So tonight I Skyped my sister. Which was great, because I haven’t actually spoken to her since… oh, I left the country. Talking to her is always so great because whenever she’s freaked out about something, I can be like, “I remember that being terrifying! It turned out to be in no way a big deal.” And then, if I’m feeling perspective-havey, I realize that there is some two-years-older me doing exactly the same thing to my own at-the-moment all-consuming problems. Then I calm down.
But anyway, after we chatted about our linguistic failures (me and Wolof, her and Ancient Greek), she said, “You know, [our mutually-shared, fabulous undergrad adviser] reads your blog.” Which I was sort of aware of, but had filed away along with the information that my parents have had sex and that somewhere out there my LiveJournal still exists as best not to think about ever.
“Yeah,” she continued, “She thinks you hate it there.” I spluttered. “Well, except for your tailor.” I stopped spluttering, because once again, my tailor is the greatest, she is correct.* But she is also correct about this blog sounding like I hate it here. And, to be fair, I’m still not sold on this experience as a pleasant one. I am not ashamed to say that my friends and I spent an hour at the weird expat mall this afternoon pointing out that, for a few hundred dollars, we could go home tomorrow. We all kind of wanted to.
The truth is, Dakar is not beautiful. It is not particularly comfortable. Living in a family is hard, and made harder when they’re not yours and you don’t understand half the conversations going on around you. Though I am fully aware that this experience is going to be a valuable one in terms of forcing me to realize that—though I could have left, because I am holy-shit-an-adult now—I didn’t, and that that is a good thing, I make no pretenses about this being a fun experience in the way that studying in Europe probably would have been. (Not to say that Europe can’t be difficult—I have friends there now and have had friends there in the past, and it can certainly be a head trip in a lot of the same ways just because you are far away from home and lonely and also broke.)
But I don’t hate it here. If I really, truly did, I probably would have left by now, because this is not an academically-valuable-enough experience for me to stick it out if I hated it. So, here’s a list of things that I am legitimately tickled with about my time in Dakar.
My host nieces: Today my oldest niece spent ten minutes constructing an elaborate crash scene using a toy boat, a miniature car rapide, and a makeup brush she found in my room. She narrated the whole thing in Frolof. It was adorable.
My host dad: Everyone loves my host dad, because he’s awesome. He answers basically every request for permission with, “Why not?” (in English, weirdly), and he has crazy stories about the time he was in Libya during the bombings in the 80s, or this one time he was hanging out with Senghor. His brothers all have crazy nicknames and stories of their own, and one is routinely on local TV. They’re all fabulous.
Car rapides: I find them terrifying to ride in, but for beautiful public transit you can’t beat them. I like that they are completely POS vehicles that someone clearly puts a ton of work into maintaining the paint—the bright blues and yellows and “alhalmudulilai”s don’t maintain themselves.
Ten dollar manicures: Happened today. Was the best. My hands have never felt so clean.
Continually-friendly people: I am astounded by the amount of my idiocy that people will put up with here. It’s just completely great. A few days ago my friends and I stopped in the local cable TV office to ask for directions to a museum, and got a 20 minute discussion with the staff and a guided walk over to the museum from some random guy who was there paying his cable bill. We chatted about Kansas, because you know, why not. This kind of thing would not really happen in Atlanta, I do not think.
Five flavors of soda… and beer: This is the billboard slogan for the local soft drink/beer manufacturer, Gazelle. You can get apple, grapefruit, orange, grenadine, or pineapple soda and one flavor of (large, cheap) beer, all with the same gazelle on the label. I just find the slogan hilarious, for some reason.
Forty cent mangoes: Which you can then eat with your hands, on the lawn, because why the hell not.
West African immigrants: Some of my favorite interactions in Dakar have been from immigrants from other West African nations, in part because they too have difficulty with (slash have elected not to learn) Wolof. My friend’s language partner who did the ironic running man with me the other night and the manicurist who chatted with me about MTV today are from Chad and the Ivory Coast, respectively. It’s reassuring to know that it’s not just Americans who have trouble with parts of Senegalese culture.
* Just tried to type that as “she has reason.” Who’s got two thumbs and has been speaking French too long? This girl!