The Running of the Toabab
After my umpteenth bowl of chebujen, nature called and said I needed to exercise. In an effort to compensate for my ever-expanding belly, I elected to go for a jog, planning to run to the closest neighboring village.
I was a mere half mile from Ndioukhane when I approached the village, seeing a group of kids just over the dirt road horizon. Upon arrival, the kids – ages two to ten – stood there dumbfounded at the site of me, a real-life “Toabab” (foreigner in Wolof). After attempting to communicate in broken Wolof, the kids warmed up to me and insisted “Ñu dem!” (Let’s go!).
So as I turned around to head home, the bright-eyed, screaming kids chased after me, shouting “Toabab dox!” (Run!). Surrounded by these loving local youngin’s, it felt like a Senegalese-style Running of the Toabab!
The rain is always a refreshing break from the heat. A few days ago, it fell hard. Mist swept in sideways from the windows. I joined Emmanuelle outside, if a little hesitantly. We danced with the children, played under the gutter, and after a few seconds, we were soaked.
Throughout the whole trip, we have been encouraged to push out of our “comfort zone” and into our “learning zone” but not too far as to venture into the dangerous “panic zone”.
I’m not going to lie; walking out to spend the night alone with a rural Senegalese family put me at borderline panic zone.
Within the first 10 minutes of sitting and trying to communicate with my homestay Dad in broken Wolof/French, I hear children shrieking nearby.
I look up to see an old woman swinging around a bat the size of a fox.
The screaming I heard was a mix of the children’s thrill and fear as the swinging bat made passes by them.
Most members of the family were chuckling and shaking their heads at the old woman’s actions.
Oddly enough, seeing this actually helped to push me away from my panic zone.
While every family might not have a literal “bat lady”, it felt familiar to me that this family accepted and loved every member-despite their quirks and differences.
”Ana wanak bi”
For the past two nights we have each been living with different host families in Ndioukhane. Before we went to homestay for the first time in Mouit we learned the basic vocabulary we would need to know, mostly just one important question: Ana wanak bi? Where is the bathroom? I unfortunately forgot the importance of this question when I was with my family yesterday and didn’t remember until 1 AM when everyone was sleeping and I had no idea where the bathroom was. I wandered around the compound in the dark for a while stoping when I got to the long field of goats, donkeys, and horses. I could not find the bathroom. Right when I was losing hope I spot this small shed in the back corner of the goat field. In the light of my headlamp I make out the outline of a squatty potty through the open door. I had to walk through a goat field in the pitch black at one in the morning but I now will never forget the importance of “ana wanak bi?”
Bridge Year Senegal participants are required to sleep under a mosquito net every night in-country – which, considered abstractly, is of course an eminently reasonable requirement… but to put it into practice is a little more demanding, as the Mombasa Bug Hut Pro Top 2 tent, which all this year’s participants purchased and brought with them to Senegal, does sometimes appear to have been designed with two goals in mind: the minimization of ease of assembly and the maximization of new and creative methods of swearing in the user’s language of choice. When staying with my homestay in Ndioukhane two nights ago, my homestay father and mother insisted, despite my protestations and the quickly growing pit in my stomach, that they would help me to set mine up. You can imagine the scene for yourself, but suffice it to say that I felt pretty embarrassed and pretty bad, since the whole thing took somewhere around 30 minutes and I knew I was taking time away from their evening and their sleep. But, after a little more reflection, I first realized that the situation had to have been as absurd for them as it was for me, and at no point did they act like they were frustrated; it was just something I’d imagined. Really, thinking back on it, they were more than happy to help – and I’m grateful for it.
“head. shoulders. knees and toes…”
For the past two days we have been back in the classroom, this time as the teachers. Forty kids ages 2-12 are packed into a classroom, the eight year olds have the two year olds on their laps as Paige and I stand at the front trying to teach the body parts in english via song and dance. To be honest, it was chaos. I left class feeling pretty unsure that we’d accomplished anything other than entertaining the mass of kids who are so happy to laugh at us no matter what we do. When I got to my home stay later that night, I recognized some of my many students from earlier that day who immediately started singing and dancing, showing off what they learned that day. As I sat with my family drinking Attaya, I was greeted with the occasional “toubab fecc” followed by a slightly slurred rendition of “head shoulders knees and toes”.
Best spot for breeze
Sitting out the homestays from the past few days due to a classic old-fashioned cold, I’ve spent most of my time hanging out in the entryway of our giant unfurnished group house. Through a careful trial and error process, I’ve determined the single spot to sit that will allow for the maximum amount of breeze. While the last few days haven’t been the most exciting of the trip, having my experience slowed down a little has given me a chance to relax and regroup. I’ve been learning to be appreciate of whatever I do have, rather than focusing on what I don’t; even if most of the day is hot and sweaty, I can still be incredibly grateful for the cool breeze that comes at evening.