One of the things that I was most looking forward to coming to Senegal was the food. And, I love it! My mom told me that it has been said that Japanese people tend to enjoy Senegalese cuisine. The food does give me nostalgia for Japan—the tamarind sauce tastes like umeboshi!
I was fortunate enough to have a window seat on the hour-long bus ride to Dene, our first stop. The most striking feature of the view outside was the color—brightly painted buildings, women and men in beautiful clothes—even the vehicles themselves were often colorfully painted. Outside Dakar, the clay is a deep red under the grass, cacti flowers, and trees.
One of my favorite things about Dene was the beach. When we first arrived at our sandy compound, we were told that the sand was beach sand although we could not see the water. It was on the second full day that we finally saw the beach, heading out of the community through some trees and over dunes to arrive at the water. It spread out endlessly in both directions. We shared the beach with the occasional donkey cart and fisherman. Then for the first time in my life, I saw the sunset over the Atlantic.
My first impression of Dene was the mishmash of everything—people, food, and music. Everything was brightly colored, including the fabrics and the mats we sat on, along with the red clay roads unafraid to contrast with the bright green. People came up to us and conversed even though we didn’t yet know the language, though we managed to communicate through dancing, smiles, and broken phrases. Everything is shared: buckets for showers, bowls of delicious rice, fish, veggies, and sauce, and (sometimes, unfortunately) any item accidentally left behind in a common area. Each night sitting under the stars there was music and dance, the sound of drums blending with foreign, yet beautiful, words, filling the air.
When we first arrived in Dene, there were paratroopers running a drill a few miles away from us—as we helped to load our bags onto a cart, far off men in parachutes drifted to the ground. Later that day, we observed an evening prayer session, led by Babacar’s father, Myacine. He was in the front, playing the largest drums. As the drumming became more intense, first little kids, then grown-ups, would rise from their mats and dance in the center, improvising to the beats and the chants. At the night’s peak—the dance space filled, the drums thumping—the paratroopers joined us again, floating down from above. The sun was setting then too.
While all the meals we’ve shared so far have been delicious, the one that’s made the strongest impression on me these first few days has been breakfast. We take our breakfast box and spread the goodies in it—like chocopain, hibiscus jelly—over breakfast baguettes we pass around and tear apart. People pour each other hot water for tea or coffee, and everyone sits on a colorful mat waking up for the day. All in all, a pretty great start!
When I first stepped off of the plane in Dakar 4 days ago the first thought that crossed my mind was “The heat isn’t that bad.” Oh, how wrong I was. That first impression has since been corrupted by mornings waking up drenched in sweat and the welcome feeling of bathing myself in icy cold water. However, despite my first impression being remarkably wrong (to my great despair), every moment I have spent in Senegal since leaving the airport have been full of patient and welcoming people, bright colors, wonderful food, and children who take the time to correct and teach me, after they are done laughing at my cultural incompetence. It has been full of laughs and smiles with my cohort, the sharing of fruit snacks, and serenading each other late at night so we can have shower music. My time in Senegal so far has been overflowing with new friends and happy memories. I am experiencing new things every day, and I am excited for the abundance of new first impressions I have yet to form.
After a 13 hour flight, I found myself squeezed into a van full of our 9 month supply of bags. In spite of the rain outside, I was in awe of the beauty and vastness surrounding me. As a city girl, I don’t always have the opportunity to see fresh clay, palm trees, and horse chariots (I even got to ride a chariot today!). While riding in the van, we ate millet and yogurt, which was tasty and filling. Once, we reached Dene, the community embraced us. There were a group of children standing outside who came over to greet us. With the little French we had, we shared names and they ran up to hug us. When we reached Babacar’s family, his father and the community thanked us for being there. The village embodied the meaning of community: opening their homes, inviting us to observe prayers, and playing games with the kids. Each day we spent in Dene felt like several days in one and I enjoyed every moment of it. I am so excited for the destinations ahead!