Greetings from Dakar! I’ve been here for a week now and am beginning to adjust to the pace of life. I arrived late the evening of October 27th, after flights from Madison to Atlanta to Paris and finally to Dakar. The embassy had helped me arrange transportation from the airport directly to my host family’s house, which was a relief after over 24 hours of travel and a chaotic, delayed arrival at the airport in Yoff.
The first few days were extremely difficult, as I was adjusting to the time change, heat, new linguistic environment, and general culture shock. Luckily, my host family is beyond kind and welcoming, which has helped ease the transition. I live with Aby and Pape, a young professional couple. Aby is a teacher at a bilingual English-French preschool and Pape is a freelance computer engineer. We live in an apartment on the second floor of a villa, which is essentially a cross between an apartment building and a house that’s home to many other members of Aby’s extended family (and a few neighbors!). Everyone has been so kind and welcoming and have put up with my limited Wolof knowledge, lack of familiarity with family-style eating, and weird vegetarianism.
On Monday, I started my first day at Université Cheikh Anta Diop (Ucad), where I’ll be working during my time in Dakar. I’m going to be affiliated with the Geography Department, under the mentorship of Dr. Pape Sakho. We decided it would be the best use of my time to join a cohort of two Master’s students here for a semester through the Erasmus MITRA Master’s program. I’m going to be joining them for classes, seminars, and outings, all centered around the social science themes of mobility, conflict, migration, territory, identity, etc. At the end of the semester, while they are working on their master’s theses, I’ll be preparing for my fieldwork. It’s going to be a great opportunity to learn not only from the Senegalese faculty, but also from these students, one of whom is French and one of whom is Rwandan. They have been so welcoming and open and I can already tell that I’m going to benefit from learning about their projects and experience.
In the non-work realm, I’ve begun to explore the city a little bit. Aby brought me along to two Halloween events associated with her preschool, one through the US embassy and the other at her school. Tuesday (November 1st) was Toussaint (All Saint’s Day), which was a federal holiday, meaning most people had the day off. Senegal recognizes the important holidays of both its Muslim and Christian citizens.
I celebrated Toussaint by going to Ile de Gorée with Shane and Anthony (the two ETAs stationed in Dakar), as well as Alyson (Anthony’s wife) and Brenna (a Canadian here for an internship through the Canadian government). Gorée is an island off the Dakar peninsula and was a major slave trade stop during the European colonial period, but is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We visited the Maison des Esclaves, a former slave holding place turned museum, and toured the history museum. We also explored the island itself, climbing to the top of the hill for a beautiful view of the ocean and eating lunch at a restaurant right on the ocean. It was a wonderful, picturesque day of tourism.
On Wednesday, I had the chance to dine with several other Grinnellians past and present, as well as a few other Americans. It was great to hear about their experiences in Dakar and discuss current/post-Grinnell life.
Overall, things are going well so far! I’m definitely still adjusting to life here, but I feel much more like myself than I did when I first arrive. I know how to direct taxi drivers to my house and how to negotiate the appropriate rate (things like street addresses or price meters are not really a thing here). I’ve tried lots of new food, including fish a few times! Today, I braved public transportation to attend class for the first time, paying 1/10th of the price of a taxi (which isn’t terribly expensive to begin with). I’m still getting used to the heat, which has averaged around 90 degrees F during the day and 80 degrees at night.
Sometimes I feel completely comfortable, such as when Keeping Up with the Kardashians comes on TV dubbed in French or when I met the team at the US embassy during my security briefing, while other times the ear-splitting chants of the Mouride Muslim Brotherhood preparing for their pilgrimage to Touba or the calls of “Toubab, toubab!” as I walk down the street remind me that I’m in a completely new environment. However, I’ve been incredibly lucky to be surrounded by nothing but kindness and the Senegalese hospitality of Teranga since I’ve arrived and look forward to exploring more soon! Gros bisous to everyone in the US and abroad!