Perspectives

Madeleine Balchan - Senegal


February 10, 2011

I had been to Dakar for three days.  After my first month in Leona, a village of less than 1,000 people, all the GCY Fellows gathered for our first monthly meeting in the Senegalese capital.


Now, returning “home”, my little brothers Moma and Sier sing “NAFI NEW NA! NAFI NEW NA” “Nafi’s back!” Iada refuses to hug me, but she is jealous when I tickle Khady, her younger sister. Later, she comes to me and falls asleep in my lap. After leaving for three days, I return so much more a part of the family I’d left behind. I write in my journal “leaving a place, and then returning, can give such great perspective.”

Another month. Our second monthly meeting. This time, I am aware of my prejudice changing even as we ride into Dakar. We stop for gas in Theis, and I leap out of the car, skipping to the nearest fruit stand.

I greet the seller in Wolof.  A bemused look accompanies his proper response. After exchanging normal greetings, he asks who I am and why I speak Wolof so well. I laughingly tell him I only understand a little, but I’m trying. This is the first of many encounters in Dakar where “a little” Wolof takes me a long way, from bargaining down prices to convincing haggling vendors that I’m not just another tourist looking for African art to take home.

I am so used to Leona, were speaking Wolof is a necessity, and expected. There, the Senegalese encouragement system is “YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND ANYTHING!”  “YOW DEGGUL DARA!” The idea is I’ll try harder.

The people of Dakar, more used to Francophone visitors, are shocked at my beginners Wolof comprehension.

Between Leona and Dakar my perspective changes so much. I can’t begin to imagine how I will have changed when I step off the plane in San Francisco.

Madeleine Balchan