“Adhan Hayya ‘ala s-salah…” Come on. It’s 5am. Even out in a remote village in the middle of the desert, I can’t escape the call to prayer I’ve grown so accustomed to since living in Senegal. Thus began my last day spent in Affé, a small village of 1500 people in the Linguère region of northern Senegal.
Around 7am, the sun finally starts to rise and warm up the earth after a blissfully cool evening. Katie (a Health sector Peace Corps volunteer stationed in Affé and our host for the week) lives in a quaint little hut in a part of the chief’s compound within the heart of the village. One of the chief’s three wives walks into Katie’s hut, bearing tapalapas and coffee to get our morning started right. Mmm warm coffee. BLEH. This is NOT coffee. Café Touba deceivingly has the word “coffee” in it’s name, but tastes nothing like it. I’m fairly confident that it is comprised of approximately 85% straight sugar and maaaybe 15% coffee-like flavoring. I eat my wonderful village bread and enjoy some quiet time with the Lord before letting the day truly begin. Before we know it, there are kids peaking in every window and doorframe, blabbering away in Wolof and anxiously awaiting our departure from the hut to play.
Today’s a big day. We’re going to greet the most important people of the village. First stop, the imam’s. Spiritual leader of the local mosque, the imam is one of the most distinguished members of the Affé community. We briefly stop by his hut and greet him in Wolof, Katie jumping in to answer the questions that I don’t understand. Then we continue on to one of the elder’s huts on the opposite side of town. Along the way, we pass many Pulaars, clad in headscarves and lip tattoos, seeking water from the only source around for miles found at the center of the village. Pulled by several donkeys on a charette with an enormous water tank behind it, Pulaars don’t actually live in Affé, but they come in to buy water and bring it back out to their families who are nomadic and roam the nearby lands.
Everyone knows Katie (or Kiné, her Senegalese name) even though she has no idea who most of them are. We greet everyone along the way; and this is no small task – greeting someone in Wolof is practically an entire conversation in English. Along the way, we’re stopped several times by welcoming neighbors that invite us over to “waxtaan” (chat) for a while and usually offer us some kind of refreshment or snack. The first neighbor gave us the worst: you guessed it, Café Touba. I tried to sip it politely. With every sip I could literally feel my body developing diabetes from the amount of sugar I was putting in my system. I discretely poured the rest out in the sand, which again, is no small task since being white means people are watching you 24/7. The next people we greeted invited us over to eat some boiled peanuts. I chose to hang around the kids since they won’t ask as complicated questions in Wolof, and usually clapping and dancing with children is a universal language. Once we were done there, we were invited over to another neighbor’s house for tea. Accepting an invitation for tea is accepting the next 3 hours of your life to be spent with those preparing said tea. I flipped though some family photo albums they presented me, and was surprised to find a picture of 50 Cent, yes the American rapper, among pictures of their family. Once we had finally had all three rounds of ataya (tea), it was time to head home for lunch.
Ceebu jen (rice and fish) for the third day in a row. Score. After an exhausting (did I really just say exhausting? Yep) morning of greetings, we spent the afternoon sitting in the shade of a baobab tree with the women and children from the chief’s compound. A couple of them spoke French, so I engaged them in conversation in a language that I could actually go deeper in than the standard “peace be with you” Wolof I sport around in my back pocket. We talked polygamy, homosexuality, and life after death, all in the context of their faith. Such a cool conversation. Once I was done “resting” from all the events from the morning, I mustered up the energy to jump rope with the younger kids. “Jump rope” is an overstatement. These kids had assembled a toy out of old pieces of fabric tied together with a flip-flop strung down the middle to weigh it down. We played a game involving recycled plastic water bottles and sand, and then they complimented me on my ripped muscles and compelled me to transform into a human playground by swinging them around and carrying them around on my shoulders. We know how to have fun.
That night, we lounged around the compound, taking in the most beautiful night sky I have ever seen. Oh, the stars! They littered the sky with their sparkling beauty. Our host family was perplexed by how content we were to just gaze at the “biddeew” (stars). Around 8pm, dinner was served as what can be described as wet sand and peanut sauce. Flashlights are not a good idea after this hour, for they only expose all the nighttime critters that begin crawling out of their homes to begin their nocturnal activity. I snuggled up under my mosquito net, making sure all the corners were tucked in tight, and went to sleep with a happy heart.
Now I’m back in Dakar, with 6 weeks left until I’m back in the comforts of my home country where they speak my native language and don’t have a culture I have to adapt to. I have a strange feeling though that I’ll be uncomfortable in my comfortability. Senegal has given me an itch, and it’s an itch I can’t see going away any time soon. That itch is an itch to see the world. Traveling within Senegal itself has allowed me to get to know so many different people from so many walks of life. Yet I know there are so many more walks out there that I want to be a part of. More thoughts from Senegal to come.
To making ourselves uncomfortable,