So I have less than a week left in Senegal and i can’t believe it is over. I feel as though I have made great personal changes and frankly, I am nervous to go home. I have read “Reverse Culture Shock” tips and they only seem to make me more nervous than help.
So to sum up my time here I have decided to write down the top 5 things I will miss about Senegal. The top five things I won’t miss about Senegal. And finally, the 5 things I have a love-hate relationship with: I both am excited and sad to leave behind. I wanted to write about so much more. Recap my favorite stories, write reflections of how I think I’ve grown, etc. but i find this all so overwhelming that these 15 themes will have to do.
Things I WILL miss about Senegal.
Ceeb bu Jën bu xonq
O.M.G. If all of my food posts didn’t get your mouth-watering, then you have no imagination of taste buds. Though I will enjoy taking a very long break from eating fish, I will miss ceeb bu jën bu xonq and Mafé and laax and and and and…. It is all sooo good.
Ceeb bu Ginaaw
I have also consumed more juice in my time here than ever before. There is Bissap, Boué, Gingembré, Ditah, Mangue, Madd, Orange, and cocktail…to name a few. They are all so incredibly tasty and most don’t exist in the US.
I did find powder used to make two of the juices and am VERY excited to share with friends and family. Sorry for everyone else, you’ll just have to wonder.
Dolima! The thing that introduced me to the concept of sucking things out of bags... I will miss sucking my food and drinks out of bags...
And of course, it was all so fresh... yummm
2. Music and Dancing.
YUZA! YUZA! YUZA! YUZA! The chant of Senegalese, young and old, that has driven me to wave my hands and stomp a foot with all the sass I can muster dozens of times since my stay here began.
At concerts people definitely broke it down.
Senegal has a rich tradition of music and dance. Djembe’s are a percussion signature of the country but there are also so many other ways the Senegalese get you movin’. Mbalax is a favorite here, and I assume most of you have heard of Youssou N’dour. Of course, the hip-hop scene is also off the chain.
Going to night clubs, concerts, drum circles, etc I have got to see how amazingly well people can move here. It’s like they don’t have joints, bones or have to obey the laws of gravity. I am lucky the national dance fad doesn’t require too much skill because I can always default to that when put on the spot.
Everyone dances. Music is everywhere. What isn’t to love about that?
3. Field Work/ Being Important
As I have mentioned in blogs before I am doing side research in Senegal for my undergraduate thesis on the relationship between Senegalese hip-hop and politics. When I arrived I thought I could talk to some low-level rappers and maybe some political interns but nothing too spectacular.
I quickly realized that one of the very few times being an American would work in my favor was being a researcher. Everyone was willing to talk to me. I got to speak to some of the most important current and past hip hop artists in the Nation. I talked to people who would be the US equivalent of Public Enemy to Kanye West. I felt like I could be the Oprah of Senegalese hip hop.
AWADI! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! *giggle*
I was giddy as a school girl EVERY time. Especially with some of the bigger names. Awadi made me feel like every 7th grade girl must feel at a Justin Beeber concert. I learned SOooo much.
I also had the privilege of being involved in a few international conferences here and was able to talk to many world renowned labor historians, literary professors, and other impressive and intimidating people. I was able to bounce ideas off of them, gain some contacts, and get a guide to how/what/where the archives were. I learned way more about researching here than I ever could have in the states. Now for bragging rights, here are some videos of musicians I interviewed….
He’s basically the biggest name in Senegalese hip-hop. I felt like a 13 year old girl meeting Justin Beeber. ❤
Nix isn’t a political rapper, but he is damn good. It was interesting talking to a politically detached artist. He raps only in French but samples a LOT of American artists. Ignore the hey-ho’s in the beginning and it is a catchy song, even if you don’t understand it.
Xuman was by far the most helpful and informative person I interviewed. He’s a reggae/rapper. This is definitely a song meant for the international scene and not like his political work, but I thought I’d treat you in a catch fun song in English.
4. Living in a Religious Country
Living in America unless you are a white Christian, I haven’t really come across you in the PNW. Islam is something I have very little exposure to and I know I made my parents and relatives very nervous when I said I was going to a country composed of 90% muslims. I have found it so incredibly interesting how religion is such a large part of Senegalese society.
I experience Ramadan and even attempted fasting for a day. I have so much respect for those who do that for a month EVERY year. During the hottest part of the year.
Me outside the biggest mosque in Senegal
Rachel and I were walking downtown on a friday afternoon and noticed ourselves in a swarm of men all going in the same direction. We then found ourselves weaving between men lined up on prayer rugs in the middle of the street waiting for friday prayer. We felt awkward and hurried to our destination but also found the experience incredibly powerful and moving.
Living in a society that is also so tolerant of other religions was refreshing. The Christian population lives among the Islam populations. They even intermarry. There is an understanding and peace between the religious sectors that you do not see in many places.
America, for example, is a sad, sad excuse for a religiously tolerant nation, especially, after 9-11. Our population on a whole is so incredibly ill-informed when it comes different religions and living amongst them. People would stop mid conversation with me to pray, right in front of me. At first this was almost too awkward to handle but I began to appreciate and enjoy a constant feeling of devotion around me.
I mean, it wasn’t all majestic and beautiful… I could do without all chanting over the loud speakers of mosques and chauvinism, but you know, over all it was a pretty awesome experience. I feel that American culture is just going to seem boring in comparison.
It's like magic.
Ataya means many things to me, but I think ultimately it embodies Senegalese culture so well. Ataya, as I have explained in previous posts is a type of tea drank (drunk?) in Senegal. However, it is much more than that. To me, Ataya is an event, not just a beverage. Each round takes about 30 minutes to make. There are three rounds and each has a different meaning.
While partaking in Ataya people sit around, relax and talk. Everyone is welcome around the Ataya pot. Strangers will invite you while you are walking down the street to drink a cup with them. Anyone and everyone can drink ataya together and EVERYONE drinks Ataya. It is a great equalizer and the epitome of taarange isolated into an event. When drinking Ataya (properly) I have always felt included and welcome. I will miss this pause in the day when nothing else is important. Just you glass and conversation.
It's all about being social and trying not to blow up the propane tank.
Plus, the tea is freakin’ delicious.
Things I WON’T miss about Senegal:
These didn't bite me but I didn't take many bug pictures.
My legs looked like I have the Chicken Pox on my legs. Had some Malaria scares. Was constantly attacked by very aggressive flies. Chased around a bathroom by a GIANT spider. Found ants crawling in and out of my computer… Bugs suck. I can totally deal with the occasional Oregon spider now.
2. Having an Office Job- At times I felt like I could have accomplished my internship in Oregon, in my pajamas. I was expecting to be out in the field doing more hands on work, not sitting in an office translating documents and siting in on staff meetings. In a lot of ways my internship was an exercise in frustration. I have grown and learned a lot from it. I know that I could not have gained the experience I did elsewhere. The few times I did get to leave Dakar and see our NGO in action it was inspiring, but through my time here, and talking with other NGOs, I don’t think this is the line of work for me. My attention span isn’t long enough to be efficient while sitting in front of a computer all day. I don’t want to work for an organization that is constantly stressed about funding; sometimes more so than their mission. GEEP, luckily, is mostly not like that, but from what I found, few NGOs are like GEEP.
Theater for change! I love this stuff, if only my job involved more of it.
Hanging out with middle schoolers. Wish I could have more!
Ugh. Seriously, if i get proposed to, ask for my number, or if I have a husband ONE. MORE. TIME. I’m gonna… idk. Freak out.
Not all men are terrible. I have some male friends who I adore, my host brother is wonderful and if they are married I’m usually safe. But the overly aggressive men towards white women got real old, REAL fast. I realize I am seen as a walking visa, maybe if Senegal was my reality I would try to do the same… Sometimes men might just see me as an exotic piece of meat or a way to make an easy buck. Regardless of the reasons, one can only take so much of trying blatantly to be used, EVERYDAY.
A possey of dudes too cool for school with matching fades on there jeans that was too ridiculous not to document.
Truth: Senegalese men are beautiful. They all work out, they’re all ridiculously tall, and generally they all have great teeth. Yet, asking for my number before my name or full on grabbing my ass on a dance floor takes away any appeal you could have ever possibly had.
Plus, i’m taken fellas.
Truth: My wedding ring isn’t real, but is a symbol that says, “I don’t want to get up on ya. So don’t try.”
This particular man harassed us as we were buying our bags of water, demanded a picture and is quenticential thing that turned me into a mean person
Men have taken the habit of telling me I need a Senegalese husband when I tell them I’m married. It is not a good idea. In a patriarchal, chauvinist society, men can joke about polygamy but white girls aren’t allowed to…except this white girl. When men persist that I need to take them up as my second husband my response is now, “Sorry, I already have a second husband. Three would just be too much work.” This follows in silence and confusion or anger.
What cha gonna do? I think the polygamist white girl caught your tongue perhaps you should be such a jerk next time.
I’m very much looking forward to being seemingly anonymous when I get home.
4. Pollution/The trash/environmental situation
I’m a Oregon hippie at heart. I have some very practical reasons for hating the pollution, such as, my asthma resurfaced while I was here and after a crazy attack I was prescribed a few medicines and an inhaler. Burning plastic and other garbage in the streets, everywhere, everyday leads to some pretty nasty stuff in the air. My lungs disagreed. Aside from my medical reasons, it affects the health of everyone who lives here too.
A domicile on the beach...
There is a HUGE trash problem in Senegal as I wrote about before. It’s like Senegal is a huge example of the tragedy of the commons. Everyone makes sure they look beautiful and well put together, their houses are always very clean and have nice things, but once you leave your front door, it doesn’t matter. It’s really sad because Senegal is such a lovely place. There is so much natural beauty that is being covered in trash. There are some movements to educate people about the environment and the problems with littering but the problem goes beyond garbage.
The beauty that should be universal in Senegal
There are constant trash and tire fires along the side of the road, lots and lots of cars spew thick black smoke, a large industry in Senegal (cement factories) have low environmental standards and are set up near the ocean, etc. Environmental standards at woefully lacking here.
5. Poverty/ Social Injustice
This is the hardest thing to write about because there are so many things that just aren’t fair about Senegal. I wrote my blog about disabilities and have touched on poverty here and there but it’s really difficult to write about because I don’t think one can truly understand what poverty is like here without living around and amongst it.During my study abroad we would talk about social issues in Senegal and I always found myself making US comparisons. I would guess 87% of Senegal’s ‘problems’ can be found in the United States as well, the scale of the problems however is much larger in Senegal.
A poor section of Dakar without proper drainage systems
There are so many marginalized groups here (not unlike the United States). The disabled, the poor, women… etc. Sexual assault is a GIANT problem here that just isn’t talked about because the rights of women are not respected or important.
Children are put into Islamic schools where the Marabouts take advantage of them by putting them on the street to beg for money to make their keep.
These things I will not miss, but it is so frustrating to know that I can just escape these hardships and injustices. For the people living in Senegal this is their daily reality. It is hard to be in such a privileged position and stay objective and unaffected by these issues. Why can’t we all just treat each other with dignity and respect?!
Again, I feel as if I am not doing this issue justice. It is just so hard for me to explain because of all of the complex issues compounded by even more complex and confusing emotions about the subject.
My top 5 LOVE/HATEs:
1. Language- My French and Wolof have noticeably improved in my time here yet i’m am nowhere near to fluent in either. My lack of language abilities have made me feel often isolated, dumb and openly made fun of. It has been so incredibly difficult and frustrating to learn two languages at the same time. Not to mention that Wolof is very difficult, they talk fast and very different words sound exactly the same. I also have the added challenge of the intern before me being fluent in French and very successful at Wolof. I came in with high expectations placed upon me that I was unable to live up to. Since she lived in the same house I did felt my Senegalese contacts disappointment from both the work and the home sphere. So basic communication made me want to beat my head against a wall.
At the same time learning and speaking 3 different languages was so much fun. Communication will be boring when I return home. The first few months I was here, I was always exhausted after a long day of speaking in french and Wolof, it was mentally taxing. Yet, just like anything you constantly exercise my skills, and mental capacity for listening and speaking increased dramatically. I’m not fluent by any means, but I can hold my own in a conversation. Talking is a daily challenge i’ve learned to welcome, I will miss it.
“Whaaaaa?!?! Seer naa! Wanni ko!”
Waaxale has been both the bane of my existence and something that causes great excitement and unspoken competitions among other white friends, especially Rachel (though i’m not sure she’s aware of that..).
It is frustrating to know that based on the color of my skin I am judged so much differently. Despite living here for half a year, I still look like easy prey. In a way, I am. Waaxale constantly reminds me that I will never be able to fully fit into Senegalese society. Toubabs have money. That means vendors, taxi man, beggars and talibe on the streets, sometimes people you think are your friends will try to get as much money out of you as they can because they think they can.
Truth: I’m a student here on scholarship. I am not rich despite being white.
I never thought i’d be a victim of racism or discrimination so openly. People have straight up told me, “No. You’re white. You can pay this price.” or something to that effect. It is hard to swallow at times. It took me a long time to grapple with the fact that I can never fit in but it has definitely given me a deeper appreciation for people in situations far worse than mine. I just get harassed by beautiful men and have people attempt to financially exploit me everyday for 6 months. I can escape when I go home. Discrimination and racism have far worse consequences around the world. I am fortunate to have to have this experience, I think it has led to a lot of personal growth.
Other than the deep soul-searching, growth of waaxale it’s also fun. I feel so triumphant when I get a good price, especially if it’s lower than all of my friends. The conversation starts. I hold my own. We argue. One of us wins out. I pay, and begin friendly banter with the vendor. At first advisories and we finish as friends. Waaxale is a battle of wits.
I think there should be more bargaining in the US. I know I will be utterly offended by the price of coffee or jeans. It’s going to be hard not to whip out my waaxale skills when I go home.
3. Transportation- There is something to love about having to hang off the side of a moving bus because it is packed to over capacity…
So there were three professors and an intern in the back seat of a taxi...
I have gotten so used to walking outside and waving my arm, then for $2-$3 getting where ever i need to go. It’s nice that a bus costs $.20 and a car rapide even less than that. It is so easy to find a way to get around.
However, I am so excited for buses that run on time and aren’t over flowing with people. For Oregon ‘traffic’ in comparison to the nightmare that is Dakar. For taxi drivers that won’t hit you or hit on you. And of course, for being able to walk or ride my bike almost anywhere I need to go.
Horse and Buggy available.
This is totally normal.
4. My Family- I have learned so much by living with a host family that I never would have living on my own in Senegal. I was let in on so many cultural celebrations, norms and traditions. I am so grateful for them and their contribution to my time and education here.
Never the less, I am really excited to be and adult again. To not feel guilty for being busy and coming home late. To cook for myself, to not have to have a fight over cleaning my own room, to be able to sit in my living room with the lights on and not feel like i’m disturbing somebody… etc.
All dressed up!
Though I couldn’t have truly experience Senegal without them and will miss sama waker, I look forward to my independence.
Dad and daughter.
5. Being Out of My Element-
Coming to Senegal with basic french and terrible Wolof, never being to Africa before, never interning before, never living abroad before…. basically jumping in with both feet and not looking back definitely had its ups and downs.
First off, I felt like I was drowning for the first 4 months I was here. I had my moments of success but over all I had no idea what was going on. This lead to a lot of stress, frustration, and admittedly, a few tears here and there.
Yet, other than perhaps having better language skills, I wouldn’t change a thing. Constantly living by the seat of my pants, playing catch up, making mistakes and a fool of myself made me grow and learn so much.
It’s so frustrating to feel like I’m just finally getting into a really good groove here and now my time is over. If I would have another 3 or 6 months I think I could accomplish some pretty amazing things. Unfortunately, I’m frantically finishing my work projects, shopping and packing for my departure in just a few short days.
I’m not ready. I don’t want to go. Home will be dull, cold and expensive. I of course miss my family, friends, and boyfriend but my trip of my life is over and it’s hard to swallow.
I hope my blog has been fun to read and you’ve learned a bit about Senegal along the way! I will of course be posting a few blogs about my experiences of reverse culture shock, so stay tuned for that. Thank you readers for reading. Senegal has really impacted me a lot. I have grown so much and am so grateful for my experiences here.
Senegal, Jërejef ci taaranga bi!
Babenen yoon, Senegal. Namm naa la.