note the trees, because the dirt is temporary

Victoria Tran-Trinh - Senegal


October 21, 2009

Now that we’ve been in-country for three weeks, I find myself settling into more of a routine. This is a very good thing in some ways, but I’ve realized that it has its negatives as well.

The upside is obviously that I am becoming more comfortable in Senegal. I honestly don’t think I experienced much culture shock to begin with – probably largely because we are in a city that has been rapidly Westernizing for the past few decades – but anything that did surprise me at first has faded into the background of everyday life. My initial difficulty with sleeping is a distant memory, especially since my move to a new room with a spring (!) mattress. My body has almost fully accepted the steady consumption of meat. I can hold my own, in regards to French, when walking through the neighborhood – from buying snacks at a local “boutique” to returning the enthusiastic greetings of children or young men, to their great amusement. I’ve made peace with the heat and humidity and even, to a certain extent, the pervasive sweatiness and odors that accompany them.

The downside is a little more complicated. I truly hate to say it, but I’m getting a little bit bored at my homestay. My French still isn’t at the level where I can talk about topics of decent depth or breadth, so I’ve found that my host brothers and cousins and I have exhausted our meager conversational capabilities. I try to talk to my host mother, a soft-spoken woman with one of the kindest faces I have ever seen, and she is always obliging. However, try as I might, I can barely understand her responses to my stuttered questions, much less answer any of hers. I sit with the women of my family as they watch their daily soaps, but (if you can believe it) the campy melodramas are even worse when you don’t understand the dialogue, regardless of how inane it probably is. I don’t want to perpetuate the idea that I’m another American kid studying abroad with the intention of “expanding my horizons,” only to sit in my room and read all the time, emerging solely to be fed. I am using my best efforts to stay engaged with my family to avoid falling into that dreaded cliché. However, my frustrations with communication, coupled with my aforementioned move into a more private, more luxurious bedroom, are making it a little too easy for me to give in.

Nevertheless, there are still things that cause ripples in these very comfortable days. As I was taking a break from class today for a quick snack run with Alec, a boy about our age spotted us coming out of the Baobab Center. He proceeded to trail us to the boutique, where he greeted me like an old friend, which was a little odd to both Alec and I, but he bought something and left fairly soon. I was extremely surprised when he came back AGAIN a few minutes later to shake my hand a second time and ask Alec if I was his sister or wife. In retrospect, I should have made like the Senegalese, told a white lie and said Alec was my husband. But I didn’t, and the persistent boy then lingered around the door until we left, following me down the street and asking me if I was married. I had figured out by now to say “oui, je suis mariee,” but it was too late and we had some trouble shaking him off.

I know culture shock will happen in Sebikotane, so I’m definitely going to appreciate air conditioning and wi-fi while I still have them. Even so, I don’t want to let myself get so comfortable that I stop observing things around me with a fresh and inquisitive perspective. I’m definitely making an effort to keep an open mind and open eyes for the rest of my stay in the city. We’ll see how many new surprises I encounter in before I dive into an entirely new experience in Sebi.

Victoria Tran-Trinh