…is me! My name is Soxna Aan Faal (pronunciation key: the “x” is pronounced with a nasal-y “h”, Aan is like “ah-n”, and Faal is like “fall”, which is also how I’ve seen it spelled on my brother’s army ID). I am named after my mom, so everyone jokes that my brothers are my sons, etc. (sort of a standard family thing here, to refer to your husband’s sisters as your sisters and your dad’s brothers as your dads, etc.). My parents are on the older side, so my oldest brother, Modou, is essentially the man in charge at home, because he’s the oldest and because he’s the bread maker (he farms and is a taxi driver). He’s married and has 3 kids (the youngest is a beautiful little baby). I have another brother who lives at home, too, and 2 women who might be my sisters (I think one is actually married to another brother of mine who doesn’t live at home or something…not sure). There is also another family who lives in our compound, and the dad helps out in the fields I think. They have 2 beautiful little kids, and the girl is incredibly helpful to her mother and everyone actually.
I don’t really know where to begin for what to say about the past week. It has been a mix of highs and lows, but mainly a steady mid-high. I spend my mornings with the 3 other trainees in my village learning Wolof with our Peace Corps LCF trainer, Bamba, who is great. Then we usually head to our respective homes for lunch. I typically sit under a mango tree with various members of my family and friends and have lunch mid-afternoon around 2 or 2:30, and then tea…lots of tea. It’s great, though. My brother makes really good tea – awesome mix of tea, mint, and sugar (lots of sugar). Around 4:30 we’d head out to the community garden and work on our demonstration plots for a vegetable garden and tree nursery until about 7 or so. Then we’d go home and chill out before dinner in the dark around 8 or 8:30. Then more chilling before bed around 10:30 or so. Lots of chilling, which is nice since it’s been hot – not super hot, but enough so I start sweating doing just about anything besides sitting/laying under the mango tree. The storms have been great – it’s rained almost every day. One night it stormed around 2am and it was awesome. The wind was so wild that the door to my bedroom blew open! It’s been good I have been dreaming in English, French, and Wolof since I had to try to tell my brother that my door was open not because I had forgotten to close my door but rather because of the wind – conversation a mix of French and Wolof, plus some random English words thrown in when I didn’t know what I was saying while I was half asleep. :)
My Wolof is gradually getting better. That is definitely the most frustrating part of the homestay – not being able to communicate with my family very well at all. Luckily my brother and several other people (almost all men) know French pretty well in the village so I can have conversations with them and also verify my Wolof. I can’t wait until I can actually communicate more than simple greetings and phrases like “I’m going to Bamba’s house for class” or “I’m going to the garden” in Wolof. Patience, persistence, and an enormous amount of laughter are absolutely a must when it comes to this situation. I think I’ve had enough practice with the patience and persistence pieces from other aspects of my life; and it’s hard not to laugh at myself when I completely butcher words left and right, causing puzzled looks on the faces of my family, and when I’m sitting under a mango tree in Africa. Yes, that’s the hidden romantic in me speaking.
But it’s not all laughter and mangoes here. There is real poverty, though my family probably wouldn’t ever say it. I had a long conversation in French with a good friend of my brother’s about how he had quit school because he wasn’t that great at it and because he needed to work to support his family and now he really regrets not staying in school. It’s like that all over Africa, he said – and the world, I said. And though there is more community here than I’ve ever felt in my life, there is also hierarchy and privileges for some. And though everyone (for the most part) loves the kids and watches out for them and feeds/cleans/clothes them, there is also little hesitation when it comes to disciplining them. I hesitate to write this because I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea about Senegalese people, but it’s true: the taboo about hitting a child in the US does not exist here. This type of discipline doesn’t always happen and not every parent does it, but it’s not looked down upon the same here as it is in the states. Also, cleanliness here is on a completely different level than back home, though I’m of the mindset that whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. The kids here definitely have stronger immune systems than kids in the US. (Just wish it wasn’t true that so many kids die in Africa because of very preventable/curable illnesses such as diarrhea.)
I hope to have time to write a few more thoughts here in the next couple days while we’re back in Thiès, but I can’t make any promises. Though I sometimes wonder what I do with hours during my day, I always seem to be busy, and I’m sure the next few days won’t be an exception.