Sama Waa Kerga

Erik Oline - Senegal


December 20, 2017

                My halfway point of my time in Senegal is just days away now; if I blinked I would have missed the past 3.5 months. I figured that by this point I probably should have devoted a bit more of this blog towards my amazing host family, but hey, better late than never. My host family makes up about 40% of the entire village of Keur Birima, and two out of the five compounds. Coming from a nuclear family of four, and being the only child the past three years while my sister has been in college, it is sometimes a bit much having so many people to keep track of, but I’ve learned to love it. There’s never a time where I’m alone, I always have someone to hang out with. Below is a quick introduction into a few members of my family.

Ndongo Fall– Host Brother, 35. Ndongo is more or less the one responsible for me. He’s the one who found out about Global Citizen Year, and has overseen all of my misery that I’ve been having while In Senegal. College educated, and his English fluency is impressive. Currently in the process of launching a school of sustainable agriculture, also owner of about 50 sheep, all of which he knows by name. Usually a very calm man, but can become extremely mobile when a lamb escapes the compound. All around a really nice man. I’m very glad that he found out about GCY, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Alassane Fall– Host Father, 60. One truly amazing human to say the very least. Every time he speaks to me he consciously slows down and pronounces each word carefully so I can understand and learn, something I am very grateful for. Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time with him out on the farm. We’ve recently completed an irrigation system, planted about 40 additional mango trees, and just today started pouring the cement for a water tower. One predicament we found ourselves in occurred earlier this week: we were out on the farm when the cows showed up to drink. To do this we hook a small generator up to a well and pump up water into a large trough for the cows to drink from. Once the trough was filled we cut the generator. Several moments later the trough was completely empty. There was no water on the ground, and the cows couldn’t have drunk that much water that quickly. We spent a solid 20 minutes trying to figure out where about 75 gallons of water had magically disappeared. We finally figured out that it had all syphoned back down the well because we had left the hose pressed against the bottom of the trough; we both got a pretty good laugh out of that. He’s the loving father of 10 (11 counting myself), current village chief, and I have never seen him lose his temper or even raise his voice; but he refuses to believe that any place that snows is enjoyable to live, we agreed to disagree.

Absa Diaw- Host Mom 58. Another truly amazing human, caring mother of 10, and seemingly the most popular person in the Region of Thies. Contrary to social standards and her age, she can be still found out in the farm, hoe in hand, working away. When guests are over, she asks “Ana waa Kerga” (how is your family) five times minimum, and I have yet to see anyone refuse her offer of a meal when inside her compound. When it’s lunchtime I dread eating the same communal bowl as her, she does not let me leave until I’ve eaten enough that she is satisfied. Even now after three months, she still smiles every time I speak to her in Wolof. Once when I asked her why, she simply replied that it just makes her happy seeing a foreigner speaking the native language, instead of the imposed colonial language. She can also crack up to 100 peanuts in a minute, but unlike Alassane, she still talks about the same speed of a Mexican soccer moderator.

Diaga Fall-Host Brother, 37. Very Interesting man, also is about 6’6” ft tall. Diaga was around when I first arrived in early September, then he kind of disappeared until early November. When he returned I asked him where he had been; working in Europe he said.  Turns out Diaga is an economic ambassador for Mitsibishi in Portugal, Spain, and France. He has a college degree in Economics from the university in Dakar, and is fluent in four languages: Wolof, Spanish, French, and Portuguese, and his English is not fluent, but it’s not bad either. Recently had a new baby with his wife, who lives in the city of Thies. I was very happy to hear this, because at the naming ceremony a week after the baby’s birth they sacrificed one of the sheep that I’ve have several negative run ins with lately (I mean “run ins” in the literal sense). Is commonly seen with several small children hanging from his person and is never more than 10 walking paces from a glass of Ataaya.

Aliou Fall- Host brother 32. College educated in Electrical Engineering and doubles as one of the nicest people I know. Sadly, he’s off working in Dakar more than he’s home. He works for Senelec, the power company that literally brings light to Senegal. Once when I greeted him when he returned home and asked him -how is Dakar?. Turns out he was actually in Guinea, working for a friend who owns an international fishing company. Aliou was designing gigantic freezers to put on freighters to export tons of fish to Europe. He also said Dakar is fine. 

Fatou Fall- Host Sister, 27. Fatou has taken it upon herself to make sure I return to America fatter than when I arrived in Keur Birima. Not a day goes by that he asks me if I’ve eaten breakfast, then lunch, then dinner, and is very skeptical when I answer that I’m fine. Is usually seen with her 6-month-old baby Sidi strapped to her back.

Elhadji Fall- Host Brother, 25. Currently studying economics at the university in Dakar, and is planning to take his studies to Morocco for his final year of college, Inshallah. When Elhadji is home from university he always is busy. He apparently is best friends with every person from every surrounding village. He always takes me along to visit his old friends, which is great because I get lunch and tea and good Wolof practice for only the small price of being embarrassed on the football pitch. Someone once told me that Elhadji used to be a rapper, when I asked him about it, he said that yes, he used to be a rapper, but gave it up to focus on university. I have yet to find any of his music, but I’m still looking.

Mamour Fall, Host Brother, 22. Mamour is the dude. He lives at home and helps out on the farm a lot, so I’ve spent a lot of time with him covered in dirt, sweat, and feces from various animals. Mamour is also one of the strongest people I have ever met, I have seen him carry two full grown male sheep at once—one under each arm. Since there are two people named Ndongo in the family, people have just taken to calling me “Ndongo American”, but Mamour always calls me “Ndongo Senegal”, which I honestly prefer. Once in response to this I called Mamour, “Mamour Gambia”, the whole family erupted in laughter. Now whenever Mamour does something wrong everyone calls him “Mamour Gambia”. After that he’s gone back to “Ndongo American”.

Yacine Fall- Host sister, 23. Yacine is quite the character. She doesn’t live in Keur Birima, but visits a few times a week from her home in Thies. Although she is 23, her personality is about 15, she is the first person to teach me swear words in Wolof, and is not afraid to chase off any small child that rubs her the wrong way. Also is the family’s fastest bissap harvester.

Talla Fall – Host Brother, 18. Talla is probably the most eccentric person I have ever met. He will walk into any room, with anyone in it and bust out some cheesy rap line, do a full 180, then walk right back out. Talla is also one of the best football players I have seen, he can juggle a football almost indefinitely with his eyes closed. Talla apparently trained with a shovel in the art of war, I have seen him kill several mongoose (mongooses? mongeese? mongoosen? mongoosi?) and one of those Saharan monitor lizards at distances up to 20 meters by throwing a shovel at it.

Adama Fall- Host sister. Ada, for short, is 16 years old and acts like it. She’s not afraid to argue with anyone anywhere about anything. She’s also super nice and outgoing and can commonly be found singing at the top of her lungs with her earbuds in. Ada is also one of my English students at school. On one of the days I wasn’t working at school the English teacher I’m working with taught Ada the phrase “I don’t care” just to mess with me. Now any conversation I have with Ada starts off with her yelling “I don’t care”, and we go from there.

Above was all of my nuclear family excluding one sister who lives in the city of Touba who I haven’t met yet. Beyond them are a seeming endless number of extended family members, here’s a quick introduction to a few of them.

Mathik Ndeye- Host sister-in-law, 28. Married to Aliou Fall, Mathik is so fun to hang around with. She is currently very pregnant, so she’s usually around the compound—whenever I’m bored, find Mathik. She explains things so slowly and carefully in a way so that I can understand all of the jokes she makes, usually at someone else’s expense. Once she staunchly defended that I was a member of the family and not some random white guy living here, I appreciated that. Is not afraid to bust out a dance move even with a very large baby-bump. 

Noguaye Fall- Host Niece, 3. Daughter of Mathik and Aliou, Noguaye is the cutest human on this planet. I believe about half of the photos I’ve taken in Senegal are of Noguaye. Noguaye and I have created quite the little bond, she always runs screaming toward me whenever she sees me, and cries when I have to leave, and always asks when I’m coming home. I think in April I might just slip Noguaye into my suitcase and run off with her (heads up mom and dad).

Fallou Njaye- Host Niece, 4. This kid is the bane of my existence. Not an hour goes by where some form of tantrum is thrown. I’m writing this at 8:21 am and we’ve already clocked one in. The most predictable tantrum always occurs at lunchtime when he doesn’t get a spoon because he’s a younger kid, this usually ends with him crying the entirety of lunch until someone with a spoon is done, then Fallou takes it. He once hid my sandals and wouldn’t even tell my host dad where they were, the whole compound was looking for them for a solid 30 minutes before we found them—about 100 yards from the compound in a thorn bush. The worst thing about Fallou is that he also is one of the cutest little kids. Yes, I can get very mad at Fallou at times, but never for very long. Since I started this paragraph he’s started crying, you feel me now?

Fatou Toure- Host Aunt, 35. Fatou is so nice, every time she sees me she is always smiling and practices the full formal Wolof greeting with me. Fatou is usually seen with her daughter Astu. She is always asking me when the next time I’m having guests over, I asked her why and she said she just loves seeing foreigners speaking Wolof. She also is a strong advocate of my ataaya making skills.

Astu Coumba-  Host Niece, 2. Astu is the second cutest human on this planet and takes up the other half of the photos I’ve taken while in Senegal. She always follows Fatou around but she can’t yet walk fast enough, so she has to run, which is the funniest and cutest thing to watch. She once stole my toothbrush, I found her using it as a drumstick.

Ibou & Babacar Cisse – Host Nieces, 8 and 10. It’s impossible to separate these two in real life, and I don’t think I can do it writing either. These two have the closest bond between any brothers that I have ever seen. The two of them seem to run about 70% of the farm during the wet season, but now are going to school five days a week. In the evening I’ll usually find them practicing French together, or the English numbers 1-10 that I taught them. These two are literally inseparable. One thing about Senegal is that smacking children is still a common disciplinary practice; once while Babacar was getting smacked for some reason, Ibou, the younger brother, threw himself in front of Babacar and took a smack for him. These two are together for life.

Ablaye Gaye- This cool teacher that lives in my compound, 22. Senegal has a huge problem with a lack of teachers, so some teachers have to move and live in a different areas during the school year to cover the gaps, Ablaye is one such teacher. First of all, Ablaye is one cool dude; he works at the same school as me teaching Algebra. Although Ablaye is a teacher during the ten- minute passing period he usually is playing football, or listening to rap with some of his students. Since he is already a teacher he is great at teaching me Wolof in exchange for me teaching him English, we practice every night. He also has a chicken farm which I wasn’t aware of until after the first month I knew him. Consistently denies that I neither have a girlfriend or a wife, in some cases he will answer yes for me, which can considerably complicate things for a new Wolof speaker.

Pierre Faye- Language Tutor, 48. If everyone in this world was like Pierre it would be a better place. Pierre is so energetic and outspoken and passionate about so many different things. He is FLUENT in EIGHT LANGUAGES, and he says each language he has a different personality. So it makes sense that he is an actor in Spanish, politician in French, philosopher in Latin, comedian in Wolof, and humorously nihilistic in English.  During classes Pierre has a few select sayings: “I hate myself” he uses when his phone rings (or any stimuli), “You will kill me” he says when we are really understanding the lesson in Wolof, and “it’s just like… killing a culture” when we’re really butchering the Wolof lesson.

Sweetie- random stray dog. Although sweetie is not related to anyone in my family, it feels like she is. She just lives in Keur Birima living off of mongooses (yeah that one sound right) and leftover Ceeb u Jen. Since Keur Birima is not on the main road, I have to walk about ¾ of a mile to the main road to hitch a ride into town; every time I do this Sweetie walks right alongside me. When I return home later in the day, she’s always waiting for me just outside my compound. One day I was making the eight-kilometer, sandy sludge to Nick’s village and Sweetie started following me. She followed me five kilometers until I got to the small village of Keur Njuxaan. Some people invited me into their compound, after a nice conversation I walked out of the compound carrying two more watermelons than when I had entered, only to see Sweetie sprinting off in the distance. I was heartbroken. I had really begun to enjoy Sweetie’s company. Not even two watermelons could fill the gaping hole in my heart. That hole was gaping all day, until I returned home later that evening; and Sweetie was waiting for me right outside my compound. She had found her way back, 10 kilometers roundtrip.

                 My family is so much more extensive and fun in person than I could hope to ever put into writing. Needless to say at this point, I’m never lonely, never unhappy, and never, ever hungry.

Erik Oline