September 19, 2013
In the US, my commute to school consisted of one mile of driving through neighborhoods and seventeen miles of driving on the freeway. In those seventeen miles, I would whiz through three different cities, passing countless numbers of houses, people, and businesses, all of diverse backgrounds. Yet of those seventeen miles, all I ever saw
were the sterile office buildings lining the freeway and the cars that surrounded me, occupied by businessmen and women commuting into the city for work, who were narrowly focused on the road ahead of them.
In the city of Dakar, where I’ve spent the past month in language and cultural classes, my commute to school has been an altogether different experience. When I leave my house, I pass my neighbors hanging laundry to dry next to an enormous baobab tree with large, white hanging fruits on which fruit bats feast in the evenings. As I pass the tree, I wind through narrow cobblestone and tile alleyways with tall and skinny houses on either side, greeting my neighbors as I pass by with “Asalaamaalekum!” – “Peace be with you!” After a minute, I reach the main road—bustling with life and energy. I pass a small boutique store where young men and women buy sugar for their morning tea. Under the canopy of several trees, women sit in large groups on woven mats, each with a baby either tied onto her back with colorful fabric or resting in her lap, as they roast peanuts and corn on small stoves, as well as dry ruby red hibiscus flowers in the blazing sun, to sell. Further down the street, I pass a bakery and the smell of fresh bread wafts towards me as I pass men carrying bundles of baguettes on their shoulders.
Next, I pass a majestic turquoise and white mosque, several fruit stands, tailors, boutiques, and groups of people sitting and talking. On that single street, over the course of my daily five-minute commute, I walk among street vendors balancing merchandise on their heads, men in full suits braving the heat for their walk to work, religious leaders, other students (both Senegalese and Americans studying abroad), children eating breakfast, and some children perhaps looking for their next meal.
Walking to school each day has allowed me to see my neighborhood in Dakar for the ground level—to slow down and appreciate the diversity of the people who make up where I am.
As I approach the point at which the road joins a main highway, I cross the street (all the while trying to dodge the cars, motorcycles, and taxis crowding the road) and make my way over to the bridge that spans over the highway. I climb the steps, and have a view of the highway traffic surrounded by a skyline of cinder block and concrete buildings, with cows, goats, and sheep grazing in the highway’s median. My school is just over the bridge, but I stop to think about all that I’ve just seen. Through my walk on this single road, I feel incredibly connected to the people in my community, even in a city with a population of over two million people. How many times have I passed my neighbors in the US without greeting them? How much have I missed of my home town by driving down the freeway each day without even a glance behind? I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to see the world with new eyes, both this year and beyond, as a result of the new experiences I’m having here.