Felicity Parsons - Building & French in Senegal
The fact I was going to spend the next two weeks in Senegal didn’t fully sink in until I was walking through the airport in Dakar, surrounded by unfamiliar languages and practices. There was no going back now. But within five minutes of seeing Habib’s - the Project’s Abroad representative - smiling face I knew that going back was the last thing that would cross my mind over the following days.
After a night in the friendliest hotel I have ever stayed in before or since, we arrived in St Louis where I was greeted by my beautiful host mother and her children. The sudden realization that I really would be dependent on my dodgy A Level French filled me with fear but before long I was chatting away and I’d like to think that perhaps my French improved.
My Volunteer Project
Waking up each morning and thinking of the day ahead always put a smile on face. First we’d eat breakfast the host mom prepared for us (ridiculously sweet tea and at least half of a baguette filled with butter or nutella!). Then I would walk 15 minutes to the local lycee where my French lessons were to take place. This walk grew to be my favorite time of day because of all the friendly ‘bonjours’ and smiles from everyone I passed. Nothing could have been more different to the Piccadilly Line of the London tube at rush hour!
Although three hours at first seemed a very daunting amount of time for a French lesson, my teacher’s relaxed, chatty style made it more than bearable. He taught me so much, not just about French grammar, but also about Senegalese culture and politics, which was fascinating! One of my happiest memories is of watching the students of the lycee receive their exam results one morning which determined whether they went to university or not. Seeing the students cry with joy as they found out they were going to be able to achieve their dreams will stay with me forever.
After meeting my roommate back at home for a nutritious lunch and a relaxing debrief of our mornings with our host family, it was back out to work at the daara. Although the heat made our work extremely tiring, the results definitely made it worth it! Especially when the children would come and watch and smile as the school gradually improved. It was at work where you could really feel the community spirit of Senegalese life as various helpers popped in and out throughout the afternoon.
This was particularly evident when one afternoon we got stuck in the middle of a huge downpour of rain. Fearing the risk of a flood, everyone in the neighborhood mucked in; doing everything they could to help drain the water. After renovation, we’d go home and relax outside playing games with the children.
Being ‘le pays de la teranga’ (the country of hospitality) Senegal proved itself to be, our host mother would always have guests round who would be keen to meet us and tell us about Senegal. Her brother-in-law even proudly gave us a guided tour around the town in our lunch break one day.
In the evening, Projects Abroad would always have exciting events planned for us like glass painting and dancing lessons! When we got home, dinner would be ready, if we were lucky it would be a big bowl full of rice and fish and vegetables called Thieboudienne. It became a running joke, every time my roommate and I stopped eating, our host mom would say ‘Mange!’ ‘Mange’, always wanting to make sure we were completely full of the very best bits of the meal!
During the weekend, we went on a very memorable trip to the Lompoul Desert. My favorite part was actually getting there because we drove along the vast sandy beach in a 4x4 listening to Senegalese reggae! With the wind blowing in my hair and the beautiful Senegalese backdrop, I really did feel like I was in a movie! The view when we got to the desert was breath-taking with the huge sand dunes forming the background to our luxurious campsite. After an extremely bumpy camel ride and a bit of dune jumping, we sat down to dinner whilst watching the sunset. Dancing round the fire with some local children and a brilliant local band long in to the night was a fantastic experience – I really did want to stay in Senegal forever!
Leaving my host family and St Louis was really difficult. In such a short space of time I had been made to feel so welcomed in to my host family and their community. The friendly, relaxed way of life was a real eye-opener to my daily routine back home and thinking about the generosity I was shown never ceases to fill me with warmth and happiness. Senegal was a magical place and without a doubt will stay in my heart forever.