We have had a pretty normal schedule this week, with language classes and lectures (colonialism and Negritude). This afternoon at chez goshen Jose and Ellen cooked for us (with Austin helping, too). We started out together with each student sharing a story they had written about from their time here. Caleb led singing, Marie led the reflection and Danny led the discussion. We all enjoyed the Tortas (Senegal Style) the cooks created for us.
Tomorrow morning we head to Saint Louis for another overnight field trip. Should bring back lots of pics and stories for you from there.
Each week the students turn in an academic essay, and intercultural essay and an investigative assignment. Danny’s intercultural essay/story gives you a little peek into his life and the life of his household.
The empathic value of cat poop.
I had just returned home after our trip to Dakar. As we all know, it was a fairly emotionally taxing trip and I was feeling like I wanted to spend some time alone. However, as soon as I entered the house, my younger sister, Sheila, said, “Tonton” (uncle) and came up and hugged me. She very much wanted to dance, so we did and our mother looked on with amusement.
Sheila then led me outside where we chased each other around. She ran into a few other people’s houses before I could catch her, but before I could apologize the universal response to Sheila, apparently, was “Bonjour, Sheila”! accompanied by a broad smile. This is the manner in which I first met most of my neighbors, who always shook my hand after greeting Sheila.
At some point during the playing – though I don’t know when — we stepped in cat poop. We noticed this only as we reentered the house, which was unfortunate. Our mother probably noticed the smell before we did. After taking off Sheila’s shoes, mother took them to the back yard where we do the laundry and the dishes. I followed with my shoes in hand, quite embarrassed, but determined not to ‘mess up’ washing my shoes. Maman laughed, said, “Toi aussi?” (you too?) and showed me the soap and the brush she had been using.
Our shoes clean, Sheila and I returned inside and Maman asked if I wanted to peel potatoes. While to many this may seem a normal request, to me it felt like acceptance and I was ecstatic to hear it. I had been asking if I could help with anything throughout the past week and the answer was normally, “thank you, but you should rest.” Actually being asked if I wanted to help represented a shift in my status, at least partially, from guest to family member. Also, having a job greatly reduced the awkwardness of having just stepped in cat poop. I think Maman new that and was … imagining how I was feeling. She knows that I am an American trying to live in the culture of Senegal, so to help me feel more in place, Maman let me do an everyday task, accepting me into her family and into Senegal.
This is a story of family and acceptance. Its moral, if you will, is that people are largely gracious, forgiving and understanding especially, perhaps, if they can tell that you are mortified by your mistake. With this story I am attempting to commemorate the reality of living with a host family in a different culture than one’s own. Mistakes will be made, but forgiveness is paramount, and laughing makes things quite a bit easier. My job for the last couple of meals has been to peel potatoes so, in the end, I am grateful for having stepped in the cat poop.