In my original post I stressed the importance of identity, and that for me, identity was something that I would be grappling with for the rest of my life. While my time abroad has not necessarily changed this sentiment, I think that it has given me a new confidence and maturity that can only come from time away from one’s support network and everyday familiarity. I am less reliant on the opinion of others, and I have learned that in defining identity, while your audience will always change, your definition won’t. I have introduced myself many times over the past few months, and in doing so I have gained a sort of self assurance that I didn’t know possible. I have become more confident in the impact that my words can have on others, and I am less afraid or self conscious to speak up. This does not mean that I have something to say about everything, because something that is very frustrating to me is people who don’t know when to stop talking. However, I think that the past few months have taught me about expression, and that if you have something productive to say then you should say it without extensive self doubt. Accordingly, my time has also reinforced the importance of thinking before speaking, especially when speaking about another country or culture that you are still learning about.
Upon reflection, I still am a black woman (obviously that did not change), but I think that my time in Dakar has given me a new appreciation of my mixed background. I have seen many mixed families here that have made me reminiscent of traveling with my parents and brother while growing up, and I have thought a lot about the privileges and experiences I was awarded because I have parents from two different places. I am prouder than ever to represent the histories of both sides of my family, and everyone who made it possible for me to be living, as my time in Senegal has given me a deeper reverence for family and those who came before me.
I think that the hardest part about leaving Dakar will be saying goodbye to the pace of life that I have grown accustomed to, and how welcoming the overarching community has been. I am notoriously impatient, and that has been tested greatly since my arrival in January just because of how time works here. It is very normal for things to start much later than they are supposed to, and to do a lot of waiting. This gave me a lot of anxiety (it still does sometimes), but it was also a wake up call/reminder that not everything functions according to my clock, and that sometimes it is necessary to step outside of yourself and simply appreciate that given moment. As for the welcoming nature of this community, I don’t think there has been a single day in Dakar where I’ve walked outside and haven’t greeted/been greeted by everyone I pass. It will be hard to adjust back to the impersonal society that makes up so much of the U.S, but I am grateful to know that humanity exists like this, and to have lived in a city as unique and special as Dakar.
My different communities abroad have made me think critically about my identity in many ways. Per my first post, where I elaborated on the complexities of blackness around the world, it has been interesting having now been in Dakar for over two months and seeing where I fit in. I am one of the few students of color in my program that is composed of university students from around the US. This has been an interesting adjustment to make because my social circle back at GW is mainly black students and other people of color. On top of that, this is my first time traveling and living anywhere in Africa with a group of other Americans. At my study center, one of my greatest sources of community here, there is also a law school that is composed solely of Senegalese students. There is no forced separation between the two schools, and we are encouraged to talk to the law students and make friendships, etc. However, there is a natural separation that comes with taking different classes on different floors of the building, and the language barrier that still persists with French and Wolof. This dynamic - especially compared to my friend groups at GW - has caused me to reflect on what it means for me to be an American abroad because at least in this instance I am definitely seen as a part of a larger group, and that is something that I have never had to do so vividly. Furthermore, what it means to be one of a few students of color in a large group of Americans.
The running route that I have in Dakar was another community that I referenced in my last post. I think that more than anything, this has supported and strengthened my notion that I am independent, but it has also reassured me that there are parallels between people when we least expect them. Running has solidified my sense of independence because I made myself familiar with my running paths without any guide. That is not to say that the paths are challenging, and that people have not run them before, but in a new city with a completely different climate I was proud to do this alone. The feeling of independence is also matched with a feeling of comfort because of all the other people that I pass whenever I am on a run. A simple head nod, smile, or thumbs up from a fellow runner is enough to remind me that being in charge/control of what I am doing does not mean that I have to be completely isolated. I am running alongside people from completely different backgrounds, and with a wide range (young to old men and women, some running in flip flops and some in tracksuits), and this has reminded me that even in the midst of minor identity confusion I can still feel a part of something.
I believe that the most important thing for anyone in this world is knowing who you are. When it comes down to it, the anxieties and realities of life are often easier to handle when someone is confident within. That being said, because a sense of self is such a valuable thing to hold, it tends to be really hard to find. Throughout my life my background has been a source of contrasted emotions. Isolation coupled with belonging, confusion mixed with understanding and embarrassment matched with pride. I think that the majority of this is a result of having parents from two completely different places; my dad is black from Namibia, and my mom is white from America. It was not until recently, say the last couple of years, that I realized that this conflict of emotions is one that will last forever, and that knowing who I am is accepting this ongoing internal battle.
I am black. I know that there are many layers to identity, and that having a mixed race background does not cancel out the fact that I am black. However, I also know that black is perceived and defined differently around the world as a result of different experiences and encounters with other races throughout history. Living in America, where sometimes even just one black grandparent can categorize someone as black, it is interesting to observe and compare this complexity of blackness when I am abroad. In Senegal, for instance, I am much closer to being white (I have been called white already), and I am often referred to as a ‘toubab’ which is basically a name to describe white or wealthy foreigners. It is also different having travelled in South Africa and Namibia where the term “coloured” historically differentiated people who appear like they could be mixed race from black people, but who would still be considered black in America.
Although I have only been in Dakar for a little over two weeks, my sense of self has already been greatly impacted. Something that I am still coming to terms with is how visible I am, which comes from looking obviously different from the majority of the population. While my hyper visibility is sometimes really uncomfortable, I am going to make the effort to use it as a mediator; to embrace puzzled glances or long stares, and to answer questions about where I am from, confidently. I am being challenged everyday (or every time I step outside) to confront the fact that other perceptions of who or ”what” I am are not defining. My name, which is Namibian (and clearly not American), leads to further questions about my identity, giving me the opportunity to elaborate on my background to people in a new place who are genuinely curious. The constant explaining that my mom is American, and dad is Namibian has brought me a newfound assuredness in who I am because it solidifies that that will never change, no matter where I am.
On Saturday, I went to a wedding with my three American friends, my four host sisters, my host brother, and their onslaught of friends and extended family members. My sisters had invited me and my friends a few weeks back. When I asked where it was, they responded "Dakar". When I asked where in Dakar they said a name that I was not familiar with, and my host brother said it's far away.. but I assumed he was just sulking about being forced to go because he hates weddings.
My friends got to my house between 11 and 11:30. We got ready together and put on our traditional Senegalese dresses (at first I was uncomfortable with the notion of wearing traditional garb but my sister explained to me that whether you are Senegalese, American, Muslim, Christian... anyone at all can wear them and it is more a sign of respect to attend these events dressed appropriately). I had forgotten to factor in Senegalese time because we didn't end up leaving until 2 pm (sorry to Clara who took half a shower so that she could make it to my house by 11).
When we were on our way out of the house I saw a big van waiting for my sisters and their posse (the first sign that should've made me realize the wedding wasn't all that close). The four of us got into my brothers car who drove us to pick up his cousin who was going to direct us how to get there since he didn't know the way (second sign). Then we got stuck in traffic, I fell asleep, and when I woke up we were very much not in the city of Dakar anymore (third and final sign).
An hour and a half after leaving, we realized that the wedding was in the region of Dakar and not the city.. classic mixup. As we drove through the sand streets, we eventually stopped once again because the other van broke down. Since we were close to the actual wedding, my host brother tried to drop us off so that he could loop back and pick up the others but then his car stalled and got stuck in the sand. We attracted a lot of attention and pretty soon there was a crowd of kids surrounding our car yelling "toubab" (white person).
...continue reading "I’m still confused"
This past weekend was Easter, and while I didn’t get to participate in any egg hunts, I did get to observe how Senegalese celebrate the holiday (and I even got to eat pork for the first time since I have been here). The religious split in Senegal is roughly 95% Muslim and 5% Christian, and I would argue that the relationship between the religious majority and minority is very unique and completely different from that of the United States.
During the Christian holidays, those who are celebrating will cook massive amounts of food so that they can share with all of their Muslim neighbors and friends. On the flip side, Muslims offer food to their Christian friends during Muslim holidays. Being here during Easter definitely gave me the sense that celebrating holidays, even if you’re celebrating for your friends, is an absolute must.
Year after year on the day before Good Friday, Senegalese Christians prepare ngalakh, a sweet peanut butter dish made with fruit from the baobab tree, millet, and whatever other sweet fruits are around. Our Christian friend here told us that his mother stayed up all night and ended up making 3 massive tubs of it to share with the community. I hadn’t realized that when I was eating it for lunch that day, it had come from his house. Later, I saw all of our other friends with little personal sized buckets of it. For the rest of the weekend you would see people whip out a mini bucket and go in on some gnalakh. It is absolutely delicious and I only wish I could eat a bucket of it every single day.
...continue reading "Pass me the bucket of Ngalakh, please"
This past week was spring break, so my friends and I decided to plan a short trip not too far from Dakar. There were students in our program who traveled everywhere from Morocco to the Gambia to Italy to Spain. We had decided to stay in Senegal both for financial reasons and because there are so many places within Senegal that we want to see before leaving, and this break seemed like a good opportunity to do so.
One of my host brother’s friends has a friend with a house in Saly, a town along the Petite Côte, which he said we could rent for the weekend. So my three American friends along with a couple of our Senegalese friends and I were able to spend the first weekend of break there. It was extremely beautiful and definitely a tourist trap, but we had a great time hanging out, swimming, and going to the beach. We tried cooking some American food for our friends (I’m pretty sure our cooking french toast one morning then tacos with gauc that night doesn’t necessarily constitute a good representation of typical American food but we tried) and they roasted an entire chicken.
...continue reading "Spring Break: À L’aise quoi"
This is a blog post about food in Dakar, Senegal.
- Breakfast: chocopain (chocolate spread) and bread with kinkileba tea
- Lunch: Sandwich omelette frites at CIEE study center – This is literally just eggs and fries with ketchup and mayo in a massive sandwich and I LOVE it (500 CFA = 82 cents)
- Dinner: Doorat which is an entire grilled fish with fries, mayo, and yassa (an onion sauce)
- Breakfast: bread and chocolate
- Lunch: Ceebujën (this means rice and fish in Wolof)
- Snack: biscrème cookies (100CFA at all of the nearby boutiques = 16 cents)
- Dinner: ndambe which is pretty much just a massive plate of beans with more bread
- Breakfast: surprise surprise more bread, chocolate, and tea (I don’t hate it tho)
- Lunch: yassa poisson which is a fish with the yassa onion sauce, and white rice. This was the plat du jour at CIEE (1000 CFA = $1.63)
- Dinner: Spaghetti with an onion and meat sauce
...continue reading "What’s in my stomach??"
This past weekend I traveled with my public health class three hours outside of Dakar to a village called Niarhar, in the Fatick region. I had never taken a public health course before, and chose this one at the beginning of the semester because I thought that Senegal would provide an interesting context to learn about the subject. We hadn’t realized until we arrived that we were in the town that our professor is from, and we were able to meet his entire family.
The point of the trip was to complete an “enquête”, or survey, that consisted of finding 40 kids and asking their parents questions regarding their children’s health. The class was split into 3 groups determined by the kids’ ages. I was in a group of 4 students charged with the task of finding the parents of 40 kids between the age of 3 and 5 years old.
Initially when our professor described the survey that we would be conducting, I was a bit apprehensive towards the idea of showing up to a village and asking parents medical questions regarding their children, especially considering none of us are actually studying medicine. The village itself was mostly Serer, and each group was provided a translator, meaning my already weak Wolof wasn’t useful for the most part.
We asked questions like age of child, sex, is he or she vaccinated, total # of children in household, has he or she been sick within the last month, did he or she go to the dispensiaire, was traditional healing used, what was the treatment, do you face obstacles in going to the local hospital, parents’ education level, and where they receive their information regarding health. I found that certain parents were more than willing to answer these questions for us, whereas others seemed a bit wary. In hindsight, I still feel uncomfortable about certain aspects of the experience.
...continue reading "Public Health Excursion"
We’ve reached the point of the semester when it feels as if I’ve fallen into a routine and the days are flying by. Towards the beginning, I was constantly confronting new ideas, cultural differences, and what seemed at the time to be insurmountable obstacles. While I still face (plenty of) obstacles, it’s starting to feel like things are comfortable. At face value, comfort doesn’t necessarily have a negative connotation, however I realize I chose to study abroad in order to push myself beyond the boundaries of my comfort zone.
The on site CIEE staff organized a meeting last week in which a former student came to talk to us about this very topic, which made me much more cognizant of how my falling back into a comfort zone could be negatively impacting not only my own study abroad experience, but also more importantly the people of Senegal.
The speaker, Jacob Winterstein, is a teacher and a poet based in Philly, so you already know he’s cool. His presentation pulled themes from an article called “The View from the Veranda: Understanding Today’s Colonial Student”, in which the author, Anthony Ogden, defines and discusses this study abroad student archetype. (No, a colonial student in this sense does not mean a student who comes from GW). After having just arrived in Senegal, I had spoken with my friends studying abroad in South Africa and Rwanda (hello Emily and Carly) about feeling like I did not have a right to live here. I was struggling to understand my place and Carly said to me, “Ecotourism and voluntourism are topics, why don’t ppl write about educational tourism???”. Well, Carly, have I got the article for you.
...continue reading "To be a Colonial"
This past week all 40 CIEE students traveled across every region of Senegal to complete a mandatory part of the program: the rural visit. We had heard a couple of horror stories (real or not I’ll never know) about rural visits from semesters past; students getting lost without being able to speak the local language, people losing all of their money, and there was even the story of a girl getting bit by some mysterious bug and going blind for a bit (I actually met this girl and she can in fact see again) .
The anticipation was intense, and only made worse by the fact that we would be traveling independently of our program staff/host families. A few days before we left, we were charged with the task of ranking our top three locations that we wanted to visit while taking into account whether or not we wanted to stay with a peace corps volunteer, their specific sector within the peace corps, travel distance, and whether or not we wanted to travel with another CIEE student.
I am an extremely indecisive person, and normally when given a few options I ALWAYS pick the wrong one. So I decided to take the list of places and google each of them. In doing so, I was the very last person to turn in my ranked villages and ended up being assigned to one that was not where I had hoped to go and not in the sector that I had hoped to observe. I need to be less indecisive. That being said, I was still placed with peace corps like I had hoped, and I was partnered with another student who is absolutely marvelous. (Shout out to Sarah for always laughing, for sharing her “meta moments”, and for almost passing out on the bush car then sticking through the rest of the trip like a champ). In hindsight, I am extremely grateful for the week I had, the people I met, and the honest and thought provoking insight I received from my Peace Corps volunteer host, Taryn.
On Monday, with travel instructions and duffle bag in hand, I set out to take a taxi from my home to the gare. Sarah and I were meeting there that morning so that we could take the sept-place together to Linguère, which is the town closest to the village we stayed in. Luckily we got there within minutes of each other because right when I stepped out of the cab there were a bunch of men asking me where I was going and offering to lead me there.
...continue reading "Rural visits: mosquitos, bush cars, and a full moon"