My parents flew from Virginia to see me right after Christmas, staying in Senegal twelve days.  They said they had a great time but they also said that the conditions in Senegal are a lot worse than the fairy tale image I’m apparently projecting on this blog.  They were able to see what life is really like here, from the good to the bad to the appalling.  We stayed in five different cities/towns/villages in Northern Senegal, going to really touristy places, like Gorée Island, and also going places where probably no other tourist has gone before, like the small villages around Thilogne.
In St. Louis, on their second day here, my folks witnessed how culture and law and security are one in the same:  I was mid-conversation with my parents and opened the door to a bank, forgetting to say ‘hello’ to the police officer standing outside.  He put his arm in front of the door to block me from entering and said angrily, “you didn’t say hello to me!  You can’t just walk by me without saying hello!  I’m here to tell you that if you want to change money, you need to go through the door on the left!  If you said hello to me you would have known that!”  Then he gave the lecture I’ve heard countless times about how ‘here in Senegal, you need to say hello to people…’  My parents were pretty shocked.  They don’t speak French, so they just saw me getting yelled at for no apparent reason (and me yelling back); they had no idea it was over such a trivial issue.  That was not the first time I have gotten yelled at for not saying hello to someone as I was entering a room, and it probably won’t be the last (sometimes I forget!)

Although my parents loved Thilogne and found it very interesting, they realized how exhausting it is to be followed everywhere and stared at constantly.  I told them that I am still getting this kind of unwanted attention after living here for months, and I’m nowhere near used to it.  It’s tiring to the point that I have to mentally prepare myself to leave my house each day.  One day in Thilogne, my Mom played my guitar, and I taught a couple of kids how to dance the Hokey Pokey.  Everyone clapped along to the songs and it was a lot of fun – a huge treat for all of us.  My Dad brought a rubber spider all the way from America and scared all the kids with it, which he was really proud of (my dad reminds me a lot of Michael from ‘The Office’).  Both Mom and Dad loved my host mother, Jeniba, and they saw what a greedy, mean man Demba is.


On the way to the Lampoul sand dunes from Thilogne, we took a car whose windshield was so badly cracked it was caving in, held up by a rug, a stick, and an air freshener can.  At the start of the drive, the driver shut his door and the window shattered into a million pieces.  He drove on, and each time the car hit a bump or a pothole, he brought his hand to his mouth and kissed his gris gris (good luck charm).  We somehow made it to our destination without the windshield collapsing, so I guess the gris gris helped.  Though this particular car was in the worst shape, we didn’t ride in a single car whose windshield was not cracked and whose speedometer was not broken.


The worst part of our trip was Popenguine.  I had reserved a house on the beach two months early, and then confirmed my reservation the day before we arrived.  When we got there, we were told that it was no longer available, but there was another place we could stay that was double the price.  We were tired and said we would take it.  We waited an hour for them to clean the rooms, and with a sigh of relief, we finally walked in, ready to put our bags down and relax.  To our dismay, the place was filthy - the bathroom looked like someone had just thrown a bucket of water over everything and there was tons of sand on the floor - and there were no towels, no clean sheets, and no toilet paper.  We asked for these things twice, and by the end of the day, were given one towel only.  When we complained the next day, we realized that their motto was ‘the customer is always wrong -’ a motto that seemed to reign in the majority of places we ate and stayed.  We were blamed for not having asked more times to be given clean sheets and towels.  And as for the all-night hip-hop dance party that took place in the hotel lobby that we weren’t warned about?  Well…the workers at the hotel didn’t get any sleep either, so we had no right to complain.  That morning, when we arrived at the other hotel in town, I was exhausted, frustrated, and upset that things weren’t going well, but more than anything I just wanted to lie down.  I plopped myself down on the bed, and the mattress collapsed through the bed frame, and I fell to the floor.

We finished the trip in Dakar, where we stayed in a nice hotel and relaxed a bit.  Nothing went smoothly the whole trip, because that is an impossibility here, but we still had a great time, and nothing seemed to faze my parents.  They had a good sense of humor about everything that went wrong, and I admit I was surprised and impressed with their flexibility and easy-going attitude.  They took bucket baths, drank the local water, and went without cell phones, television, movies, and Internet for two weeks.  I’d say they managed better than a lot of people half their age would if they were plunged into the same environment.  Having said that, I think they are grateful to be home and are looking forward to going back to work.