Month: January 2013

Hilarious Cultural Quirks – Greetings

that you probably have to be here to appreciate

I’ve mentioned before how greetings are important, but I haven’t gone into detail. They are very repetitive and formalized with set answers, but can be pretty funny. Questions go something like, “How is your family?” “How is the heat?” “How are the mosquitos?” “Are you in peace?” “Where is _____ (any one of your 50 family members)?” and a million other parallel questions. The answers are set too, and always extremely to moderately positive like “I’m in peace” “Heat only!” “They’re over there” etc. It doesn’t really matter if you match up questions with answers, since they all pretty much fit, and throughout the exchange everybody will undoubtedly interject a few “Peace Only”s and “Praise God”s.

And then if there is a lull in the greeting chatter, people frequently start it back up with a “Ca va?” –a French greeting that has got to be spoken more in Senegal than in France itself. As if they haven’t already asked in detail 25 questions relating to “How’s it going?” Cracks me up.

Last names are also an important part of the greetings, especially with more formal, older people. You just stand there repeating each others’ names back and forth quickly. It’s really funny.  When greeting elders, religious leaders (Imams) and people of importance, not making eye contact is the more respectful thing to do. Which is opposite of our culture and hard to get used to, though Brittany would fit in well. In some of the religious sects, men and women do not greet each other which has been awkward a few times for me after I’ve extended a hand. Otherwise, hand shaking is an integral part of greeting and no inquiry about one’s health would be complete without it.

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Holidays Recap from Senegal

Well, the holidays came and went full of bittersweet celebrations with new friends. Starting the celebrations my sister had a wedding party in a neighboring village. We all got dressed up, loaded up in the back of this truck, and took off.

Maybe 12 women total? On the way back, everyone took off their shoes and put them in a bucket. I couldn't get a straight answer for why.

Maybe 12 women total in the back of the truck? On the way back, everyone took off their shoes and put them in a bucket. I couldn’t get a straight answer for why.

The Beautiful Bride and her under-dressed friend at a very Senegalese-angle (think Myspace era aesthetics)

The Beautiful Bride and her under-dressed friend at a very Senegalese-angle (think Myspace era aesthetics)

Christmas was a great time including killing and cooking a chicken, eating a LOT of cookies, pumpkin bread, salads, mac n cheese, mulled wine, tapalapa — basically my dream weekend. It wasn’t easy being away from home, but thanks to Skype, letters, presents and Christmas decorations from home and the company of my wonderful fellow volunteers, we all made it through.

Our Christmas card featuring chicken feet (Christmas dinner) and canned snow (courtesy of my lovely mother)

I rang in the “New Years” like this at 8 pm and then peacefully slept through the turn of 2013 with a belly full of sparkling grape juice. Wild night, eh?

This was the most flattering of all the self-portraits I took, though it may give a skewed perception of my enthusiasm of spending New Years Eve alone in my room...

Believe it or not, this was the most flattering of all the self-portraits I took, though it may give a skewed perception of my enthusiasm of spending New Years Eve alone in my room

Then the next morning it was off to the Maggal Touba– a huge annual pilgrimage one of the Islamic brotherhoods takes– at 5am, which means 730 am SenegalTime. They celebrate the exile of their leader with a ton of eating and drinking (soft drinks) and, for the women, at least, gossiping while lounging in rooms covered wall to wall with mattresses to accommodate all the guests descending on the city.

Note: Her Crayola Dress. The prayer scarf on my shoulders -you have to cover your head as a woman in Touba

My mom in her Crayola Dress. And me with a prayer scarf on my shoulders -you have to cover your head as a woman in Touba when you go outside

Note

Street corner of Touba. Note the megaphones on the corner. The covered the city chanting/singing nonstop along with these posters everywhere of the brotherhood leader

Then, just a few near-death incidents later….involving donkey carts, speed bumps on highways, a fenderbender, clouds of dust requiring medical-grade masks, stand still traffic, unmarked lanes, engine trouble (maybe battery related?), subsequent pushing of the car down the street, and getting lost once……..We made it back to the house alive! And, kids, that’s how I started 2013.