Senegal is like when you walk down a new street in a new city and the sky is incredibly blue and the sun is shining and you're humming "Viva la Vida", and you go in every building that looks interesting because you don't care about the amount of time you spend wandering.
Senegal is a place where people are genuine - perhaps that is the best way to describe it. They will welcome you with all of their heart, and take you in like they've always known you. Senegal is the place where every stranger on the car rapides will help a lost tubab (what Senegalese people will often call you, as a foreigner) get where they need to go.
Senegal is a place in which wealth does not determine happiness - it is a place where relationships, where family, and where community determine happiness. In the US, I feel as though one mistake many people make is to confuse comfort with happiness - in America, people strive for a nice big house with a white fence and a couple of flat screen TVs - but where does that get that you? How many people in this country lose themselves to materialism and work culture? How many people forget the value of prioritizing friends, family, and community?
In my host family's neighborhood in Dakar, I was able to feel like a part of the community after only a couple of weeks. The kids in the garden played with me, and the girls taught me all of their clapping games - I still find myself humming the words in French to a few of them. The guys in the garden gave me my Senegalese name. The man in the boutique on the corner knew me and we greeted each other like old friends, and the same goes for the security guard down the street (though I don't quite know what he was guarding, so don't ask). Senegal is a place where communities are tight-knit, but so incredibly welcoming.
At night, the city lights illuminate the clouds over Dakar. They shine like pieces of gold, and even from the city you can see stars. Looking downtown, the city lights blur - a reminder of the example of modernity that is downtown Dakar, with lights and nightlife and billboards, like every other major city in the world but still unique to Senegal. The night smells like the air off the ocean, and after dark, people go and meet their friends and visit the boutiques and supermarkets to buy ingredients for dinner.
This post is so disconnected, so all over the place, because it is such a challenge to describe a whole month in a wonderful country - one that occupies such a special place in my heart (could I get more cliche?). Senegal is an intersection. It is where people drink ataya, a type of traditional Senegalese tea that you drink socially, and check Facebook in the same hour. It is where trucks are Yuejin, pickup trucks are American brands like Ford and Chevy, and there's a Tata down the street from my host family's house. It's a place with both Samsung stores and Huaweis, with both shopping malls and bustling markets.
Before I left for Senegal, people would ask me if I was going to "help" the people of Senegal. I thought that was silly to begin with - I was going to complete community service, but I was first and foremost going to Senegal to learn from the people of Senegal, not to "save the poor Africans" (as many people around me implied in their questions that I should be doing). Now, I have a clear answer to those who would ask me such I question. I truly hope I helped someone - I hope I helped my wonderful English students by giving them the conversation practice they needed. But, overall, I must have learned so, so, so much more in Senegal than anyone in Senegal learned from me.
I learned about community, and what it feels like. I learned about patience and sharing. I learned to dance and I learned how to learn about a culture. I learned about car rapides and getting change for 10,000s and how to bargain and how a simple, genuine interaction really does make me happier than anything I can hold in my two hands. I learned that the call to prayer is most beautiful when it's the first thing you hear in the morning. I confirmed that public transportation is definitely the best thing ever.
I love the people I met in Senegal - Serigne and Gamo at CIEE who are just so incredible, genuine, and generous, my host family - shout out to my amazing host siblings and host family who put up with my generally confused exchange student nature, to my enthusiastic English students who taught me so much about Senegal, and to everyone I met along the way.
I'm going to just finish here with a couple of pictures so I'm not tempted to talk in circles about Senegal all night.
I struggled getting good pictures of the cityscape, but I got some when I visited the African Renaissance Monument (it's on a hill, so I was able to get some pictures of the cityscape). I'll have to upload more later.
My host family's house!
A car rapide! It's like a bus, except it doesn't have designated stops - you just tell the guy on the back, the appronti, where you need to stop, or tap a coin when you need to stop. It works like magic.
A picture my little host brother took of me on my last full day in Senegal when we were playing around and attempting to take pictures of one another looking "cool".
I guess I should go to bed now - I just logged off of Facebook, where I was talking to a Senegalese friend in Spanish. Ahh, language, communication, friendship! The joys of life!