Why I Want to Stay

Eleanor Ross - Senegal


February 10, 2020

Even though I’ve been in Senegal for over five months, I don’t want to leave. Even though my mom regularly texts me with the exact number of days until I’m home, I still don’t want to leave. And even though my dad just started making me homemade sauerkraut (trust me, it’s something to write home about), I still don’t want to leave. I’d be perfectly content staying here through the rainy season, or at least until the end of July when the mangos are ready. But the idea of the best mangoes in the world isn’t what’s making me want to stay– it’s my family here. So this post is dedicated to them. All 12+ of them. 

My family dynamic is pretty complex, mostly because I don’t know who exactly is my family or is just visiting. My house is a pit-stop for so many people that we even have a bedroom just for visitors. So while I could create a thesis-sized description of everyone who has ever come to my house and stayed the night, I’ll shorten it just for you all; I’ll only talk about the ones who have made Taiba Ndiaye my home. 

Before I continue, I want to clarify that I first asked my family members for permission to speak about them. Everyone included in the blog said they have no issues with being featured. 

So, I’ll start at the top! My yai, or my mom, is named Nogaye Lo. Quite simply, she is a firecracker. When I was given my family, all I was told was that she was a very loving, proud, and strong woman. Let me say, she lived up to those bullet-points. My yai is a constantly-moving queen, always entertaining and introducing me to someone new. Yesterday, I met at least three new relatives in the span of 30 minutes. And, yes, they all stayed the night. My bai, or dad, isn’t around the majority of the time as he lives in Dakar with his first wife, but when he’s around my house is poppin’. Honestly, my house is always the place to be. And that’s because of my yai. She was the first family I met here, and I can still remember the huge hug she pulled me into. And other than being my Senegalese mom, she has helped me with Wolof so much. When other toubabs, or foreigners, come to my house, none of them can understand her because of how fast she speaks. I had to learn how to catch up with her quickly, and I couldn’t use French as a crutch because she only speaks Wolof. So I learned words through charades, like when she had the four-year-old crawl on the ground to teach me the word “ram” or crawl. It’s moments like that that remind me how lucky I am to have her. 

One of my yai’s sons lives in the house with us along with his wife and three children. Technically, he is my brother, but, as he is at least 20 years older than me, he’s like my uncle. He works in Dakar from Monday to Friday, and he makes it clear when he’s back each weekend. I’ll hear “Ana Adja?” or “Where is Adja?” and, seconds later, I’ll scream back “Ali Lo, Mangi fi!” or “I’m here Ali Lo!” While he’s often gone, his wife lives in the house 24/7 and spends her days helping clean, cooking lunch, and working. She’s also a firecracker but in a different way. She’s like the teacher who you always want to please, and, when you finally do, you feel proud. She is a true force in the kitchen working for up to four hours to cook lunch– making meals that will leave you speechless. Like last night for dinner when we had her macaroni mixed with an onion, potato, and “yap” (meat) stew. And I was so thankful that there were only 6 people around the bowl because that meant I could stuff myself full.

Ndeye Amy Ndiaye and Ali have three kids named Moustapha, Pape Sidy, and Nogasse. Moustapha is 10 years old and he knows what he wants. When he’s playing with his friends outside our house, you can tell he is the leader. He’ll line his friends up in a single-file line and tell them to get ready to jump over the tire. And guess who rolls the tire? Moustapha. Pape Sidy just turned 7, and you can read every emotion on his face. He always wants people to hear him and all his new ideas, each of which he is very proud of. Recently, he picked up my book (the entire Hunger Games series in French– almost 2000 pages), and decided to start reading it from the end because… why not? Nogasse is the youngest and is always moving. She is four years old and the loudest, most energetic child I have ever met. She talks more than my cousin Amelia– and that’s saying something. Today I was grading papers, and she was just sitting in the corner of the bed singing and drawing lines and ovalish-circles in a textbook for over two hours. She doesn’t nap; she’s up at 7 every day; and she goes to bed at 10 or 11 every night. I need more sleep than her, and I’m no longer growing! For the first few months when I barely spoke any Wolof (all she can speak as of now), we played a game called Boop. In essence, I would poke her and say “Boop!” and then she would poke me and say “Boop!” While we still play Boop, we now spend a lot of our time singing Wolof songs and dancing. I really do love being able to spin her around singing the “Assalamualaikum song.” It just feels right. 

But the people I spend the most time with here are Nogaye Diop, Khady Diop, and Khady Lo. I know they will be the hardest for me to leave. Technically, none of them are related to my yai at all and just live here, but they are treated like her children. Nogaye Diop is even my yai’s “Trondeau,” meaning they share the same name. They are all around my age– 19, 18, and 17– and I’m so thankful for them. 

Nogaye Diop is the oldest and she is somehow shorter than me, which is a big and almost impossible accomplishment. If you have a question about anything, you go to her, and she will always know the answer. She’s a fantastic cook who I’ve been learning so much from, and she’s always singing the latest Senegalese song. She has her own room downstairs, but she is quick to give it up to one of the many guests who are coming in and out of our house. And, most importantly, she was the person I ran to when I sprinted out of my room after seeing 100+ cockroaches across my bedroom floor. 

Khady Diop is the one I will always go to hug. No matter what. I don’t know how it started, but she was the first one I really got to know, the first one who made the house into a home. She’s the one who can make me laugh at the drop of a dime, the one who is always studying and asking questions, and the one who is somehow always tickling me. To be honest, I probably started that. She’s the one who I run to at the end of the school day to hug or, if I get home first, the one who jumps on me when I’m on the couch as if we haven't seen each other for years.

Khady Lo wasn’t here when I arrived, but now I couldn’t imagine my life without her. She is the best attaya maker (shhh, don’t tell the others!), my trusty dinner pal, and the only one who will let me dance like a crazy person to my music without laughing too hard. She’s the one who I spend nights with as we slowly say words like “the” to get the “th” sound perfectly correct. And she’s the one who I attempted to teach yoga to, even if we ended-up both falling on our faces right as the GCY staff opened the door. 

My three sisters are my rocks here. It’s inexplicable how much the little things they do mean so much to me.

There are also three boys who are living here during the school year, a man who works in town and often spends the night, a woman who is around at least a week a month, and three men who are here most weekends. That’s excluding the non-regulars who I’m not even mentioning. 

While there are only 12 people who live here the majority of the time, there are never less than 14 people around the two lunch bowls. And I love the constant chaos– not knowing who I should know and who just stopped by to say hello on their way to Thies. I’m going to miss that feeling when I have to go back.


Eleanor Ross