A few days ago, I wrote about a very magnificent waiter at the hotel restaurant, Alassane, who spoke to me in four different languages. It’s not something I’ll soon forget. It was genuine. It was heartfelt. It was kind. It made me want to come back again, and when I had the opportunity to go back to that restaurant, I did, and Alassane was there with the same welcoming smile and conversation in English, French, Wolof, and Spanish.
What has been striking about Alassane and other Senegalese that I have met is their incredible hospitality. Even before I set foot on this continent, my host teacher. Lamine – who I have yet to meet in person, told me repeatedly that I am coming home. Mamadou, a teacher advisor who led one of our tours of a teacher training center and his former school, said welcome home. One of my in-state coordinators and guide said to me welcome home. Are you getting the idea? I wanted to cry. Not for the tragedy and atrocity that tore my ancestors from this land, but for the way that I was welcomed back. Every time, it was genuine, heartfelt, kind, and warm. And it makes me want to come back again and again.
In our conversation at dinner, I had mustered the courage to try new phrases that I’d googled. Nothing fancy, just “I’ll take the check please.” ( Je prondrai l’addition s’il vous plais.) While I’m sure that there are other ways to say that, this is what Google had to offer. He responded in French and in so many words said that I must be from Senegal because my accent in French and Wolof is good. Needless to say that I beamed with pride! What a confidence boost! But it was the welcoming spirit that made me want to try to engage in the first place.
Two nights ago, another of our in-state coordinators hosted a dinner at her home. She had a friend prepare a meal for the 14 of us! And it was quite a spread! There was chicken and fish, and lamb, rice and vegetables and couscous that came with a sauce that was to die for. I can’t imagine creating something like that for 14 people, let alone a single course, but it was a joy for her and her family to have us in their home. There was no rush in the meal either. There was time for fellowship and laughter before, during, and after the meal. We sampled local drinks like bissop, which is like a hybiscus drink and it was wonderful, and a ginger drink that reminded me of Vernors soda at home. There was also a variety of fresh fruit offered for dessert, and there was more conversation. We lost track of time, but it didn’t matter. It was the company, the fellowship, that mattered. It was a gesture of welcome and it was genuine, heartfelt, and kind.
I knew that this trip would be life changing but I wasn’t quite sure how. I knew that I came with specific guiding questions about engaging students in a classroom and how students’ voices are represented and made room for, but I’m learning so much more than that. In our seminar yesterday, Mouhamadou said that the greeting of people is so important. To walk past someone, especially someone you know, and not speak is not soon forgiven. His advice? It’s best to greet everyone.
In the western world, especially in the big city that I live in, it’s very easy to be caught up in our own lives, in our own worries, in our own hustle and bustle, and forget about those around us. We make excuses about why we can’t slow down – it’s multitasking – we’ve got to be productive, right? What this week has reminded me, is that there will always be things to do; that will never stop. What will not always be are the people – those you know, and those you don’t – and we should really take time for them and with them.
I sat at dinner last night, alone at first, in a corner of the restaurant thinking that I was going to read and eat and essentially go unnoticed, get in, eat my dinner, and get out. It did not happen that way and I couldn’t be happier. Jere jef (Thank you).