Laura Hyde is a junior in International Studies focusing on Africa and a French Major with a certificate in Women and Gender Studies. For fall 2011, Hyde is studying in Dakar, Senegal in West Africa. Below are some of her experiences abroad.
I came back last Saturday from a week long stay in the city of Kaolack. This is a part of our program’s formerly titled, “rural visit.” The name has been more recently changed to “Discovering life in Senegal” since not everyone has a very rural experience. Many students spend the week shadowing Peace Corps Volunteers, or they go through an NGO and stay with a host family (many of which don’t speak French or Wolof). I went to APROFES (Association pour la Promotion de la Femme Sénégalaise) headquarters in Kaolack. And while I originally thought that I would be leaving Kaolack for a smaller village (as did some of my peers who also went through APROFES), I stayed in Kaolack which is a fairly large city. Almost everyone in my family spoke French (and they all spoke Wolof), so I didn’t come across the challenges and obstacles I was hoping for in a more rural stay. The only real adjustment was the squat toilet and bucket shower, and since I’ve done camping trips for longer periods of time where we only washed up in the lake, it really wasn’t bad at all.
During the week I shadowed my host mom who was teaching women who had never before been to school how to read and write in Wolof, and also some math skills. It was a really great week of going to the market, cooking, and just spending time with my host family. My host sisters even braided my hair for me! Although only speaking French and Wolof turned out to be a tiresome task. It was a rewarding experience, but at times frustrating.
Even though Kaolack is a city, it is smaller than Dakar. My host family in Dakar has hosted American students for years, so I am not much of a novelty, but in Kaolack, I was quite a spectacle. Everyday when my mom and I walked 20 minutes to the school, at least 5 or 6 times per walk small children would run up to me and yell, “Toubab!Toubab! Bonjour! Ca va? Comment tu t’appelle?”In response my mom would always say that kids in Kaolack have too much free time. Which granted, little kids are adorable, but it wasn’t always small kids yelling this. I also spent a lot of time walking around the neighborhood meeting people (SO MANY PEOPLE!)with my family. Several times when I’d meet someone new, my host mom would tell me to dance for them and start clapping her hands: so I did. With choices between: make a fool out yourself and laugh about it with them or sit in awkward silence and not understand anything they’re saying, I choose the former. Being in Senegal with out a sense of humor= you’re screwed. I hardly ever hear a conversation in Wolof where no one laughs at some point. So when people repeatedly asked me to take them back to the states, I said I’d see if they could fit in my suitcase. When my host mom told me to talk to her son on the phone, and he asked if I was married, I said I had 2 husbands, he said he’d be the third and we all laughed. Being in Kaolack (more so than Dakar) I would sometimes get a feeling of people laughing at me versus with me. Maybe I’m being paranoid, but with people always bringing up the ways I’m different, there’s always the chance that they eventually want something from me (like when my host mom said that maybe I’d one day send her a ticket to the states). I know that almost everyone I’ve met here is a really genuine, friendly, and giving person, but never being able to feel like I really belong can be frustrating.
Overall great week! Now I’m back in Dakar preparing for Tabaski with the rest of the country. The city is overflowing with sheep. The tailors are overwhelmed with outfits to start and finish before Monday. Last Sunday I went to the market with my family. Granted, going to the market as a toubab is always overwhelming, but it was even more so since it was PACKED, and for me, a little chaotic. Everyone was buying last minute stuff for Tabaski, and lost of stores had speakers, and were playing music, I even saw women dancing on tables. Therefore, all the people who usually yell, “toubab-kaay!” now had microphones to yell it into. Everyone keeps telling us that the theft rate is much higher right before Tabaski since everyone wants to be able to buy a sheep.
Last Monday was Halloween, but as it turns out not a lot goes on in Dakar. The following day (toussaints) was a government recognized holiday though. A lot of students in the program made some really cheap costumes including: tourist, beach bum, pirate, justin beiber, Aladdin and Jasmine, more than one person dressed as a mouton, and my friend and I wore gray and white, stuck a large “S” and “P” on our shirts and called ourselves salt and pepper.
Happy belated Halloween everyone!
Discover this post and many others by Laura on her blog at: http://experiencesenegal.wordpress.com/