Reflections on Senegal // Memories

In the past, I’ve been asked to write about my time in Senegal, and I’ve always had a hard time with that. I can tell stories of things that happened there, but to write a cohesive piece about the three months that I spent there… that’s hard. Even though, at the time, it felt like a lifetime, I didn’t spend a lot of time there, and I think that’s part of the reason why. I often feel feel like I’m being asked to give an idea of what life is like there, and I can’t. I can only tell you what I did while I was there, so here are some of my memories from Senegal:

// The first time I spoke with my parents on the phone was a few days after I arrived. I was standing in a stairwell that led up to the roof, so I thought I’d go stand on the roof while I talked to my dad, not thinking about the fact that I didn’t have sandals on. My feet barely touched the roof and I jumped back into the stairwell. It was so hot!

// The heat took away my appetite when I first arrived, so I lived on carrot sticks for a couple of days. Finally I was told that I should eat an actual meal. We had MafĂ©–a peanut butter-based stew served over rice (that I still make sometimes)–and we ate it with spoons off a community platter while sitting on the floor.

// The goat that I thought I heard the first day I arrived belonged to the family that I stayed with the first few weeks that I was there.

// I wasn’t drinking enough water when I first arrived, so I finally started counting the number of empty water bottles by my sink each night to make sure that I was drinking enough.

// I ate a lot of tuna salad while I was there. That was pretty much what I ate for lunch for every day. I have no desire to eat tuna anymore.

// I loved the apples, though! I have never enjoyed apples, but I ate them daily when I was there and loved them.

// While I was there I made sure that I read some books from some local authors.

// When I first arrived, going to the markets was an incredibly stressful experience. I didn’t speak the language and there were always a lot of people around. By the end, I loved it.

// There were things that really caught me by surprise–like the cattle that sat by the side of the road. It also took me by surprise that when I pointed it out, the people who lived there acted like it didn’t seem odd to them at all. I didn’t think I’d ever get used to it.

// While I was there I organized a library of home school resources and I helped home school three children. I helped two of them with reading and started to teach the third how to play the flute. I also worked with all three of them on math, which still makes me laugh whenever I think about it, since math was always my weakest subject. With two of them it was simple enough; we went through addition and multiplication flash cards. For the oldest, I basically sat there with the book open to the answer key as she worked through the problems, praying that she’d get them all right. She usually did.

// I loved the geckos that filled apartments. Whenever I caught a glimpse of them I thought they looked like little dinosaurs. It was always a little startling, though, when I’d get up in the middle of the night to grab a glass of water or take malaria medication when I realized that I forgot and hear them all scatter as soon as I turned on a light.

// Towards the end of my time in Senegal, there was a baby gecko in my apartment. He came out during the day and I loved watching him crawl around the apartment. I was told to give him a name, so I called him Ike.

// I left Dakar and visited a village once. I absolutely loved getting out of the city and would have liked to spend more time in a village. Maybe next time.

// One day towards the end of my time in Senegal I was out with some friends exploring the markets. One of them had recently arrived in Senegal and he pointed to some cattle that were at the side of the road and said that he didn’t think he’d ever get used to seeing them there. It was that moment when I realized that I had gotten used to them.

// One of my favorite things about being in Senegal was the people that I met and spent time with while I was there. They all hold a special place in my heart and I think about them regularly. I loved being part of a community of expats from all around the world, and I loved the Senegalese that I had a chance to meet and spend time with.

Going to Senegal really pulled me out of my comfort zone and I think it was an important experience to have, especially at such a young age.


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