While most of our time is spent in the Senegal’s capital, Dakar, CIEE provides an opportunity to experience what life is like outside of the city. According to the World Bank, around 23% of the population lives in Dakar. In order to have a fuller understanding of the country as a whole, it is important to see how the other 77% of the population live. Last week, we were sent all over the country to get a small taste of what life is like in a rural setting.
Before we left, we listened to a presentation of all the available sites and regions. We were given the choice of staying with a Peace Corps Volunteer or with a host family. After ranking our top three choices, the staff gave us our locations. Some of us were placed together and others were placed alone. This chance to get outside the city also provided us with opportunities to figure out the public transportation, ranging from night buses to cars to horse and cart. There was a seminar giving us the money for transport and explaining the route we need to take in great detail. CIEE did a good job of prepping us with survival language classes for regions speaking different languages, explaining what presents to take to our host families, and the warning to really not have any expectations.
Five of us were all going to the region of Tambacounda, approximately 460 kilometers away from Dakar. My friend, Fanessa, and I were placed together with a Peace Corps volunteer (PCV) in a village called Gouloumbou, 35 kilometers from Tambacounda. We ended up taking a night bus on a Saturday night, leaving at 8:30 pm and arriving at 5:40 am. It was a long journey to say the least. After resting some at the Peace Corps transit house, we met up with our PCV, Alex, and took a van overflowing with people to the village. Hospitality is highly valued in Senegal and his host family warmly welcomed us. The family consists of a father, two wives, and twelve children. There is not running water in the village. But, power lines were just constructed and turned on while we were there!
We were told to bring a book and expect to be patient and present in a different speed of life. Many people in our program experienced these long and slow afternoons. When it is over 100˚F, there is not a lot you can do besides sit in the shade. Fanessa and I experienced that to a level, but Alex did a good job of keeping us engaged and busy. One day we went and worked at the clinic, which is the best in the whole region. I was surprised when I was able to assist with prenatal consultations. Another day, we ended up biking the 35 km back to the city of Tambacounda for a meeting. Believe me that I encouraged us to pay the $2 to return to the village by bus. We visited another village and saw different agriculture, education, and health projects. Needless to say, it was a week full of learning about development (good and bad), attempting to speak Pulaar, being on the lookout for cold drinks, sitting on a brightly colored woven mat in the shade, and learning what life looks like for that community.
While my week in Gouloumbou was very short, it helped me to have a better comprehension of the saying “Senegal is not Dakar.” Senegal is the fast paced tempo of Dakar, but it is also quiet villages and small cities. It is a place of great diversity with around twenty different ethnic groups present (World Atlas). I am thankful that CIEE provided this time and integrated the rural visit into the program.