There and back again

“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on… when in your heart you begin to understand… there is no going back?”

(Frodo Baggins!)

So I’m back from Senegal. Writing this blog exactly a year on from the departure date I awaited with so much fear, excitement, regret, worry, stress etc, I realise how much has changed in that time. On the 13th September 2013, I was just a little girl going on a big adventure who knew nothing about what it would be like. Now I write to you from the lovely town of St Andrews, which has become my third home even though it is so many miles away from my other two homes!

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Leaving Senegal was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. The last week was very emotional. I reluctantly packed all my things in the week leading up to our departure as we gradually said our goodbyes to a few friends here and there. Marianne and I were to leave our project on Thursday 14th August, and so we wanted Wednesday completely clear to spend our last day with the closest of our friends. When Wednesday came, we found ourselves in unexpectedly high spirits in the morning, popping from house to house to visit people during the day. However, as evening fell, and we realised this would be the last time we would see these people, the two of us broke down. We had our final dinner at our best friend’s (Ousmane) house, crying into our couscous and fish, and then wandered around the nearby houses giving photos to the families we had been most involved with. At every single house we went to (there were about 8), the two of us both left in more tears than the one before, having heard such heartfelt and lovely things from the families. All the way through the year, one of the biggest challenges was dealing with the very Senegalese habit of only giving negative feedback. If we made a mistake, people would be very quick to let us know, but never commented positively on things that we did. On this final night, this was totally turned around. Everyone talked about all the good work we had done, the ways we had made a difference to them and how much they would miss us. Most of them gave us some kind of bizarre souvenir; from a plastic bowl to a photo of themselves, and even though these are small things they are so important to me and I will keep them forever. My university room is an explosion of Senegalese culture!

 THERE AND BACK AGAIN 1         THERE AND BACK AGAIN 11

Having said goodbye to all of our very closest friends, we walked home at about midnight. Walking for the last time past all of the places that had made our lives here, everything felt very wrong. That night, I didn’t want to fall asleep because I knew, as soon as I woke up, the sun would be out and it would be time to go. So I watched as the daylight slowly came through our windows and tried to focus on how exciting it would be to see my family again. That morning, our 2 best friends came to see us and say their own goodbyes before we left for Dakar airport. They had breakfast with us, and stayed with us right until the car actually came to take us away. For a while that morning I forgot how sad I was and just enjoyed the company of the two people who had always been there for us. When they left, there were lots of tears and I felt totally heartbroken. When I left my family and friends at the airport in the UK, I asked myself “What on earth are you doing, leaving all of this behind?” and the same question came to me as the two guys walked into the distance, and out of sight.

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As we went through all the various stages at the airport, I was reminded of how fortunate I had been to spend the year with Marianne. She’s made all the difference to the year. She’s the only one who can truly understand what it was like to be part of Joal. All the way through the year, there was this cheeky smiling face beside me, knowing as little as I did about what was going on.

Polel, I could never have done this without you, and even imaging what Joal would have been like without you there is impossible. Thank you so much for being my Dom Ndeye! Namanala, bes bou nekk dama la xalate.

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The journey was long and hard, but the closer we got to London, the happier I became. I began to remember all the wonderful people that were so excitedly waiting to see me on my return. I had no idea how I would feel when I saw my sisters again, but it was certainly not a disappointment. After getting off the plane, I grabbed my huge bags and ran into the arrivals room to find my fantastic family waiting for me and holding up an enormous and beautiful banner saying “Welcome Home Lauren and Marianne”. As I ran hugging one to the next, I felt so happy again – like the hole that Senegal had left was already starting to be filled up. Everyone was crying (even Dad!) and when my sisters told me “we’re going to pizza hut for dinner”, the tears of happiness fell even faster. 5 hours later, driving back into Dronny Town I was so content. We nipped into Aunty Rea’s house to say hello before we headed home, and I felt like the luckiest girl in the world.

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Since being back, there are lots of changes my family has noticed in me. I’m told that when I first got home, I was “hungry” “skinny” and “dirty” – what a treat! After sorting out my various health and hygiene issues, I began to get back into the swing of life in the UK. My sisters had to have several conversations with me about remembering to be polite, and about my accent, which lots of people commented now has a bit of a twang. I only had 3 weeks between coming home from Senegal and moving to my new life in St Andrews, so I fortunately didn’t have enough time to even notice what big changes were taking place – I just had to let it all happen and hope for the best 🙂

St Andrews is a lovely little town and I’ve made lots of friends here. I’m really enjoying my subjects, and I’ve got involved with lots of things outside of that. I particularly enjoy my twice-weekly Scottish country dancing classes! My accommodation is really homely. I’m sharing a flat with 4 other girls and I have, for the first time in my life, my own room! People that know me well will be surprised to hear I have been named the “domestic goddess” of the flat… not sure how long that will last.

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I had 2 fantastic homes, but now I have three. Leaving everything I had worked so hard for in Senegal was heartbreaking, but I will always think of that place with an enormous smile on my face. I have no regrets about the year. I learnt so much and developed in ways I did not even know were possible. There’s nowhere in the world quite like it; nowhere quite so weird, quite so friendly, quite so homely and nowhere will ever replace it. But now I have new adventures beginning and I can’t wait to find out what I’ll be saying about them in a few year’s time. I’d love to go back to Senegal some day, and see all of my wonderful friends there again, but for now,

DOUMA LENE MOUSSEU FATE

(I will never forget you).

Interpreter 1THERE AND BACK AGAIN 6

I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has followed my blogs throughout the year, and everyone that has taken a real interest in my life there. You are the people I was thinking of on that last night in Joal, and you are the reason why I can continue my life here.

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The next Joal girls are called Beth and Charlotte. The link to their blogs are here:

https://bethinsenegal.wordpress.com/author/bethvuckovic/

http://charlotteinsenegal.wordpress.com/

They’re in for such an incredible year, and I know they will do a fantastic job. Keep them in your thoughts and prayers as they continue and build on the work we did last year. Good luck girls, and say “YES” to Senegal!

For the last time,

Looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooove

Delia xx

Interpreter 4

Written on 13th September 2014

 

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Senegal – Sunu Gal

1 week left. That’s 7 days. 168 hours, 604800 seconds, 6.048e+8 milliseconds… well, you get the idea. Time is nearly up, and its ticking by quickly. Nobody has told me how to do any of this. If I had a step-by-step list of how to say my goodbyes in a positive way, how to get back and how to re-adjust to what was my life before, this would be so much easier. If someone could just tell me what to do, I would do it. The problem is that nobody can. There’s so much to think about and so much to do and I know that one month from now, my life will be drastically different to what it is now. My colourful Senegalese boubous will be replaced with university gowns, my bucket showers and late night well trips will be swapped in for bubble baths and clean running water, and instead of being friends with people called Ousmane, Abdou, Cheikh and Aissatou, I will have friends with far more conventional names. Instead of thinking in some crazy mix of French, Wolof and English, my head will speak only the latter, instead of hearing mosque calls, I’ll hear cathedral bells and in the place of sitting on the floor, eating a bowl of fish and rice with my hands, I’ll grab a knife and fork and eat at the table in a sophisticated way! These are all enormous changes that will make every day an adventure for me when I get back, just as it was here when I was adjusting to the culture.

Everybody knows there’s bad change and there’s good change, but at the moment its difficult to tell which this will be. I imagine both. Of course it will be a bad change in that the life that I have put all my energy into here and the life that I’ve worked so hard for 11 months to build, will all just be knocked to the ground and snatched away from me. Leaving the friends that have become my family will be totally heartbreaking, and I dont know how to be anyone but Delia Wone any more, so I know it will all take some adjustment. However, as the leaving date approaches, I get more and more excited when I think about the moment I get off that plane and step back onto English soil. I’ll have my Mum and Dad back, I’ll be able to go for long walks around the fields with Meg, and enjoy riotous late night baking sessions with my sisters, I’ll walk to Church and see all my friends there, and pop in to Aunty Rea’s on the way home for a drink of orange squash, and sleep over with friends catching up on all the things I’ve missed this year. I cant wait, and all that is so within my grasp now. 1 week.

Its been a ridiculously long time since I last updated you all, and for that reason it would be unreasonable to tell you everything that’s happened – I hope you’ll forgive me for missing out a few things here and there. The last few weeks have been particularly exciting in terms of our classes. They’ve all been getting their exam results back, so we get to know which of our students earned their Bac or bfem and who’ll be repeating the year while other classmates move on to the next class up. I was really impressed with my classes, they’ve worked so hard this year and their patience with me as a brand new teacher, along with their enthusiasm has made them an absolute pleasure to teach. They all gave me last lessons to remember, but the most special was with my 1ere (Y12 equivalent) class. They had prepared speeches, dances, plays, performances, talks from the headmaster, drinks and food, and had all contributed to buying me a gift – a beautiful dress with the Senegalese flag on it. At the end of the lesson, I was forced to give a speech of my own and I thanked the pupils. I know how difficult it is to be in school here with the education system (this year the college had a 31% bfem pass rate) so I told them how much I admire their hard work and commitment, how much I’ll miss them and wished them the best for the future.Teaching has certainly had its ups and downs, even days where I was so frustrated that I wanted to walk out of the class and leave someone else to clean up whatever mess it was that I had made, but it taught me so much. My classes are like my little teams, and I’m team leader. I’ll always remember them!

After schools finished, Marianne and I suddenly realised that for the first time in a year, we actually had some free time. We had planned to travel all around Senegal, seeing St Louis, Lompoul, Kedougou, Ziguinchor, Kaolack, etc but we were totally exhausted from all our work this year and therefore decided to spend the whole summer chilling with friends in Joal. And that’s exactly what we did! We spent wonderful long days relaxing making ataya with friends, visiting a few things nearby and catching up with ourselves a bit. Unfortunately we both got pretty sick for a week or so just after schools stopped but that forced us to take it easy for a little while and I’m so glad we decided not to travel. Its given us so much more time to spend just getting closer to the friends we already have.

A few weeks back we enjoyed a visit from Marianne’s best friend from school, Vanessa. She’s now gone back to Scotland, but spent 2 months here doing some great work with the talibe children in St Louis in the North. She was kind enough to come and visit us one weekend and we all went off to see the island of Fadiouth, then came back to Joal for another horse and cart ride with our farmer friends, and then finally off to Church to sing in the choir. On Sunday I relaxed in the morning, while Marianne and Vanessa went off on a boat trip around the mangroves with the Air Marine Protegee guys, then we all went for a delicious lunch together. All too soon, it was time for her to head back to St Louis, but I loved getting to know her. I’ve heard so many stories about the important people in Marianne’s life, so its always interesting to actually meet them in person.

We have also now lived through our first real Ramadan, the fasting month for Muslims. Senegal, if possible, slowed down even more than before and people took to playing Ludo on street corners as a temporary replacement for an activity during the time they’d usually spend drinking ataya. Marianne and I had a good go and not eating, but only did one day of proper fasting without drinking water – in these temperatures I dont know how they do it every day. Every evening we would go to a friend’s house to break the fast with dates, coffee, bread and tuna etc, which was really special. Korite (most of you will know it as Eid) came on the 29th July and I would have to say its my favourite festival. The morning of Korite we woke up early and sat on the street near to the mosque where everyone was due to go for morning prayers before the celebration began. Seeing so many of our friends walking along together in their boubous, carrying their beautiful prayer mats and prayer beads is a really special memory for me. The day of Korite was spent walking from house to house (so many lovely friends invited us and we wanted to please them).However, this did mean that we ended up eating 5 separate lunches! In Senegal, if you don’t eat enough and your section of the bowl does not have enough missing from it, people get offended so we stuffed our faces with a smile. I was quite happy to oblige on this particular festival – instead of massacring sheep and cows, they cook chicken and serve it with a delicious onion sauce and, of course, rice. This is much easier to stomach than the hacked up cows we were eating at Tabaski. That evening, we went to see more friends and made ataya together, then headed home absolutely exhausted.

I recently heard from someone that some people call Senegal “Sunu Gal”. This is the Wolof phrase that means “our boat”. I have to say, I couldn’t think of a better description for this crazy country, and not just because it is obsessed with fishing and canoes. The Senegalese people have very much put themselves in our boat and welcomed us so warmly, as if we were one of them. Its never been a case of “this boat is mine, and this is yours, I’ll sail this way and you go over there”. Never. The moment we arrived here, the Senegalese people said “all aboard” and we got on the boat. Its been an incredible voyage that I will never forget, but it will soon be time for the boat to come back to the shore and for the next adventure to begin. Maybe the next adventure will involve less boats and fish, and more books and studying but I can only hope it will be half as special as the experience I have been fortunate enough to have this year. All of you at home who helped me with my fund raising, I will never forget what you did for me when you made all this possible with your generosity. I certainly feel its been a worthy cause and I hope you do too.

I will be arriving back in London on the 15th August, and will be having a party at my house on the 19th August so I can see all your lovely faces again. Everyone is welcome and I’d love to see lots of you there – it’s been too long! If you want more details about that, then get in touch with me or my Mum separately.

I can’t thank you all enough for your amazing support and interest in my experiences throughout the year. At points I needed it more than you know and it means so much to me that I was not forgotten just because I was far away. You are all wonderful!

Lots and lots of loooooooooooooooooooooooooooove,

Delia xx

Toubab Joalienne

I am such a lucky girl. Every morning when I climb out of bed and walk out onto the balcony of our apartment (more on that later) to look out over the mangroves and the morning sun shines through the leaves of the palm trees, I cannot help smiling. The small inconveniences and challenges of living here; having to take bucket showers every day, the fact that my legs are constantly covered in bites, the heat and the lack of resources etc – none of them seem to matter when everything else is going so well. Tucking in my mosquito net every night before going to sleep has become something so natural and I no longer even notice the difficulties of planning a lesson involving only myself and a blackboard.

 

The one thing that did bother me was the serious water shortage we had this month. There was no water coming from any taps (even at night) for just under 2 weeks and everything was getting smelly and disgusting, including myself. One exciting evening we came home to find the tap downstairs from our apartment running water. We ran upstairs to check if the one in our bathroom was working too, but no luck. That wasn’t going to stop us – we grabbed all things that could possibly be used as recepticles for water (buckets, bottles, cups, plastic boxes), brought them downstairs to be filled, and then dragged them back up the flight of stairs and into our apartment. 2 very tired girls later – we had carried around 350 litres of water up – the situation was finally resolved. The next morning the water came back on in our room.

 

Our room in itself is a story. I’m sure most of you remember that we were staying with a host family right at the far end of Joal until this point and we had a room in their house. This month we moved out of there and into an apartment of our own at the other end of Joal. There had been a few issues at the other house, and both Marianne and I felt we would be much more able to carry out our work and fulfill our responsibilities here if we had our own place. The apartment where we are staying now is above the Air Marine Protegee and Marianne and I share a room there. We have a bathroom and a kitchen and then there are 4 other teachers living in the same building. Its a nice little community here and we’ve got to know the people really well. Its very close to the College where we teach, about a  5 minute walk from the church and a 2 minute run from the basketball club. Its also great because lots of our closest friends live near this area so we’re able to spend more time with them.

 

This month we had a particularly special visit from Marianne’s Mum, Dad and sister. For the last 8 months, I’ve heard so many stories about them and seen so many photos that I already felt like I knew them. It was so exciting to see them here and to show them our life. They started off meeting Marianne at the airport in Dakar, and then spent a few days acclimatising to the crazy country that I now call home, and seeing lots of touristy things in the capital. I travelled to Dakar to meet up with them on a Friday evening, and stayed one night with them all in Dakar before we headed to Yene together. Sharing our experiences in Yene with them is something I will never forget – its such a special place where I really feel like I have a family and it was amazing to be able to introduce them to so many lovely people, although I’m sure it was a bit exhausting for them! They took it all with a big smile, though, and had a good go at speaking in Wolof which was very impressive. It was only right that the rest of the time should be spent in Joal. Here is our home, and the family visit really made me realise that. We have so much going on here – showing them all the different parts of our project and our other activities was a great experience because I felt so integrated into all the things we do. They watched a few of Marianne’s lessons at the college and the Lycee and even managed to come and see our Fasjom girls class! They met headteachers, fishermen, basketball coaches, craft people, metal workers and even got a night time ride on a horse and cart to the onion fields. I really appreciated how open they were to looking at our new life and just taking things as they came. When the time came for them to leave, it was very sad to say goodbye and Marianne went off to drop them off at the airport in Dakar while I stayed in Joal.

 

I found it particularly interesting to get their take on Senegal, and when asked what things had surprised them about Senegal, what we’d just not managed to get across in our blogs, they came up with the following:

1) The amount of rubbish – Both of Marianne’s parents are involved in working for the environment in Scotland, so this was a big shock for them. Senegal doesn’t really have any kind of effective waste disposal system, so the streets are just constantly lined with bags and papers. On the 14th June, there will be an environmental day here  for all the schools which we are hoping to help out with, though it will take a lot to change things here.

2)The people – The people here are just so friendly that initially you try to avoid them because you think they must want something! In actual fact, that is just not the case and all they want to do is have a chat and make friends with you. Marianne’s family commented that there is just no way you can get across in a blog how warm and welcoming everyone here is. They will all make time for you and accept you into their families straight away (I must have about 10 Senegalese ladies that call themselves my mother and hundreds of brothers and sisters!) and share everything with you without asking for anything in return.

3) The animals – This is one from Marianne’s little sister, Roseanna who did a very good job of not commenting when she saw difficult things going on. Animals here are horribly treated – cats are beaten, dogs mostly have half an ear missing or nasty diseases and the horses are whipped all the time. Just the other day I was in a clando car to the lycee when we killed a goat by running right over it, and nobody batted an eyelid. Unfortunately, here there  is no organisation to do anything about it so you do just have to accept it as a part of life and get on with it, but I was impressed that Marianne’s 10 year old animal- lover sister was able to do the same thing.

 

These last few weeks have been a bit of a wake up call as the idea that our project is rounding off sinks in. We have spent the last 2 weekends at Foscos, celebrations held at each school for the end of the academic year before exams kick off. This was all done in a very Senegalese style – each one starting between 3 and 6 hours late, involving big boubous and lots of plastic chairs. Now we’re back to school, we’re counting down the lessons to the end of the year – I just have 2 or 3 left with each class! Its strange that our year will go on even after the schools close because teaching has been such an enormous part of the year, but I’ll admit I’m pretty exhausted and the break will be appreciated. Even so, it will be really sad to say goodbye to the classes that have shaped our year.

 

Recently, we have not been doing so many sessions with the girls group, Fasjom, because between moving house and the family visit, its been quite rare that both Marianne and I are free at the same time. Fasjom is NOT the type of class that you can run on your own. From start to finish, its like some sort of military operation:

1) Obtain key from a man who can never be found and only speaks Wolof

2) Gather girls and make it to the classroom without someone fighting, weeing in the street or crying

3) Struggle with the door that takes forever to open, which catches the attention of local troublemakers

4) Enter the classroom and get the girls to sit down and so you can take the register

5) Tie the door shut with whatever you can find (the door doesn’t close)

6) Ignore the local troublemakers outside who are now throwing rocks at the classroom and spitting through the windows

7) Locate enough working pens for all the girls to write something (although Andrea, your package really helped with this one!)

8) Deal with the particularly dedicated troublemakers who have somehow managed to infiltrate the classroom

9) Finish the class with some kind of order in tact

10) Stop the girls from freaking out and hurling themselves over barbed wire fences at the end of the class when they realise we’ve been locked into the school ground. Then walk home singing happy songs together and return them safely to their houses.

And… relax!

Hopefully, we’ll manage to get back on track with these classes soon when the two of us have time together. Despite the challenging circumstances, the girls are making so much progress and are really starting to understand how to behave in class. We have plans to run a 2-day long school course for all the Fasjom girls, closing with an awards ceremony complete with bissap and cakes! I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂

 

I think the final bit of news is that the mangoes are back! They are everywhere! It makes for a pretty delicious breakfast – especially now because we have a bread strike so we cant really do anything else. They are crazily juicy and ridiculously cheap – 100 CFA for a big mango (about 15p). Its happy times for us!

 

I have to head out to an English club and then a Serer lesson now, so I’ll leave it there, but thanks for keeping in touch 🙂 Only a few blogs to go now, and then I’ll see all your lovely faces again!

 

Loads and loads of loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooove,

Lauren xx