I had a difficult time deciding on a topic for this post, spending the last two weeks reflecting on my last month and a half in Senegal. It made me realize that, more than anything I am grateful. I am thankful for the kindness of the Senegalese people, the care shown by my village, and the acceptance of my host family. This post features a three short stories that highlight my gratefulness.
About a month ago I was walking down a street in Dakar when an elderly man caught up with me. He greeted me in French, but quickly spoke English when I told him I only know English and Seereer. “Ah, you must be a Peace Corps Volunteer!” he exclaimed, a warm smile spreading over his face. I told him that I am indeed a PCV and we had a conversation about my work in Senegal, and my village. He asked me several questions, trying to understand why I had come and how I thought I could his country. At the end of the street he shook my hand saying, “thank you for helping us. Welcome to Senegal”, and turned down a side street.
This man is an incredible representation of all the kind people I have met in Senegal. Everyone is always excited to talk with me, I am constantly invited over for tea, and often invited to share meals with families. I am grateful for their kindness and friendship, both so easily given and similarly treasured.
Take Life by the Wings
The Seereer language group got together for a week long language seminar with a Peace Corps Language and Cultural Facilitator in my village. The morning found us in class, reviewing vocabulary and learning new grammar. The afternoons were reserved for field trips to friends homes, the fields, and my counterparts home.
One day we visited my counterpart, Oumi Ndour. She was selected by the community to work closely with me during my service. She supports me by helping me learn Seereer, providing invaluable advice and showing me around the village and its environs. On this day, myself and the Seereer language group were speaking with her, her family and her neighbors to practice the language. After several hours of chatter and tea making we rose to return home for dinner. To my surprise we were asked to wait for a moment: Oumi needed to bring us something. She went behind a hut and returned holding a chicken by its wings. She presented the chicken to me. “For your dinner, have your mother cook it.”
In my village a chicken is a tremendous gift. A chicken here is sold for 2,500 Central African Francs (CFA), which is about 5 or 6 dollars. While that may not sound like much, let me put it in perspective. A typical lunch at my house for 15 people costs 2,000 CFA ($4), including leftovers for an evening snack! I am grateful that Oumi values myself and Peace Corps enough to give us such a tremendous gift, in addition to all of her advice and patient Seereer help.
In January, I attended a baptism for a young baby in my neighborhood. Senegalese baptisms are incredible events, and oftentimes hundreds of people are in attendance. They include a special lunch and often dinner for all of the guests, copious amounts of tea, dancing, and lots of music. Further, it is tradition to give a gift to the mother to help support herself and the new baby. This day however I forgot my gift. After the communal lunch, my host mom needed to drop off my youngest siblings at home for the afternoon. I told her I would accompany her, as I needed to get my money from my hut for the mother. She smiled kindly saying, “I already gave money.” Flustered by my forgetfulness, I explained that I forgot mine and she smiled again, “The money is for the whole family. You are my son, so it counts for you. You do not need to give anything.”
I am grateful for the support and acceptance of my family. They are immeasurably helpful: they practice Seereer with me, assist with water carrying, show me around the village, cook delicious lunches, and make sure I am happy, healthy and comfortable.
These stories, and many more like them, make me excited for the next phase of my service. Currently, I am back in Thies for In Service Training. We are learning to write grants, polishing our project management skills, and learning advanced agriculture techniques. With this new knowledge and my improving Seereer, I am excited to engage more deeply than ever with my community.
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