Aanchal Johri - Care & Community in Senegal
My trip to Senegal was one of the most remarkable life experiences I could have ever undergone. Meeting and working with people of different backgrounds was a warming and enlightening escapade. The host family I stayed with was especially welcoming and made me feel at home while they immersed me in the Senegalese culture at the same time. They taught me the names of the traditional Senegalese dishes, such as Thiéboudienne, which is a special tomato, fish, and rice concoction. They also have a two-year-old daughter who was extremely cute and loved to dance to the songs on my iPod.
My Time in Senegal
In just a day, I became accustomed to the sincere, friendly culture of the people and quickly settled into a routine. In the mornings, I worked in a talibe center, where I helped the nurses clean and bandage wounds of young talibe children. We would meet at the center and then walk about half a mile to daaras, or small dwellings where young orphaned children study. Often a child would overturn a bucket so I would have a seat to sit on while I bandaged the wounds of the other young children. After rubbing the deep wound with alcohol and a cotton ball, I realized that the white ball had instantly turned black with dirt and grime. Occasionally, the child would flinch, making me hesitant to continue because I did not want to cause them any more pain. But slowly, they began to understand and trust us.
I soon learned which type of bandage was needed for each wound: a small bandage for cuts and a large wrap-around bandage for wounds on the feet or at the knee or elbow joints. Sometimes, while I was applying cream to a wound, flies would swarm around. When this happened, a young boy tried to help me by swatting the flies with a container lid and I was extremely touched by his gesture. On Fridays, I would spend time at the talibe center, rather than the daaras, and would teach a group of talibe children how to brush their teeth.
In the afternoons, I worked at an elementary school. The first day we arrived at the school, the paint inside was pealing and dirt obscured the cartoon wallpaper. The outside of the school was plastered with graffiti. Every day that we worked something changed: the old paint was peeled off completely, a fresh coat was applied, and bright figures of children and flowers were painted both on the inside and outside. One day, while I was painting a kite on the outside of the school, a group of children came by to watch.
By the end of the trip, I had become accustomed to the friendly nature of the local Senegalese people. The young children on the street wave excitedly at us. They would race each other to greet the foreigners. They would stick out their hand and shake yours up and down. Some would try to talk to me, and I was distraught that by not knowing French or Wolof, the dominant languages, I had created a barrier between us. Fortunately I still was able to connect to the people. I had chosen an excellent time to visit Senegal because they had just begun the 40-day celebration of Ramadan. It meant hearing the Quran from the speakers at the nearby mosque and listening to the Arabic rituals as my host family prayed in the mornings and evenings.
After a rejuvenating evening shower, the other volunteers and I spent time in the city or attended a planned Projects Abroad activity. One day we would saunter through the maze of markets, passing by rows of traditional artisan masks and sand paintings, perhaps entering a shop lined ceiling to floor with bolts of bold, patterned cloth. Another day we might stop by a patisserie for a ginger drink before attending a glass painting session or a traditional Senegalese dance lesson.
At the end of the first week, we took a four hour drive to the Lompoul Desert. We sat in the back of a truck with the cool wind whipping our hair as we passed by various Senegalese landscapes: fishing villages, slums, grassy plains. The last stretch of the journey, we drove right along the beach, the waves crashing just inches before the tires of our truck. After stopping by the beach for a dip in the crystal clean water and munching on a picnic, we continued to the desert. Our lavish, spacious tents were bolstered in the sand. In all four directions, there was endless sand. The scenic view was just like one would imagine a desert: hills and hills of sun colored sand extending towards the peaceful, silent horizon. That night, we rode a camel up and down the hills of sand. I could feel the camel breathing evenly beneath me as we hobbled around the sand. At the end, the camel broke into a jubilant spree and I clutched the camel tightly as my laughter shattered the silent air. I realized that the camel ride represented my stay in Senegal: an invigorating, unique experience coupled with a tang of rich, Senegalese culture.