A Guide for the Sick– Read before you embark on your journey to Senegal

Eleanor Ross - Senegal


December 11, 2019

It’s been over a week since I’ve been sick in Senegal. And let me be the first to say, it sucks. It sucks a lot. I have bronchitis; I had my first fever since I was three; I have fever blisters so bad throughout my mouth that I cannot eat or drink; and I’m constantly exhausted. In essence, I’m a hot mess right now. So, unlike my normal posts, this is going to be a guide to sickness for other fellows when they come to Senegal. Because you will get sick. You’ll probably be stuck in bed for a while. And it’s gonna suck. You’re gonna be craving your dad’s chicken noodle soup and a hug from your mom even if you promise and swear to god that you’re not homesick at all. And while everyone will try to understand, they won’t because life is very different when you’re sick in Senegal vs. in the USA. 

Differences:

  1. In Senegal, when you’re sick people will want to come to visit you. And they will. Your room will be flooded with people trying to get you to talk to them when all you want to do is throw a pillow at their head and tell them to get out. No matter the time of day, if you’re sleeping or not, they will come into your room. Just let it happen, but know your limits. Because it’s just the “teranga,” it’s just their way of showing that they care about you and they will always be looking out for you. 

  2. In Senegal when you’re sick people will constantly ask you if you are better. They’ll look at you and say “Teranga?” and you have to say ¨Yes!̈ ̈  Even if you’re doing worse you have to say you are better. When I didn’t know the culture clues and was asked “Teranga?” I would respond “Terangul” –which means I’m not feeling better — or “De Dett” — which means no. These responses don’t fly here. In the town where I live, you are blatantly being rude if you don’t say you are better. Honestly, whoever you are talking to will think you didn’t understand or are uneducated and will probably continue to say “Teranga” until you are able to accurately express that you are better by saying “Teranga” back. And if you’re feeling really good, you can say “Teranga boo bah.” If you’re just not in the mood to pretend though, you can always say “Tutti rekk” or “a little bit better.” 

    1. Side Note: “Teranga” is the Senegalese word for constantly welcoming and is the core of Senegalese culture and society. It also means “Are you feeling better?” which I think really shows how much the Senegalese people care about how you’re doing. Maybe the USA can pick this up? 

  3. In Senegal, when you’re sick people will get annoyed when you’re not getting better fast enough. If you’ve been sick for two days and still aren’t doing great, something is wrong. Maybe you’re dying– cue more people coming to your bed for a long discussion. Just remember, they’re not annoyed because you’re sick, they’re upset because you’re not well yet. They want you to get better, and they’re worried about you! Pretty much, everyone turns into your mom, which is a good thing. And, as your mom would be, they will be constantly worried about you and will make you your favorite foods.  

  4. In Senegal, when you’re sick everyone will offer you the medicine that they have at their homes. Even if you have a stomach ache and their medicine is for a sore throat, they will offer you it. And remember, it goes both ways. When they’re sick they will likely ask you for any medicines you have to share with them. Trust your judgment, but I wouldn’t recommend taking the herbs or pills your family and friends try to give you. And as for others wanting your medications, if you say no people are going to be a little offended so be prepared. Senegal is a sharing society, and I mean with everything. If you have an orange, you’re going to be left with one segment once you have shared it with all of your family. But that also means that whenever someone gets an orange, you’re guaranteed to get a slice. 

What needs to be known is that throughout all of my ailments, and there were many, my host family in Senegal was always caring, there for me, and made me feel at home a whole ocean away. Even without my dad’s chicken noodle soup or my mom’s hug from home, I got the Senegalese version of chicken noodle soup– thiagri (yogurt with millet)– and extensive hugs from my yai here. So while everything may not be going to plan perfectly, at least I’m no longer falling apart. 


Eleanor Ross