Meeting the Family
On Tuesday, my aunt invited over to her house to meet my cousins. We had briefly spoken on the phone, but only basic introductions were being exchanged, the pauses in between questions filled with anxious laughter. My aunt has four kids, her son lives in Paris and three daughters live in Dakar. The eldest is 17, the next eldest is 13, and the youngest is 8. This was extremely exciting news for me, because I grew up as an only child only having two cousins from my mom’s side who were boys much older than me. I went to their house with my host sister Ndeye, and the first time hanging out with them was great but also awkward. We watched “The Babysitter” and tried to avoid breaking the silence of strangers by looking at our phones.
This weekend my aunt invited me to go to Saly with her so that I could meet the rest of the family. The upcoming trip was something that I was looking forward to all week, but I couldn’t help but feel extremely nervous. This was family that I thought I would never have a chance to meet, and yet despite everything it had become reality.
Because I grew up abroad, I remember meeting my mom’s side of the family for the first time. There were definitely some parallels between the experiences: the uncontrollable giddiness that was a precursor to the butterflies in the stomach, and the loss of words that left me participating in the reunion in near silence. However, meeting my dad’s side of the family was a whole other level. For one, I never expected to meet them. Secondly, there was a language barrier. While I can no longer claim that I don’t speak French at all, some sentiments simply can’t be expressed in this language that is still foreign to me. Then there was also the fact that I grew up American and was never really connected to my Senegalese side. However, the visit went surprisingly well. I bonded a lot more with my cousins whom I traveled with, and felt like I was officially initiated into the family. This was the start of a new chapter of my life, and I definitely left feeling like a had a renewed purpose in life.
Because I traveled with my family over the weekend, I missed out on the two activities that were scheduled for us by APA. On Friday there was a concert and on Saturday there was a showing of a film by Ousmane Sembene. The film that they showed was “La Noire de”, which I had already seen in my French class back home.
I mention these activities because I don’t want this blog to be completely taken over by events in my personal life. All of our experiences are really different because we have a lot of freedom to shape it how we like. For example, while I was away over the weekend, some of the APA students went bowling. On Sunday morning there was also a yoga event hosted at the African Renaissance Monument.
Splitting Time Between Families
It is hard to believe that we have already been in Senegal for three weeks. Time has been stretched and condensed, its malleability allowing us to forget which stage of the journey we are on. Some days it feels like we have been here for months, the pace of our lives finally harmonizing with the rhythm of the city. Some days disappear into the sun. We go to class, step outside, and realize that the evening is already clawing at our feet. I never know what to expect from a day, whether it will blend in with the rest or drag out for what seems like an eternity.
As I reflect back on the days that have passed and glimpse into the limited days ahead, I can’t help but feel a sense of urgency. Is my French at the level it should be? What if it has not improved as much as I hoped? Am I spending enough time with my host family? Am I reaching out to my real family enough? Should I be exploring the city more?
It is hard to make every moment meaningful, and I tell myself that it’s because I’m on vacation. It’s the heat that seeps into my skin and makes my eyelids heavy. It’s the whirlwind of emotions that consumes my mind so that little space is left for Wolof verbs and grammar rules. But even if I am not out exploring the city or slaving over my books, I am still making meaning connections. If I’m not spending time with my host family, I’m usually out with my family or other students from APA. I rarely am alone, and because of that I’m always learning something new. I really value the relationships that I’ve built here, and hope that I will be able to maintain them all when the program ends.
Since there has been so much going on in my personal life, I sometimes feel guilty that not that much of my mental energy is being spent on my academics. I try to make up for it by being active in class and participating. I have really enjoyed my two classes so far. At first I found my French class really boring but it has grown on me. The professor is really nice, and I think the exercises we do in class are extremely helpful. We start class doing some grammar, then move on to listening exercises. We then do some speaking exercises that tie into the listening portion, and end the class by writing a short essay.
The literature class is also amazing. I love literature, and our two professors (one for oral literature and one for written literature) are really passionate about what they teach. They are both extremely knowledgeable and I am never bored in class.
I’ve traveled a lot, and every time I travel, food has not been one of my priorities. But as I’ve gotten older and started to travel alone for longer periods of time, food has consistently been a problem for me. I’m a very picky eater and generally eat out of convenience, this combination usually results in me losing a lot of weight whenever I travel abroad.
For this program, all meals are supposed to be covered, but the problem is I never know when my family eats. I get up early to go to class, so for breakfast I usually just eat a little snack I bought from Carrefour, which is similar to what I do at school back home. My family eats a really late lunch, so I usually miss that because I’m either in class or out of the house. The craziest thing to me is that they usually eat dinner around 10 and by that time I am staring. It finally came to a breaking point this week, and I decided that I was going to buy some groceries and start fixing more food for myself. Hopefully that works out, but my one saving grace has definitely been the mangoes.
That’s all for now, until next week!