some days, they last longer than others

Victoria Tran-Trinh - Senegal


October 14, 2009

img_38421Semi-lengthy update!

This is a picture of my host cousins playing the kora for me. They played a mixture of traditional and love songs. Haha. I got offered many things, from new Senegalese husbands to drags off communal cigarettes. (All of which I refused, politely, of course.)

Home life: My host family is great and HUGE – there are tons of people in the house. My host sister just got married, so there are currently about 10 extra ladies staying here for the remainder of their holidays. Combined with my host brother’s many male cousins and the occasional uncle, most of whom visit so often they might as well live here, it makes for a lively household.

They all definitely have the prized value of Senegal known as teranga, or hospitality. The food is tasty and I’m adjusting to being a carnivore faster than I thought I would. I have my own room, but several ladies keep their things in the armoire and are constantly coming in and out. Privacy is definitely an oddity here, but I don’t mind at all because the women are all so friendly. I’m definitely still having difficulty communicating with my host mother, grandmother and aunts. I hope I learn quickly because the language barrier is a little frustrating. Which brings me to..

“School” life: The Baobab Center has been very helpful. Culture sessions are very interesting. We’re learning a lot of useful things about how to be culturally sensitive and how to look at a culture for its intrinsic value. Eating out of a communal bowl with one hand is harder than it sounds, especially when the food is very saucy and oily. It gets messy. Language classes in both French and Wolof have been wonderful. We’re concentrating on French, since we’ll be speaking mostly Wolof for the six months in our rural communities. Alec and I are both very hopeful that we’ll be speaking French somewhere in our communities, since neither of us had any French background. We both love the language and planned on taking it in college, so we don’t want to lose it by switching to mostly Wolof. I’m incredibly excited at the prospect of speaking two new languages.

Outside life: We’ve visited downtown Dakar a few times, including one day where we took a history walk. Every day except Sunday, there is an incredible amount of people filling the streets of Sandaga market and all the rest of the city. You can buy pretty much anything imaginable at the various markets of Dakar. We got to buy fabric in a store downtown and went to a tailor to get measured for some new, airy clothing. It’s hard to imagine that most of the bustling city as we know it came into existence only about thirty or forty years ago. The beaches are beautiful and we’re all tres excitee to go to one on Sunday.

We also visited the Parc de Hann, a national park with the only zoo in Senegal. My friends and family back home can easily guess how I felt about the zoo. There were many adorable animals, from lions and hyenas to my longtime favorite, capuchin monkeys, and all their cages were very small. It actually made me appreciate zoos back in the U.S. for the space and relative “freedom” they are able to give the animals. The greenery and botanical gardens, however, were beautiful and lush. It blew my mind to try and imagine that all of Senegal had once looked like that. Dakar is so urban now! We’ll see how the scenery changes when I move to the rural location on November 1st!

Victoria Tran-Trinh