that is all that matters.
Teranga. It’s something that the U.S. just couldn’t quite understand but it could certainly use a bit more of. Being welcoming to everyone as if they were your family. If you show up at our house you are expected to stay for dinner.
20:10 I was ushered into my room by my father to eat dinner. After eating out of the large communal bowl in Dakar for the past 2 weeks I was suddenly gifted with my own bowl for dinner. Ceebu Jen, (fish and rice) was amazing even for the second time that day. I continued to get to know my family after I finished eating and I loved it. I learned more Wolof and French in an hour than I had in my whole time in Senegal thus far.
I was ushered into my room for a second time and sat down at my desk. My mother brought me beef with potatoes and green bell peppers. Followed by watermelon, banana and apple. Alhamdulilah! I had never tasted something so great.
22:00 I took my first bucket shower. My room as you know is a work in progress, as is my bathroom, I stood on drying cement/mortar which made up the floor of my bathroom as well as the walls. It was a solid brown room except for the small window at the top of one wall and a small porcelain drain in the corner of the floor. That was my current toilet. I slowly trickled water a top of my self until I realized again what I was doing, and how I would look back at this moment in 20 years and a huge smile appeared again. I poured water on myself and sang to my hearts content because I realized that this was my shower now, might as well make the most of it!
22:30 I began writing this but didn’t get very far.
23:00 I slid under my mosquito net and settled down for the night. I fell asleep to the quiet patter of rain gently falling upon the tin roof.
I was at peace and full of only one feeling.
My new Senegalese family is 23 people – with me 24. And soon to be 25.
This should prove to be an interesting year to say the least.