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O Fim duma Viagem

Looking Back at Senegal

SENEGAL | Tuesday, 1 July 2014 | Views [335]

 The saying “it's the journey and not the destination that matters” does not apply to airplane travel. 

First of all, airplane trips are all about the destination. You constantly need to present your boarding pass to prove that you have a destination, and are therefore allowed to make the short journey through the airport. Maybe you need to fill out an embarkment or disembarkment form and need to remember the exact address of where you're going. You usually figure out where to sit down by checking a board for your destination. You have a specific destination, and you're not allowed to change it. So yes, that matters. A lot.

Secondly, you don't learn anything on airplanes. The most an airplane trip can teach you about yourself is “I need that plastic gnome featured in Skymall.” There's a chance for self-discovery in journeys by car, foot, boat,bike, hot air balloon, giant hamster ball, and even train. Just not by airplane.

Finally, very few of the interesting things that might happen in an airport would be considered good. You can have a good conversation with fellow passengers, and maybe get a seat upgrade if you're lucky. But for the most part, airports and airplanes are too stressful environments for the journey to be terribly pleasant. So I really hope the destination is more important.

All of which is consolation for the fact that my airport/airplane/airport journey was rather boring. We had to fill out the same form 2.5 times- 1.5 times to leave Senegal and 1 time to enter Morocco. We stood in lines for a long time at both airports. About typical experience.

I did have one moment when I re-entered the airport and the official asked me why I didn't have a number in my passport, since it wasn't my first time entering Morocco. I tried to explain, in French, that the person checking me in the first time had written it down on a sheet of paper that I'd had to hand to a woman to get through to baggage claim, (Nathan: “Did you succeed?” Me: “I got as far as 'sheet of paper.'”) and he wrote down a number on my boarding pass stub and handed both back to me. After checking to make sure that it matched the format of other people's numbers, I wrote it down in my passport just to avoid future hassle. Then I realized that I was getting a new passport before I'd come back to Morocco. While we waited for our checked bags, Megan and I brainstormed possible ways in which I could end up back in Morocco in the next 10 months. (Plane gets redirected. Sudden conversion to Islam that makes me drop out of college and move to Morocco.) None of them are very likely, but at least now I'm prepared.

“I'm so happy to be going back to Morocco,” Cynthia said, then reflected “that's a sentence that I never thought I'd say.” If nothing else, the five days we spent in Senegal gave us a newfound appreciation for Morocco. An appreciation that's closer to a citizen than a tourist. Which is rather shocking for six Americans who had left the United States under a month before.

As I was walking back from Sidi Fata and a motorcycle came roaring down the otherwise empty street, I started musing that I had been much less worried about being run over in Senegal. Granted, I hadn't been doing terribly much walking around, but it had still been a pleasant break.

There were some other things I would miss about Senegal. For one thing, I never had to buy water there. When we checked into the hotel, we got the 4 1.5 Liter bottles of water. At several of the lectures, people handed out smaller bottles of water. All this in addition to the 1.5 L bottles we shared at dinner.

I was not going to miss the heat or humidity. Or mosquito which could be carrying Malaria, Yellow Fever, and Dengue Fever. I'm not going to miss the over-aggressive shopkeepers. Or the food. (I made several Moroccans happy when I mentioned that I'd missed Moroccan cooking. I also felt myself tearing up when I had olives were added to the chicken dish at lunch, though that might have been more related to the spiciness of the dish and the exhaustion of having woken up at 3 in the morning than purely the taste.)

And of course, once we were back with our host families and in our classes, everyone wanted to know how Senegal was. And we responded “interesting.” Because really, there's no other word.

To say that it was really hot would be true, but superficial. Anything that you can pick up when you get out of the plane at 3:30 in the morning isn't going to be terribly insightful.

To say the people were too aggressive would be an unfair simplification. The shopkeepers were incredibly pushy, and we couldn't walk down a street without someone trying to sell us random items (necklaces were one of the more practical items. Blenders were one of the strangest.) Our politics professor: “It's like Morocco, or New York.” Us: “Noooo.” I've never been anywhere where the vendors are that aggressive. I could have walked around the outside of the Louvre and the Tuileries Garden wearing a “I <3 Paris” T-shirt and a hat shaped like the Eiffel Tower, and I still wouldn't have had as many people trying to sell me cheap souvenirs. (Or water. Or blenders.)

But to say that everyone was too aggressive would be to ignore all of the people who weren't trying to sell us something. The women in the school against illegal migration treated us with nothing but kindness. So many people took the time to give us a presentation, and often gave us water bottles and cups of tea or coffee. Though there were some communication and “why does it take two hours to make dinner?” difficulties, the people at the hotel were pretty considerate. Even the person giving me my visa had been friendly (though not as friendly as Erika's) and taught me a little bit of Wolof.

They have a certain inherent pride in their language that I've only seen rivaled by the French. No one in Senegal directly said “Perhaps English would be better, non?” but they would switch into speaking it the instant either one of us had difficulty understanding. All of us spoke with an accent closer to Parisian than they did, but they acted like we were the funny-sounding ones. Which would have been fine, except that several people I talked with tried to tell us that we should learn Wolof. It doesn't really make sense to be that possessive about French when you have Wolof (and a lot of other smaller dialects.)

So “interesting.” That really is the best way to describe it.

On our last real day there, Nisrine commented that “I see girls walking around wearing way too little clothing, and the guys just leave them alone.” I'm not sure if she realized how much more her comment was a reaction on Morocco than Senegal. It was around 90 degrees. The girls in question were wearing tank tops and shorts. Not the short-shorts that they can barely sit down in, but plain shorts. I've seen girls wearing less than that in the middle of a Wisconsin winter.

But then again, doesn't that reveal more about the United States than Morocco?

Tags: french, airplane, airport, culture, interesting

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