Horse carts are a lot easier to drive than cars in this kind of terrain
Baobabs everywhere, even in the cemetery made of seashells
I write to you this week in the dark. It is 8:30 pm here in Dakar and about two minutes ago the power went out. This actually doesn’t happen as often as it does in other areas around the world, but when it does you remember how much we really do rely on electricity. One advantage is that the television, which never ceases to stop making noise (in French or Wolof), has finally received a much needed vacation. Now people can actually talk to each other! Unfortunately, I am still in the dark during these enlightening conversations by candle light because everyone is conversing in Wolof.
Now that I have had four weeks of Wolof courses, I am able to converse minimally in Wolof with my family or the sellers that scatter the street. For example, I went to a fabric market with some friends last weekend and we were able to speak minimally in Wolof with the people there. The best part was that we could inform them Tudd uma Toubab (My name is not White person) when some eager vendor wanted to get our attention by yelling tssssss Toubab! That lightened the conversation immediately and caused a chorus of laughter to echo off the cement walls of the vendor’s tiny shop that was squeezed amongst hundreds of other shops in a maze of cement alleyways.
However, these simple phrases don’t get me very far if I want to have a deep conversation with the family maid (who speaks Wolof and Seerer but not French). And when I watch television with my family from the time I get home from school through dinner until the time I go to bed, there are many nights when everything we watch is only in Wolof.
My Wolof life is a life without pronouns – no I, you, he, she, one, it, we, y’all, or they – I am in the dark when it comes to the subject of every sentence. This is because each English pronoun has more than 10 equivalents in Wolof. Instead of truly conjugating the verb, we conjugate the pronoun here – present, past, future, negative, positive, imperfect, plus perfect… So even if I know the verb in Wolof I have absolutely no idea who the verb applies to and if it is in the positive or negative form. But my life without pronouns applies to more than just my attempts to converse in Wolof. There are quite a few verbs in my daily life here that are missing some essential pronouns.
Who buys the fresh French bread every morning before I wake up? Who are all of the people who ring the doorbell every day as if we are constantly having a party when the number of people inside never seems to change? Who are the parents of all the boys with tin cans who ask me for money in the streets? Who takes out the trash, and who do they give it to? Who is Seerer, Poular, Wolof, Lebou, Jola (ethnicities in Sengal)? Who speaks French or Wolof? Who is Christian or Muslim? What is your name? Who is expected to clear the table after dinner? And on and on.
Some of these pronoun-less observations will soon make sense to me as I integrate into the Senegalese way of life. Others will always baffle me. As I try to sort things out in my head, I have decided that my next Wolof goal is to try with all my might to identify the pronouns in the dialogues I listen to on the TV each night.
Already I have attached pronouns to many important and random observations:
-People of the Murid Sufi order of Islam make a pilgrimage each year to the second largest city in Senegal, namely Touba. Fortunately for me, this year the Murids trekked their way to Touba by car, bus, taxis, horse, and foot this past week meaning that Dakar was deserted. I drank some Café Touba ak Meew (Touba Coffe with Milk) on the day of the Grand Magral (which was this past Wednesday) in true Senegalese fashion and in solidarity with all those pilgramaging Murids out there. It is also the Murids who run most of the car rapides in Dakar, which is why they all say Touba on the front.
-Beignets (like donut holes) are the best way to remedy a hard day’s work. You can buy them on the street. Or you can go to the best beignet shop ever (which is really close to my house), stand in the only line that exists in Dakar (besides the traffic jam lines), get banana beignets for about 15 cents apiece, and eat them while sitting on the curbside and observing passersby!
-The men in my house watch TV and eat dinner downstairs and the women do the same upstairs. I have to force myself to remember this because since my room is downstairs, I gravitate towards the men’s domain without meaning to.
-Diouma (pronounced Djouma) is my Senegalese name. My host family gave me this name and I use it when vendors or random people in the street ask me my name. It makes them do a double take and also informs them that I am a Seerer with very light skin.
-Water, not bones. In a recent conversation with my family my Uncle was making reference to the story in the Bible where Jesus walks on water. Unfortunately I heard him say that Jesus walked on bones (l’eau versus les os) and was quite flabbergasted to hear such a story existed in the Bible. I quickly realized my misunderstanding and had quite a refreshing laugh at the picture of Jesus walking on people’s arms and legs rendering them crippled instead of healing their paralysis!
-Vaidehi is unofficially Miss Senegal 2010. She is an Indian actress in a Soap that is dubbed in French and on TV every night here in Senegal. Everyone loves her! This was very apparent when she spent the last week in Dakar and thousands of people flooded the airport and surrounding streets to welcome her. The city was pulsing with Vaidehi fans all week and after her Soap aired every night on TV we got to watch a documentary of the day she spent in Dakar. The show is wayyyyyy too melodramatic with shots that give you a headache and cymbals and drums to accompany them. But for some reason it strikes a chord with people here.Well the power is back on now (actually it came back on a while ago) and with it is the TV. We are no longer in the dark, but for some reason I am still sitting in my bedroom with the lights turned off. One day soon I hope to walk into a world with pronouns once again. Until then blank will walk toward the light.