It’s t-6 days until touch down in Dakar, and it has just occurred to me that in the next 4 months, I run the risk of falling in love with and getting to know this city far better than my hometown Accra. If I’m not careful, I may even find that I grow to obsess over Dakar the way I do over DC, my home for the past 2 years that I am always keen to show off to friends whenever they visit. The irony is unavoidable. Could it really be that easy for me to blend into the landscape of a city that remains mysterious and slightly intimidating to the unknowing eye (a.k.a. the naïve study abroad student who thinks she knows it all)? Judging only by the numerous Google images, blog posts, guidebook articles and anecdotes from people who have spent even a week on holiday in Senegal, I think the answer is a resounding yes.
I don’t view myself as a particularly adventurous person, in fact I’m pretty sure I’m not, especially when it comes to travelling on my own. I’m all for exploring new places and finding unique spots away from the tourist’s beaten path, but this absolutely cannot be done without extensive study of Google maps beforehand. Getting lost isn’t a concept I believe in nor am I in the least bit fond of. I must confess that even Accra, a city in which I have spent almost my entire life still frightens me at times. My sphere of travel is limited to my own neighborhood and those areas where my friends live, as well as a few other places where I’m not scared to maneuver my mother’s car in quest of some store, restaurant or relative’s house to name a few. Venturing into unknown locales is only alright with a companion (did I mention getting lost is not an option?)
After living on Georgetown’s campus for a couple of months, I decided to throw caution to the wind, or at least allow the breeze to rustle it a tiny bit by leaving the bubble and immerse myself in the city, armed of course with Google maps, and every other phone app designed to help you navigate dc’s “user-friendly” street naming system. In true DC fashion I got to know the hipster areas first; Adams Morgan or U Street anyone? I found that by the first summer I was going to spend away from Georgetown, I was catching myself smiling wistfully at forlorn faded brick town houses and those baskets of flowers that appear on the lampposts by the waterfront the minute warm weather arrives.
How possible, you ask, could it be for such an adventure-phobe to make the most out of a new city? I believe my love-affair with Dakar will begin the same way the one in DC did, on foot. As much as driving around Accra nervously appeals to me, the idea of losing myself in Dakar presents itself as one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done. I know my study abroad advisor, Jason may not like the sound of this, but I assure you that this intentional losing of one’s self is totally figurative and not literal. I simply mean that I intend to close the tab on google maps and absorb everything I possibly can about my new home for the next 4 months. I am itching to take in the sights, sounds and smells that make any place different from the next. And if course, I shall do this with the most casual air, and if I try hard enough I may pass for a local and not an over-eager tourist (or “toubab”) trying to surreptitiously take a picture of the colorful public buses.
As a member of that displaced group of travelers know as “third-culture kids” (a term that I learnt from a funny blog bearing this term in its title) I’m aware that my study abroad experience in Dakar may create another little pocket of home somewhere in the world. I can’t even begin to explain the mix of anticipation, fear and “am I ever going to speak passable Wolof” that I’m feeling right now. What if I offend my host parents in some way and come off pretentious? What if I never find my way around? What if Dakar doesn’t love me the way I want to love it? Hélas, I must save that for another blog. Here’s to falling in love!