Saturday, September 26, 2009

Boys Will be Boys

September 25, 2009

Today was a fairly uneventful day. In class we did a lot of boring revision because we have our second language test to mark our progress tomorrow. I know that fluidity of speech is a large component of our assessment so I decided that I was going to force interaction with my family today.

My oldest sister was my first target since she pretty much stays stationary all night cooking dinner. By the way today was actually a good food day. Although we had ceebu jenn for lunch it was good and dinner was fries and chicken smothered in the greasy onion sauce du jour. Anyway, I asked her about her boyfriend and if she was excited to go back to school next month. I’m obviously making a big effort her with my terrible Wolof, but I really own earn one word answers. I did discover that she graduated from high school in May and once my younger brothers and sisters go back to school in the fall she is going to look for a job in an atelier. She did show me some of the fabric’s she designed and dyed which were cool, but it seems like she was already resigned to not really finding a job and waiting for her boyfriend to finish school in Dakar so they can get married. Still that was major progress.

The next victim was my oldest brother who really wants to study international business in the US even though he has no desire to study here in Senegal in order to pass the BAC. Yes, there is a strange dichotomy in Senegal of wanting higher education but not wanting to work for it. People are very wary of the corruption of the system here. There is very little incentive to work hard since unemployment is so high and even educated people have trouble finding jobs. Also, the expense to go to Canada or the States to study is immense. I don’t think my family could ever afford it. Everyone talks about going to the States or western Europe to get an education and earn money. It’s everyone’s dream, but few actually attain it.

In an act of bravery by myself, I also approached my mother because I wanted to talk to her about women’s groups. I got two sentences out of her which I thought was pretty good. She isn’t part of a women’s group, but she thinks they are important. She didn’t know if a woman’s group would be interesting in having me work with them since my Wolof is bad. She’s really the nurturing and encouraging type…

I’ve really started to wonder what my mom’s life is like. She raised 5 children, is illiterate, can’t speak French, and does nothing all day. What does she think about? What does she think about me that I sit around reading and studying all the time? When you have no education and seemingly no interests why do you get up in the morning? I really can’t wrap my head around this. I wish that I could ask her what she thinks about and how her life has been, but she’s already beaten the shit out of all my siblings and I don’t want to be next!

It is part of Senegalese culture to get yourself out there and meet people. In the US when we move to a new house or new job we expect people to come greet us and make themselves available to us. It’s the exact opposite in Senegal. I am going to try to make a bigger effort to talk to my family even if it’s a one sided conversation while I talk aloud about myself and everyone ignores me. I know that PST is terrible and it sucks and it’s going to last three more weeks so I’m just trying to stay calm and roll with the punches. This strategy has lasted about the last 36 hours which has to be a record for me under any circumstances so I’m going to keep going.

The best part of my night last night was sitting with my younger brother Ali and some of his friends. It was hilarious. They were roasting peanuts and making tea and Ali said he would quiz me on some of the questions that I might get on my test tomorrow. His friends were all very excited to help the toubab American. One of the boys could not take his eyes off me. He couldn’t believe that I was from the US and here to learn Wolof. He also couldn’t believe that people in the US don’t speak French and that to live in the US it’s absolutely necessary to speak English. That blew his mind. He wanted to know all about me and was telling me how beautiful I am while the other boys competed for my attention by telling me that he was crazy and that I shouldn’t talk to him because he goes to cyber cafes to watch PORN! I’m just happy to know that boys are boys anywhere. Getting marriage proposals from people in my appropriate age range can be humorous if they are willing to banter, but being asked by 15 year olds is just too much.

Little known facts about the US:
1. There are 52 states (everyone in Senegal thinks there’s 52 states, I don’t know why)
2. French is the official language
3. Everyone is Muslim because Obama is
4. Every American personally knows Obama because he’s a great guy
5. American women are all very rich and support their husbands so they don’t have to work
6. All American girls want to get it on all the time
7. We eat ceebu jenn at every meal (they think everyone eats fish and rice for every meal all over the world)
8. American’s don’t study many subjects at school like the Senegalese…only English
9. I have been to LA therefore I know Akon, Rihanna, and Britney Spears personally
10. Jack Bauer from 24 is a real person and is friends with President Obama

At least those are facts according to 15 year old Senegalese boys…


  1. Fantastic approach Alyssa! I am so curious about the inner life of the women in your family! It sounds like your sister has some talent. What exactly is an atelier in Senegal? Is there hope for her/can you help her at some point. What exactly prompts your mom to beat the shit out of her children. Is it custom or frustration with her own situation or disobedience? Are you seriously afraid of her? You are so right about 15 year old boys pretty much being the same wherever you go! As for their knowledge of facts about America it's sad but true that a lot of American's think there are 52 states and that Obama is a Muslim!

  2. Hey Lis,

    WOW. I was so far behind. Once school started my life was like AHHHHH. I've been gone almost every weekend too.
    Anyway, I finally caught up on your blog. I'm gonna stick with it now though. Even though I read like 13 posts in a row, I never got bored. That's skill :)
    I kinda have a lot to say. So sorry.
    1. While doing that fundraiser for Darfur, I looked at so many pictures of kids with flies on them. I find them so fascinating, but I'm not sure I would be able to handle it in real life. Is emaciation a problem there?
    2. Love the bitch group idea! Totally great.
    3. Even though you don't really like your homestay, at least you can know that when you go back to Thies everything will be so much better/easier to face. It will be such a relief. I went to Munich this weekend and stepping foot back into Hungary was so comforting. And that wasn't even anything close to what you are dealing with. I don't even know Hungarian well and I was like oh god I love this country! Hopefully you'll feel that way about Thies when you go back to your post.
    4. Speaking of not knowing Hungarian, I think it is incredible that you are in Africa, living your life in 2 second languages, learning a foreign language through a second language and trying to speak this foreign language to learn about everyone/thing around you. Like, what! That's insane! Who does that!? INCREDIBLE>>> (you)
    5. When I was at Oktoberfest I made a toast to you for being amazing. Then I drank that liter of beer. It was tasty and it was all for you :)
    6. I love the socially acceptable ways of declining marriage proposals. I laughed out loud.
    7. Your family is lame. I don't understand why anyone wouldn't want to chill with you and talk with you. You've done so much and you're doing so much more. You're gonna be a superstar when you come back to the US with all these stories. People will be signing up to talk to you.. You should write a book. (Grandma would love it!)
    8. You're totally brave to stick up for yourself in all of these insane situations. It just shows how strong of a person you truly are. I know you can stick it out.
    9. Does Peanut Butter exist there?/If yeah, how do they feel about it? They have it in the store by my dorm which was sooo weird to see. But Hungarians get so grossed out at the thought of putting it on sandwhiches- they just eat it out of the jar on a spoon (if they eat it). It's not really that big obviously though.
    Anywho, keep up the blogging because I love reading about this. I don't know what I thought Africa was, but this gives me such a clearer picture. I can't wait to visit you so I can share a small part of what you know. <3
    Oh P.S. I don't know if you're reading my blog, but here, they think Obama is a peach/apricot. :P

  3. Alyssa,

    Jack Bauer is real. Please amend your list.

  4. Out of curiosity, was this crazy woman who grabbed your crotch drunk off of 40's of camo ice?