Paris, Senegal and Tabaski: the “Oops I Forgot to Blog for a Month and a Half, Don’t Worry I’m Alive” Mega-Post
I really thought I would be updating this thing more often. Like, some bloggers (better bloggers) ((more considerate bloggers)) update once a week or a few times a month. I on the other hand have not been doing that! I cant promise I will do it more often… But I can promise that what you read will be what is most important to me from my travels! That being said, here’s a really long post about where I have been since the end of August.
ON August 25, I flew out of Taiwan, I bounced around a few different airports (including Shanghai, where all social media is blocked, which was a really strange 4 hours of my life) before ending up in Paris. My mom was waiting (kinda crying) at the airport for me. The week-long mama-daughter reunion was, for lack of better words, epic. We were in a place we honestly never imagined we would visit, seeing the things we thought we would only ever see in movies. We stayed in the Madeleine district, which was a little posh for us but it was quiet and quaint (and around the corner from Lauderee, talk about life changing). We walked along the Champs Elysee to the Arc de Triomph, saw Notre Dame and the Locks of Love bridge, cruised down the Sain in a boat, visited Versailles (still crying inside), visited the outside of the Louvre, went up the Eiffel Tower, ate an unfathomable amount of macroons, and drank champagne while watching a show on Moulin Rouge as the clock struck midnight on my 20th birthday. The week went by too quickly, but we enjoyed every moment together. C’est la vie.
I left Paris for Senegal on August 30. I got here in the middle of the night, expecting to wait in the airport for a few hours for someone to come and get me. But I was greeted instantly by the director of the program and driven to a hotel where I slept for over 12 hours. Within 24 hours, pretty much all of the other students in the program showed up too. We stayed in that hotel for the first week we were here as we completed orientation. One of the most important things I did during orientation was meet my host mother for the first time. I had heard a lot about Coura… I knew she was a kindergarten teacher. Everyone said she was always smiling and warm. But none of those remarks could have prepared me for how truly incredible mama Coura is. On top of the fact that when I first got here I had hardly practiced my inherently terrible French since leaving Humboldt in May, I was also extremely nervous. But instead of that prohibiting a connection during our first meeting, she was extremely understanding and already motherly. She spoke slow so that I could understand, she asked me questions that I could respond to, and told me that this semester and always I will be a part of her family. Which was just… It was amazing. Traveling is hard. Traveling several places without returning home for a long period of time is really hard. It has challenged my notions of home and family. There is never really a moment where I am not thinking about my family, my friends, the places I’ve called home in California. Coura said exactly what she should have that day. I’ll never forget it.
I’ve lived with her family for five weeks now. I have four siblings that live in the house with me—Mouhammad, Philomene, Falou and Papi—a few more that live in Dakar or outside of Senegal. My host father’s name is Michel. He speaks some English and is an architect. There are two women that live here part-time that cook and clean and hang out with us. Everyone in the home, along with all the ones who pay frequent visits, are awesome. Some speak English, but most just try their hardest to slow down their French for me and teach me some Wolof. There are many things that are foundationally different about this culture that I have had to adjust to. I honestly love pretty much all of it!
During the time that I have been here, I’ve done quite a bit with my class. We had a tour of the city, learned how to buy fabric for tailored clothing, went to a beautiful beach town a couple hours south of Dakar, learned traditional dance, how to play the djembe (drums) and kora (21-string instrument), how to do batik (west African tie-dye!!!), and learned ceramics from a master at the Village Des Arts. On top of all that we are practicing French, learning Wolof, and experiencing a culture totally different from our own. It’s amazing. For instance, yesterday was Tabaski. It goes by a different name in other Muslim countries, but here it is called Tabaski. Its date is fixed to the lunar calendar, so we are lucky to have been here for it this year!! The day goes roughly as so: the men wake up for the first prayer very vry early in the morning. After that is done, they come home and begin preparations for a feast. The feast includes sacrificing sheep (the number of sheep varies in each family depending on the number of adult males). Once they’ve killed the sheep, it’s prepped for cooking, the women grill it, and the feast ensues. Everyone dresses up in the evening and goes around their neighborhood to visit family and friends, the children get a little money from all the grownups. I hope this does not sound culturally insensitive, because I really just mean it as an observation… But it reminded me a lot of Thanksgiving in the States. It’s very different, obviously, but the familial aspect of it is the same. Everyone just wants to be with the ones they love the most. Dress up, take pictures, eat a lot, and love each other’s company. And it was an honor to be a part of this family’s Tabaski.
I leave on Thursday for a week-long excursion. I will be staying in a village and visiting Touba, the birthplace of the Mouride brotherhood of Islam.Pumped.
Housekeeping: hi, I’ve received no mail! I can message you my address if you need it.. 😉 and I’ve finally booked my flight home! I leave here on December 14 and have the most complicated 36 hours of my life, including an overnight stay in NYC, and will be back in California on December 15 FINALLY. Only about 2 months until I am home again! Until then, I’ll be in a country I’ve always wanted to be in, learning about the things I have always wanted to learn. I’ll see you all at Christmas. Love you guys!