For the past four days, my intestines have been ravaged. I have had the same liquid pouring out of both ends of my body. I’m not sure what the culprit was…perhaps the water, the greasy and sugary foods, the lack of exercise, etc. More than likely it was a combination of all of the above. My family has been very accommodating, however, and even has been buying me some guava—a local remedy for stomach issues. To add to my unfortunate circumstances, I haven’t had power for the past week due to electrical trouble within my hut (and I am even fortunate to have power at times as many fellows do not). Regardless of my current circumstances, it has finally slowed me down to remember that I have been neglectful of keeping everyone back home up to date with everything going on thus far. [Mom and Dad, DO NOT WORRY ABOUT MY HEALTH, I’m fine now.]
So what’s new?
I work the triage desk in the Pediatrics ward at the Joal-Fadiouth Medical Center. My task is simple, yet difficult. I take Children’s temperature, height, weight, age, name, and village/address (Senegalese names are not easy to spell for a Westerner). Even though I sometimes feel like my contribution is very minimal, I have come to accept that I am here to learn as much to serve. I try not to be hard on myself. It’s hard to help when one doesn’t speak the language fluently. I understand that my role will gradually change over time, but I have learned to be patient, studious in my language studies, and to simply be an observer.
It’s difficult to describe a day in my life right now. This is because, even though I work in the hospital from 8am to 1pm Monday through Friday, my afternoons and weekends are open. In general, I have Pierre, a local English teacher in the Cite Lycée, whom I meet with about three or four times a week to answer my barrage of Sereer, Wolof, and French questions. Apart from that, I might find some little projects here and there, but I also try to walk around to meet folks as much as possible. In Senegal, simple greetings are the doors which open opportunity, so I will also take regular strolls around the neighborhood—exploring new places that I’ve never wandered, greeting new people, practicing my language skills, and maybe even playing some soccer. And of course, much of day is spent with my family.
I’m living with an incredible family. I have 4 younger brothers. Layelaye (2 yrs) Pape Fall (8 yrs) Modou Ndeye (10 yrs), and Papa (13 yrs). They are all great siblings to have. Modou Ndeye unfortunately contracted a spinal meningitis infection at a young age that ultimately lead him to become mentally handicapped, but he is undoubtedly the reason that I smile every time I return home. My family is great to me. They have hosted two Peace Corps volunteers before me, so they are used to having an American around the home. I have a wonderful shack apart from my family’s house. The only shortcoming is the fact that I am awoken every morning at 5:30 a.m., not by choice, but because this is the first Muslim prayer time of the day, and I—for some inexplicable reason—have a Mosque on both sides of my shack. My father is Sereer and speaks 6 languages (French, Bambara, Wolof, French, Sereer, and Arabic) while my mother is Wolof and speaks two languages (Arabic and Wolof). [Needless to say, I feel behind with my background in Latin!] My mother is an incredible cook and can make ceebu jeen (the national Senegalese dish) like nobody’s business. My father works in an ice factory at Joal’s port—the main economic hub of the town. For most days, I eat every meal with my family. We eat around the same bowl eating with our hands. It is a wonderful moment of delicious food, time together, and conversation.
Although I can romanticize, life has not been easy here. Originally entering into Joal, I was very guarded. The term “tubaab” (Wolof for “foreigner”) is something that I can’t escape from hearing constantly when walking about. At first, I would ignore the relentless tubaab yelling but this in turn just allowed the word to boil under my skin. Why did they have to remind me that I didn’t belong? I know that I’m different, so why yell it on every street corner? The amazing thing is that it isn’t just kids but adults too. Along with this, people are always asking for money, “joxal ma xaalis,” or to give them a gift, “ana sama cadeau?” At first, I just moved quickly on my way—not really trying to engage and just shrugging things off as if they were nothing. This approach failed miserably, and I couldn’t handle being called tubaab anymore, so I decided to bite back. These days, if I hear tubaab, I stop and engage that person in Wolof. I might tell them that I’m not a tubaab and that I’m Wolof or that I have black skin or maybe tell them something even more ridiculous with a smile on my face. Simply by doing this, people have been able to see that I’m more than just a lost tourist or a white guy out of place. I’m another human being who isn’t that different than them and who can play and joke in Wolof too. In the times where I get frustrated or overwhelmed, I’ve learned to just laugh, joke, and smile. In truth, humor sees no color, stops at no border, and exists in every culture. I’ve learned to be vulnerable and to just be myself. Not being too serious, but not being too unfastened. If you were to see me walk around Joal now, you wouldn’t hear tubaab. Granted you might here a few, but in general, you will hear people calling me by my Senegalese name, Mamadou Diop. All because I cared to stop and engage and joke.
Joal and Senegal still have a lot to teach me. I look forward to these next few months. I received a text message from a Fellow today that said we are halfway through our Global Citizen adventure; it’s amazing to think that we’re already halfway through. I can’t image what these next few months have in store for me because I have been transformed in many ways after a little more than just three months. I understand that things won’t always be easy in the months ahead, but I accept the challenges that I will face understanding that they will lead eventually to further insight and understanding.