Ah, Kaolack. What a place you are.
I’m a week and a half into my life and internship here and it has been quite the experience. For one, it is hot. VERY HOT. Sweating doesn’t faze me much anymore, and mosquitoes and flies are batted away lazily; even my high-intensity DEET bug spray can’t do much to keep them away sometimes. Fans are a small luxury, though luckily my mom has one in her bedroom. Multiple nights I have dreamed about snow-covered mountains. That is not an exaggeration.
Yet, life goes on. If anything being here in Kaolack is teaching me that humans can thrive in almost any environment. The streets are wide and open, covered in sand. Trees stand with branches reaching far into the courtyards of houses covered in red stone and peeling paint: whites, yellows, blues, beiges. The occasional truck passes through my neighborhood, an oiLibya truck traveling to somewhere in the region and leaving behind a cloud of smoke that disappears slowly. As the sun starts to set around 7pm every night, young boys bring out their soccer balls and start games in the streets. The heat dies down and Kaolack transforms into a hubbub of slow activity: people strolling through neighborhoods to visit friends and family members under a splatter of stars in a clear night sky, unaffected by light pollution. Night is my favorite time in this city. A light breeze flows, and the sandy neighborhoods turn into a giant maze to be explored by a newcomer like myself (special attention paid to the piles of goat and horse poop.) Lights and sounds can be heard from nearby Centre-Ville (the center of town.) The occasional “asaalam aleekum” (peace be with you) reaches my ears from a group of people lying under a nearby tree. Near them, the neighborhood camel chews on its dinner.
My internship has kept me very busy, and often very tired. Last week I traveled with some women to a two-day leadership forum at an outside village. For hours women brainstormed the ways that the woman can contribute to the community. In the same week, I traveled around the city with my mom (who also works at APROFES, my internship organization) handing out invitations an event held at APROFES the following day that would display the effects of a new NGO-researched peanut product, an alternative to coal. The product helps the environment, facilitates faster cooking (important in hot village regions where the houses are prone to catching on fire), and gives more free time to women to pursue interests outside of the home. APROFES was a sponsor of research on the product, and on my second day here I found myself sitting in the office of the governor of Kaolack, listening to my mom explain to him the benefits of the product and of attending the event.
This week I have been in the office at APROFES with my mom, listening to her provide resources for women affected by domestic violence, abandonment, marital issues, etc. Yesterday I attended an event at the city’s center that supported the use of mosquito nets in the home as a key preventative factor of malaria in Senegal. My mom gave me new fabric to be made into a dress for the event, green and white cotton that everyone would be wearing to show solidarity for the cause. And it was true- every woman at this event was wearing a dress of green and white made with the same fabric.
Every night, exhausted by the day’s activities, I lay in bed listening to the sound of prayers at the nearby mosque. An occasional goat bleats outside my window, and voices rise and fall as people drift past on the street below, deep in conversation. I drift off to sleep content to be here, yet with the distinct sense that time is passing more quickly than I might like.