Senegalaisement, Linfieldment

Study Abroad in Senegal through Linfield College

Overview of Classes

April 19, 2012 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

Shortly after our arrival, we learned more about the specifics of our program. The French and Wolof classes are pretty self-explanatory, but here is a little more info about the other classes:

Arts and Senegalese Society: “This segment will provide a brief introduction to traditional and contemporary Senegalese art forms. It will explore the link between art, music, dance, and the social and environmental context, together with their role in society. This course includes a hands-on workshop in batik art in Toubab Dialao [a beautiful tourist resort].”  [If you haven’t heard of batik art, you should look it up. It’s pretty cool!]

African Civilization: “This segment will provide an overview of traditional and contemporary African civilizations. This course includes a trip to Sine Saloum.”

Sine Saloum is a delta where we visited a rural village. This included a boat ride and horse-back riding…also tres chouette! In class [at the point of this original entry], we have just talked about geography and the important time periods in Africa’s development. Our prof stresses frequently how Africa is underdeveloped now in comparison to the rest of the world, but was the most advanced for centuries after the human race originated in Africa.

Then there’s Senegalese music and dance, which provides experiential learning alongside our Arts and Society class…

Traditional Drums: “Students will have the choice of traditional percussion instruments, the Djembe ad the Kalimba (African thumb piano). The drumming class will focus mainly on the Djembe traditions of Senegal, but will also include introduction to other drumming styles such as Sabar and Tama (the talking drum).”

Traditional Dance: “Dance classes will include instruction in the Djembe and Sabar rhythms of Senegal with a particular emphasis on the rhythms being taught to drumming students.” Apparently this will consist of 10 two-hour classes in Point E (a suburb near the center). We may also have one hip-hop session so we’ll be better equipped for the discotheques!

The final part of our program is “Focused Exploration and Focused Discussion.” For this class, we will meet for an hour every Tuesday and also be doing volunteer work on Wednesdays when we have no classes. We can choose whatever we would like based on our interests. This is our independent study project where we will learn more about the culture through experiential learning. [I ended up teaching math at a middle school in English for 5-7 hrs per week]

Adventures in Centre Ville (Downtown Dakar)

April 19, 2012 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

On day 4, we went to downtown Dakar (Centre Ville). Khoudia, and Thioba were our guides again and they helped us with our first experiences with public transportation. The first thing we rode was a car rapide, which is a small blue bus, and then we rode some other bus whose name starts with a j and was packed with people. To signal that you want to get off, you must hit the side or the roof of the bus. It only cost 200 CFA (less than 50 cents) for the whole trip. The drivers are so crazy here, but somehow it all works. People honk constantly, there are lots of close calls, and the roads are rough. We were told to get off the bus by the girls and we found ourselves in the middle of the freeway, climbing over the dividers next to the car rapide to reach the second bus. We passed tons of people on the streets and many markets. I have never seen so many people.

We got off downtown at a fabric shop in a market called Sandaga, where the guides had brought some students from Kalamazoo the day before. I should mention that lots of people take classes at the Baobab Center—including U.S. military and college students from all over the world. There was a group of about ten girls from Kalamazoo at the Center when we were there, plus independent learners and other universities/gap year programs. Anyway, here you can buy fabric to take to a tailor or premade clothes, but we weren’t sure about price, so we just looked. I have now learned that 4 mille or 5 mille is a good price for 6 meters of fabric coated in wax. That’s about 8 or 10 bucks. Some people have tried to sell us fabric for ridiculous prices—like a fabric stand in a touristy place that asked for 6 mille for 2 meters.

So the guides led us through the streets, past vendors, to the French Institute, the English school, Independence square, a bookstore, and the biggest supermarket Casino. We walked through another market, which I later heard was known as Toubab (white person in Wolof) market because they get a lot of local Toubabs coming there to buy their good quality food. This explains why the vendors there spoke more English and had different strategies for trying to get us to buy their stuff. We also had lunch at a place that advertised fast food. Fast food here takes two hours.

Afterwards, the girls wanted to take us to HLM (Osh [like Osh Kosh]-L-M), which is a huge market with great prices on fabric—if you’ve been here for more than 4 days and know what you’re doing. We took at taxi which was an experience in itself. It was a bumpy ride over rocks and through HUGE puddles where the water comes almost all the way up the tires. The drivers also drive on sidewalks to avoid potholes. At HLM, we looked around a bit, but at that point we were pretty tired and it is exhausting fending off the venders. The see us toubabs (especially in a group—the anthropologist at the Baobab center was surprised the guides kept us in a group of 5) and assume we have lots of money, but of course we’re just students, here on scholarships.

At the Center, they thankfully instructed us on how to send them away. For example, simply saying “merci” and looking them in the eye. There is usually a “non” implied before that, so saying “non merci” is considered impolite. I got the sense that anytime you want to let them know that you didn’t just get off the plane, you should whip out some Wolof. Thank you in Wolof sounds like the names Jerry and Jeff put together. To beggar children, we say something sounding like ball ma (forgive me) or ba beenen (baa ben-on= next time). For pickpockets or people who touch us, we were advised to say a phrase that sounds like buy-muh, which means leave me be or let me go…there is no direct translation to English that works. This should not be confused with ball ma (forgive me) otherwise a persistent henna artist grabbing your arm won’t know what you’re saying and will laugh instead of letting you go. Some people are genuinely friendly though, so you just have to be wary.

Some of the vendors use sweet-talking to get you to buy their products. In English, I heard “Well, since you are a nice girl, this is what I’ll do for you.” In French, “Ma chere, mon amour, bonjour Madame”=my dear, my love.  A man came up to me with a man’s shirt and said, “Achete-le pour ton mari. C’est beau…il sera le roi de la maison” = “buy this for your husband. It’s beautiful. He will be the king of the house.” I had to laugh.

At home that night, my host mom invited me to her niece’s wedding if I could get out of class in time. I also enjoyed my first Sprite and watermelon in Senegal.


Day 2: Meeting My Host Family

April 19, 2012 by · No Comments · Cultural experiences, Homestays, Program details

More pieces from my journal during my semester in Dakar:

  • We woke to another delicious breakfast of bread and cheese [which became the breakfast I ate daily during the whole semester]. A representative from the Center was expected to come by and walk us there at ten. He came at 9:30 and was the friendliest person I had met yet. All the Senegalese people that I’ve met have been super friendly though. His name is Samba, like the dance, he said, and later told us that in Senegal, he is like Uncle Sam. I found him hilarious and helpful. He can show us around Dakar in the future and chatted with us a lot as he sat down to join us for breakfast. He told us how he could help each of us with our majors. He dreams of going to America and enjoys learning from us—collecting information and gaining insight is his main goal.
  • So Samba walked us to the Center , showing us all of the important places along the way—banks, shops, etc. There we met a lot more people and had our first orientation session about the Center. Everything at the Center so far has happened in English.
  • Afterwards, they sent us off to explore the neighborhood, guided by two nice Senegalese girls Thioba and Khoudia. They showed us key places, taught us some elementary Wolof phrases for greetings, and helped us buy cell phones and umbrellas. It is currently the rainy season and will apparently rain at random.
  • After exploring for a while, we went back to the apartment for lunch. Lunch was more lamb stew and veggies with onions and rice. We ate with Khoudia since Thioba was fasting and she was not shy about sharing off of other plates. She told us about her marriage and asked about Obama’s administration. The people in Senegal that I have met are very fond of Obama—I have seen markets selling Obama shirts, bags, etc (and my hostmom has an Obama notebook).
  • Back at the Center, they told us about the family contract, customs, what to expect, etc. We were taken to our host families. I am with the Gandega family in SICAP Liberte 1. My hostfather, Monsieur Gandega, was a parasitologist, but retired after having a stroke. He cannot move his right hand and has little movement in his right leg. He stays in bed for most of the day, but often calls me in to chat. He reminds me of the old folks at the retirement home I work at in the U.S., so at least I have that memory of home. My host mother Astou is a businesswoman and very helpful. They have a maid who cooks and does the laundry. Her name is Ndeyekane or Ndeye for short, pronounced like Day with more emphasis on the “y.” She doesn’t speak English and knows very little French so I look forward to talking to her more in the future once I learn more Wolof. Their 30 yr old son Mohammad used to work at the Baobab Center and currently works on computers, freelance. He is very nice and speaks English well. I have met one of their 4 daughters, Ami, and her two little boys, one of which is named Abdullah and he seems fascinated by me. My hostmom has a total of around 7 grandsons and only a few granddaughters.
  • When I first arrived, I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I sat around watching TV with them. Occasionally they asked me questions in French and it was easy to chat with them. Eventually my host dad suggested I shower, which was great because the house was sooo hot and I was stuck to the couch, sweating through my clothes. Afterwards, I went back out to watch TV with my host mom. We watched soap operas for several hours. They are so popular here with every single member of the family. It is funny to watch them. My host family seems to love their TV since it’s always on. We had dinner very late, and sat on the floor, using spoons to eat from one huge platter of lamb, onions and couscous. After dinner I got fruit juice and fresh mango, which is awesome because they are not required to give us any fruit and we must usually buy it on our own.
  • There is a sheep here, who I was happy to discover won’t be dinner someday because his job is to protect the house. [It is believed that if bad spirits attack the house to harm the family, they will kill the sheep first]. He has no name, besides xar, which is the Wolof word for sheep. I asked the neighbor if the cats (there are 3 in my yard) have names, but he just said muus which is the Wolof word for all cats. When I explained that we name our pets individually, he asked if it would be like naming that cat Fatima, and that cat Mohammad and so on and laughed, apparently finding it very absurd.
  • The first night there were so many people dropping by at random. At this point I had yet to meet my host brother, so I had to ask every person if he was the right one. I met the neighbor guy, who is 24, and has proven to be very friendly and helpful. His name is Ndiaw, which is pronounced like Ciao but with a J instead of a C. We discussed music because he is a DJ. They know a lot of American music here, namely Rihanna (Ndeyekane enjoys Rude Boy at least 5 times a day), Michael Jackson, etc. Ndiaw said he wanted to take us to a discotheque someday, which would be fun once we get settled. A discotheque is a club where people go dancing from 1 am to around 6 am. Since it’s a Muslim country, people don’t generally drink so it’s a fun alcohol free environment.
  • Ndiaw asked if I wanted to go for a walk and asked my parents’ permission, so off we went. He showed me how to get to the Center, bought me some fruit at a fruit stand, and paid for me to use the cybercafe. Teranga in Wolof means hospitality, which is highly valued here. He wanted to show me a good time and pay for me as his guest. We had good conversation and he taught me a lot about where to buy things, so it was helpful and obviously exciting for my first night with my host family.

Le Premier Jour: The First Day

April 19, 2012 by · No Comments · Cultural experiences

For today’s entry, here are some bits and pieces of my journal from our first day in Senegal:

  • We were warned pre-departure that we would feel underdressed in Senegal and we felt it at the airport right away. We were all dressed for a hike and wearing T-shirts and everyone—even the children—were looking stylish. We’ll have to figure out how to blend in here so we don’t look so frumpy. Since our arrival, I’ve also decided to let my hair do what it wants…we’ll see how that goes. [It did not go too well.]
  • So when we approached the airport, we totally didn’t know what to expect. There were tons of city lights. Dakar is actually a big city…no grass huts here, guys.
  • When we stepped off the plane, we were instantly sweating. It was soooo humid [during the rainy season]…and that was at 5 AM. It only got worse as the day continued. Everything feels moist and smells moist here. Dakar has a distinct smell [that you get used to]. Even walking on tile, it seems slippery from the humidity. The pages of our books are wrinkled and our beds are sticky. [At this point, I thought I'd never get used to the heat, but we all adapted well and by the end of our time in Senegal in December, we were wearing jackets in 75 degree weather because we were cold!]

  • After heading through security, we made it to the representatives from the Baobab Center holding a sign that read “Linfield” and all I managed to say was “merci” as they helped with my bags. So we headed back out into the heat. It is super dark at 5 AM here, but there were TONS of people out and about. The man from the Center led us to a bus and loaded us up, where a woman gave us an envelope with information and some money so we don’t have to figure out currency exchange just yet. They drove us to our apartment, where we will be staying today and tomorrow. On the way there, I learned that drivers don’t always stay in the lanes, don’t slow down for bumps, and that there are no seatbelts…and yet it is beautifully coordinated. There were still a surprising amount of people out on the streets and dogs and cats.
  • There are 3 of us—Avalon, Lacey and I— in one apartment and the other 2—Jaelyn and Jenna—in an apartment upstairs. Ours is very breezy—one of the bedrooms has AC and the other has a huge fan and screened windows. Both rooms lead to a main hallway with a wall that looks like swiss cheese.  While this is great to let in a breeze, it also lets in mosquitoes and the ceiling in the bedroom is too high for hanging my net, so I had to soak myself in bug spray [Thankfully our host-houses were better equipped for this]. With the openness of the apartment, we could hear the call to prayer early this morning, kids shouting, and also the birds as it began to get light out. [These are sounds I miss today]

  • For now we are in a residential neighborhood and we’ll only be in these apartments for the night. Tomorrow we move into our host families’ homes. The Baobab Center and the host families will be within walking distance of our current apartment, all within this suburb.
  • Today, a woman brought us breakfast at 8 AM. It was a true French breakfast of bread, cheese, jam, butter, and instant coffee. Afterwards, we went out in search of a cybercafé– there was one right next to our apartment so we were able to get some access there—only a dollar for an hour. Afterwards, we walked around rather aimlessly and lots of people stared at us. I like the feel of the city though and can’t wait to explore more. There are so many sights and sounds to take in—food stands, dirt roads, sheep and goats crossing paths and on roofs, laundry hanging out in the sun, the call to prayer, birds chirping, kids shouting, and the chatter of the locals. I can’t wait to learn more about navigating Dakar and communicating effectively.
  • When we got back, we had some group bonding and then went upstairs to get our lunch, which the woman brought to us again. We had rice, heavily seasoned onions, and fish. Those who know me well know I have an aversion to eating things that look like they did when they werealive and these fish still had eyeballs, tails, ribs, all of it. But I ate two of them and they were pretty good, despite the fact that they had faces and pointy teeth. We decided they were piranhas…maybe, maybe not. But they had some serious chompers and we had fun playing with them.
  • This evening, when we went upstairs to play cards in the Jaelyn and Jenna’s apartment, we found food had been delivered. On the menu was some sort of lamb stew, heavily seasoned and a little greasy. There was definitely a hoof in there and other chunks of bone, including tiny annoying ones that you would suddenly find yourself crunching on. The stew also had some sort of pea and potatoes in it! It was fantastic, besides the bones part. It started to rain and we saw kids playing soccer in the street. I also took my first Senegalese shower…the showerhead is right next to the toilet and is kinda sketchy, but I managed. The water was wonderfully chilly, but as soon as I dried off, I was sweaty again and then had to put on bug spray, sticky once more!


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Food for Thought

April 19, 2012 by · 1 Comment · Cultural experiences, Homestays

As James Beard says, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” When I prepared for my semester abroad in Dakar, Senegal, food was not a major concern for me. In my opinion, food was a given: we all have to eat and I knew I would be eating many meals in Senegal over the months that followed. As a result, I did not think specifically about what food experiences awaited me outside of the expectation of cultural differences in dishes and preparation methods. However, despite it being a relatively mundane aspect of culture, I soon found that food provided great insight into Senegalese culture and was incorporated into many of my most memorable experiences.

As Linfield’s pioneer group to Senegal in the fall of 2010, we did not know quite what to expect of the semester ahead when myself and four other girls were dropped off at apartments at 5 AM shortly after our arrival. As we unpacked our bags and settled into our apartment to take a nap, we were intrigued by the sights from our balcony and the sounds of sheep baaa-ing, people conversing in Wolof—the local African language—in the streets, and the morning call to prayer. With our first meal delivered to the apartment by our hosts at the Baobab Center came the realization that we were really in a different country. Lunch included a pan of delicious caramelized onions and a platter of whole fried fish, with eyes, teeth, and scales intact. Though we were hesitant at first, we were fascinated by their sharp fangs, decided that they were piranhas, and enjoyed playing with them more than we enjoyed eating them. While we soon grew to love and look forward to this dish, called yassa jen, the first few days of food experiences reaffirmed that we were far from the culinary world that we recognized.

Orientation involved our first lessons in the art of eating around a communal bowl. We learned how to comfortably sit on a mat on the floor around the circular platter, to respectfully stay in our own “piece of the pie” and tidy our area when we were through, to eat with our hands or expertly scoop rice up with a spoon, and to share the communal vegetables and meat in the middle that are separated out by the host. We learned about the expectation to eat more than we had ever eaten before, as our host families would continue to insist that we stay to eat—Kaay! Lekkal! (“Come! Eat!” in Wolof)—until we absolutely insisted that we were full and satisfied— suur naa, neex na, bari na (I’m full, it was good, it was enough). We were told to expect teranga, meaning hospitality in Wolof, but nothing could have prepared us for the invitations always extended to guests arriving at mealtime, the instant acceptance of last minute friends around the communal platter, and the demands to Kaay! Lekkal! from complete strangers in markets and other public places.

I sat around the communal platter with my host family for at least two meals a day throughout the semester, carrying on conversation, hearing the latest family gossip, and watching Bollywood soap operas and Colombo reruns with my host mother. I learned through observation, immersion, and trial-and-error. Seated on a short stool in the kitchen, I picked up new vocabulary with the help of Ndeyekane, the domestique (maid) of my house who only spoke Wolof and enough French to tell me with a shy smile that she thought Barack Obama was very handsome. Using gestures and the little knowledge of Wolof I had, we chatted nearly every night as she expertly sliced onions in her hands, chopped up potatoes for homemade French fries, and laughed at my attempts to speak the language. My host mother bonded with me as she complained about my 30-year-old host brother Mouhamed never cleaning up after himself, realizing mid-rant that she was sitting on a half-eaten ear of corn he had left tucked in the couch cushion. It was in the kitchen and around the communal bowl twice a day that I began to fit in, developing my language skills and bonding with the members of my household.

Every cultural experience that stands out in my mind is somehow associated with food. My host cousin taught me to brew traditional tea (attaaya), and I taught him the macarena as the rainy season trapped us under the shelter of the patio, flooded the yard, and drenched the clothes hanging on the line. Between mouthfuls of Senegalese hamburgers which featured more egg and fries than burger between the buns, we introduced our Senegalese friends to “Je n’ai jamais…” (“Never I have never…”) and stayed up laughing until 4 AM. Sitting in the cool breeze on the roof of another Linfield student’s host house as the sun set, we played cards, listened to songs by Bob Marley and Rihanna, and discussed our different yet similar cultures over three rounds of attaaya, ears of charcoal-grilled corn on the cob, and handfuls of freshly roasted peanuts. Accompanied by neighbors, I cheered at soccer games and enjoyed small bags of frozen fruit juice that cooled me off as I continued to sweat through my clothing. I tasted refreshing juices made of ingredients I knew, like mango, tamarind, ginger, and hibiscus (called bissap), and others I had never heard of before—baobab fruit (called bouye) and ditakh.

We enjoyed ripe mangoes, coconuts, bananas, and oranges from familiar fruit stands on the walk home from school each day. In a true Senegalese fashion, this was always a leisurely stroll involving chats with the locals who grew accustomed to seeing us. We knew the woman who made hot beignets dusted with sugar that melted in our mouths, and the men in the tent down the street from the Baobab Center knew our names from our frequent visits for egg sandwiches and Touba café. Rather than rushing from place to place in an American manner, we were encouraged to take our time and spend it with people.

We discovered delicious snacks at the boutiques, small shops on nearly every street corner. The experience of making food purchases emphasized once more that we were far from the United States. In my quest for a bag of yogurt at one boutique, I experienced the shortage of coins in Senegal firsthand when a shopkeeper did not have change for my large bill (10,000 CFA=$20). He allowed me to come back the following day to pay him the 250 CFA (50 cents) that I owed him. Weeks later, I trusted him in return when he owed me 1000 CFA. When I learned how common this practice is, I was in awe of how trust worked in Senegal in ways rarely seen in the United States. Furthermore, the value of respect was emphasized in encounters in grocery stores when I utilized the extensive traditional Wolof greetings to chat with the cashiers. By asking about their well-being and their families, I recognized the humanity often denied to employees in the United States as we simply wait in silence to hand over our money so we can move on with our lives.

In addition to adapting to these cultural customs, we developed food habits of our own. There were the late night walks to Chez Joe’s to satisfy cravings for hamburgers, the early morning stops at the best bakery in town for a chocolate croissant after a long night of dancing, and the frequent trips to buy ice cream bars between classes while Senegalese onlookers laughed at us silly toubabs (white people) who still enjoyed such sweets past childhood. For me personally, there was the obligation to try the Barack Obama flavor at every ice cream shop, the strategic skipping of Friday lunches to avoid soupe kandja— a okra gumbo with a mucous-like texture that I always dreaded, and the naming of the sheep who I chatted with daily in my yard as I fed them leaves and watermelon rinds through the windows in their pen until they disappeared and our fridge was restocked with meat.

As I adapted to my Senegalese life, there were, of course, difficult days. My food experiences were not always pleasant, but there was always a lesson involved. Having the stomach flu during a bread strike taught me about medical beliefs in Senegalese culture as everyone I knew pushed me to eat as much as possible, conflicting with my American medical beliefs of sticking with small helpings of bland things. One of my first cultural lessons came after I was kept up all night by gnawing sounds when my forgotten stash of comfort food had been discovered by mice. As terrible and homesick as I had felt throughout that night, it did not compare to the guilt I felt when I had to take the contaminated food out to the garbage and realized that I should have shared it with my host family while I had the chance. In Senegalese culture, food is always shared; whether it is a bag of cookies or the last two inches of a can of soda, everyone in the house is asked if they would like a bite or a sip. From then on, whatever I brought home or received in the mail was eagerly passed into the hands of family, friends, and visitors.

With the arrival of care packages from the United States, certain foods became more precious and brought more joy than they do when they are readily available at the grocery store in the U.S. Every last M&M was savored, boxes of Kraft Easy Mac were rationed for the occasional homesick lunches, and snacks were stashed away to share at a later date. Candy corn became a plaything for our Senegalese friends when it was deemed too sweet to consume and used instead to make vampire fangs. My host cousin Abdullah’s terrible two’s were cured when I treated him with a lollipop during each Sunday visit. Another Linfield student and I unintentionally deterred a persistent rapper who loved to strike up conversations with Americans in the streets when we greeted him with smiles displaying purple teeth thanks to dried blueberries. In this way, food I was familiar with and could usually pick up at my neighborhood Trader Joe’s took on new meaning for me in an unfamiliar place.

Most of all, my experiences surrounding food made me feel like I belonged. When another Linfield student’s mother and my host aunt returned from their pilgrimages to Mecca, I helped prepare for and clean up after two different parties. Wearing a pagne, I sat outside in the patio and cut onions for eight hours while talking with my host mom’s friends and relatives; then I walked across the neighborhood with all the women to feast and celebrate. The fact that my hands smelled like onions for a week afterwards only added to my pride since they signaled that I had finally gotten to know Senegalese women after months of hanging out with the college-aged men in my neighborhood. Then, while washing dishes in a Senegalese fashion outside of the other Linfield student’s host house after the second party, we noticed that her host brother and his friend were laughing at us and taking photos of us on their cell phones. Apparently they found it hilarious that us toubabs had volunteered to do dishes since it went against their expectations. Domestic tasks were definitely a way for us to gain access and respect by proving that we were willing to participate in the culture as any other woman would. Since hospitality is so highly valued in Senegal, I knew I had become a member of the family instead of a guest when I was sent down to the shop on my own to buy the day’s bread and when my host mom finally allowed me to tidy up after dinner.

It was also around mealtime that I finally felt that I had adapted to my Senegalese life, at least in terms of my language skills. One evening, I overheard the words “muus bi” and “bunt bi” (cat and door respectively), recognized that my host mother was describing her daily struggle with keeping the stray cats from sneaking inside while we ate, and got up to shut the door without a second thought. This stunned my host mom, who exclaimed a phrase equivalent to one that all of us Linfield students had joked about but yearned to hear: Laayilah, toubab bi degg na Wolof bu baax!— My God, this white person understands Wolof very well!

Then the day came when it was time to go home. Upon landing at the airport in New York and taking our first steps back onto American soil, we were bombarded with differences—the pristine restaurants and bright, spotless shops; the high prices; the outrageous portions; and the mechanical way in which we were processed through lines with speedy transactions and minimal human interaction. We gorged ourselves on foods that we had missed. As I tasted the difference in gummy bears, greasy pizza, and sugary frosted cookies, I regretted it almost instantly. Our stomachs and teeth ached after months of eating healthy in a country where high fructose corn syrup does not exist. With the physically sick feeling came the feeling of farsickness. I longed for chatting with my host mom over a cup of Nescafé, walking to Chez Joe’s with my closest friends for a hamburger, sitting with Ndeyekane as she cut potatoes for fresh French fries, and joining my family around the communal bowl. But in the United States, mealtimes are lonely, private, individualized, and a means to an end. It was a hard adjustment coming from a culture where “each person is another’s remedy” to another where time is money.

Now, over a year after my return, I have managed to keep a bit of Senegal with me. Food has played a major role in my coping process. Armed with my Senegalese tea set, I revel in the faces family members make when they taste the first bitter round of attaaya and when they are finally won over with the third sweet minty glass. I prepare Senegalese dishes for my friends and family to enjoy around a communal platter with me. I introduce my roommates and classmates to richly flavored yassa and creamy thiakri, a mix of yogurt, millet, and cinnamon. Each food comes with a story, a meaning acquired from my experiences. I describe the challenges of eating around a communal bowl next to a two-year-old, the deep conversations I had while drinking tea, the hours spent cutting onions, and learning cooking vocabulary from Ndeyekane. I tell of the laughter and the tears, and I heal. As I cook, I am transported back to Senegal and, by sharing my creations senegalaisement (in a Senegalese fashion), my friends and family travel with me.

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Senegalese Music

March 19, 2012 by · No Comments · Program details


Today I want to share a bit of our Senegalese music class with you all. There were two parts to this class- drumming and singing. Our instructor came each week and we sat on the roof of the Baobab Center drumming until the sun set. Various staff members of the Baobab Center would come to listen below and dance along. People passing by in the street or in the buildings across the way would stop to listen, clapping and dancing. It was a very special experience as we learned how to drum on the djembe.

At the end of the semester, we presented our drumming routine in front of our friends and family (Photo credit: Lacey Dean).

Our instructor also taught us songs in French, Wolof, and other African languages. Our favorite is featured in a video here: Singing Ayo Nene. It was a good way to practice our French and embrace Senegalese culture. Each week we looked forward to our music sessions on the roof of the Baobab Center!

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Senegalese Film Night: Madame Brouette

March 5, 2012 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

Asaalam Maaleykum, readers!

I hope you are enjoying what my blog has to offer. Now, there is a chance for you to experience a bit of Senegal. During our French class in Dakar, we watched many films, including Madame Brouette, which will be shown at Linfield this Thursday at 6:30 PM in Walker 301.


Madame Brouette Trailer


March 1, 2012 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

I am not going to pretend that there were no hardships abroad. Of course there were days of tears, of frustration, of “if I have to see/eat/deal with/hear that just one more time, I will scream”, but there were so many more days of laughter, adventure, and discovery – not only of Senegalese culture, but of our own capabilities and our own culture. There are two instances in my memory from the semester when I was most homesick and most miserable, but looking back, these moments are the most revealing about American culture, about Senegalese culture, and about my own strength.

The first and only time I got terribly sick in Senegal was during a bread strike. This was extremely bad timing because as any of my fellow Americans know, bland foods are great when you are sick. I was used to having half of a fresh baguette with a triangle of Laughing Cow cheese every day for breakfast, but on this day, my host mom gave me biscuits, which are very bland, dry cookies, for breakfast. At first, I didn’t complain, but I did not realize that by lunch, I would be miserably sick.

When I started getting flu symptoms, my neighbor Iba said it was because I had too much sun exposure and I needed to avoid the sun, my host mom said it was fatigue, and my host dad said it couldn’t be fatigue because I am young and shouldn’t tire easily. In the end, everyone decided it was malaria and Iba literally wouldn’t leave the house until I promised him I’d go to the doctor the next day and get a malaria test. I did and it was negative, so don’t worry. I felt mostly better the next day, minus a little queasiness. The hardest part was that everyone and their brother was telling me to eat as much as possible since I was sick. It was sooo frustrating because with the bread strike, there was nothing bland for me to eat. I eventually managed to explain that it was physically impossible for me to eat and that it wouldn’t stay down, but my host mom still insisted. After going to the clinic with my host brother Mohammad and sleeping a day of my life away, I think she got the point because she brought me home some oranges and didn’t push it too much when I didn’t eat dinner.

When I got sick again with a cold and kept coughing for a week afterwards due to asthma like I do in the U.S., my host dad insisted it was the pollution or the chalk at school. My neighbor Ndiaw said I was out walking too much. Once again, the reasons they proposed seemed “wrong” to me, which made me wonder why I was supposedly “right.”

These experiences demonstrated to me that I could not find a reason behind my own medical beliefs, other than we view them as fact with our scientific proof, whereas the Senegalese had their own explanations that could’ve been just as likely.  While I recovered no worse for wear, I learned from this experience that medical beliefs are exactly what they are.




February 27, 2012 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

One remarkable thing about Senegalese society is trust. There, the policy seems to be that you trust everyone unless they prove themselves untrustworthy. As I’ve mentioned before, the worst thing you can do in Senegal is call someone a liar, despite the prevalence of white lies. Most of this trust I encountered when spending money. There is always the trust between you and the taxi man that after often intense negotiation, when you get out at your destination, he will only demand the price that you agreed on before getting into the car. Several times, I also encountered trust with boutique owners.

Boutiques are small shops on just about every corner of Dakar. They sell snack items, coffee, potatoes, onions, and other random items like dish soap, phone credit, and pencils. They are often cheaper than the major supermarkets, like the one called Casino in my neighborhood. Outside of boutiques, there are also produce stands that sell delicious mangos and other fruits (like the one pictured here, also selling shoes), women selling freshly roasted peanuts and beignets, and huge bustling markets that sell everything from spices to shoes to fabrics to electronics. At boutiques, unlike at the markets, prices are set and we frequently stopped at boutiques for sodas, cookies, or ice cream between or after classes.

One of our favorite snacks in Dakar was a type of yogurt that is sold in bags. Think GoGurt, but the size of sandwich bags and minus the corn syrup and food coloring. It is absolutely delicious and it costs only 250 CFA (50 cents). The only problem is that there is a shortage of change in Senegal. The largest bill is 10,000 CFA ($20), but most people don’t accept it unless you’re buying something expensive because they would have to give up all their change to you. One day, I wanted to buy yogurt, but had only 200 CFA and a 10,000. The man at the boutique wouldn’t take the 10,000, so he took the 200 CFA and told me that I owed him 50 CFA another day. This blew my mind because it would never happen in the U.S., but he trusted me to return and bring him his money. Later that day, I got change and brought him 50 CFA. The next day, I made another purchase and he had all but 1000 CFA in change for me, so he told me to come back the following day and he would give it to me. He had trusted me, so I trusted him and he gave me my change the following day.

That kind of thing happens all the time in Senegal. On another occasion, the man at the boutique down the street from my house once owed me 2500 CFA ($5), which I eventually got back from him. This system makes sense since people are often without money, but need things to survive. It is common for people to have tabs at their nearby boutiques until they get paid again. It is just amazing to me that this goes on so often and that people are true to their word.


February 27, 2012 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

While we learned a lot in the classroom during our time in Senegal, I must also mention that a lot of our learning was through experience in Senegalese culture, often by trial-and-error or making humorous mistakes. Our average weekday involved classes from 9-1, lunch with our families, and then class from 3-7 — at which point we would return home for dinner with our families.

Sometimes we would spend the evening at each other’s houses, even at mealtimes. In Senegal, no matter where you are, if people are eating when you arrive, they will try to feed you. This fits with the value of teranga, meaning hospitality. While this mostly meant being fed when visiting friends spontaneously at mealtimes, it also occurred everywhere else. For example, one day when we visited Le Village des Artistes as part of our Art and Senegalese Society class, we stumbled upon some men eating lunch during our tour of the area. They called us over to join them, saying a phrase we became quite used to during our semester in Dakar: “Kaay, lekkleen!” which basically means, “Come, eat!” We rarely took shopkeepers and strangers up on these offers to join them, but these experiences revealed to us the importance of hospitality in Senegalese culture.

Anyway, we would often stay late after mealtimes, chatting with our friends, listening to music, making traditional tea called ataaya (pictured here) and playing games. Avalon’s house in SICAP Karack was the most popular place to meet since her house had a large open rooftop, where we could stay up late with the other college-aged kids and enjoy the breeze after the sun set. Most often, this involved card games that our Senegalese friends taught us. Sometimes, we introduced our own games. There are two experiences that stand out in my mind: BS and 10 Fingers.

For those of you who don’t know the rules of BS, you may find them here: As many of you know, playing BS requires calling people on their BS…that is, accusing them of lying about which cards they put down, which is a strategy and frequently a necessity of this game. The first time we tried to play this game, our friends were shocked when we told them how it went.

You see, in Senegalese culture, calling someone a liar is pretty much the worst thing you can do. The words “Tu mens” (you lie) were outlawed from our vocabulary on day 1 of our orientation because it is very offensive. While the inability to call someone out for lying is difficult when you know someone is being dishonest, it also surprisingly worked to our benefit in certain scenarios where white lies were necessary. For example, if someone asked to use your computer, you could tell them it was the Center’s computer and you were not allowed to let others use it. If someone was persistently asking for your number, you could lie and say you didn’t have a phone. This worked to our advantage because we were able to lie our ways out of sticky situations without being called out.

However, this did not bode well for trying to teach our Senegalese friends a game requiring them to call others liars. In the beginning, they gave away their lies and refused to accuse others, and it took some time to get them to play it properly. However, they still never really got into the game. As in many other instances, this experience taught us something through the awkward moments and the laughter.

10 Fingers was another game we introduced to our friends. For those who don’t know, this is a game in which you go around the circle and everyone starts with 10 fingers up. Each person makes a statement beginning with “Never have I ever…” or “I have never…” and filling in the blank (for example, “I have never shaved my head.” If you are guilty you have to put down a finger. The first person with 10 fingers down loses. After our friends got the hang of this game, it became a matter of cultural targeting – in kind ways, of course. They said things like “I have never dated an American” and we said things like “I have never hit on a girl in the street” or “I have never slaughtered a sheep”, which is a custom of Tabaski, a holiday celebrating the story of Abraham and Isaac (more on that later as well). Through this experience, we revealed our cultural know-how while playfully accentuating the differences between our cultures…and of course, I am sure our experiences of “I have never…” would have differed greatly between our first few weeks in Senegal and our final days as we all experienced unexpected new things.