Michaela Kobsa-Mark

March 23, 2011

A post written in October…

As my first month’s supply of malaria medication comes to an end, I am becoming aware that I have been living in Senegal for almost a month. I’ve been living in Senegal for a month, and I still cannot make up my mind how this change has warped my perception of time. I don’t remember the beginning all too well. (To me the past is a two-dimensional plane of memories pressed upon memories; I have to think intensely in order to pry them apart) I am intimidated by the future (I will be working on economic development with a group of female artisans, Les Dynamiques Femmes). I really don’t know how long I feel I have been living here. But then, does it really matter? In the U.S., we put such an emphasis on time: “Class starts at 7:30, sharp.” “Time is money.” Here in Senegal, Time just is.

Since it’s almost the end of my stay in Dakar (and almost the beginning of my apprenticeship in Joal) I figured it’s time to be sentimental . I wish I could describe Senegal in a few sentences that would make you feel as if you were living here. I can’t. I can attempt to give you some generalizations (the heat, food, friendly people), but I’d hate to sound like a travel brochure. Instead, I invite you to  experience some of the smaller, but more profound experiences I’ve had.

1. The rusty odor of the Senegalese tap water, dropping onto my shoulders and running down my back as I take my shower. This water, laden with bacteria, is poison to the non-locals. I reach my tongue out anyway and I take a few illicit sips.

2. The sound of silence after I unplug the fan. I don’t feel the change in temperature until the old heat pours over me, quelques minutes après.

3. The echoing calls of prayer emanating across the street from a loudspeaker in front of the abandoned stone building.

4. Staring at the tiled floor of my bedroom and thinking “this is now”, then remembering: the first time I thought these words and reveled in their profundity was in third grade, in a tungsten-lit classroom. My idea of time being a terrifying unstoppable force, steadfastly marching on, began then.

5. I remember walking past the hospital late at night, and everything seemed wrong. I smiled at a family, but they looked past me. Something flitted by me- a person? But it was nothing.  Then the brights from a car behind me hit against two walking men. For only a second, the light rendered them into dynamic shadows that expanded and contracted on the tree in front of me.

6. My little four-year-old dimpled monster of a brother turning around whilst calling me a “Putin! (Bitch)” and then proceeding to spit at me. My palms, rigid, yearning to make contact. All because I didn’t have the money to buy him a bag of chips.

7. The endless “borrowing” of money, and the sharing of every single orange, mango, sweet that comes into my mother’s hands. What my family members have in common is that they don’t have money, but they deal with that setback in different ways.

8. The Asalaam Maalikum-MalikumSalaam-Nungadef-Mangifirek-Anawakerga-Nungafas with the candy peddler, the peanut woman, the half-blind woman on the curb who extends her concave hands to me.

9. The half-joking “Don’t let the boys charm you”, followed by the boys’ sincerest and rather frantic assurances that they were all international, had no intentions at all of charming me, and needed to talk to me more because international people like us need to spend time together. I walked home laughing, in a wonderful mood.

10. The “Hello! It’s been a while” (We’ve never met.) “How have you been?” (Mangifirek, as always) “What’s your name?” (Shouldn’t you know this?) I give my Senegalese name anyway. It feels like I’m giving him an alias, and I walk off, triumphantly.

11. The simple pride I take in becoming comfortable with my Senegalese bathroom. I  manually flush my own toilet by filling a bucket with shower-water and then dumping it into the toilet, and it doesn’t even faze me anymore. Let’s just say, I’ve come a long way.

Michaela Kobsa-Mark