Sunday, my sister Mamy and I took a day trip to Rufisque for some girl therapy shopping, Senegalese style. Which, is pretty contradictory considering shopping in Senegal is everything but relaxing. We took one of the yellow and blue buses with flowers and ALHAMDULILAH painted on the front. It resembled a large 1970’s VW bus in New York City risking breakdown at every stop.
I got on, squeezed down the tight aisle, and popped a squat next to a woman with a basket of vegetables on her lap and a baby on her back. One by one, the 200 cfa fare (less than 50 cents for an hour trip) was passed back and I sat and waited patiently for my turn. When we got to the first stop, the street vendors with baskets on their heads filled with bananas, eggs, bags of water and mandarins in hand pressed up against the windows shouting out prices, shoving things through the windows.
Mamy reached over and bought a bag of 6 mandarins for 100 cfa, 20 cents. Handing me three, I began to peel them. Despite having peeled nearly a million clementines, I was having extreme difficulty with the mandarins. The juice wound up all over my dress and hands, and I even managed to squirt myself in the eye. Laughing uncontrollably, Mamy turns to me and said “comme un enfant.” Like a child. I immediately remembered Avatar. The native girl must have said the same thing and I immediately felt humbled. The next day we took a bus to Rufisque a second time and I was faced with the mandarin challenge yet again. But when I succeeded in finishing the whole fruit with nothing in my lap I gave her a big, dorky smile. “Progress,” she said to me with a smile.
I suppose a similar type of progress has also happened at my apprenticeship. Although my first project was to be in the garden at the elementary school, my first day and every day since has been in one of the kindergarten classes, substituting. I was immediately taken aback by the lack of direction I received to manage 40 kids without speaking the same language as them. I started by writing a big A on the chalk board at the front of the room and slowly worked my way through the alphabet. The next day, the kids got right to work, writing letters and numbers on their chalkboard that they’d learned the day before. I’m learning Wolof phrases to keep them under control, at work and content. I can see the progress they are making because of the progress I am making, and to be honest, I think I’m learning more than them.
Every day after lunch my brother goes to the kitchen and gets the tea set out; a tray, pot and two small glasses, something like shot glasses. Ataya is one of my favorite things about Senegal. Not only is it delicious, but it literally brings everyone together. Neighbors and friends wander in the door and find a seat while we watch music videos, dance, laugh and talk. Since I arrived in Sebikotane my brother has been mentoring me in preparing Ataya. I’m finally to the point where I can make it on my own. My family claims my Ataya is better than when my brother, Aliou Wone, makes it, but I know they only say that to make me smile. The first cup is the strongest, with the most tea and the least sugar and my favorite. While the tea boils, you pour one glass and toss the tea back and forth so that it forms a layer of frothy decoration but, at least for me, this part proves the most difficult. I usually end up spilling half a glass of tea and laughing embarrassedly as my brother tells me that I’m still learning.
Last night as I was preparing the tea someone made a remark, impressed from what I could tell. Usually people are taken aback when they see me making the tea but I always feel ashamed letting them watch me as I get a little nervous and spill a little too much. But last night I swiftly tossed the glasses back and forth hardly spilling anything at all. “You are ze boss of Ataya,” Aliou Wone said. I held my breath as I smiled and then let out a huge laugh. I had taught him boss, and had told him that only the coolest and best people are bosses.
Every day is a little bit of progress.