Sometimes you need to protect yourself from the heat of the sun.
I was sitting in the Jean-Jacques pub yesterday, off in a corner, writing a blog post. My only companion was a very large beer. I had said bonjour to a big table of Senegalese men and women when I walked in but I knew I wanted to be alone. A few of them returned my greeting with some fast French. I smiled and placed a chair under the shade of a mango tree.
For the next hour-and-a-half, I tapped my screen and found photos. In the background was a non-stop conversation en français and Warlof. Really … nobody seemed to come up for air! I didn’t understand any of it. There was a tall and imposing fellow in a long robe and a hat that reminded me of a woven basket. He spoke loudly, authoritatively, with his index finger poised for emphasis. Others replied to him just as sharply. Were people excited? Angry? In love? I couldn’t tell.
Here I am in the beginning stages of learning a foreign language, with ancient years of high school French, and I didn’t recognize anything these folks were saying. It was so tempting to fall into badness. I’ve done so many a time on this trip – not being able to find the noun, adjective or verb that fits; having no idea how to conjugate a verb so that people know whether I’m talking about the future or the past; leaning unsuccessfully into the kind efforts of a native speaker to go slowly. But not this time.
As I sat there with my double-sized Flag, I saw some truths:
1. I’m surrounded by Senegalese human beings who speak French, Warlof and Serai but only a soupçon of English, if any.
2. I’m doing my best to speak and understand sentences that fly towards me, usually at supersonic speed.
3. With the exception of Lydia (now) and Jo (earlier), there is no one here with whom I can carry on a nuanced conversation.
4. I love talking to people about important things, especially what their lives are like, what they’re experiencing, what visions they hold. With the Senegalese, and with almost all the tourists I’ve met, that’s not available here. I miss the depth of talking.
5. At home, my life feels balanced among being alone, being with one other person, and being in a small group. Here what dominates is groups (large and small) – family, friends. Of course those are marvelous opportunities for togetherness but my balance is way off.
6. I need to spend some time in the shade, away from the intensity of group conversation in French.
7. Rather than feeling “less than”, the opportunity for me is to allow in words such as “courage”, “pioneer” and “sufficiency”. Yes, I can do that.
8. I can also laugh at my mistakes. “J’ai chaud” literally means “I have heat”. More conversationally, it’s “I’m hot”. However, “Je suis chaud” tells my companion that “I’m sexy”. Perhaps I should stick with “J’ai chaud”!
Now there is a lightness
Now there is a smile
Now there is peace