I’ll warn you up front that the ten following days weren’t nearly as exciting as the first ten.
November 7 | Day 10 in the village: When I walked into my room to go to bed, I saw this huge spider on the corner, next to my opened suitcase. I thought it was a prank; it looked like a sticker or a rubber spider from far away, I’m not sure. It was simply too big to be real. I have seen tarantulas before, and I know they aren’t dangerous. But when you are in the middle of the freaking sub-Saharan Africa, you can’t tell apart what kills you from what makes you stronger. I do have a mosquito net, but that doesn’t keep even bloodsuckers from getting to me. So, I didn’t take my chances. I killed her. Even if that meant having even more mosquitoes flying around! Chasing crickets before going to bed, while the power is out is another current issue.
November 8 | Day 11 in the village: Before leaving Brazil I bought dozens and dozens of bonbons to give my host families and friends. I finally ran out, and I hadn’t even started giving them out yet. I did eat my feelings though.
On a more important note, during my time in the village gender gaps became even more obvious, and I observed a lot about attitudes toward workplace equality or lack thereof. My host brothers don’t help around the house and I was told they couldn’t even prepare a meal if they had to, because that is the women’s job. While visiting schools, my host mother told me that in most religious cities, the number of girls in school is a lot smaller, because they have to stay in the house and work. The idea that through education you can achieve a better life is not inherent to the human being, and it definitely doesn’t rule in Senegal.
November 9 | Day 12 in the village: I just found out that my host mom had 24 host siblings growing up. Her father had four wives and they all lived in the same house, with some of their relatives as well. And I thought growing up with two older sisters and living across the hall from a 15 year old American boy was tough enough.
November 10 | Day 13 in the village: In Sokone sheep are like dogs, and pigs are like cats; people raise them just for the sake of raising them. They are pets – they don’t go on walks or get funny names like Bear or Kodiak but they are pets. And donkey carts are like SUVs, you can fit just as many people in/on, and it is cleaner for the environment.
November 11 | Day 14 in the village: Yes! The City Hall of Sokone finally has Internet and air conditioning in some offices (not mine). No! The village still doesn’t have paved roads or enough electricity power to supply for everyone, not every child is in school and there is garbage everywhere. Can you say PRIORITIES?
November 12 | Day 15 in the village: Every day when I walk to work I hear people yell “toubab,” followed by an awkward silence, as I walk pass them. I understand I am one of the few outsiders and non-Negros in town, but to be honest, I always get a little upset whenever I hear that. I don’t understand what the need is in singling out someone based on their skin color, grounded on your personal prejudices, and racism. What? Is that not discriminatory? So, it would be okay if I replied “Yes, darkie?”
As if the racist slang didn’t suffice, “toubab” is also often followed by “donne-moi de l’argent” (“give me some money”), based on the misconstrued assumption that we are all rich, and come bearing gifts. So, every time I hear someone say “toubab” on the street I urge to go all Race and Culture Studies 101 on them. But I take a deep breath, and keep on walking. They aren’t challenging me to a dual. It’s our fault as toubabs – for reproducing this vice of giving locals money and handouts when visiting. I also understand that they don’t say it with bad intentions. But here is what I have learned; it’s not because they mean no harm, means they do no harm.
I have stated several times my disapproval to the term “toubab,” and I tell them that my name is “Babou Lakhas”, but they insist on the Wolof term.
November 13 | Day 16 in the village: Every country and culture has its own way of celebrating New Years. While the ball drops in New York, and people dress in white and drink Champagne in Brazil, Senegalese kids cross-dress and go from house to house asking for candy and playing the drums. Yet, all that matters is that to celebrate the Muslim New Years, I stuffed myself with chicken, and hung out on the rooftop – away from all the children. It really doesn’t take a lot to make me happy here. I’m sorry I can’t tell you more about what this holiday is, but they explained it in Wolof and I couldn’t understand a thing besides “[lek]” (to eat) and “[guina]” (chicken).
November 14 | Day 17 in the village: I waited until sundown, put on my shortest shorts, my leather shoes and went out for a run. As I passed the city hall, I realized they had left the Wi-Fi on, so I went online to make sure the outside world was still okay. Half an hour later I forgot what I was initially doing and walked back home.
November 15 | Day 18 in the village: I have been doing the no shave November thing all along and hadn’t noticed. I might as well keep it up until the end of the month. Plus, my host brighter says it’s cool. People here can’t grow beards at all. However, I might shave it all soon; the whole beard thing makes my cheeks look bigger. Or maybe it is all that bread.
November 16| Day 19 in the village: My friends and I decided to go to Touba, the holy city of Mouridism and the burial place of its founder, Shaikh Aamadu Bàmba Mbàkke. To get there, we could either take a bus or a taxi. So, when I was told to look for a seven-place car, I imagined a minivan, or an SUV – something spacious and roomy. What I got instead was this old Fiat with the trunk ripped out to make place for three more people. There you go, now you have a seven place vehicle. They sure are industrious!
November 17 | Day 20 in the village: Living in Sokone has showed me how much I disliked Dakar. Yes, it had great burger joints and beautiful beaches, but it was also chaotic, dirty, and neither welcoming nor friendly. I always felt as if I were just renting a room with the family in Mermoz. They didn’t know how to talk to students, they weren’t kind to my friends, and they weren’t honest. It didn’t take too long for me to realize they were taking advantage of me.
In the meanwhile, my host family in Sokone is loving, sharing and caring. My host mom has hosted several students before, and she understands my needs and concerns in the village. She is patient with my language skills and feeds me well. I lucked out here, and I will miss it when I’m back in the big city.