Orientation has come and gone and as I prepare myself mentally and emotionally to move in with my Host Family, I feel like I’m entering the “real world” almost as one feels finishing college and realizing there might be more to life than “Thirsty Thursdays”.
I’ll be honest, the first day of orientation; I had a little inner-panic when I asked myself, “Why am I here?”, “What is my purpose here?” It immediately evaporated as two past students, staying here for 2 semesters, entered the room and began imparting wisdom and acknowledging that the overwhelming feeling will soon become a thing of the past. Whew! It may also help that one of them is from Portland and shares my infatuation with the city!
In the afternoon (after my siesta on a bench outside-ahh so nice, do I have to start classes next week?), we were all split up into three neighborhood groups depending on where we would be living. I get to call Mermoz my “hood”. It’s exactly where the Hotel Citronelle is at so it’s close to school and easy to get to downtown from. Wandering the streets on our neighborhood tour, I could already begin to feel myself striding with ease and recognizing familiar faces I would soon call mes voisins (my neighbors).
Later in the afternoon yet not quite dusk, I meandered back to the hotel to study for the French placement test as well as to catch up on sleep. My mom would probably die hearing this but since there was no one else going back, I walked by myself and not only am I still alive, (Mom calm down) but I felt as free as if I had wandered into this city alone fearing no one and nothing. Being a woman has its many upsides but its major downfall is not being to travel alone by oneself. Would a wig, baggy pants, and a low voice help, you think? Once back at the hotel without a soul, boredom plagued me. I scurried down the stairs to find company with Babacare Wade who works at the hotel front desk during the nights. I whipped out my Wolof workbook and together we went through the greetings:
“Nanga deff? Mangi fii rekk. Sa yaram rekk? Jamm rekk, alxamdulilaay!”
I also found out that I’m not the only person in Senegal who is a fan of Portland; B. Wade (as he goes by) loves the Portland Trailblazers. Too bad I couldn’t say that I was a fan too (football is my sport, just ask the girl I beat in Junior year Powderpuff, but now that the Seahawks are out of the running, I’m a little less interested…just a little).
A rundown of the week in bullet points:
- Woke up late one day with no water running in the hotel-bottled water teeth brushing for all! Haha
- Security orientation meeting scaring the “bejesus” out of me-too shocked to leave the hotel room. Did you know that some men carry around machetes and will use it as a threat when robbing you? Good to know-huh?
- Got a cheap phone for texting the parentals…..more like for being able to meet up with the rest of the group for soirees!
- A 2hr+ French Comprehension test murdered me and now I have to prove that I am actually capable of forming grammatically correct sentences. Ugh.
- Banana=divine, Tangerine=heaven. Don’t know what I mean?-Example: rice, sauce, fish everyday-‘nuff said.
- Stare at each Toubab (white person) down like they are a window back to the US (something tells me they are mostly French tourists though. Lol)
- Call to prayer at the mosque located directly behind our hotel begins around 5am.
- Highlight of the morning for my stomach full of malaria meds-eggs! Who knew that it would offer some needed comfort to make the meds hit me less like a dump truck and more like a mini-cooper.
- I might be hallucinating but every single person in my CIEE program reminds me of a person from home, UA, or camp. Weird….
- With Rosie and Sarah, we went and visited Mbake, a Senegalese woman who lives with her four daughters, nephew and husband behind the university in a makeshift garage/house. For an hour one day, we sat on a cot in front of her, having an impromptu Wolof class where we each received Senegalese names (mine is Kumba!!!:-) ) and learned phrases while her daughters gave each other tub showers and then decided to crawl on our laps and toss us small toys back in forth.
- Crawled onto the roof of the hotel for an informal concert given to us by Kevin on Mandolin and Vocals while fireworks burst across the sky following a soccer match. Liz, Ariel, and I, climbed from the hotel rooftop to the adjacent abandoned apartment complex and discovered that one could access the inside easily-Glad I brought a flashlight! Afterward, we proceeded to the other hotel where CIEE students are staying to keep the bartender there company with his girlfriend and other waitress. Nothing tasted better than that free ice cold REAL Coke while talking to “Didi” (the waitress) in French.
- Learned from the nurse during the Health orientation that each and every one of us WILL get diarrhea whether we like it or not. Fun! Oh well, c’est la vie!
- Enjoyed a wonderful cultural orientation at the Baobab Center learning about the different values, morals, and behaviors of Senegalese people. By the time lunch came around (2:45pm), Kate and I were dying and I didn’t regret eating “from the bowl” with my hand both extremely fast and way too much! Want to know what “eating from the bowl is like?” Imagine everything your mom taught you not to do when eating and do that: Only eat with your right hand, shaping neat balls of rice and fish and vegetables before stuffing it into your mouth. Once finished, lick your palms and fingers and wash up. We also sampled all the various juices: bissap, guava, nectarine, and my absolute favorite, Baobab juice- a creamy white smoothie of heaven!
- As a “farewell” from the Hotel Epiciea on our last night there, the bartender had a Karaoke night in favor of us. Quite the experience! The Senegalese there enjoying a drink or dinner watched our 50 person group in amusement while we murdered songs with our voices left and right yet shared embarrassing laughs with all.
What a wonderful week getting to know my new home and the culture I will be immersed in! Now for the meeting of my host mom, Soso. I live life knowing that everything happens for a reason and though this is comforting most of the time, right now, as I sit on my mat in the hotel one last time, I anticipate my first encounter with my mom. Nervousness floods my pores and I cant help but wonder why no one else is as nervous as I while they finish packing their things. I have been waiting for this moment for the past week/past few months! Alain, the home stay coordinator told me that Soso was wonderful. That it would just be her and I living together, a cohesive team both being able to be independent but also rejoin when in need of comfort. Still I can’t help but worry for the worst. That might be a defense mechanism, you never know. Wish me luck as I sign off and drag my luggage downstairs to wait outside on the curb….