On Monday, Richard who is another student from APA, invited me to go downtown with his host family. His host sister has a car, and after our class, she drove us to our first stop: the African Renaissance Monument. With us were also her adorable son Theo, and Richard’s host brother Alex. The stairs that lead up to the monument are less daunting than they look, and it didn’t take us long to get to climb up the 400 stairs to get to the base of the monument. From the base, we could see the entire city bask in the late afternoon sun, the buildings giving off a soft orange glow, the heat visibly trapped in the yellow sky. The stacks of concrete blocks seemed to sprawl until the ends of the earth, drowning out the faint line where the ocean meets the earth. We were standing on top of Dakar, with three towering bronze figures gazing towards New York, a familiar skyline that was now miles away. The finger of the child points directly at the Statue of Liberty, perhaps the most recognizable symbol of freedom and opportunity. In a country and continent that was still struggling with the stains of colonization and slavery, the statue was a reminder that the fight for a brighter future was ongonig.
Once we were inside the monument, we were given a small tour. In one room there were gifts from African leaders all across the continent that represented their countries’ history and culture. Displayed together with works from contemporary artists, the exhibit reinforced ideas of pan-africanism and paid homage to key figures throughout black history. After we ascended to the crown of the father, the view of the city was even more breathtaking. Being up in the second tallest monument in the world built by the North Koreans, there were a lot of thoughts that ran through my head. There was gratitude for this amazing opportunity, there was disbelief that I was finally in Senegal looking over Dakar, there was awe for all that the city had to offer and what I had already learnt in these past couple of weeks…
On our drive back home, we caught glimpses of the prison, the national theatre, and stopped by a nearby beach. For dinner, we bought half a chicken and some barbecued goat for an insanely cheap price. Of course, it was delicious like most of the meals I have eaten here.
I don’t have class on Tuesdays, so Richard and I decided to visit the Museum of Black Civilizations. We took a taxi there, and did not immediately see where to purchase tickets so we started wandering around the exhibits on the first floor. The first floor provided a more historic perspective, showcasing skulls of early humans and neolithic tools. It focused on Africa as the birthplace of humanity and of civilization. When we got to the second floor, we were stopped by a guard who asked for tickets, which we did not have. We eventually figured out that the tickets were being sold outside of the museum, so we bought them for 2000 francs each and went back inside. The second and third floor of the museum was mostly contemporary art, and all the pieces were absolutely amazing. There were many different styles, with varying levels of inspiration from traditional art forms. I would strongly recommend visiting this museum, as the exhibits touch on many different themes.
Shopping with the Girls
Wednesday after class, Siddhakshi, Seneca, Victoria and I met up at Sea Plaza to do some shopping. We were not confident enough to step foot into the bustling local markets and start bargaining in a mixture of French and Wolof. So we opted for the run-of-the-mill shopping experience, the one where prices were set and we could easily find our way among the stores. We spent the most time in a bookstore where we bought several books that were recommended to us by our literature professor. When we were ready to head home, Siddhakshi’s host sister met us at the mall and walked with us back home. On the route back, we stopped by to buy some coconuts, we took some photos outside a museum, and tried out the equipment at the largest outdoor gym in the world. We also passed through Cheikh Anta Diop University, and it was our first time really seeing a university campus that was not ISM.
The walk was kind of long, but it made me miss how easy it was to get around back home. In Dakar, I have only taken taxis. The taxis here are not expensive, but it starts adding up. Taking the Dem Dikks and figuring out where they pick you up and drop you off seems like too big a risk to take for someone like me who can get lost between the five minute walk from my host family to ISM. Back in the States, I walked everywhere, it was the cheapest option and good exercise. However, navigating without google maps is impossible for me, and we were advised not to walk around with our eyes glued to our phones looking confused and lost. This is just one of the many lifestyle changes I’ve had to make since being here. But part of the reason why I can’t do the things I do at home is because the sense of belonging is not yet secured. I still feel like has not completely accepted me, my walk is too tentative, my greetings too unsure. I have been able to make a few strides here and there, I called my own taxi, I say hi to the police officers every morning on my way to school, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
For our weekend trip, we went to the island of Sine Saloum and stayed at Ecolodge de Simal. The island was about five hours south of Dakar by car, and our resort was absolutely gorgeous. It is usually hard to hang out with everyone in the program because we all take different classes and have different schedules. However, this was an opportunity for all of us to spend more time together and take a break from the excitement of the city. The majority of Saturday was spent in the hotel pool. Before dinner, a few of us also went kayaking. The water was really shallow in most places, so we were able to walk around in the middle of the lake. The bottom of the lake was an interesting texture, a mix between mud and memory foam. We were able to make patterns all over the lake bottom, every footprint leaving behind a black shadow uncovered by the sand.
For me personally, the best parts of the day were our meals, because lunch and dinner both ended with mangoes. The mangoes that you get in the supermarkets in the States cannot even compare to the mangoes here. When I bite down on mangoes at home, my mouth fills with disappointment as opposed to any identifiable flavor. Here, the mangoes burst with sweetness, their orange skin being the most telling hint of piquant fruit inside.
On Sunday, we got up around 8 for breakfast and headed out to the lake at 9:15 to go fishing. It took awhile to get used to the rhythm of the boat, but we eventually got more comfortable swaying from one side to another. At one point, the motor of the boat stopped working, and there was really nothing any of us to do but look at one another and hope that we somehow made it back to shore. Fishing itself was really fun, everyone except Cecilia caught at least one fish, much to her dismay. I caught one and a half. I was hauling my second fish into the boat when it fred itself from my hook and jumped back into the water.
My new Families
As I mentioned in my last blog post, my father is Senegalese, but I never had the opportunity to get to know him. I’ve always been curious about him, and have wanted to connect with his side of the family if I ever got the opportunity. My host grandmother knew about this and asked me one day if I wanted to find him. I showed her the photos of him that I had with me and the last address I had of his. In just two days, my host family managed to locate my paternal family. On Friday, my aunt and uncle came to visit me. It was overwhelming, meeting family that I’ve dreamt of seeing one day in real life. As soon as I returned from the weekend trip where I had no service, my aunt called me and introduced me to two of my cousins. We immediately started texting and sharing photos, and more plans were made to meet the rest of the family.
Connecting with my family was a huge motivator for learning French. I always hoped that one day by some miracle I can find my family and when that day came I would at least know enough French to converse with them. The miracle happened sooner than expected, and not only did I find my real family, I also found another amazing family along the way. I am extremely grateful for the host family that I was placed into, not only because they helped me out in such a huge way, but mostly due to the fact that they are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life. I love talking with them, playing with the kids, going out with the older sisters, picking up groceries, and just spending time with the people who invited me into their home. My host family has made this a wonderful experience, and I feel extremely blessed to be around such great people!
Until next week!