Today I was baptized, I am now Rammatou Laye Ba. I was given this name by my host family in Mako and our team leaders decided to do a naming ceremony (something like a baptism) for each of us. Aminatta washed our head with a little water and pretended to shave our heads like they do to the week old babies and then Hassana presented us by our new names.
Now, I can see how some people might judge this and say that our families are just told to give us these names and it is just show that they put on for us. Even if any of that is true I have this amazing opportunity to become Rammatou and fully embrace it. I am here to integrate into their society and become part of a family and a culture very different from my own. A big part of Senegalese culture is the name. The Senegalese cohort has been complaining about how everyone has the same name and it can be frustrating, but everyone is named after someone in their family, someone they love. When we all got back together after we all told each other our names and with every persons name someone would have someone in their family with that name. It’s funny and frustrating at times, but to me it also shows that they care about us and want us to become a part of the family.
Terranga is a wolof word that means hospitality and it what the Senegalese people are known for and there is a common saying that says “If you’re in my home you’re family”. I believe that this new name is them bringing me into the family and over my first week in Mako I felt my family starting to embrace me as their own.
At the beginning of the week my 25 year old host uncle, who speaks a good amount of english, was hanging out around my house a lot. He told me he would teach me pulaar, so I trusted him and went to him for help when I had questions. By the middle of the week it had taken an uncomfortable turn, he started touching me in a way that was too grabby and telling me that he wanted an American girl friend like me. He never left my side. I decided to tell my team leader, Hassana, who talked to my mother about watching out for men trying to date or marry me. Immediately my mother and my sisters became so protective of me. They started taking me everywhere with them and warning me about men that they didn’t trust. My older sister even warned me about my uncle telling me to watch out for him because he had told her that he wanted to marry me. I felt the terranga. I felt the family love because it’s something that my sister or my mom would do at home for me.
It’s not easy being here, it’s uncomfortable, it’s hot, I don’t eat many vegetables, I never feel clean, but these are all things I am going to forget for the most part when I get home, but I will remember terranga. I will remember how I felt when my sisters were protecting me and how my family embraced me. The people here are definitely going to make it easier for me to let Allie go for a little and fully embrace Rammatou.
Written September 29th