This past week, I thought I’d finally lost my patience with this country and its culture due to its racism, sexism, and street harassment. I was so unmotivated to leave school to eat lunch that I couldn’t go anywhere without occupying myself with music. Being at “home” with my host family wasn’t any better. Exhausted by unwanted social interactions throughout the day, I’d begun spending more and more time in my room to carve out alone time. Before Fatou, the Wolof-only maid, left for the weekend, she told me I was extremely rude. Awa, other maid, stood by and helped with translation. According to Fatou, I only spoke to her when I was going to eat; when I did speak to her, I only said “Salaam alekum” and rarely said “nanga def,” etc; unlike the other seemingly-perfect host students before me, I was ungrateful because I didn’t compliment her food after every meal.
She delivered this news in a drawn-out accusation, each sentence punching out holes in my body. Afterwards I picked up what was left, went to my room, and closed the door. It had been a hard week and this last lecture made me feel so broken down. Of course Fatou was in the right because I was coming to her country and needed to adapt to her cultural norms. But I felt misunderstood and unfairly judged. I was also disappointed that I had failed so badly all the way into the last month.
And so I sat in my room, finally submerged in that “I hate this country and can’t wait to leave” feeling in which I’d wanted to find myself. It was the feeling about which I’d raved before coming here because I’d wanted to see if I were strong enough to climb out of it. But at that moment I didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I asked myself again why I hadn’t chosen France, land of scarves and cheese. I miserably laid on my bed and mechanically reminded myself that there would be ups and downs, that this was a down, and that somehow things would feel better again.
I was therefore extremely glad to get away for the weekend and leave not only the streets of Dakar but also the rules of my family. Saint Louis turned out to be just the relaxing break I needed despite one very disturbing incident.
After I returned yesterday night, this is what happened:
- The Sunday night rice porridge had raisins in it!
- As I helped Awa wash dishes, we bonded over our mutual love of Lula Nex
- My host mother said she had a gift of fabric for me that she’d give me sometime this week.
- Today, I bought vegetables and peanuts from various vendors and they were all very nice and smiled back at me.
- Winter finally started! I found that my body had acclimated such that the 72 degree weather had me shivering and in need of a sweater, scarf, and hat.
- I got to practice my French with Cherif for half of my route home since he happened to be walking the same way as me.
- After returning home, I had a much-above-minimum conversation in Wolof with Fatou. She appreciates my obvious gestures and I am back in good graces.
I have less than three weeks left… and now I’m not sure I’m ready to leave.