Becoming Ibou Sall

Mathew Davis - Senegal


March 8, 2010

I have many names here in Senegal. Pap Bamba in Dakar, Tala Ngom in Bambilor, but in my village they call me Machu Leye, or my host mama calls me Ibou Sall. I live in the village of Gorom 2, which is apart of the community rural of Sangalkam. Gorom isn’t very big but there are a lot of people and I literally know everyone. I take walks everyday after lunch. I love the village lifestyle; it’s communal here. There is always waxtaan (dialogue or discussion) happening somewhere. In African culture oral tradition dialogue is the means by which people receive information. There is heavy emphasis communication. I talk a lot so I fit right in. I talk to young people, old people babies, everybody, because everybody has a different perspective on life in Gorom. I cant walk down the street without being engaged in 10 min, salutation. In the states it would be agony but I don’t mind here. I have learned to move at the speed of Senegal and I like it.

I try to visit my friends everyday, and one time I was watching T.V. at someone’s house and I saw a basketball clip. I was so excited because I remembered that there is a basketball court in gorom. So the same day I went over and started playing. Then the next day I played again but with my friend Bour, and we kept playing; before I knew it there were people coming from other villages wanting to playing. It felt good to be in control of something in a place where I’m so far out of my comfort zone.

Gorom loves the fact that I am African American. Before I got here I was curious about how people would perceive me. I didn’t know if they were going to view my as American and not even acknowledge the fact that I look like them or be just as curious as I was about them. Turns out that I been adopted by Senegal. Everywhere I have gone here I have been welcomed with open arms, hearts and ears.

Senegal has always been a peaceful country (amongst ethnic groups), contrary to some other countries in Africa. The way that they have maintained this peace is through a joking kinship. This is when ethnic groups create jokes about each other in order to diffuse the tension between them. I think that is a big reason why Senegalese people love to joke and have fun. During the era of slavery, the African heritage was taken away from slaves so I don’t know what ethnic group I am. But people doesn’t stop people in my village from making jokes about my origins. For example I live with a Lebou family but everyone says that I look Pulaar. I work on a farm, so they call me Wolof.  I love thakiry (Senegalese couscous) so everyone says I come from the Sereer people because they eat it everyday. Every time I do something that is “West African” they come up with another ethnic group! I think I know all the ethnic groups now!

I really like living here in Senegal. One thing I wanted to experience here is solidarity because a lot of times I don’t feel that in the states, and I couldn’t have picked a better community to find it in then Gorom 2.

Mathew Davis