Earlier today as I sat on a stool just outside the entrance to the kitchen, here in my new home in Sebikotane, sifting rice, I thought back on our arrival yesterday that already felt so long ago. Sifting rice is a good thinking activity. You let the sand-like white grains run through your fingers as you scan the bowl for little black bits – black grains or little beetles – and you pick them out and flick them away, like picking through your thoughts, gathered and flowing. You look up at the blue sky from time to time and breath in the Dakar-smog-free air.
I thought back to the incredible/craziness of jumping in a van to be driven off to my new home for the next six months. I wondered why I didn’t feel anything out of the ordinary, but most of all I wondered vaguely about how its possible that after having already come so far, learned so much and started to settle down amongst my new surroundings, its time to start over.
After our first month in Dakar we GCY fellows were being moved to our rural homestay and apprenticeship locations. Matt, Ananda and Alec would be staying in separate villages in the rural community of Sangalkam; while Hilary, Victoria and I were being sent to the town of Sebikotane, slightly farther from Dakar, past another city called Rufisque. The towns we drove through, basically urban sprawl of Dakar spotted by patches of green, became more and more sparse with time. The pattern of concrete walls spotted by windows and doorways, tigo and orange signs (cell phone service companies) and store fronts (mostly boutiques, tailor shops and butcher stalls) blurred past and suddenly the van pulled over. Down this sandy alleyway, through this curtained doorway, into this unknown space and not any other, any of the million others.
Alec was the first to be dropped off, and then Ananda at the Turtle Village, and then we went to visit Matt’s possible homestay house, although he wasn’t allowed to go in yet because Rachel, Babakar and Umoul still needed to evaluate it. Sitting in the air conditioned van while we waited for the adults to return, Matt examined the concrete wall with enthusiasm. A greyish beige, traces of grafiti, red shutters framing a few small windows. There were grassy cat-tail looking things growing out of the row of rocky ground between the wall and the road. Matt smiles in that big dreamy way that he can and says ‘that cynderblock right there, that’s it. That’s what I’ve been waiting for, that’s the one.’ I smiled too but somehow couldn’t quite feel the same confidence. The openendedness that I had felt for the past month, few months, year even, to end right here, this cinderblock or that one, this doorway or the next, was a lot to grasp.
And yet here I am now, a guest in the house of Anna Bengue, sifting a bowl of rice that I will probably be sifting for months to come. It’s only been a few days, but so far I think I can say for sure that this is the most difficult homestay I have ever entered ( and I’ve been through quite a few counting last summer) – entering the backstreets of a town that so rarely sees foreigners and a family that has never received a foreign guest. You become conscious at once of how small you are in this entire other world, and yet at the same time of the ripples that one small stranger in this pattern of life that is so habitual and constant, can make. By just walking through the town, sitting with people in their homes, eating their food.
But in the moments when I don’t feel overwhelmed by people greeting me and trying to talk to me in a language I don’t understand and laughing at my enthusiastic attempts to answer, when I can sit back and observe, I can see a fascinating place of depth, richness of tradition that I’m sure I will learn to love. Sebikotan neexna, I always repeat to people, meaning ‘I like it here!’ That’s just one of those useful phrases I’ve learned to say that people expect to hear, but really, that one is true!