Hugging is international

We sat along the curb in front of the hotel with our baggage dispersed in reckless piles blocking the sidewalk-looking as desperate as a combination between an evicted tenant and a little orphan waiting for a place to call home and someone to call family. 

            I brushed off my feeling of nervousness that quickly descended into my stomach releasing cocoons and quickly sprouting butterflies.  At 5 o’clock families began arriving, but without authorization, Alain, or a sign out sheet, a great divide of pavement separated us from them.  Awkwardly we stared at each other, speculating which family we belonged to and for them, which “Toubab” was theirs.  Finally Alain, Victoria, and Serigne arrived to applause from both sides and the pick ups commenced.  One by one we were called and greeted our families-some with a courtesy handshake to test the waters, others with a hug.

Soso and I locked eyes across the street before either of us could be sure we belonged to each other.  Her smile echoed my heart-full of love and excitement.  My name was quickly called by Alain with Soso near his side and, crossing the “barrier” swiftly, I launched into her encircling arms in a giant embrace that left the audience of students and families in “ahhhs”.  I’m a hugger, what can I say?  I waved good bye to my fellow students, walking straight into the unknown with my new “Yaye”, or mom in Wolof.  We meandered along the Mermoz neighborhood road for 10 minutes gathering stares from shop owners and kids out of school-how funny that image must have been-a great big African lady leading her new pale daughter home.  Hahaha.

We entered Soso’s comfortably-small home (now my home) (contained: petite patio including potted plants, one bathroom, one kitchen with enclosed outside patio for doing laundry, one living room with dining table and chairs, and 2 bedrooms), and I was immediately introduced to my new bedroom.  So long to a mattress on the floor without a sheet.  From now on I would be sleeping in my own full-size bed complete with beautiful glass window above the headrest, sea foam green walls and ceiling casting an irredescent glow, a mosquito net that hung above me protecting me more from malaria than the one I have in Portland merely for decoration, and a giant wooden crucifix above the doorway.  Yes, out of the 90+% of Muslims in Senegal, Soso is very much Catholic.  It at first took me aback but once regarding the giant framed photo of the Pope above the dining table, I was convinced.

This is Soso. As you can see, we took to eachother immediately and I know if I’m having a bad day, her hugs will always be there!

            I recently learned that people understand less in a different language if they are overwhelmed or emotional than if not.  It also constitutes as the reason for  people why cant seem to communicate effectively when they get into heated arguments-they are too emotional to understand one another.  This being said-my first night there was a complete blur of introductions to my house, how things worked, and oh yeah, not to mention the five people I met who came to visit Soso within 3 hours.  Of those people, I can say the only name  I remember is Rose, Soso’s sick elderly mother who actually lives with us yet going on the age of 100+, does not leave her bed and can only whisper “Ca va”- yet shaking her hand as her eyes gazed back at me like glass made me feel comfortable for some reason.

The call of prayer held at the mosque a block away awoke me at 6:30am.  Beautiful.  I emerged from my room remembering the cultural courtesies they taught us at the Baobab center on Thursday and immediately went to the shower as not to “offend Soso by my appearance” before sitting down for breakfast which was laid out before me (thermos of hot water, instant coffee, sugar, bread and butter).  She told me she could care less whether I took a shower before or after eating.  Lol. When I discovered there to be a shower head and faucet, after hearing most houses would only have things called bucket showers (imagine sitting in a bucket and pouring buckets of water on yourself) I was ecstatic!  Guess how many temperatures there are?  One=cold.  No worries-my early morning runs will make them worth while.  Another discovery-the toilet doesn’t flush nor will it ever.  Got a dazed and confused look on your face?  That’s okay-each time I go to the bathroom that’s how I approach it too.

The majority of the day consisted of me wandering my new neighborhood streets and taking pictures of the sights.  A group of guys sewing clothes at a dress shop, a pen of goats, and stray cats that are the equivalent to our pesky squirrel there. I was quickly dragged into a game of foosball with some of the kids who were waiting for school to start (on a Saturday?) and won their trust by scoring two goals!  However, when I tried to take a couple pictures, one girl loudly told me I would have to pay her money (she was teasing), a boy professed his love to me in English, and they all began chanting “Do you fly?” in English.  I didn’t get it, do you?  Two older girls came to my rescue and we parted the foosball table and talked about meeting up to improving each other’s language skills: my Wolof and French and their English.  They even invited me to their high school dance the following Saturday.  How cool?! I’m down to relive my high school days.

In my neighborhood there is a pen of goats however around the corner is the butcher…

I returned home after my little adventure to a bowl full of Theboudienne being shared with Soso’s sister and younger daughter and afterward, taught the daughter “Aller á la peche!” (Go fish) which she got a kick out of, almost as excited as she got when I gave her a sticker of mine-she giggled almost in a maniacal fashion.  Soso also handed me a cup that she poured some of her “Flag” beer into.  The “Flag”, which contains 5.4% alcohol which I understand is a lot for beer,  though only consisting of a couple tablespoons full in the glass dauntingly fizzed at me and not wanting to seem rude, I sipped at it for five minutes before excusing myself to the bathroom and pouring it down the sink. I guess Soso didn’t get the memo that I didn’t drink.  Oh well, at least I know the sink enjoyed it.

After a mild siesta in which I day dreamed about my couch at home that carries my drool stains upon the pillow, I followed Claudie (Soso’s friend (?)) and M….. ( I can’t remember her name-all I know is she is visiting from France) to take my first ever taxi into midtown for my first ever Senegalese catholic Church service in French.  This service was also special unbeknownst to me because there sat a giant elaborate gold and wooden box (?) inhabiting St. Therese’s remains.  Afterward, Claudie and I walked a block to a “Casino” supermarket that would put Albertson’s to shame.  Though I didn’t have a lot of food money from my weekly food stipend, I did pick up the essentials: milk, 2 Fuji Apples, and one diet coke.

Our CIEE group reconvened on Sunday for our “Downtown Dakar Sortie”.  We each swapped stories about our families, how we got a long, and what we did on Saturday with them.  One girl showed off her new braids (“terraces”) that her “sister”, a beautician created.  Some bragged about their siblings taking them out already.  However my friend didn’t even see her parents for more than an hour but was left to babysit her 6 (!!!!) younger siblings all weekend.  After her unfortunate recounting, I didn’t feel like sharing how me and Soso had bonded wonderfully, giving each other hugs randomly throughout the day.

Split up into groups, we grabbed a “Car rapide” and found ourselves in a slightly deserted downtown.  Because of an enormous “Magal” celebration which is an Islamic pilgrimage to Touba, Senegal by more than 3 million people, the majority of visitors downtown on Sunday were “Toubabs” (white tourists).  No matter.  Our scavenger hunt of historical/significant sights was that much easier.  I kept making note of cafés, coffee shops, and French restaurants that we passed for a possible mid-semester celebratory meal or an oasis in a $4 latte.

Accompanying my group of 6 was not only our tour guide for the day,Papi, but also my friend Rosie’s new little brother (age 8) who wouldn’t take no for an answer when she told him to stay at home.  Not only did Papi have the fortunate time of taking us around the city, warding off vendors, and finding us ice cream at the end of the day, but he had to make sure that Rosie’s little brother didn’t get hit by a taxi. Trust me- this kid was not the best at paying attention to automobiles.  I really appreciated that Papi not only showed us the grandeur of downtown but he led us the “back way” to catch a bus which involved descending streets inhabited by shanty towns where worn out shoes lay flattened on the road, tin roofs were supported by giant rotting contact boards, and packs of stray dogs hunted trash left along the curb.

Returning to school, our group found the beach occupied by the rest of the CIEE folks soaking up the waning sun as Senegalese men swam and exercised around us-fat and lazy Toubabs.  I have never been a beach gal but sitting there amidst great company, it felt wonderful. Each day I discover more and more about this country that I love and today was none different.  I can only hope I never become tired or bored of what I see.

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