Greetings everyone and as always, thanks for reading! Today is the one month anniversary of my first day in Dakar and I can hardly believe it! Some days it seems like I’ve been here forever, while other days I feel as though I just landed. There are some times when I feel utterly confident while navigating the city, while other moments can be overwhelming and scary. When people travel, especially out of the country, it’s often easy to see their social media presence and marvel at what a wonderful, enriching, and exciting time they must be having. However, these beautiful images, videos, and anecdotes do not always convey how hard daily life can actually be. In the month that I have been in Dakar, I have already experienced many new things that have forced me out of my comfort zone (and I know that as I begin to travel for my fieldwork that this process will continue even more intensely).
One of the most important lessons I have already learned is how it feels to be in the vast minority during pretty much all of my daily activities. During my 22 years in the US, I have rarely spent long periods of time in spaces where I was the only white person. Since coming to Senegal, this scenario has been a part of my everyday routine. For example, when I walk down the street in a neighborhood infrequently visited by toubabs, I tend to attract reactions ranging from stares, whispers, and pointing by small children to unsolicited attempts at conversations, strangers grabbing my arm, agressive catcalls, and requests for me to purchase a vast range of items. The few times I’ve seen another white person in my own neighborhood, even I’ve done a double take, because they (and by extension I) stick out so much. All of these reactions have given me a tiny hint of what it might have felt like to live and work in rural Iowa for many of my friends and classmates at Grinnell. This realization has also forced me to confront my white privilege in new ways. Not only was I not able to understand this feeling until now, but my status as a minority is only limited to a nine month duration and all of the stressors or difficulties I’ve faced are only temporary. I hope that when I return to the United States, these new experiences and perspectives will also give me new insights into how I can best act as an ally while acknowledging my intersecting privileges.
In other news, this past Thursday was my second Thanksgiving abroad. Putting aside the injustices inherent in the founding of our country, I appreciate Thanksgiving immensely because of its emphasis on two of my favorite things; spending quality time with my family and eating just about as much food as is physically possible. As with my French Thanksgiving, I was a little sad because I had to work on my project while the rest of my family had the day off and got to spend the day together. Luckily, I had the ability to take the afternoon off to prepare and celebrate.
The ambassador and his wife graciously invited over a hundred people, including the Fulbrighters in Senegal, to their house for dinner with the stipulation that everyone bring a side. As Shane was still house-sitting, we were able to commandeer the kitchen and make homemade stuffing, two apple pies, and a pumpkin pie. I was extremely proud of our products, especially because everything from the pie crust down to the pumpkin itself was made from scratch. The evening was spent consuming delicious food and drink with some lovely humans, which made me feel so thankful for all of the health, happiness, and good fortune in my life.
This weekend, I got a chance to do some incredible tourism around the city of Dakar. Yesterday, Shane and I went to Iles de la Madeleine, a tiny national park right off the coast of the peninsula. We crossed from mainland on a pirogue, along with four Belgian tourists, their guide, and our ranger guide. Only one of the two islands is open to visitors and it was well worth the visit!
During our guided hike, we saw beautiful wildlife (including a plethora of cormorants and a few phaetons), stunning flora (such as the plentiful baobab trees), and learned about the important cultural significance of the islands. They play a significant role in the animist beliefs of many Dakarois and certain sites are off limits to tourists. After our hike, we swam in the magnificent inlet, appreciating the ancient volcanic rock, clear water, and occasional wave. It was a spectacular and refreshing day!
This morning, Brenna and I visited the Phare des Mamelles, a lighthouse located on the tallest hill in the city of Dakar and home to some spectacular panoramic views. We were treated to a tour of the lighthouse and its facilities, which date to the mid-1800’s and are still in use today. We both remarked that we were allowed much closer to the historical artifacts, the contemporary equipment, and the edge of the railing than we probably would have in the US or Canada. Afterwards, we wandered around Ouakam, a neighborhood near the lighthouse, where I was able to make my first fabric purchase! I am extremely excited to have some clothes made out of it soon!
My project is going well, I did several interviews last week with a few more scheduled for this week. I’ve started to plan for my fieldwork and will share the details here once I have them a little more organized. I’m also going to a conference next week, so I will report back about my project in greater detail for the next post, inch’allah!