Paulina Personius - Senegal

November 2, 2011

For the past two months that I have been in Senegal I have been trying to learn and see as much as I can: from studying Wolof and French every day, to cramming in visits to all the markets and beaches of Dakar.  As many of my friends and family at home can attest to, I can often be impatient.  But during the past three weeks that I spent in my villages I have begun to appreciate the importance of patience, and taking time to just listen and observe.

While Dakar is a modern and bustling city, with much of the chaos and quick pace of life that I’m used to, my village of Thilene, about 5 ½ hours north of Dakar, is the opposite. From what I have gathered in my month in Dakar, people here seem more bent on emulating a Western lifestyle and, as a consequence, have adopted the Western focus on quickness and efficiency. But in Thilene, the people I met seemed more focused on maintaining a strong sense of community and building interpersonal relationships.
Initially I would sit with my family in our outdoor courtyard wondering why we were wasting time simply sitting there. But slowly, throughout the week, I began to appreciate the time I got to spend with my family, and stopped considering it time wasted. I learned that sitting with my family while drinking ataya, a Senegalese tea, is a much better way to soak in Wolof than studying it out of my textbook. I realized that while greeting everyone on my way to buy bread at the shop by my house turned my 5 minute walk into a 20 minute walk, the time was not wasted, and by the end of the week everyone along the way knew me by name.
The slower pace of life has also served as a reminder for me to have patience with myself. Learning two new languages is going to take time, and getting frustrated when I can’t memorize how to perfectly conjugate the passe compose tense in French won’t help. Getting antsy at my town’s slower pace of life is only going to make me less appreciative of my overall experience. So for the next six months I promise to take a deep breath, calm my mind and go into all of these new experiences with patience. It will help me enjoy each moment and encounter even more, because, as everyone keeps telling me, these next six months are going to fly by.


Paulina Personius