View of Dakar from atop Renaissance Monument
I was told Dakar is like a ‘little France’ and I was surprised to find that this wasn’t the case. I arrived in Dakar on Sunday afternoon. Super exhausted from my 17 hour flight from Bangkok. The first thing I noticed about Dakar as we were landing, was how brown it was. It is a huge contrast to the thick jungle of Thailand that I’ve lived in for the last 3 months. The landscape of the city itself is a wonder. Everywhere the eye can see are shades of brown. Dakar is covered with square tan stucco buildings. It’s a city juxtaposed between modernity and tradition. You can see this image in the street when you look at the Senegalese fashion. One woman will be wearing a blouse with jeans and walking right beside her is another woman wearing a traditional brightly colored patterned Senegalese garment. Something is always in the middle of construction in every neighborhood. Even my host family’s house is in the middle of renovation!
I’m studying abroad in Dakar with MSID (Minnesota Studies of International Development) and when I first arrived, all 16 of us (only 3 boys in my program! What’s with these guys?) stayed in a hotel during orientation. Orientation lasted 3 days and I remember while we were sitting in the heat listening to our program coordinators, I felt so excited to be in a brand new city starting a whole new adventure. The last day was the day that all of us were nervously anticipating: meeting our host parents. These are people who we’d be staying with for the next 8 weeks. All of us had been talking about the big rendez-vous. All of us were nervous and excited. We laughed at potential awkward situations that might happen but when the time came to meet our host mother/father, we were all silent. Students on one side, parents on the other awkwardly facing each other and trying to guess, ‘which one is my mother/father?’ I felt like the little kid’s book with the animal that asks everyone, ‘are you my mother?’ One by one Waly (program coordinater) called matching names of students and families, saying ‘This is —- and this is your mother’ I was relieved I wasn’t the first one called because I would not have known how to greet my host mother at all. It was interesting to watch people be paired off and some mothers shook hands while others completely took a hold of a student and enveloped them in a hug and kisses on both cheeks. I stood with a handful of other students and waited for my name to be called but soon we ran out of mothers. Great, mine wasn’t even there yet! Later they trickled through slowly and Waly had said that for those who don’t have a car, taxis can be late depending upon traffic flow and so I sat and waited for mine to come through the gate. Finally I saw a lady arrive and she talked in Wolof with our program coordinators and then said my name and in my head I said, ‘Ahh she’s my host mother!!’ We hugged and took a picture for Waly and then left off in the taxi for my new home.
We spoke a little French but I was mostly sitting watching the scenery pass by. There’s dirt and dust EVERYWHERE. It was still so bizarre for me to see so many dark-skinned people compared to Thailand where I saw lighter-skinned Asians. Adults and kids who beg for money roam the highways and people on the street corners waiting to bargain for a taxi. So much movement everywhere. Like Thailand there’s no real ‘lanes’ on the road and driving is like a funnel game where everyone tries to squeeze in to any space available. We ended at Sacre Coeur 3, my new neighborhood and I was surprised to find my house was bigger than I expected. It was square and stucco (off course). My cousin, Helene, opened the front door, saw me and started clapping her hands singing, ‘American, American, American!’ I laughed and greeted her and then my sister, Sandra. My mother showed me my own room and bathroom which I didn’t expect to have all to myself and then I began to unpack my bags for the 3rd time this year.