“Your homestay families have arrived to pick you up!” My stomach twisted and my palms became sticky with sweat as the group tightly cuddeled in a circle, trying but failing to imagine our first night in a home stay. On Monday, we had left Dene for our next stop – Thies, a vivacious city where we would be having our first homestay experience. Since I didn’t know how to speak Wolof, Pulaar, or French, I was clueless – how was I going to survive?
“Asalaa malekuum?” Dressed in a beautiful green traditional Senegalese dress, Xahi, my homestay sister, greeted me with an authentic smile as she tightly huffed me within her arms. Instantly, I felt as if we weren’t strangers and hadn’t come from two separate cultures. Suddenly, all the uncertainties and fear vanished.
“Ma … malekuum salaam,” I stammered to return the greeting, feeling grateful to Samba for the Wolof lesson. After greeting each other we headed to her house. It was a beautiful pink house with a courtyard in the middle. A few moments later, I realized that it wasn’t only Xadi who was extremely generous, but the entire family.
As soon as I had settled in, Mama Ly announced my new Senegalese name, Fatou Ly. They did not treat me as just a guest of the house, but part of the family. In a traditional Senegalese family, everyone plays a role. My role as the young one in the family was to go to the shop whenever the adults needed something – so I had plenty of opportunities to practice my Wolof. The homestay experience was truly inspiring. I would have never expected to experience so much generosity and sense of family from people that I only knew for four short days.