Here is a quick look into two key elements of my life in Dakar: my family and food. Other highlight – likely to be included in future blog posts – include seeing Beyonce’s main dancers live, touring all of Dakar for a class, taking 6 classes all in French, and getting an internship at le Comite Senegalaise des Droits de l’Homme (The Senegalese Committee for Human Rights).
To say I’m happy would be a massive understatement.
1. My Host Family
My host family is ridiculously nice. I have a host father who is extremely regal and dignified, but who will also take the time to talk with me about Ebola, the culture of Senegal, traditional medicines, and basically anything. I have at least three host sisters all of whom are extremely kind and welcoming. They are really more like my moms here, and while that can be strange at times for someone who has not lived at home for over two years and who has definitely had some difficulty with maternal figures, it has really been awesome so far. I also have at least three (four?) host brothers. One currently works for Nestle and is completing his masters and the others who are – like my host sisters – a lot more like host dads or uncles. I also have two little host brothers/nephews and four little host sisters/nieces. They are so adorable and hilarious. The youngest are two four-year-old twins named Khadija and Sally. They are insanely adorable and consistently wear matching dresses. This past weekend, the two older girls spent about an hour taking selfies on my computer. Sound familiar?
One part of the family currently lives in Quebec and will be returning soon. It is cool to be able to talk with them about Canada and Senegal comparatively. I think it is also a representation of a certain group of people who live in Dakar. The Senegalese who make up the wealthier middle class are very educated and often go abroad to study and live. They also often marry people from other countries or cultures within Senegal, which has made many families here very diverse and tolerant. It is really fantastic.
The most notable aspect of my family, however, is really just how welcoming and kind they are. This past weekend, I broke my key trying to get back into the house silently at 3am. I ended up having to call two members of my family to let me in. I repeatedly stated how sorry I was, but they were not even angry. They continued to treat me warmly that evening and the next day, asking me how my night was and really never mentioning the incident. Even when one of my house brothers/dads was trying to get the key out of the door, he refused to let me help him and just kept repeating how it was really no problem. Another demonstration of immense kindness took me by surprise today surrounding mealtime, but I will talk about that with the food part of this blog (am I type A enough for you?). Easy to say, this family is very representative of the Senegalese value Teranga: hospitality, family, love.
I love two things about the food here: 1) the food itself and 2) the community around the food. First of all, the food is amazing. So far, we have had lamb with curry and peas, lamb with peanut curry sauce and rice, Thiéboudienne (the national dish of fish with curried rice), chicken with curry and rice, balls of fish with fries and eaten with baguette, and steamed millet in really sweet yogurt sauce. Everything has been so good, and everything (except the millet) has been eaten all together out of one shared plate. The only exception is breakfast, which consists of a baguette with some peanut butter, nutella, or chocolate spread with instant coffee. This brings me to the community part of food here. Like I said, everything is eaten out of one big bowl, and so everyone always eats together. This has shown me the immense community and kindness here. Usually, the family eats lunch at around 3 or 3:30 and dinner around 9:30. Because my school schedule means I have to eat lunch earlier, I asked if I could eat something small earlier on. I expected to do so after the conversation; however, when I was called down to eat lunch I found my entire family gathered around a giant bowl of food as normal. They were all eating lunch two hours before normal because one person, someone who hadn’t even lived with them for a week, had to leave early. I have straight up never experienced something like that before.
My last week in Dakar has been crazy busy. I have realized that my French is worse than I thought and that there are lots of bizarre experiences that come with living with a new family and in a new environment. It has been hard in many ways, but it has been amazing so many others. I wouldn’t change anything about this experience.
Well, anything but Ebola, but that’s for another time…