Rambling Update from the Field

Mouna Algahaithi - Senegal


December 5, 2013

Written on October 22, 2013


I just spent the last 3 hours scrubbing my clothes. Laundry is an extremely tedious task in the rest of the world. Spread across the sand of my backyard were three buckets. The first one was for washing, the second one was for scrubbing with a bar of soap, and the third one was for rinsing before hanging the clothes on the clothesline to dry beneath the blazing sun for the remainder of the day. Seems pretty simple, huh? The problem was that I decided to wait 3 weeks before telling my mom that I had a lot of dirty laundry. As a matter of fact, the only reason I told her was because I literally didn’t have any more clothes to wear. I was in my last two clean pairs of clothes. I would like to mention that my definition of dirty has shifted immensely since arriving to Senegal. Back home, if I wore something once or twice, I’d usually toss it into the laundry basket. In Senegal, I understand the long process of laundry-washing, so I find myself wearing the same clothes over and over, even though just wearing it once in this heat is enough to send it to the laundry room. My mom laughed at me after I walked back into the house, finally finished with my laundry washing: my green and pink pagne (traditional Senegalese skirt) was full of sand, soap, and water, sweat was dripping down my face and I looked exasperated. “You’re a brave woman,” was all she said before going to the backyard to make sure I hung everything correctly. She also informed me that my laundry would be done every Thursday, and I let out a sigh of relief.

I’ve been in Mboro for a little over 2 weeks now and I could not be more at peace. I’ve spent my days wandering around my town, exploring restaurants that served sharwarmas and fataya sandwiches, and sipping on frozen Senegalese juices while enjoying an intense futbol match. I’ve also met 8 Peace Corps volunteers who are training in Mboro for the next 2 months…once you gather up a bunch of toubabs (foreigners) together, it hardly feels like you’re not back home, which is a good feeling once in awhile. I also explored Mbaye Mbaye, which is a neighborhood in Mboro. It’s the home of the richer people of this town and it has a gorgeous swimming pool, fancy restaurant, and a supermarche with Western products! Also, I’ve been studying Wolof a lot more and I can hold a decent conversation, which is exciting. I’ve begun to greet familiar faces, and considering it’s so easy to make friends here, my list of besties grows each day. A smile is the same in every language, right?

I remember when I took my first taxi ride without a family member assisting me. I was incredibly nervous yet excited at the same time. In Mboro, we use shared taxis, which means cramming as many people as possible into an automobile and dropping us off for only 100 CFA (roughly 20 cents). I had written down “May ma fii” which means “drop me here” on my hand so I wouldn’t forget and all went smoothly. I handed him the 100 CFA coin and hopped out of the taxi feeling as confident as ever.

Earlier today, before the exhausting laundry experience, I visited my little brother, Sheikh Bethio’s, school. It’s called “Case des Tout- Petits” and it’s a preschool for all children ages 2-6. My mother took me there to speak to the director about giving me an apprenticeship offer. The director accepted and I start tomorrow! It’s a daily apprenticeship, starting from 8 am- 1 pm. I will be assisting in all childcare activities, supervising the children during different activies, and even planning some activities like English lessons and art classes. Although none of the staff or students speak English, I’m confident that I hold enough Wolof to hold myself up for the first few weeks. I will most likely be learning a lot more from these children then they will from me!
Another interesting thing is that I cooked dinner for my family. My original idea was to make them spaghetti and meatballs, with my own homemade sauce (because you won’t find marinara sauce anywhere in Mboro, obviously). However, my family is convinced that because I am American, I can’t cook and they applauded my ability to dice onions. Considering I’ve been cooking for the past 7 years, I laughed this off, wondering what-on-earth the fellow from last year’s cooking abilities were. I didn’t blame them however as any advertisements for American culture show pre-packaged foods, pre-cut vegetables, and spice mixes. I thought about how easy it is to cook in the States. Our average grocery store sells over 40,000 items; we truly have an unlimited abundance of food and cooking supplies. My mother ended up doing most of the work (even though I was handed all of the credit) and it ended up being a very Senegalese American dish. The “marinara sauce” consisted of 7 onions, 8 cloves of garlic, a strong spice I can’t identify, vinegar, and a few tablespoons of tomato paste. Not exactly the route I would’ve taken, but I happily did everything she asked me to, and my family appreciated “my” delicious meal very much.

The internet router in my house has not been functioning, so I’ve been walking down the main road to the cyber cafe, which has a bench for the wifi-users to sit on while they use the internet, or 2 desktops. It’s incredibly cheap and it forces me to go for a little bit of a walk everyday, which is good.

Everyday, I learn something new, whether it is in the language, or about myself, my family, or my city. I truly feel like I belong here. My intention for taking Global Citizen Year was one of self-discovery. I hoped to find myself, to find out my limits, my strengths, my weaknesses…and so far, my intention has become a goal that I feel I accomplish everyday.

Mouna Algahaithi