Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sadie Kadlec - Senegal

Sadie is a senior at the University of Utah studying Classics, French and International Studies. She is currently in Senegal doing an internship with IE3.

The Invitation

I wandered off alone. First time. What used to be rare form has become my true being. And I suddenly found myself laughing and smiling and saying hello to each and every person I encountered. When what they were saying stopped making sense, my mouth would burst forth with a giggle and my shoulders would give a shrug...as if to say "yes it is true I have no idea what you are saying, but I like you and what you may or may not be saying, nonetheless." 

Eventually, I came across a group of faces and greeted them proper. One lady looked at me and said something that sounded hostile. I stopped without reason to understand further. The others repeated what she said in French. She asked if I drank tea. Culturally this was an invitation, but to me at this moment it was only a question of habit. Of course I replied yes, I do in fact drink tea. And the lady looked at me when they finished translating my response, got up, yelled something in Wolof, and pointed to the chair. Not knowing what was going on, I just sat down. And for the next few hours I drank tea, made conversation, learned names, and made a promise to return that Saturday for lunch. 

When the big day rolled around I was nervously tossing and turning. There are so many things one must do to demonstrate appreciation to your hosts. I needed to wear my finest clothes, bring a gift of sorts, arrive slightly late, remember my Wolof greetings, remember where their house was exactly, etc…

On my way, I purchased some tea and sugar, perfect gifts around these parts. When I arrived, I knocked and knocked on the door hoping that one, this was their house and two, that they were serious about the invitation. I was beginning to second-guess my understanding of what was actually said during our last conversation. Suddenly, Dawit opened the door and led me to the others, all of whom I greeted properly and were delighted with my charming gift. 

Soon, like I was royalty, they ushered me into the sitting room where they placed the fan to blow directly at me and only me. A few chosen others were allowed to enter the room and have conversation while Sofia, my new best friend, began to make lunch. They were so delighted and surprised that I showed up, and they kept telling me so. They asked questions about my being unmarried and if I was considering taking up a Senegalese husband. I deflected these questions, but I knew they were not entirely gone and I would have to revisit them again. And again. And soon. 

I was given many photos to look at and express approval over. I listened to many stories of their family. When the food came it was obvious that much care had gone into the preparation and that it was a very special meal. Most of us ate with spoons but two of the sisters ate with their hands. All the choice bits were passed my direction and I found myself eating more and more, in spite of my fullness, as I felt bad for refusing the most prized morsels. When this was just not a possibility anymore I stepped up and away from the bowl expressing how the delicious food had filled me full. They offered me orange soda, which I drank, and water, which I also drank, and then more tea, which I simply could not refuse.

The conversation commenced again and morphed itself into Ousmane's free flow rap demonstrations and then again into group dancing. Other guests came and went. Another round of exhaustion set in along with a power outage forcing us all to collapse onto the couches or cool tiled floor. Hours, hours, and hours had passed and my lunch date was soon evolving into dinner invitations. I had used up every word and grammar construction that had ever crossed my path in these two foreign languages and my head began to hurt from so much thinking.

I thought it was time to head home. After much resistance, they said to stop by anytime and hopefully that it would be in 45 minutes for dinner...or the next day...but that it was not necessary to call or make a date. It felt freeing to have such lax etiquette concerning relationships and I made good on my word, I stopped by unannounced and passed another set of hours. They made good on theirs; they welcomed me like they had been expecting me for days. Which, to find out later, was not so far from the truth.

No comments:

Post a Comment