Noted on September 8, 2011 by Eric Skaar in
Written by Aloura DiGiallonardo: University of Oregon student and IE3 OUS Chancellor Scholarship recipient interning with Group for Population Studies and Education (GEEP), in Senegal.
Not 5 minutes after I stepped off the plane in Dakar I had to tell a very nice airport employee that I was married and would not give him my number. My checked bag was lost and I waited two hours in what I have dubbed ” the hall of forgotten luggage ” to report it missing. I call it this because there were hundreds of bags in this hall with dust thicker than my very apparent American accent. I again had to tell the worker behind the desk, who must have been in his 50s that I was indeed married. Once outside it hit me. I’m in SENEGAL! Finally, after all of these years of saying and planning to go, I am here!
The bus ride from the airport to the University I am staying at was astounding. Poverty is abundant and very sad. There are many buildings that have been abandoned in the middle of construction, make shift shops, homes, and trash is everywhere. Yet, there is a strangely addicting vibe to the city. Everyone sits about outside studying on campus. Vendors come to your car window to sell every thing from fruit to razors to French scrabble. Buses are waaay over packed. Everyone is gleefully surprised when I through out some Wolof words and everyone is overwhelmingly hospitable.
Functioning in Senegalese society has been an everyday adventure. I now know how hustle my way on to packed buses to and from work, and I have purchased my first items from fruit stands (even though I ended up paying double the normal price!) I have been to Gorée and came face to face with a slave house and overwhelming emotions of guilt and disgrace of the historical relationship between Senegal and America. I have gone to concerts and learned a local dance called the Yuza. I’ve been caught in rain storms while on tiny pirogues. Seen live stock in the strangest of places, like cows on the beach or goats tied up outside grocery stores. I have been to Touba, the religious Mecca of Senegal and learned that headscarves and my hair do not like each other. I have battled with verb conjugations and the fact that I will stick out like a sore thumb wherever I go, eaten the most delicious food, met my wonderful, caring host family and am seeing and learning new things everyday.
Senegal is so diverse and charasmatic, much like America, one city cannot describe the whole country. From Dakar to the rural village of Gaé, from Islamic Touba to the touristy Casamance, every region has a distinct and interesting flavor. When people in America generally think of Africa, they think of a depressing and desperate place. I have only been here a short time, but despite the hardships Senegal is full of life, culture and hospitality! I look forward to the rest of my adventure here.