Hurry Up and Wait, Part 2: Arrival – #RoR2018

Hurry Up and Wait, Part 2: Arrival – #RoR2018

After focusing my last couple weeks spending quality time with my loved ones, this week I have arrived in Dakar. This is my sixth time here and unquestionably my smoothest entry – the shiny new airport was easy to navigate, despite having just opened to great criticism in the middle of December. Seems like the kinks got worked out, or they were just having a good day. Passport control was fast, customs was nearly undetectable, and my host met me inside the airport (which used to not be possible). He, as usual, insisted on parading me around to friends and family all over the city to announce my arrival, share gifts (more on that in another blog), and give news of affairs in the United States. (“How are the people of America?” I often hear. Some complicated rejoinder about White supremacy, I think to myself.)

And, predictably, no amount of unproblematic entry will prevent the difficult transition that I always have: First, some mixture of jet lag, allergies, humidity, and weather lays me out for a day or two; this time four and counting. It’s embarrassing to arrive and then appear to go straight to bed for longer than a day while my body resets. The longer lasting difficulty is having to readjust to the languages. I find that when people speak to me in French, they prefer a French response – the same for Wolof – but without thinking I might just respond with whichever comes naturally. This can be a real problem when remembering to use tu– and vous-forms appropriately (I am habituated to using tu) or responding to older people with Wolof slang (which always gets a laugh from younger people). While I am considered conversationally fluent in French, it’s important to note that I didn’t begin learning French until I was 26, (and Wolof at 28). I was once told that the ability to learn a new language after the age of 16 falls precipitously, though I’m not sure if that’s true. It takes my brain about 3-4 weeks to relearn major social and linguistic cues and after two months I have relatively no problems.

Brand new yellow door in the doorway of a concrete block house
The door, or “bunt bi” in Wolof. (Photo: Dick Powis)

I’m currently staying with relatives of my host in the Liberté 6 neighborhood for a few weeks while my house in Parcelles becomes habitable. As it stands, it has no roof, windows, doors, running water, or electricity, but it should very soon. I bought a brand new front door and watched it get installed the day I arrived. I am apprehensive to completely unpack until I can do so in my own semi-permanent space. I say semi-permanent because I am co-funding the construction of this house with my host and I understand that I should always have a place there when I want to return. Rather than pay rent, I’ve chosen to put the same amount of money that I could afford for rent into this home. That money goes a lot further, of course, than it would in the US.

I would like to start my research timeline by the end of January by at least renewing contact with the clinic(s) in which I want to work and putting out a call for research assistants. I’ve been told that starting research within the first month is ambitious at best, even foolhardy. It keeps me motivated, especially as I seize upon my New Year’s resolutions – something I’ve never pursued before – to exercise, take photographs every day, and keep a rigid routine involving not only my health but research-related items such as committing at least one hour per day to writing highly detailed ethnographic notes. (In the future, I will write a blog in this series about my workflow and the mobile apps that I find indispensable to ethnographic research.)

The transition into research seems to be as much of a “hurry up and wait” situation as it was when I was waiting on my funding to come through. It might be that the hardest part is just learning to cut myself some slack.

Dick Powis is a PhD Candidate in Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, and is also pursuing a Graduate Certificate in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. His research interests include men and childbirth, prenatal screening technologies, and reproductive health in urban settings in Senegal. Read more at dickpowis.com.

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