There is one paved road that runs through Thienaba. Shops and stands line either side, hoping to entice weary travellers with roasted peanuts or watermelon. Motorcycles weave around the trucks and taxis carrying goods and people from town to town. Every now and then a rickety bus will pull over and cram on another person wanting to go to Thies or Khomble. Adults greet each other as they weave around donkeys pulling carts, or a motorcycle in midst of repairs. It is loud, chaotic, and friendly.
Turning down one of the sandy side streets between a tiny general store and a lady selling watermelons, things get a bit quieter. The sound of children yelling as they carry fresh bread home for breakfast replaces the noisy traffic of the main road. On the left sits an empty lot that has been converted into a pasture for horses, chicken, and turkeys. More often than not, there will be an elderly man in a plastic chair across the way, watching over the road and enjoying the morning air. Farther down the road, on the left hand side, there is a white wall with a red door. Behind that door lies the place that I am slowly learning to call home.
Open the door and you will find a tiled patio area, where the family—my family—can often be found during and between meals. Behind that lies the house, composed of a main hallway that connects to a living room, three bedrooms, and stairs that lead to the roof. Out back is the shed that is the toilet and shower area. To the side is a sandy yard that houses two sheep and a cluster of lime trees. Buckets and random toys are often lying about, as well as my three-year-old brother’s clothes from his most recent decision to enjoy life in the nude. All of this for the next seven months will be my home, sama kër.
The view to the South from the roof of my house.
On my first day in Thienaba (pronounced Chenaba if anyone is wondering), my yaay took me around to meet most of the neighbors, and after awhile all the names and faces blurred together in one giant mess of language barriers and ataaya (a minty tea enjoyed in the afternoon). The one thing I took away was that basically everyone who lives near me are either related to or friends with my host family. Yesterday when I was walking home a neighbor asked me how my cold was—my cold that I most certainly never mentioned to her. Anywhere else it would be creepy, but here in Thienaba, it’s just another way of saying hello. It is a comfort being well known and cared for by a community of people, but it does make going for runs in the morning difficult when everyone wants to say hello.
It is hard to describe what it is like to fall asleep every night under a mosquito net, to not know where to brush your teeth, to go an entire day playing an elaborate game of charades. I knew that going to Senegal for my gap year would be difficult, but I don’t think I ever understood what exactly that meant. Up until I left, my definition of leaving my comfort zone was talking to a stranger, or starting a new job. It was a little scary, but I always had the familiar to run back to at the end of the day. Here in Senegal, my comfort zone is over six thousand miles away. As time passes, I will pick up the language, and my comfort zone will slowly expand until I feel at home here, but in the meantime I have been spending a lot of time picking beetles out of my hair at night. Turns out the stretch zone involves a lot of insects.