The veranda and room
My room was a highlight of my stay. Outside the door I had my own private veranda with a view over the ocean, the house nestling on the very edge of the beach. I could sit there and watch the spectacle of small fishing boats as they headed out to sea. Turn the other way and I could see the busy life of the neighbourhood of kids playing in the street or men making their way to the mosque.
I was hosted on the top floor a three-storey building, taller than most near by. My host family lived on the floor below, while the ground floor had a baffling array of rooms and inhabitants, the exact relation they each had to each other remained a mystery throughout my stay. The ground floor was typical of other houses, brick buildings with simple rooms off a central corridor or courtyard. With a number of people living in one room, often spanning generations, it made for a busy, densely populated area.
View of the town from the veranda
Given the demographic profile of Senegal that meant there were a lot of young children. In many ways I felt they were living an idyllic childhood. There were very few cars on the peninsula and those could only drive on the single road, the remainder of the ground surface was sand. With a extensive network of playmates, often including a number of their extended family, the kids could chase each other through the streets in their bare feet, play football on the beach, play hide and seek on the boats, all in the ever perfect weather. Better than afternoons on the playstation and contacting your school friends only via a computer screen, I would say.
There is far less supervision of very young children than would be the norm in developed nations, children as young as three would happily roam their neighbourhood without concern. In common with other tropical developing nations, life is conducted much more publicly than in temperate western nations. People sit and talk outside, people shop at outside markets, so not much takes place without everyone else knowing about it.
Abi, baby-faced bed wrecker?
There was only one manner in which my accommodation was lacking, the bed. This developed into something of a saga of which I am not terribly proud. My room had two single beds, both constructed with a base of wooden slats and a thin mattress. The slats to sleep on ran length-wise, supported beneath by slats running across the breadth of the bed, somewhat counter to what I thought to be the normal practice of simple horizontal slats. Not terribly comfortable to begin with, one night I woke in the middle of the night as one side of the bed subsided. On inspection I could see that one of the supporting slats had started to split and would soon crack, rendering the bed useless. I swapped to the other bed but it wasnít very even, so I resorted to just placing the thin mattress on the floor.
The sensible thing to do at this stage would have been to tell the family about the broken bed. However, just the evening prior to the bedís demise they had been complaining to me about a previous German volunteer who had broken everything she touched, including the bed. Still early in my stay at this point, and trying to establish my credentials as a considerate guest, I decided postpone telling the news by continuing to move the mattress to the floor each night.
Days became weeks and soon enough it was time to leave and I still hadnít told them that the bed was broken. I considered my options. I could do the mature thing and tell them, offering to make a financial contribution for the repair that would have been inconsequential to me but they probably would have refused anyway. I could just not tell them. Or, ingeniously, I could pin the blame on three-year-old Abi who liked to explore my room and had a well-merited reputation for breaking things, coolly reasoning that she was probably young enough to forget quite quickly about the inevitable and unmerited beating. After discussing the situation with other volunteers over a few beers a conclusion was reached: in life honesty is always the best policy, unless youíre having an affair or youíre broken someoneís bed. So I did nothing. The next volunteer to arrive in the house, perhaps a nervous, homesick, jet-lagged teenager, would probably sit on the bed minutes after arriving only for it to collapse into an array of splinters beneath them. Oh well, at least I wouldn't get the blame, and that's all that matters.