Greetings from Dakar! It is hard to believe that I have already been here for one week. Dakar, the capital of Senegal, is home to approximately 3 million people. The past week has been an opportunity for my classmates and myself to get oriented to this new culture and this bustling city. There have been many new things to get adjusted to, from dodging horses, taxis, buses, and people on the walk to school to knowing where to buy prepaid phone minutes. In this time of adjustment, it has been important for me to give myself grace.
Family dynamics can be complicated to navigate within the same culture. My host family is extremely kind and generous. But, there are moments that I don’t know when or how to engage in conversation. Most people speak French, but are more comfortable with speaking Wolof. While I can participate in French conversation, I typically just smile and nod when people begin to talk in Wolof. I have had to focus on the good interactions and the small successes in forming relationships, choosing to celebrate when I have a conversation about development in Senegal with my host mother or laughing about one of the favorite soap operas.
Both the Senegalese culture surrounding food is different from my cultural background. Morning starts with tea and a delicious baguette. A large meal is eating in the earlier afternoon. This typically consists of rice or couscous with some type of stew. It is served in one large plate on a mat on the ground. People gather around and eat the portion that is in front of them. Dinner is light and is eaten late, around 9 or 10. The food has been good. But as someone who usually goes to bed early, it has been difficult learning to eat around the time I tend to go to bed. In adjusting to this new schedule, I have to remind myself that everything takes time. I mostly said this to myself while eating cookies in my room after an interesting dinner.
Simply getting around this busy city and my neighborhood is very different from getting around at Wofford. I walk about fifteen minutes from my family’s home to the CIEE center. My options to get around the city are four different types of buses- that are cheap but very involved- or a taxi, requiring some bartering skills. I had to give myself grace this morning in trying to find an English speaking church. What I thought was going to be a thirty minute walk with a friend turned out to be a fifty minute walk by myself. It was intimidating to try and figure out where I was going, but I did it. I ended up meeting a woman who grew up in Greenville, SC and is going to show me later this week where to get some grits in Dakar.
My classes begin today, but my orientation is not over. I can only imagine what the next four months will hold: good, bad, challenging, language learning, getting lost, becoming confident in transportation. As the different layers of Senegalese culture begin to unfold, I have to give myself and my American classmates grace in our adjustment.
This is the view from the top of the building where I am taking classes.