“Waaw, maangi ci kawam!”

This phrase instantly became my favorite, amongst my very thin Wolof inventory, the minute I learnt it in class the other day. Roughly translated it means, “I’m on top of things” or “Things are going well”. For the most part I can say this enthusiastic sentence is a reflection of my experience in Dakar so far. Or at least, I have adopted it as my mantra to my new life. I have fallen into a routine, into the rhythm of things here. I quite happily go to the “boutique” round the corner to buy credit for my host mum, Soso or the ever-present baguette for the dinner table. It’s a little bizarre the amount of satisfaction I feel walking home clutching a loaf of bread wrapped in newspaper, to the point where I’m almost skipping. I just feel so “normal” being able to carry out what is a very routine transaction and I can’t explain exactly why it brings me joy.  I know to say “ba beneen yoon” when I don’t have any coins to spare (for some reason getting change here is like fitting a camel through the eye of a needle), the most gracious way to express that you can’t give today to all the talibe begging on the street even though it’s very upsetting to note the striking emptiness of their cans. I’m in on most of the jokes made between Soso and her cousin who I like to think of as my grandma because she reminds me so much of her. That is, when the jokes are in French and not in the rapid fire Kriyol which Soso and Mama Cato use!

In fact, maangi ci kawam to the extent that the other day on my way to school, someone stopped me and asked for directions in Wolof! Although I still had no clue where he was trying to go even when we switched to French, it was nice to know that I was getting away with camouflaging myself into this city. I brave the VDN everyday, a busy highway that separates my neighborhood from the CIEE center where all my classes are held. Becoming an expert in crossing that road is an uphill battle I am always reluctant to fight and of which I’m quickly getting tired. I try to face it with a good grace every morning, but I must say that taking my life in my hands just to get to school or get home is not my favorite pastime. Or rather, putting my life  at the mercy of car rapide and taxi drivers who fancy themselves as NASCAR racers despite the fact that they don’t have the brakes to match. When it comes to my little universe that consists of the walk from Mermoz to school, or to Caesars (best place to steal Wi-fi) I would say, definitely, maangi ci kawam.

Now, when it comes to navigating the rest of this vast city, in fact even navigating the various alleyways that serve us shortcuts within Mermoz, things are not as rosy. There is an uncountable number of places I have heard about and want to see, and it’s a little overwhelming not knowing where to start. And of course, the issue of only knowing how to greet and take leave in Wolof isn’t making the transition easier, although I appreciate the professor taking the time to explain the grammar behind what is supposedly an easy language to pick up, rather than having us memorize lines of dialogue all the time. There are also certain elements of the culture that I am finding surprisingly hard to swallow. Take for example, my walk to my internship at GRAG (Global Research and Advocacy Group). It’s located about 20 minutes by foot from my house, in Cité Keur Gogi, which from what I can tell appears to be a cluster of really nice “Sicap” buildings or real estate developments owned by a certain company. Obviously my knowledge of real estate in Dakar is not the most advanced and I apologize if that information is totally wrong!

Anyway, on this walk to work, I noted a lot of curious looks and sidelong glances that I didn’t understand at first. Maybe it’s the self-conscious high schooler in me, but I interpreted this attention as silent judgment at the length of my skirt which I thought was totally appropriate seeing as it fell slightly below my knees. Unfortunately the wind was not on my side and I got the impression that two skinny legs are the most scandalous things to grace the streets of Dakar based on the looks I was getting. I could be totally wrong, seeing as I saw other young women dressed similarly to me, but it’s slightly unnerving to have to be mindful of how you dress in order to not “convey the wrong impression of American women” or “allow others to take advantage of you” as we were warned during orientation. By no means do I intend this to be an indictment on Senegalese culture, especially since certain social norms apply in my home country as well, but I will say that dressing your femininity so as not to provoke attention from others (read: men) is an uncomfortable reminder of women’s position in society all over the world. Of course I am aware that I cannot fix patriarchy with one inappropriate outfit, but I do recognize its far-reaching power be it here in Dakar, or in Accra, or in DC for that matter.

On a lighter note, things are amazing on the host family front! It’s almost unbelievable how that brief and very general housing survey led to me being placed in a home almost identical to mine with a single mum and a grandma! I was really nervous about having a large overwhelming host family with lots of kids, an atmosphere I’m completely unused to as an only child. I would need a whole other post to describe how “just right” this homestay is, with Mama Cato and Soso’s irreverent, too-loud laughter. There’s so much to touch on and so many things to explain in so few words, but as usual I shall do my best to give you the best snapshot possible on this blog. Jámm ak jámm!

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