6 Months in Country!

I’ve made it 6 months! It’s so hard to believe. Although the individual days sometimes drag, the weeks and months are flying.

Random Tidbit: People here are superstitious.

  1. They don’t like to count people. When I was conducting my baseline survey at site, I had to ask, “How many people wake up in this house in the morning?” and “How many sticks of god do you have?” (meaning children). 
  2. Last night I was chastised for leaving my shoe flipped over by the mat.
  3. Tucking your shirt in is another no-no.
  4. Resting your hands on your head is a bad sign because women do that when they wail.
  5. In the lunch bowl, when someone flicks you some bitter tomato, you must eat it or you’re a witch.
  6. The most eerie: At dusk every night there is a call to prayer and the streets full of kids playing soccer, women selling fattaya, and the mosiers clear out and go inside their compounds. It’s said that witches (and cats?) walk the streets at dusk and it’s bad to be outside.

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.

Wolof Proverbs

A few proverbs to illustrate some facets of the culture here.

Slowly, slowly to catch a monkey in the forest.
 ndank ndank mooy jaap golo ci ñaay.
The first proverb I learned and the one I most often utilize, this guy is kind of our equivalent “Slow and steady wins the race,” substituting our tortoise and hare for a monkey and trapper. I throw this down on a daily basis whether being praised or harassed for my Wolof skills. It’s easier than explaining the plateaus and challenges involving language acquisition. (Side note, I’ve only seen one monkey so far which I’m quite fine with. I was driving by and saw him walking along the dirt road. My time in Costa Rica taught me monkeys are exciting and exotic the first time you see them, and quickly become terrifying shortly after).

I won’t buy a serpent in the hole. duma jend jay ci pax.
Everyone tries to rip everyone off here, and it’s only worse (I hate to say) if you have pale skin. So you never pay for anything until after you have it, and then try to pay with exact change if possible. It’s a lesson everybody has to learn the hard way once, and then you will always remember. You can also use this in jest when telling people you’ll sell your age if they’ll do a certain dance move, which I frequently do.

People are medicine for people. ñit ni lay garabam.
A beautiful (and difficult for us Americans who value privacy and solitude) aspect of Senegalese culture is the importance placed on community, relationships and simply being together. Sitting, shooting the shit and joking with each other are their cure-alls.

A stick that has a long time in the water does not change into a crocodile. bant lu mu yagg yagg ci ndox du sopëliku jesig.
No matter how much I integrate, become fluent in Wolof, tie babies on my back and learn to cook Senegalese dishes, I’ll still be an American. I’ll still be me. And more surprisingly, I’ve found I identify as a Southerner first, and an American second. Who would have thought?

Debt does not have a younger sibling. bor du am rakk.
People ask each to loan them money all the time here, and in the culture it’s not acceptable to ask your friend to pay you back, no matter how big the loan is. So you never loan anyone an amount of money that you can’t bear to part with, even if it’s your sister. But I suppose you can use this for the second time someone asks you for money. I’m really wary of being viewed as another walking NGO-handout by my community, so I never loan anyone money and have never actually said this to anyone.

You are asking a frog about his tail. dangay laaj mbot u genam.
Basically to use when you’re asking a nonsensical question, like something a crazy person would ask. I don’t really ever use this one, but a friend of my family’s taught it to me and I thought it was a little funny, so I included it.