Thoughts on Thiaba


Senegal is a strange place. After living in this new land for just over a month, I wish I could say I have it figured out. With no more questions, I wish I could say that I have conquered this land, my new home. 

But everyday I wake with a loose plan for the day, and the more I do, the more undone I seem to become. Every sight and every sound fills me with renewed wonder and new thoughts. 

These are just a few of these thoughts—

Upon my departure to San Francisco, Global Citizen Year created a set list of tasks necessary for departure. A mild mix of eagerness and GO-GETTER-ATTITUDE  left me completing most tasks in early June to July.  I enthusiastically applied for a passport renewal, printed insurance forms, and placed all my ducks in a row. Yet my usual tendency to procrastinate also found its place, and in mid-August I was sitting at my mothers desk watching videos on how to create this very blog.

Pages upon pages of diary entries, journalistic exposés of social issues, and scans of detailed drawings were exemplified. I quickly planned to make my second blog post a photo essay summarizing the ten family members that had been sent to me via my site matching. I planned for a seemingly easy and original blog post, one that hardly required much energy. But as you can see, this is no simple photo essay. 

As stated above, Senegal is a strange place. Keur Madaro, my village of nearly three-thousand, is strange. And most certainly, the Diouf family is strange. 

Within the first few minutes of meeting my new Senegalese family, I was promptly placed upon a random woman’s lap and renamed Thiaba Diouf. In a dark corner of my bedroom, I sat surrounded as the chant THIABA THIABA increased louder. It seemed as if hundreds of eyes were glued to me, watching, waiting for a single action to occur. “Jërë Jëf?” I said, questioning my limited Wolof vocabulary, yet still trying to thank the crowd— my new family— for the acceptance into their home. 

Via the site matching results sent in late August, I expected my father Talla, his wife Diakhere and ten children. Rather large but clear. A simple twelve seemed within the limits of what I could handle, but I soon learned that all of these expectant eyes were also my family. Although composed of aunts, uncles, second wives, cousins, and grandparents, there is no “extended” in Senegal. My cousins are my brothers and sisters. My uncles (and supervisor in the garden where I spend most mornings) are adamant I call them Pappa, too. Pappa Talla, Pappa Illy, Pappa Adbu, Pappa Cheikh Fall… just to name a few. This just exemplifies that Senegal, and especially Senegalese families are no where near linear. The infamous teranga includes not only tourists and visitors, rather everyone is treated as ones own. Beautiful, but adds tremendously to my confusion. 

Over a month into living as Thiaba and my mind is still cluttered with confusion. It seems as if everyday a new child wanders into our courtyard and stays for dinner. The question of who is this? is always answered with “Ah! [insert name here], your brother/sister!” I struggled with names in the United States, but learning traditional Wolof names is a whole other story. 

Over a month and I still do not know everyone in my family or understand the dynamics of the house.   

Just this morning I was washing my clothes in the back courtyard and I walked past two donkeys. At first unfazed until I paused and realized we don’t own donkeys. Not one and certainly not two. These untethered beasts must have just roamed in looking for a snack, and of course, our hospitality delivered. A few hours later they wandered back out and (hopefully) back home.


Odd instances such as this extend throughout Keur Madaro and presumably all of Senegal.

The other day I was walking on a quiet road near my house, and in the distance I swear I saw a lion. Initially filled with panic, I slowly crept closer only to find a shy, tan colored dog. Stupid, I thought, as I then began to question if lions even live in Senegal. This country will be my home for nearly a year, and yet I didn’t  even know if one of the deadliest predators known to man lives within its borders. 

A few days later, I reentered internet availability as I traveled to Khombole for my biweekly Wolof lesson. I quickly typed Senegal lion into Google’s search bar only to find that yes lions indeed do live in Senegal. In fact, next to the baobab tree, they are one of the most beloved national symbols. 

Huh, I thought, should have researched maybe a bit more before this endeavor.  But that is Senegal. Senegal is uncomfortable, trying and unexpected. Everyday, whether it’s the name of a new sister or word in Wolof, I am learning. I am growing. 

Over a month in and I have barely cracked into the depth of knowledge that Senegal has to offer. This terrifies yet unfazes me. Everyday Senegal seems to push and stretch me, yet only offers what she knows I can handle. And for that I am grateful. I am grateful for the wealth of knowledge and opportunity that only this lion-loving nation can offer. 

Yet still, there is no denying. Senegal is very strange.