Care in Senegal by Anna Wyner
Going to Senegal was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I booked to visit Senegal only a month before I went, when I was in the French Alps finishing a ski instructor course. I was looking at a number of different opportunities, countries, and experiences, but my parents were getting tired and annoyed with me, and I had to finally make a decision. I would go to Senegal for two months to teach English with Projects Abroad.
My trip to Senegal from Boston was an adventure in itself. It was by far one of the most complicated flights, connecting in Montreal and again in Brussels. Once I finally made it to the tiny Dakar airport, which was the smallest airport I had ever seen, and cleared passport and baggage control I walked into the sweltering heat, trying to nervously distinguish someone from Projects Abroad in the screaming crowd.
Finally, I recognised Cheikh from the photos I was sent before my arrival. He had a huge smile on his face calling “Anna! Anna!”. I was exhausted and slept the entire drive from the Dakar airport to St. Louis, the city I would be working in for the next few months.
My Host Family
I arrived at my host family late at night and was greeted by smiling and welcoming faces. I was tired and overwhelmed, so I texted my mum and dad that I arrived safely and went straight to bed, just to be woken up by morning prayers from the Mosque next door - at 5am!
I was unbelievably lucky with my host family. My family was a large and well-to-do family close to downtown St. Louis. I still don’t understand who is related to whom and how, but somehow it really did not matter. Everyone in the household was family - even the volunteers - and they made sure that we understood that. The mother of the family, Oulimata, was a very large, happy, and talkative woman. She ensured that everyone in the family took care of us and that we were comfortable and had everything we needed.
There were 5 children in the house. Omar, Louise, and Rokai, were the children of our mother’s niece, and Mama and Soukaina were the children of one our mother’s sons. They were always laughing and playing, and were constantly in our room, probably because they absolutely loved our iPhones. Nevertheless, they contributed so much to my experience and I miss them all greatly.
The rest of the family was incredibly generous as well. They were happy when you talked to them and asked them questions and were happy to share their ways and traditions. All of the talking in the house was in my broken French and barely there Wolof!
Lunch and dinner were always downstairs in the living room with all of the adults in the family. We sat on the floor, around a big plate and ate whatever one of our sisters made that night. The food was delicious, usually combinations of fish, some sort of rice or couscous, and vegetables. I don't think I have ever eaten as much good food as I had eaten there.
We were very fortunate because our sister-in-law had her first baby when my roommate and I were there. In Senegal, a week from when the baby is born there is a traditional baptism, where you sacrifice a sheep and an Iman gives the baby a name, and once the ceremony is finished, everybody sits down and eats Lach (a Senegalese dish that they ate every Sunday).
Depending upon which baby it is, the celebration either ends at Lach, or goes on into the night. It was Ayme’s first baby, and so the celebration was a huge deal. The preparations were unbelievable. They, of course, bought a sheep, which spent half of the week on our roof being guarded by one of the boys of the house at night. They also bought two cows, about 20 chickens, and much more food. The day of the baptism was amazing, filled with bright colours and patterns, food, dance, music, several complete outfit changes, and more food. It was an experience that I will never forget.
My Care Project
I had signed up to teach English at a local elementary school in St. Louis. Unfortunately, I decided it wasn’t the project for me and I brought it up with the staff members from Projects Abroad and they were very understanding, helpful, and flexible. I was able to switch my work within a day, from teaching to doing the care project, working at a neighborhood Centre, called ASF (Assistance sans Frontiers), for street children.
At the centre I taught English to small groups of students, from 13-24 years old, and felt that I was able to make a real impact on their lives. They came to the centre on their own initiative and were very excited and interested in learning, and it was fun to see the progress that I helped them make. I also worked in the medical clinic that was at the centre, applying simple first aid, which was not always the most pleasant, but again, I knew I was making a difference, and I really enjoyed it. The staff at the centre were amazing - funny, smart, helpful and made sure you felt that you belonged. They listened to your input, and tried to implement our ideas when it made sense.
I had lots of free time in Senegal. We typically had work from 9-12:30 and 4-6:30, and our weekends and national holidays (of which there were many) were off. I spent most of my free time exploring St Louis, sitting at various cafes, or meeting other volunteers at the beach or one of the local hotels to go swimming.
All of the other volunteers were amazing. They were from all around the world and were some of the best, smartest, and most interesting people I have ever met. On the weekends we would sometimes go on excursions. I went to a national park where we saw a huge variety of incredible birds and animals. I also went to Touba, the largest Mosque in West Africa, which was a very important experience because so much of Senegalese culture and way of thinking is derived from the founder of Touba, Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba.
Finally, I went to the desert for a weekend where we rode camels and stayed in amazing tents overnight, which was by far my favourite excursion. These were times to bond with the other volunteers and explore the rich natural and cultural world of Senegal.
Overall, Senegal was an amazing experience and leaving the country was very hard. I made amazing friends with the volunteers, staff members, and the local Senegalese. I felt like I was welcome, like I belonged, and that I was making a difference in people’s lives. I definitely want to do something like this again, and think everyone should. It really opened my mind and made me look at the world differently.
Thank you Projects Abroad!