Ella Dixon-Nuttall - Building, Building & French in Senegal
I wanted to spend a couple of weeks abroad over the summer, living and volunteering in a country I’d never been to before whilst learning French, but couldn’t find anything like that for such a short duration – then I found Projects Abroad. The huge range of choice for various destinations and projects made me want to go everywhere, but in the end I decided on the 2 Week Special programme; Care & Community with French in Senegal, as it combined everything I wanted to do in a country I knew little about but was excited to experience.
Arriving in Senegal
It wasn’t until I stepped off the plane at Dakar into the sweltering heat, surrounded my voices speaking an unfamiliar language, that I knew I was in Africa. Although slightly daunted by the prospect of what lay ahead, I knew that so many new experiences and adventures were waiting for me across the next two weeks that the best thing to do was to embrace it.
Along with 2 other volunteers, we were met by one of the very welcoming and friendly Projects Abroad staff to stay in a hotel for the night, as by this time it was 9pm and too late to travel to St. Louis, the town where we would be staying. The next day, after a typically Senegalese breakfast of fresh baguette and ‘Chocó pain’, we set off for the journey to the town, during which we got our first real view of Senegal, seeing buses with people clinging on from all sides (including the roof) and a lot of mangoes!
Living with a host family
I was immediately welcomed into my new home by my host family and after some brief conversation in French was shown to my rooftop bedroom which had beautiful views all across St. Louis, as well as of the goats that also had a room up on the roof! I was sharing this with another girl from England, and we soon headed out for a game of football with some other volunteers and local boys who lived just round the corner, before sharing a Senegalese platter of fish, rice and onions with our family for dinner.
Over the two weeks I found staying with a host family allowed me to really experience Senegalese culture, even spending Ramadan with the family, trying traditional recipes and taking food over to other family members in the local areas.
My daily activities
A typical day for me started with French lessons in the morning, which I found really stimulating and enjoyable as these were one to one, involving grammar and literature as well as discussion of issues such as religion, cultural differences, Senegalese history and politics. I learnt a lot about Senegalese culture whilst developing my French and engaged with a lot of interesting debate with my teacher.
These would finish at around 12:30pm and we would then all go for lunch in the town, with the menu ranging from the safe option of spaghetti to many Senegalese fish, rice and meat dishes – one day I had a whole fish (head included) on my plate! After lunch we then all went together to the talibé centre where we did construction work to improve the centre for the orphan boys who called it their home.
The end result was a bright and colourful mural that we all painted and signed, and it was amazing to know how much of a difference we made to all the orphans’ lives. After we finished at the talibé centre, usually around 6:00am, we usually had social activities organised. These included swimming at Flamingo Pool, trips to the patisserie, shopping in the town and even a Senegalese dance class one evening, keeping us occupied and allowing us to make the most of our short time there, as Senegalese families typically eat quite late.
The highlight of my trip was the Saturday excursion to local villages, where we travelled on a bus and then 'horse and chariot' (literally wood on wheels being pulled by buses) to a more rural area, where people lived in small, very remote communities. We played with the children, who were all fascinated by our cameras, and experienced traditional Senegalese dancing whilst sipping fresh mint tea. It was an unforgettable day and I have many photos of happy smiling children to remind me of the experience.
The trip exceeded all expectations and I was really sad to leave Senegal and return home, although perhaps not so sad to leave the sound of goats behind! I learnt so much about myself and about the world, and took away a mango addiction as well as a few words of Wolof and some fantastic memories that I will never forget.