I have landed.
The heat at Léopold Sedar Senghor airport in Dakar as I step on the tarmac.
Whatever I thought or anticipated flew out the window the minute I sat in Cheikh’s minivan. The drive to La Demeure, a guesthouse where I am staying for the next few days, is short but long enough for me to take in that I am finally in Africa:
- The back streets covered with sand – the overall color here actually comes from multiple shades of “caramel” if you can imagine that. A vivid contrast from the green countryside of the south shore of Montreal where I live.
- The sounds of the Friday 2pm call for prayer – the most important of the week: everything stops, men (mostly it seems) and women line up – wherever they are, even the “taxi men” stop, and pray.
- Exploring and discovering Layu Cafe on la Route des Almadies, engaging in the Senegalese introductions of “Bonjour, Salam Maleikoum, ça va? Ça va, ça va!” Experiencing “la Terenga”, the renowned Senegalese hospitality.
- My first few days at PATH: meeting colleagues, writing down names so I can pronounce them correctly, adjusting to a 1pm lunch break (I get hungry at 10h30am!!!!), and mostly, appreciating all the work that PATH is doing here in Senegal and in Africa, working on the fight against malaria, women and reproductive health, and of course, non communicable diseases. In Senegal, the mortality rate of NCDs is estimated at 34%, with 45% of those deaths occurring before the age of 60, in the active and working population. NCDs represent a huge public health challenge here in Senegal, as it is estimated that more than 50% of all NCD cases are undiagnosed.
I am lucky that I have met Djibi, my regular taxi driver: he picks me up at La Demeure in the morning and picks me up again at PATH at the end of the day. He and I chat during this privileged time, getting to know each other, and sharing anecdotes about his family and his 3 girls. He is proud. He asks about our winter and the snow. Winter here is starting, with increasing heat and rain until the end of October. Imagine that!
Nothing really can prepare you for what we call “a cultural shock”, but arriving freely in a completely different environment, meeting people with kindness and openness, exploring and appreciating the differences in the world, accepting to shift your perspective so that you can learn, all of this will contribute – I am intimately convinced – to a transforming and positive social, professional, cultural and personal experience. Not a shock.
It all depends on your perspective.
Ba ci jamano jii (see you soon)!