Peace Only

Isabelle Johnson - Senegal


September 10, 2017

The last week of training is finally coming to an end. The cohort & I have been staying at the TosTan Training Center in the city of Thiès. TosTan’s mission is to bring the community together by teaching literacy skills to adolescents and adults in Thiès. It is lovely meeting and communicating with the staff, and helps with our language skills.

 

 

All 23 of us have become very close & comfortable with each other in these last 2 weeks. Embarking on a new journey alongside total strangers has been a rewarding experience in itself. We all come from different parts of the globe, and our cross-cultural perspectives are helps us to understand not only each other better but also this new world we are entering into. We have spent our days here enduring long & interesting sessions regarding safety & security, race/gender/sexuality, and the cultural differences we will meet here in Senegal. 

 

Around dusk most nights, I have tried to sit out on my yoga mat (that my team leader James was sweet enough to secure for me) in the humid, sticky air and I listen to the drumming and energy that pumps out of the city of Thiès. Drumming & dancing workshops, language classes, and joining the local kids at night for messy games of basketball & soccer are all helping us ease into our new lives. We have also been introduced to the small differences of daily life in Senegal compared to back home. Learning how to complete bathroom activity using nothing but water, your left hand, and a hole in the ground…bucket showers…and eating on the floor around a shared bowl using only the RIGHT hand…(are just a few of the skills we have covered). 

 

 

On Tuesday we received our site announcements!! I will be living in the small village of Terokh (closest town having roughly 1,500 people). This is a very very unique placement. The Yendane/Pambal region is dominated by the Sereer ethnic group. Here, the people speak mainly “Sereer LaaLa” (a language shared by only 12,000 people in the world!) I have been devoting all of my time and effort into learning “Wolof” for the past week (the national language of Senegal)…and although people in Terokh speak fluent Wolof – their main dialect is Sereer Laala. I have a host mother and father, five host sisters (ages 12, 14, 16, 17, and 18) and three host brothers (ages 12, 21, and 28). 

 

 

My first apprenticeship will be working in the Terokh Community Garden (gardening, soil preparation, watering, planting, harvesting, etc)…just a few miles away from my compound. I was also assigned to carpentry…I will be building furniture with a supervisor named Jean Noel Siss. My last apprenticeship is teaching preschool and elementary school at a French private school (Ecole Prive Catholique Saint Martin). I will be improving my French alongside the kids! I couldn’t be happier.

 

 

I would also like to give a shoutout to Nick, Eric, and especially the lovely Wyatt. The four of us have found an overwhelming amount of support, similarity, and love in each other within the past couple weeks. I know we will all go a bit more peaceful to our new homes knowing we have each other (and the rest of the cohort) as support. It also helps that Wyatt is my “soul-sister” and already understands me in ways better than I do. 

 

 

 

Last night, a few native Senegalese men visited us at TosTan. They sat around their drums and flutes and a group of white teenagers- and told them in broken english not to be afraid of their country. He explained that the color of the skin doesn’t matter, that we are all the same. And here, we will find “only peace”. 

 

 

I am so beyond grateful for this opportunity. It is already giving me so much perspective on my own life for the future – I can’t wait to see how much more I will learn. What a crazy adventure and humbling journey I have ahead of me! 

 

Isabelle Johnson