Peace only

Jasen Lo - Senegal


September 8, 2016

Jamm rekk is the most common Senegalese saying, at least in my experience. Translating from Wolof, the most spoken language in Senegal, to English, Jamm rekk literally means peace only. Jamm rekk is a word so telling of Senegalese culture. It has all and every meaning, which conveniently makes this saying the answer to all and every question. Here's what i mean:

(typical conversation in Wolof)
How's your family? Jamm rekk.
How's your day been? Jamm rekk.
What did you eat today? Jamm rekk.
You think world peace is achievable? Jamm rekk.
*Question in wolof i do not understand at all*? Jamm rekk.
i'm honestly exaggerating for comedic effect, although these situations arise at almost every opportunity. In fact, i converse with my host family in French and can speak some basic Wolof after intensive French and Wolof classes. I'll get back to Jamm rekk later. 
i write this blog post from the living room of my new home in Dakar, my concentration disrupted by the boisterous party music taking place in the adjacent dirt field. I suspect it to be a marriage, but there's only one man dancing unreservedly by him lonesome self. Bliss.
It is my second week in Senegal, and so far Dakar has been everything i wanted Dakar to be: Homely, dirty, inefficient, rough around the edges. To be completely honest, i love it here. For the first few days, a wonderful energy consumed me as i took in Dakar in all its perfect imperfection. A honeymoon fever of curiosity and adventuresome adrenaline. But it has since worn off. i now feel a certain restlessness, one that tingles the toes and invites insomnia. My host brother Masar asked my how i felt today. Jamm rekk. i answer dishonestly. i do not feel "peace only" really, but Senegalese are experts at making talk out of nothing, avoiding the construction of full sentences and the trouble of syntax and grammar. Attempting to explain my emotions were in a way, culturally non-contextual. i suppose the realities of life in Senegal kicked in as my material thirst for the comforts of home came to take its place in my priorities. Landry was to be done. Air conditioner is a ill afforded luxury. Mosquitoes are evolutionary creations of genius. i realised how dependent i was on my family and my french speaking fellows, as my independence is weighted down by my linguistic ignorance. Its just really uncomfortable, more physically than mentally but regardless. Thankfully, i thrive in discomfort. But i feel like i'm simply waiting for something to happen, which was also a sensation i experienced during pre-departure training. At the moment of writing this, i am aware of how negative a piece of writing this piece is. i am also acutely conscious of the pessimistic tone that exists throughout my last blog post and perhaps this is a condition which pervades all my writing. i don't want to be like most media, only reporting the negative aspects. So i'm just going to write about the scattered thoughts/experiences/takeaways i have had so far in Dakar, and i'm confident that when i finish, this will be a happy piece. Or maybe i'll figure something out. Before i start, i just want to share a common Senegalese saying that i find immensely warm and assuming of virgin goodwill. Oh Senegal.
Danga ma rey rekk

"Only you'll kill me" (with joy)

– i love my host family. i live in a well numbered household which thankfully possesses the means to provide most of the necessities i require. The house is sizable and i even have my own bathroom. The first time i ever had my own room is in Senegal. Huh. My immediate consists of my host mother Nafi, host brother Masar and my host sister Annette. Senegalese families are big, and so cousins/aunts/uncles/nephews/nieces often refer to their respective counterparts as brother/sister. i live in the third portion of a larger household. So as of now, i don't exactly understand who is who. But since everyone appears eager to feed and clothe and house me the difference is negligible. French is the first language of my family and many of the younger peeps understand English perfectly. Thanks to them, my French has improved drastically in the past few days. My sister and brother work while my mother owns a clothing store. My mother is a stoic woman, but she is always immaculately dressed in the most elaborate and fashionable outfits. She always wears a headpiece. She doesn't speak English but we often communicate very well. We both try really hard. i'm smile as i'm reminded constantly of how protective she is of me and how easily i make her laugh despite her stern outer shell. Usually its my bad French pronunciation or my failure to eat a mango courteously. My other closest family members are my sisters Aida, aka Dani aka the tall white girl from Seattle who lives in another family in our larger household, and petite Nafi, a 20 year old Senegalese recent university graduate aka the (self proclaimed) African beauty aka (self proclaimed) the curves queen. I think they are my sisters, somehow. A family tree is badly wanted. Anyways, Nafi walks Aida and I to school sometimes, and I imagine we make quite the curious sight. A scrawny Chinese boy, a 6 foot perpetually angry looking white girl and a Senegalese lady slightly more interested in her snaps than her safety on the road. Stop signs aren't really a thing here but stopping, staring, confused people seem to be. i love my family.

– i had the incredible privilege of visiting Goree Island, a commerce capital of colonial West Africa. By commerce, yes i mean slaves. We visited a slave house turned museum where a guide took us around the slave house explaining the function of every room, feeding our imagination of the slaves' living conditions, all of them  waiting for their literal deaths at sea or their figurative deaths wherever they went. The whole visit was paradoxical. Our guide was great and did the best he could explaining the historical context of colonialism and slavery in a short enough time to keep everyone's attention. Yet, he spoke in a rather uppity duppity tone, which was, and this is awkward to admit, just a tad bit too darkly humorous for my taste. What more, Goree and its slave houses are now world acclaimed tourist attractions. There were tourists posing for pictures in front and behind the bars of jail cells, imitating solitary confinement. The commercialization and the exploitation of the touristic appeal of previous sites of extreme human suffering and cruelty was… strangely appropriate. For one, i never had to witness the implications of transatlantic slavery on a daily basis like many of the American fellows were accustomed to. So while i felt curious and investigative, the general mood of our American majority group was heavy and emotional. i rationalized my detachment to my distant geographical upbringing, but also a reasoning that suffering exists universally in various magnitudes and wallowing in a particular suffering of a particular group seemed somewhat unjust to all other peoples/species/objects who have underwent suffering in their respective ways. i confess this to be a strange line of reasoning but it was my genuine thought whilst departing Goree by ferry. i would be very glad to be shown another perspective in the comments!
– Food is great. Don't think i've eaten so much in my life. Usually everybody eats from a big common metal bowl containing rice, chicken or fish and some veggies. A very heavy, non fibre based diet. The lack of toilet paper in many public (and private) toilets further aggravate potential problems. Mangos, coconuts and supermarket groceries are plentiful and relatively cheap. I have many thoughts as a foreigner enjoying the relatively cheap products of Dakar. Speaking of which, a guest speaker came to talk to us about the various economic and political problems that continue to plague Senegal. He also discussed the unclear future of Senegalese development as well as the future direction of the African continent in a larger context. Fascinating stuff. A blog post on currency, neo/post colonialism and wealth privilege will come hopefully, if i ever gather the courage to approach such a topic at a personal level. 
– I did a speak up, a sorta semi formal speech, to my country cohort the other day. I talked about my experiences in Spain as a pilgrim relying on the charity of others and the unconditional kindness of strangers. Few days later, one of the fellows were robbed by assailants on motorcycle. i find my naivety entertaining at times as i am always shocked, without fail, at the lack of solidarity that can be displayed from human to human. I ride the line of distrust and naivety in a mirage of forms and philosophies but I hope to remain somewhat trusting of the next stranger that takes my hand in friendly embrace.
– Class is fun. i enjoy learning languages and these two weeks of intense linguistic acquisition has been challenging at the Goldilocks level. i have 3-4 hours of language class in the morn, walk home to have lunch with my mom, practice what i have learnt with her and anyone i happen to know on the streets and viola,  another piece fits the puzzle. i also gain a better understanding of the fellows in the classroom and their personalities. Good people that i am more than content with spending so much time with. An important person that i must mention: Pierre, my Wolof teacher. He is more a philosopher than teacher, though they are overlapping roles in many ways. He often goes off tangent to talk about his beliefs and to share his insightful morsels of wisdom. I was delighted to find out on Friday that my permanent placement is Joal, which is a quaint seaside town where Pierre lives. My soul acquiesce to this fortunate circumstance. One day i hope to be as wise as Pierre. I eagerly jot down his words and am working to compile them into a book of quotes that i'll be able to refer to in other times of my life.
– I would write a bit more about my permanent placement in Joal, where i'll be living for the next 7 months after leaving Dakar, but i'll leave that till i am actually there. These thoughts are simply what came up off the top of my head, my brain is often too messy and incoherent to draw anything out so cut me some slack and give me a bit of credit alright? I'm talking to myself. Weird Jasen is weird. Oh. Forgot to mention. My family here calls me Ibrahim. My Senegalese name. It doesn't fit me at all and i cry a bit inside knowing that it isn't the name that doesn't fit me but me that fails to live to the name. For now i guess.​
– Tabaski is coming up. It's a Senegalese holiday which commemorates the almost sacrifice of Ishmael by Ibrahim. If you were wondering why Ibrahim just doesn't work for me. Every household is expected to slaughter a sheep, just like Ibrahim did. Fortunately, I am not the real OG and will not have my hands or physical safety compromised by the blood of a sheep or myself. High risk season to be attacked by a sheep. Entertaining photos and stories soon to come.
My next post will be soon. That is all i can promise at this point. See, i'm not sure if i'm uneasy from waiting for something to happen or frustrated at my unwillingness to make something happen. Again, enjoy the photos. I don't (can't) caption them but you might be able to guess who are these lovely people. i know i'll remember. I nap again, that wedding is finally coming to an end me thinks. Hope that gentleman keeps dancing jamm rekk.
TLDR – Jasen arrives in Senegal and is having a good time in general. He has many thoughts so he describes them a bit. He likes his family and school but he feel a bit anxious about the future. Figures out at the end of blog post that he isn't doing too badly. 
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Jasen Lo