Hello everyone and thank you for reading! The last week or so has been an extremely tumultuous time in the United States and it has been very difficult to be outside the country, so I wanted to take a moment to reflect on that experience before I launch into updates about my day to day life here.
Since the presidential election, I have found it challenging to answer the questions that many Senegalese people have for me. I am not sure how to explain that a man who has expressed disrespect for, disgust with, and threats against anyone who does not share his gender, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, religious background, physical ability, or moral ideology has been elected to one of the most powerful political offices in the world. I am terrified for the future of our democracy and for the well-being of those that I care about. I am a woman and thus have a range of personal fears about the impending Trump administration and how it will affect my control over my own body. However, as a white, highly-educated, straight, cis, and able-bodied citizen coming from a white, affluent family of highly educated citizens, I will not have to worry about my day to day safety. There are many Americans who will not have that privilege come January 20th, 2017 and many who have already been negatively impacted by our current social and political climate. For the rest of my Fulbright experience, how can I be a cultural representative of my country in a place filled with people who might not have these same privileges of physical, financial, and political safety if they too were American?
To my friends and acquaintances that do support Trump, I acknowledge that my surprise at his election most likely stems largely from the liberal bubble that I surround myself with, both in person and on social media. I also recognize that his victory stems from the desire of a large proportion of our electorate for change within our political and economic status quo. However, we cannot let Trump’s hateful rhetoric blind our ability to be compassionate, just, and respectful of others. We must strive to respect members of groups that are different from our own and try to open our minds to cultural practices and belief systems that may seem unfamiliar or strange at first. I can tell you that although Senegal is very different from the United States in religious and racial composition, I, as a white, non-religious woman, have received nothing but friendliness and open arms from everyone I have met here. If nothing else, please keep that in mind next time you react to judge someone based on their appearance or what you think you know about their background.
To my friends and acquaintances that do not support Trump, we cannot let this election be the end of our motivation for social justice and societal change. We are numb now, but we cannot lose our sense of passion, hope, or love for what we believe in. We must continue to fight to make our voices heard and ensure the rights of all Americans. Please stay safe, physically and mentally, and don’t let this moment paralyze you. This is not the end, but the beginning.
On a more mundane note, all is well here. I’m beginning to understand how the city is laid out and am learning how to navigate a combination of walking, buses, and taxis to get from point A to point B. I’ve also been taking a few Wolof courses as a part of the MITRA seminars and classes offered at Ucad. As with my Arabic studies during my semester in Marseille, these Wolof classes take place in French, which is a mental gymnastics routine for a native English speaker, to say the least. As some may not know, Wolof is the native language spoken by the majority of people in Senegal. Throughout the country, language usage depends on the region and ethnic group that inhabits it, but Wolof is the dominant language in Dakar.
While knowledge of French is an important baseline to be able to order at restaurants, communicate with taxis, participate in classes, and generally live day to day here, it fundamentally remains an imposed language. As a result, people don’t speak French at home, unless they’re a host family for an American like me and are actively making an effort to speak in their second language. Furthermore, some of the older members of our household do not speak French at all. Thus, in order to move from being simply a toubab expat to a Dakar resident who can participate in non-professional conversations, it is important to learn Wolof. My acquisition is going slowly, but I am eager to learn more over the next few weeks.
Another of my classes at Ucad is a seminar discussing the conflict between the lébou fishermen (natives to the Dakar area) and the guet-ndarien fishermen (migrants who come from the St. Louis area to fish seasonally). Our professor is from Yoff, one of the communes of the city of Dakar, and he is one of the leaders of an association working to promote conflict resolution, cultural exchange, and community development in Yoff. Last week, he took us to the headquarters of the association and then down to the Plage de Yoff, home of an enormous fish market. Each day, fishermen bring in their catch there and are greeted by merchants, who sell the fish on-site, and distributors, who sell the fish throughout the city. We got to meet several different fish sellers, including our professor’s aunt, and saw the numerous pirogues parked on the beach for the evening. It was incredible to see the fish laid out at different stands, just about as freshly caught as is humanly possible, and to learn about the crucial importance that this local economy plays in the Yoff community. For example, our professor mentioned that his education, like that of many Yoff natives who have attended university, was financed by income generated by these small fish stands.
I’m also starting to network and plan for the first of my interviews for my project. I’ve begun making contacts with a variety of actors in Dakar who work on questions of migration and development. Stay tuned for updates once I’ve actually had some interviews!
Best of all, I’ve also had the chance to go to the beach a few times for purely recreational purposes. One day after class, I wandered over to the Plage de Fann and hung out by myself on the beach for a while. As it was the middle of the workday, it was completely deserted and utterly beautiful. I stuck my feet in and wandered around looking at the lovely coastal views.
On Saturday, I visited Ile de Ngor with a few friends. Ngor is a small island off the Dakar peninsula and we traipsed around it, taking in the gorgeous views of the sea and the beautiful island homes (one of which may or may not have been Akon’s Senegalese house). As with Gorée, we ate lunch at a lovely restaurant right next to the water. We then hung out on the beach for the rest of the afternoon and it was the first time that I’ve actually gone swimming since being here. The salt water was very refreshing and the atmosphere was extremely relaxing, which felt necessary after the tumultuous week we’ve had.
As a native Midwesterner, I’m still in awe that I get to swim in the ocean and relax at the beach at this point in November (and that it’s only a walk or a bus/taxi ride away)! I’ve also been benefiting from the warm weather by playing frisbee outside!! I’ve joined a group of wonderfully friendly and predominantly international players who play twice a week, usually at the US Embassy owned fields. These practices have made me so happy to learn that frisbee communities are largely the same, no matter wherever in the world you are.
Missing everyone a little extra this week, please go out and make a positive change on my behalf!