Sunday, August 1, 2010

Africa running into me

The blog post below this one was written within I week of my return home from Senegal. I spent my last week in Senegal thinking about all of the strange things that I would have to get used to again upon my return to the United States. I was afraid I would be cold back in the Colorado springtime. I was worried that I would start speaking French or Wolof midsentence. And I was certain that I had forgotten how to drive on highways and streets with traffic lights. All these anxious thoughts were not ill founded, and my return to the states meant adjustment. But for the most part, I was surprised how easy it was to become American again. Sure, I found myself converting prices here back to CFA (the Senegalese currency), and I often had the sudden urge to respond to something like a Senegalese (sighing shu-tititititit at something surprising or sympathizing with an ndeeeeysaaan at something unfortunate), but these weren't heart wrenching struggles. They were just brief reminders that my time in Senegal was not merely a dream, but four months of laughter, learning, and growth.

The lack of hardship upon my re-entry to the States was perhaps culture shock in itself. I had braced myself for the worst, and had been blessed with the best. Once you have a connection to a place, you become hypersensitized to anything that reminds you of the culture, the language, and the people. In a sense, since my return, Senegal keeps running into me.

My host mom in Senegal informed me, the last week I was there, that her good friend who lives four houses down in Dakar has a son, Robert, who just moved to Colorado. She got me in touch with him and we have hung out several times this summer. It has been wonderful to have that connection back to Senegal, here in my own back yard. Someone who laughs when you talk about how your Senegalese clothes show off your jaay fonde, and how when you wore them to a market in Dakar the vendors would all yell out "Madame Dakar come, buy, I make you good price". We have shared Senegalese meals, exchanged Bisaap juice for mangoes, and watched the U.S. play England in the World Cup. This week, Robert's father arrived in Colorado to visit him for a couple of months. I met his father today and got to greet him the Senegalese way: Asalaam Malekum. And as if it couldn't get any better, I was surprised with two Senegalese dresses and a note from my host mom who had sent them along with Robert's father to give to me.

After taking the two of them to church with my family, we ate at a Burger joint to share a meal together the way they would do in Senegal (minus the rice). It was so fun to see and hear what Robert's father thought of the United States. He thinks we eat a lot, doesn't understand why American's don't own French cars, and is amazed by the quality of our roads and the lack of traffic. :)

Robert isn't the only Senegalese connection I've made since I've been home. Last weekend I was camping in the mountains with some friends and I met another Senegalese guy at Walmart! I was paying for a box of Milk Dudds when I noticed two scars on the checkout clerk's temple. Immediately I thought of the Poular ethnicity in Senegal and timidly asked: "This is a really funny question, but, are you Poular?" To which he responded: "yes, from Senegal." This thrust us into a quick conversation in Wolof, to his utter astonishment. I left Walmart smiling and pictured him back at his cash register still trying to process how a random toubab had just had a conversation with him in his mother tongue.

So even though I've adjusted back to some of my old ways, Senegal still holds an important place in my life. Re-entry is all about learning how to best reintegrate without forgetting all that another place has taught you. My fears about forgetting everything that happened in Senegal have been abated; Senegal keeps running into me.

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