Postcolonial Urbanisms: Jan 12th Saint Louis and our host families

We left Saint Louis to go back to Dakar very early in the morning. The students from the architecture class had already left the night before. Alexandria and I woke up at 730, the time that we were supposed to leave, so we were obviously 15 minutes late. Oury got both of us breakfast, and I had my very varied breakfast of a croissant and a bit of baguette once more. The trip back to Dakar was pretty intense. I was still out of it and slept the entire the way, but felt extremely groggy upon arriving to Dakar. We went to Rosalind’s house for lunch, and they ordered pizza, which was honestly probably lighter for my stomach than tchabe tchadienne. We then had a roundtable discussion about God’s Bits of Wood, written by Ousmane Sembane. God’s Bits of Wood is sometimes considered to be a postcolonial novel, but it was actually written during the fight for Independence period, and is about a railroad workers’ strike before people were even talking about independence. I think that there is normally this discourse of strike leads to rebellion leads to independence leads to nationhood, but God’s Bits of Wood showed that there was no discussion of nationhood or this rampant nationalism before the struggle for independence. The strikes and rebellion came about very naturally, because people under intense oppression will eventually fight for their rights. If you read one novel about colonial Senegal, you should read this one. It is intensely compelling, dramatic and very relatable. You learn a lot about Senegalese culture through it, such as the role of women and men in the society. The thing that interested me most about God’s Bits of Wood is that Sembane writes in it that women went out into the streets and protested just like the men, but actually there is no evidence of Senegalese history that this happened. Was it a political statement? Was Sembane trying to say something about how involved women were behind the scenes and changed the political history of the country? The novel certainly does not give any conclusions about the author’s intentions nor about the future of Senegal and its people. That’s why it is so interesting to read the novel from today’s vantage point: a democratic modern nation-state. Yet, “Senegal” could have gone in such a different direction.

After lunch, we went to the Baobab centre to meet our host families. We first had an orientation with the host family coordinator, a Senegalese woman who explained to us that we should be flexible and open, because the families were all from different socioeconomic situations. I have lived with host families before, in formal and informal situations (aka organized programs and outside of organized programs) from all kinds of backgrounds, so I was pretty open to whatever the powers that be would give me as a family. We walked around to visit all of the houses of the host families in Baobab, which I really liked, since we got to explore the neighborhood and also meet some of the family members of the others’ host families. You could tell how packed our schedule was and how most of the students hadn’t walked around Baobab because they were completely lost walking around and marveling at everything. I think it’s really important to explore the neighborhood that you’re living/studying in  but I also understood that with our schedule and workload, it simply wasn’t easy to balance everything.

Rayne and I met our host family later that evening. We arrived around 6 to our house, literally 200m from the Baobab Centre. I was a bit disoriented at first because there was another exchange student already at the home – another American who had been studying in Dakar for the past four months. I was also a bit suspicious at first because in my first homestay experience in Buenos Aires, there was also another American already there before me as well, and I found that my host “mother” was not as interested in interacting with us. She simply provided all of the required amenities and necessities. So I switched my homestay to another family that had never had a student before – they really treated me like family and I felt very integrated. Anyway – I’ve just had far too many experiences to be completely dewey-eyed about the whole situation. Rayne was also a bit taken aback that we had another student in our home already, but she was very gracious and polite. Once our host father came home though, we realized that they were genuinely interested in having exchange students and did their best to make them feel all at home. Our father, Sébastian worked in construction, although he was currently between jobs and worked as security at a hostpital. Our host sister worked at a travel agency nearby, and the other children were all living between the US, Canada, and Belgium. Our host sister, Corinne and the aunt just lit up when Sébastian came home, he was such a lively and talkative presence. It was a bit hard for Rayne because the whole family doesn’t speak much English (almost zero) although they do understand it, and I was translating for a while, but I am not the greatest translator because I get caught up in talking. We ate dinner – rice and meat with a heavy tomato sauce out of a big platter accompanied by huge loaves of bread – watching EuroNews and Nollywood. It is incredible to me how much European television, particularly French news, is accessible in Senegal. Meanwhile, I never heard anything about Senegal the entire time that I was studying in Paris. Sébastian and I ended up discussing politics and life choices until late in the evening. He wanted to know what I want to do in life, and he understood that I want to marry and have children later in life in order to focus on my career. He was very intrigued by my interest in working in South America, and he also remarked that I could work in a great deal of places, due to my language skills and international experience. It was strange, but talking to Sébastian really felt like talking to my own dad – he had that same calm demeanor and intellectual, reflective personality. Our internet crashed basically as soon as we entered our host family’s home (a sign?) so I couldn’t send in the essay or do the readings that night, but I felt extremely satisfied with the day and excited for the rest of the week with the family.

Questions:

(First included in the paragraph about God’s Bits of Wood)

2. Is the group of people in Senegal who watch/read French/European news those who are particularly privileged in the country? Does this group of people also watch Senegalese news on TV and in what percentage compared to French/European news?

3. I often see strings of newspapers spread out on the streets and groups of men gathered around them, reading and discussing the news. Is this very common? Are women welcome/interested in participating in political discussions or would they only discuss events amongst themselves?

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