My Mother Away from Home

October 7, 2013

My host mom in Dakar, Soda Diop Diallo, is an incredibly nurturing woman.  Though she and my host dad never had any children of their own, they have been hosting foreign students (most, if not all, Americans) for the past ten years.  By the way she plays with and loves her nieces and nephews, it’s clear that she likes kids, so I would imagine that, for her, hosting students has been her way of loving, nurturing, and providing for the children that she never had.
Though her husband retired from his job as a high school teacher, she continues to faithfully work as a nurse (yes, more nurturing).  Though I knew she was a nurse for quite a while, when she got up early in the mornings and left at 7:30 in her beautiful, elaborate traditional Senegalese outfits, I assumed she was going to her job at one of the many hospitals or health centers nearby.  It was not until she took me outside the city of Dakar on a Saturday to go to the wedding reception of one of her family members, that I discovered that, in fact, she commuted 45 minutes—well outside her neighborhood of Mermoz—to work in one of the biggest hospitals in the country.  As we rode in the back of a taxi to her family’s home, and had long since passed any landmarks that I recognized, she casually pointed out the window at the hospital that stood beside us on the freeway, and said that she worked there.  I didn’t completely understand her, and she must have seen the confusion on my face, because she smiled and said in Wolof, “Waaw, sori na.” – “Yes, it’s far away.”

In the evenings, when I came home from school, it was usually dark.  Because my mom worked all day and I was at school, aside from a greeting in the morning before she left, this was the only time we had together. After dinner, we would sit on the roof of our house and she would invite me to lie down beside her on her mat.  We would lie there peacefully, sometimes speaking in a mixture of Wolof, French, and English to talk about my teachers or what I had learned in class that day, but usually we laid in silence as we watched the stars, the moon, the bats soaring above us, and the planes flying frighteningly close to our house as they landed at the airport nearby.  Though we were rarely able to communicate deeply and effectively through words, it was in these moments of silence, side by side, that our relationship grew.

Yesterday, when I left Dakar to come live in the village of Ndande for the remainder of my time in Senegal, I left Mama Soda’s house early in the morning for the last time. Though our goodbye was brief, she didn’t let me leave without the Senegalese outfit she had bought for me (we went to the market one day to pick out fabric together and chose a green pattern because we both love the color green), a huge bag of small doughnut-like pastries, called beignets, we had made together the day before, and an enormous bottle of bissap, my favorite Senegalese juice. Soda Diop, with her kind heart and exceptional hospitality, is a wonderful representation of the people I have met so far in Senegal, and I hope to meet such kind people in Ndande.