Sandal Tan

Charlotte Benishek - Senegal


September 9, 2011

Every morning my sandals trace a path from my family’s house in SICAP Baobab to ACI (Africa Consultants International) where we have language and cultural training. I breathe shallowly, my eyes focused on the ground in front of me, keen on avoiding eye contact with those I pass. Oddly enough I didn’t even realize that I walked this way until today. I only noticed today because the walk this morning felt different. Suddenly I breathed normally, gazed up, and walked with purpose. This morning I was comfortable and confident. I think I’m adjusting to Senegal. From now on I will always walk with my eyes up. But all is not as comfortable or easy as my “morning commute” has become.

For example, due to my lack of French skills, I have yet to discover when my host famliy does laundry, meaning I have taken to washing my clothes in a bucket as I shower. Also, I still don’t know where to find change for a 10,000 CFA (20 dollar) note. If they’re in circulation, someone must accept them, right?? However, not all these challenges are “toubab (foreigner) specific.” For instance, right now I am sitting on my bed, writing by headlamp light due to yet another nightly power outage. This is clearly a lesser inconvenience for me than it is for the Senegalese, who have work to attend to, but from what I can tell, it has just become part of the rythm of life here. At home in the US, a power outage is a major event, but in my host family, it is expected — certainly a nightly occurance.

However, this first week has not only posed challenges. I can count a few victories. Firstly, I’m developing an excellent sandal tan. Also, I learned that I can bargain, an essential skill when purchasing anything in Senegal. The other day at the market other fellows bought fabric for 5000 CFA. I told the vendor I would pay 4000 CFA. When he told me that my friends all paid 5000 CFA, I (politely) declined his offer and left the shop. Later I bought some lovely fabric elsewhere for 3500 CFA. My frugality and stubborness have finally proven valuable skills!

 

Overall, day to day, I find a constant need to remind myself that I will be here for 7 more months, not just a matter of weeks. That thought both overwhelms and reassures me. I’m glad to be adjusting to Senegal, ever so slowly. Maybe by the time I depart in April I will be just as relaxed about power outages as the Senegalese. Oh, and I plan on sporting a permanant sandal tan.

 

Charlotte Benishek