Friday, January 15, 2010


Thank you cannot be said "Fank You" that's just not an acceptable pronunciation. I had a show down with the English teacher at Keur Yaay today. I was so happy that the English formations were back on track after the holidays and that all the girls were there and then we had a very disappointing lesson. When I arrived at 10 am, the time at which the formation is supposed to start, all the girls were there and ready to so I jumped in to start. Unfortunately, I missed the Tuesday session but the girls showed me the conversation they had worked on and I re-wrote it on the board making three changes for grammar and wording. The teacher waltzes in over and hour late and starts reaming me out for changing his blatantly incorrect conversation. I attempt to explain that there were errors, but he tells me in broken English that the girls aren't smart enough to understand the conversation with correct grammar. This is obviously unacceptable and I tell him so. He asserts his "teacher" status over me and I sulk in the corner calling him dirty English words in my head.

Then we learn the phrase Thank You and I just can't contain myself any longer. He reverts back to his "I speak British (aka proper English) and you speak American (as Senegalese would say "language with dirt in it") English," so the pronunciations are different. For some reason everyone here thinks Americans and Brits can barely understand each other. He goes on to pronounce Thank you as "fank you," "tank you," and "sank you." No one is more sensitive to learning a new language than me. I labored through four years of sounding like an idiot in Arabic class when other students had native speakers as parents and I now conduct my daily life speaking two broken languages. I explain that I know that it is extremely difficult for Francophones to pronounce the English TH combination and that I have difficult creating the ND and NG combinations present in Wolof, but I feel that it's important that the girls know there's ONE way to say thank you. He keeps with British v. American English until the owner Boya, who freaking loves me, enters the room and convinces him that defaulting to the native English speaker on this one might be the better road to take. Fortunately, we were able to spend the rest of the class in relative civility, but I refuse to allow him to teach my friends incorrect grammar, spelling, and pronunciation. I would expect my friends to teach me correct Wolof and to correct me. Obviously this is a contentious subject with me right now.

Leaving one language session, I head to my own Wolof tutor. I enjoy going to see Jumba and he loves it when I show up, but he can get on my nerves and after I explained my harrowing morning he got on my case about not coming to see him enough. He's bored out of his mind guarding a building that no one ever comes to and he loves talking about all the ridiculous subjects that we cover during our sessions, but he does not understand that our time together is not the only time I practice Wolof - I'm constantly attempting to communicate everything about my daily life in a language I had never heard until 5 months ago. He was remarking that I "fatigue" easily when studying with him. Perhaps it's because I had just had a throw down with another teacher or because I'm always trying to understand what's going on and it's hard. Sorry for the mini pity party...

The day's not over! Before returning to the center in February for more training I have a lot of work to do and I just realized today that I need MAJOR help. I had no choice but to turn to Diof. While I still think he's a misogynist and I don't like him, he is invaluable and I can respect the way he magically makes things happen. After spending one hour with him I had a list of all the NGOs in Thies, the number of schools private and public, and a meeting with the mayor Monday afternoon. Not bad. And we had a cordial discussion. After my effusive praise of his memory, which is just amazing he knew every phone number for each NGO off the top of his head, and his help with my work he immediately told me how I could repay him. I have to go to a formation tomorrow! I'm already terrified of my impending boredom, but I would have been incredibly screwed without him so I guess it's worth it.

Luckily I met Emily and the USAID intern for a drink afterwards to decompress and plan much more fun activities. This was a good move since when I got back to my house I found Ahmed throwing a tantrum on the floor of the foyer while repeatedly throwing his new air plane into the wall while Jeenaba and Deenba fought over who messed up dinner and my mom stalked around screaming there wasn't enough sugar for her 928374th cup of tea of the day. Needless to say I hid in my room until dinner, which was really good millet couscous (no one messed it up in my opinion).

After a hectic day I'm going to bed with clean sheets... and there's nothing better than ending a day with clean sheets. Ok, maybe if my clean sheets came with a huge block of cheese...


  1. Alyssa, you are amazing. I am constantly impressed with what you are tackling in Senegal. I still love your blog.

  2. I have to show this to Odin. He's currently working on using his proper "th" sounds. He has totally mastered pronunciation but now needs constant reminding to not say "I fink dat da blue one is pretty." Just needs to change his habits.

    Maybe if I tell him that I will ship him off to Senegal where people will understand him... scare tactics always work well in child rearing :)