“Time is this”

Rachel Teevens - Senegal


October 10, 2013

Since the last time I blogged I’ve travelled on two planes, I’ve lived with two host families and my life has been completely flipped upside down. I’ve known I was going to be living in Africa for months now but I was definitely not fully prepare for everything I’ve seen and experienced.

Here I am a “toubaab” (Wolof word for Westerner). Walking to school I stand out like a flamingo in a flock of penguins. I get looks from  practically everyone. I sometimes even think the goats are staring at me, almost as if even they can tell I am different. Theres so much here that is different from home. The past five weeks all I’ve been doing is adjusting. I’m learning 2 new languages, getting used to the constant power outages, eating new foods, keeping myself as clean as possible during the city-wide water shortage, trying to figure out how to properly hand wash my underwear, avoiding the heat at all costs, all while trying to take in a whole new culture. I’m like a baby here. Filled with awe and curiosity. Learning how to do basic skills and exploring the whole new world in front of me, filled with questions about it all.

My daily routine in Dakar consists of 2 hours of language class in the morning and then 2 more hours later in the afternoon. The rest of the day is filled with seminars about culture or Global Citizen Year matters, meals with my family around the bowl, or hanging out with my fellow toubaabs before we all have to say goodbye and go to our sites spread throughout Senegal. My site is in Tivaouane. Its a town north of Dakar of about 55,000 people. We visited our sites for one week before we stay their permanently and I got a chance to see the town and meet my family. I live in a compound with my rather large family. I believe I have a total of 4 sisters, 2 brother-in-laws, 1 mom, 9 nieces and nephews ranging in age from 2 to 16, and visitors constantly in and out. In Tivaouane I will have the opportunity to work at a primary school, a health center, and maybe work in local government along side my mom, who is deputy mayor.

One thing that stood out to me during my week visit to Tivaoune was when I met a 21 year old student, Mouhamed, who spoke some English. After 6 days of only communicating in Wolof (which by the way I had only began studying 2 days before leaving for Tivaoune) I was more than pleased to be able to communicate with someone in full sentences. And when he offered to show me around Tivaoune I gladly accepted the offer since I had been spending a lot of my time just sitting in my bed. I was really excited to finally get out there and do something. He showed me his grandmother’s house and his friends’ houses and he pointed out things for me as we walked by. Then Mouhamed eventually brought me to his house and introduced me to his friends. So it was me and 7 twenty-something year old Senegalese guys in a small room making tea. Since only 2 of them spoke English they were all speaking to each other in Wolof. They laughed a lot and it was obvious that some of it was at my expense. I got uncomfortable rather quickly and was ready to go hide in my room again. But since I am still unfamiliar with the town I needed to wait for Mouhamed to finish his tea. He told me 5 minutes but I will tell you that 5 Senegalese minutes is not the same as 5 American minutes. I kept checking my watch, without even noticing I was doing it, until Mouhamed called me out.

“You always look at time. Always ever since we left house you check the time again and again.”

I just did my go-to answer of “waaw” (yes in Wolof) and a goofy smile. Then finally Mouhamed’s English speaking friend asked me,”What is America like?” I couldn’t find the words to answer because:

1.) I was feeling too overwhelming awkward and shy to even think straight and

2.) Its such a vague question with a million answers I wasn’t sure what they wanted to hear.

Then he answered his own question with a better answer then I would have ever come up with even if I was thinking straight

“In America time is money. But here time is this. Making tea with friends.”

Spot on. I was suddenly embarrassed for checking my watch so often. Coming from the life of an American high school student I am so time oriented because I’m so used to juggling a hectic schedule. My time needed to be spent efficiently or it would be considered wasted. But in Senegal life slows down. They don’t measure the value of  minute by how much you can get done. They find value in time spent with good company in a small concrete room, siting on the floor, having some good conversation and good laughs.

Once we were finally leaving Mouhamed asked me, “How was that?”. I replied, “Good.” And he said, “Just good? Oh for me that is wonderful!”

Despite my own discomfort I could tell that this was clearly a favorite activity for these boys and probably many other residents of Tivaouane. And since I am now a member of the Tivaouane community I’m sure it’ll be “wonderful” for me too one day.

For anyone interested in sending me letters my address is:

Rachel Teevens

Global Citizen Year

BP 95

Tivaouane, Senegal

West Africa

I’ll gladly accept letters from anyone! And I will do my best to reply! Letters can take a while but I won’t have easy internet access soon so its my only option!

Before finishing this post I need to give a shoutout to everyone who has helped and supported me up until this point. Thank you to everyone who donated to my summer campaign. Thank you to my friends and family who I miss so dearly. Thank you to my Senegal cohort and staff for helping me through all the tough times here. Thank you to my host family in Dakar for being so welcoming and kind. And thank you reader for reading all this. Jërjëf!

Rachel Teevens