I recently started one of my apprenticeships at Sebikotane’s Poste de Sante. For the World Day of Diabetes the health center set up a week of free testing for all the people of Sebikotane and the surrounding communities. My job was to write the names, ages, neighborhoods and blood sugar levels of the people being tested. It was funny how what would be somewhat of a mindless task for me in the U.S. was difficult in Senegal.
Many of the people being tested only speak the native language, Wolof. So numerous times when I thought I was asking them naata at nga am (how old are you) and foo dekk (where do you live) they would look at me in a way that I know I was not pronouncing the words correctly. On top of that Senegalese names are very different from American names and for me are of course not spelled phonetically. For example the J sound is made by Di so the common last name Diallo is pronounced Jallo. Therefore when a person would finally figure out that I was asking them no tudd (what is your name) it would take me a while to write it down correctly. Luckily there was often a friendly, French speaking, Senegalese person near by who was very eager to help and my mistakes lead to much laughter and discussion.