So much has changed in my life since I left the United States. I finished with Fall Training on August 29th and boarded the plane for New York that evening. We spent the next day using a 17 hour layover to visit Little Dakar in New York and taste the official dish of Senegal – “Chebu Jenn”, rice and fish saturated in a spicy red sauce. After another long nighttime flight out of JFK, I arrived to the humid heat of Africa on August 31st. Since then, I’ve been living and learning here in Dakar, Senegal. The first two days, the group stayed in a hostel together and then we were dropped off at our homestays on September 2nd.
My daily schedule has been fairly routine. I wake up at 8:00 am, eat a breakfast of baguette and peanutty chocolate spread called “Chocopan”, and head down the street to the ACI Baobab Center for language class at 9. The first two weeks here I learned French, the colonial language of Senegal, and for the past two weeks I have been learning Wolof, the ancient tribal language of western Senegal. I can now confidently say “I am sick” in five languages (: I did actually have a cold for a few days in the middle of the month, but thanks to my Boy Scout packing ethic (and my mom!), I was prepared with Dayquil which saved my sinuses and sanity that week.
After language class, we gather at the Global Citizen Year office which is conveniently located across the street from my house. There we had sessions on Islam, how to properly clean yourself after using the toilet in a country that doesn’t use toilet paper, and the value of the dollar versus the African Franc. Then we have a break to go home for lunch between 1:30 and 3pm. In the Senegalese concept of time, 2pm is the middle of the day and 3am is the middle of the night, so meal times are a little different than in America. After lunch of rice and fish (with their beady, dead eyeballs always staring up at me) eaten around a communal bowl with my host family, I return to the ACI Center for two more hours of language class. When class is finished, I usually hang out with my new friends at the ACI Center to use the internet and share horror stories of monster cockroaches and talk about our reactions to the common practice of corporal punishment as the main tool for disciplining a child.
Several times a week, we go to one of the two ice cream shops in all of Dakar, My Ice Cream, and indulge in the heavenly air conditioning and delicious flavours ranging from Peach Sorbet (my fave!) to Blue Ice (a vivid, unnamable flavour that stains your lips blue) to several variations of Nutella (a hugely popular commodity here in Senegal).
The first weekend here, the whole group went on an organized filed trip to the historic slave trade island Goree Isle. During the slave trade in West Africa, over 20 million Africans were shipped off across the Atlantic from the port at Goree Island because of it’s strategic location as the furthest west point on this side of Africa – the closest land to America. The other three weekends, me and my friends have planned our own adventures to the beach, downtown Dakar, and various clothing and crafts markets around the city.
It’s been a busy month. Filled with rainstorms that flood the sewers so that clods of feces float down the streams that used to be roads. Frustration with my inability to communicate. Magnificent sunsets viewed from rooftops and beaches with incredible people I get to call friends. Unimaginable smells, a dead dog on the side of the road, indescribable emotions, and street soccer games with total strangers. I am excited to leave Dakar’s polluted streets to see more of Senegal. I am nervous to meet my new host family and sad to say goodbye to my current one. I am learning and loving and growing every day.
~ <3 Emma