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Photo by Elke Schmidt, Senegal Bridge Year Program.

Finding a Rhythm

I am writing this Yak sitting at the program house, drinking some cold water out of the fridge as it is about 33 degrees Celsius outside. I am used to the Celsius scale and I am glad that they also use it here in Senegal. I thought it was about time that I wrote a Yak, just for the sake of it. While I enjoy writing, most of what has been happening around me is very new and I want to make sure I understand it a little before writing about it. This might seem like a typical Yak, a Yak about the routine of a participant. However, one of my realizations in my short time here in Senegal has been how weak the word “normal” is. By this I mean that it only takes a sudden change in things to make us realize how what is normal for us might not be for others, and vice versa. So, I invite you to read what has become normal in my life…for now.

For these past few days, what I have been trying to figure out is a rhythm, the rhythm of my new life here in Senegal since it still seems surreal. Just looking out the window, I still find it hard to believe that I am actually here. However, I knew I was ready to Yak about this when after about a week, I started to be able not just to do activities in my daily routine but also to reflect upon the things I did. I know it means a lot to the families when a participant writes a Yak (although my folks do not speak English), so I will try to be as descriptive as I can when writing this Yak to give whoever might read this a sense of what is going on. It takes me about ten to fifteen minutes to get to the program house, an apartment in Yoff that we all share as Bridge Year participants where the language classes are hosted, because my house is one of the farthest from the program house. It is located near the hectic, busy market area of Yoff, the neighborhood where we live. Something I definitely have not gotten used to is the sweltering heat here in Dakar. On a normal day, I have to go to the program house twice: once in the morning to meet with the group and head out to explore Dakar as we get get a better sense of the city, and once in the afternoon for language class. Depending on what time of the day it is, I vary the route to try and get as much shade as I can from the not-so-tall houses while I walk through the sandy and narrow streets of Yoff. Nevertheless, no matter what I do, I am unavoidably sweaty when I arrive to the program house. Walking a long distance has its advantages too. I enjoy talking to Zandra and Sophie on our way back from the program house as we share stories from our homestays; they also live near the market area and share the same struggle when it comes to walking in the heat of Dakar. But my daily routine starts much earlier than the trips to the program house. I wake up in the morning and after showering and getting dressed, I go to the boutique at the corner of my street to get breakfast. I live in a somewhat big compound with about four houses around the main courtyard. Everyone living in these houses in the compound is somehow related, and in my house alone I live with fourteen other people whom I proudly call my family. My mother gives me money to buy half a baguette with chocolate spread in it. When this is not the case, she tells one of the ladies who lives in my compound and owns a breakfast stand, called a “Tanga-na,” to lend me money. When this happens, I buy breakfast from this kind lady with the same money she gives me because I feel like betraying someone in my family (although I do not know my relationship to her) if I do not. She smiles at me and I walk away.

After our morning session, we go back to our respective houses for lunch where a delicious bowl of ceebu jen (rice and fish) might be waiting. What I do after lunch ranges from playing with my homestay brothers to going out with Nicole and buying stuff that she needs for her hair. I have become an expert of the benefits of shea butter just from hearing her talk about it. We have language class at four so I leave my house a little bit earlier to open the program house since I have been entrusted with the key. Often, Ben will also come a bit early to do part of his laundry; I know he has a hard time removing stains from his clothes but I am sure he is starting to like handwashing stuff. I find Wolof a very interesting language because it reflects much of the lifestyle here in Senegal. For example, there is a verb that means to go back home: ñibbi. It makes me think of how Senegalese people care so much about family that they’ve created a specific word for going back home. It is around six and Henry and I get ready for what is always an intense work out with Mamadou, Babacar (our on-site director)’s son. We might go to the beach or to a nearby gym that charges about a dollar for when you use it. The runs on the beach are my favorite because sometimes, when we run west we can see the setting sun and when we run east we see the rising full moon.

I get home exhausted and that is good because it guarantees me a good night’s sleep. Things are starting to fall in a set schedule, in a predictable pattern that allows me to be more prepared for when they happen. People, more specifically street vendors, say hi to me on my way back as they also start to notice my routine. However, no matter how hard I try, I still cannot predict when the feeling of homesickness will strike, and when it does, it comes with an inevitable feeling of loneliness. Fernanda helps when this happens because I can speak Spanish with her and that makes it a bit better, though not entirely. I have found a way to lessen this feeling and to use it in a positive way. The boutique at the corner of my house sells lollipops, but not any kind of lollipops, Colombian lollipops. I do not know how these lollipops got here, but I am really glad they did. They remind me of home and whenever this homesickness strikes, I just go to the corner of my street, buy a couple of lollipops, and give them out to the kids in my house. I sit and watch in silence as the kids around me enjoy the lollipops without knowing that by doing this, I am sharing a bit of my home country with them. In this moment, despite our differences, I feel back home for a brief but necessary moment.