This past weekend marked my first full month with my host family (only seven left!). It always surprises me how quickly the initial adjustment period can pass. Just days into my stay at Stanford (for Global Launch) and at the Tostan Training Center (for in-country orientation) I remarked, “It feels like we’ve been here forever.” Whatever friends I had around at the time would agree, and we’d reminisce about events that had basically just happened.
With a month however, there’s a certain legitimacy to my nostalgia. So let me share a favorite memory from each of the three places I’ve stayed:
On the third or so day, I went fountain hopping: an unofficial GCY tradition that takes advantage of the diversity and abundance of Stanford’s water features. We followed a carefully researched route that covered all the most swim/wade-able fountains. At each stop, my partner-in-crime (Carly from the India cohort) and I would hop in (I’d usually trip) and take a lap, high fiving as we passed each other. My roommate and another friend tagged along as “documentarians,” but we whittled them down for the final two. People may have questioned, What happened to you?, when we returned to the dorm building dripping wet, but we had no regrets. The legacy of that night—the perfect mix of spontaneity and preparation—is one of strange bruises and great friendship.
I will always remember this week for how quickly my roommate and I bonded through our numerous escapades: stargazing, dancing to ABBA, watching a flat earther documentary, consistently talking further into the night than intended. But there’s an obvious standout: After the first language class, we spent all our free time practicing Wolof together (Naka waa kërga? Nungi fa. Nanga def? Maangi fi.) under… a mango tree. With only weeks left in the season, we were beginning to wonder if we’d ever have a Senegalese mango. And this particular tree with its visible, yet unreachable fruit was a constant torment. At one point during our study session we spotted a group of kids and rushed over to practice Wolof with some native speakers. After essentially yelling basic greetings at these children (we may not have had mastery but—dammit—we had passion!), we returned to our mango tree. Just as we reached its shade a sudden crash interrupted our self-congratulations: a single mango had fallen inches to our left! We laughed at this perfect coincidence and ran amok celebrating our “gift from the gods.” Carelessly letting juice run down our chins, we took turns biting into the mango. Overcome by the simple joy of this divine intervention—we agreed that it was the best mango either of us had ever had.
Although I’d already been in Senegal for a week during rainy season (nawet in Wolof), I didn’t understand just how much it could rain until the day I left Tostan with my host mom (Adji) and sister (Ya Awa, 14). The downpour and accompanying lightning reached its peak during our ride home as I strained to see out my fogged-up window. Once the floodwater began to actually enter our cab, the driver decided that apparently it was time to pull over. After a good wait and (I’m pretty sure) a period of being rather lost, the car stopped right in front of Jaxal (juh-häll), my new neighbourhood—leaving us to navigate a landscape of miniature oceans and atolls. I followed my host sister’s path through the water, heartily rebuffing the offers of piggy back rides I received from two different men. My host mom brought up the rear of this strange procession, somehow balancing my entire fifty pound suitcase on her head. She, I distinctly remember thinking, is a strong woman. Once home, she showed me to my room, wrapped a colourful cloth around my waist, and clasped three bracelets to my wrist. I met my host dad (Amadou), brother (Pape Samba, 17), and another sister (Oumou, 13). Finally I received my name for the next eight months, Ya Awa (like a lot of other fellows I was named after a sibling which—trust me—gets confusing).