Upon our arrival in Yoff-Layenne, our home for the next eight months, our group is tasked with completing a scavenger hunt in our new neighborhood. We descend solo into the winding alleys to search and explore, equipped only with paper maps and the Wolof phrase for “I need to call my instructor (Beg naa woo sama jangalekat).” We spend the morning walking the major — and minor — roads of Yoff, familiarizing ourselves with the sandy streets and numerous sheep. I visit a tasty bakery and stroll through the bustling, fishy market. Eventually, it is time for me to check out the fishing scene at the beach.
I pass the bus stop, and as the water comes into full view, I fall in love. I opt to walk down the beach toward my next task; I meander, smiling, excited simply by the waves crashing against the beach.
Realizing I don’t actually know where to exit the beach and reenter the winding streets of Yoff-Layenne, I retrace my steps until I see a way out. Right next to the path is a bench, perfectly positioned to offer me an excuse to spend a few more minutes looking out at the ocean. I’m unable to get my fill of the sun sparkling on the perfectly blue water. Despite all my Google image searches of “Yoff beach,” nothing could have prepared me for the view in front of me. The water is classically beautiful, picturesque to the point of perfection. Colorful fishing boats line the sand; some are mere dots, far out on the water. The beach is crowded, as boys play soccer and men mend fishing nets. I can’t escape the feeling that I’ve been transported into a photo advertising the beauty of Senegal.
After a few minutes, I decide I should probably leave my bench to continue my quest (next up: find the murals of sacred figures outside the mausoleum and ask someone who they are). As I’m reluctantly walking away from the water, I pass by a small shop facing the sea. A few people are chatting outside; in customary Senegalese fashion, I smile and greet them as I pass by. Remembering that my goal is to get to know the neighborhood, I linger over the greetings. Less than a minute later, I am invited to sit with them outside the shop. I spent the next fifteen minutes talking with a friend of the shop-keeper named Mbaye Bé. We spoke mostly in French, with English and Wolof phrases interspersed whenever necessary.
We talked about the differences between the US and Senegal, about what our group will be doing in Dakar, about the importance of learning different languages, and about Mbaye’s music career (I listened to a YouTube clip of him singing with his sister — not bad!). Before I left, he welcomed me to Senegal and bid me return with friends.
I left smiling, in awe of how easily that conversation had come about and of how genuine my new friend had been when talking with me. The truth was, my entire scavenger hunt had been filled with the same friendliness. There was beauty in the beach, certainly, but there was also beauty in every street vendor who smiled at me, in every kid who ran up to shake my hand, and in every local who welcomed a curious toubab (foreigner) to their neighborhood. Beauty, be it evident or invisible, is part of the very nature of Yoff. I’m really happy that this is my neighborhood for the rest of the year.