Welcome to Senegal, Ms. Blackwell’s class! My name is Rheanna, and I’ve been living in the Dakar, the capital of Senegal, for the past ten weeks.
A little background on me:
I’m in my third year at Portland State University, studying African Studies, French, and Gender Studies! I spent my
fall semester in Paris, France working on my French skills before flying directly over to Senegal in January.
Things I love include blues dancing, playing the accordion, hiking in the Columbia Gorge, and reading books about awesome women. It’s been a looooong time since I’ve been back in Portland, so I’m thrilled to connect with you here before returning in June!
So, what am I doing here, exactly? Where even is Senegal?
Great questions! I’m here studying abroad with the CIEE Study Center, focusing on Senegalese culture, Wolof (one of the local languages), and development studies. Basically, I am learning about Senegal as a whole, as well as what kind of projects the government and other organizations are doing to improve the lives of the people who live here.
Senegal is on the most western tip of West Africa. Dakar, the capital, is on the most western tip of Senegal. I am as close to the East Coast of the U.S. as you could possibly be from the continent of Africa.
I live with a host family in the neighborhood of Mermoz with nine people spanning three generations. The heads of my household are my parents, Pa Sarr and Yaay Booy (meaning ‘Mother Dearest’). They are kind of like the grandparents – in Senegal, it is normal for families to live with their parents forever! Pa Sarr and Yaay Booy have three children who live in the house, all of whom are much older than me. Two of them have families of their own that also live in the house, meaning that I have three younger sisters who are 6, 6, and 9. My family speaks to me in French, but for the most part, they speak in Wolof. I live about 5 minutes from school, and walk to the study center almost every morning for class!
My home is a 10 minute walk from the ocean, 5 minutes from the local bakery, and 30 seconds in any direction from the nearest Nescafé or fruit stand. It smells like a mix of hearty incense, fresh beignets (small, sugary fried dough balls), salt water, and instant coffee. It sounds like tiny birds gossiping in the mango tree out front, the low grumble of my brother’s motorcycle, and harsh-yet-inviting calls of ‘Nanga def? Ca va? Ana waa kër gi?’. Pop music from Nigeria trickles out of windows from living room television sets on almost every street. Mermoz is warm and colorful and I love it.
What will this blog be about?
My goal with this blog is to use my personal experiences studying abroad in Senegal to introduce Senegalese life, culture, and history as best as I can from my perspective as a white American student. I will be focusing each post around a theme (Food, Language, Music, etc.), but I want this to be a project that we build together. Your input, opinions, and desires are important! I have resources over here to answer any and all questions your hearts desire about Senegal, about Africa in general, and about living as an American in a foreign country.
For the next post, I’d like you to think about these questions:
- What are the first three things that pop into your mind when you think of Africa?
- Before this blog project, did you know that Senegal existed? Could you have pointed it out on a map?
- Between Dakar and Portland, what are three things you think could be completely different and three things you think would be the same?
- What do you want to hear about? This can be a subject you’re interested in (birds, religion, sports) or a question (What are 5th grade classrooms like here? Are bathrooms the same or different?).
Don’t be shy! I can’t wait to explore Senegal through your eyes.
A bientôt, Insh’allah! (Talk to you soon, God willing)