In the United States, if I’m walking my dog on the street, I may say hello to a few neighbors I know, but for the most part I’ll nod, smile, but most likely I’ll say nothing at all. That would be quite an unusual site here in Senegal. The greeting culture here is so important and, in my opinion, beautiful.
Whenever one enters a room, approaches a group of people, or passes someone, it is his/her responsibility to call out a greeting. If I walk into a room and only greet one person directly, the rest of the people, according to my neene, have the right to ignore you. This creates a very friendly and welcoming atmosphere in which people, even if strangers, are constantly talking and checking in on each other. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is greet each of my family members and any guests that may have stopped by. Because greeting is so important, it’s very easy to start up conversation and maybe even make a new friend. For example, when I go to the well, I almost always meet a new person. The conversation flows easily and, if silence occurs, it’s not uncomfortable. Just the simple greetings have allowed me to make more friends. Just this past week when I was riding my baaba’s bike to Ibel, two young pre-teen boys coming from school were headed in the same direction. After the usual greetings, the three of us rode together talking, laughing, and making the ride much more enjoyable. I remember telling my American mother on the phone that if my bike ever broke down before my destination, I would feel comfortable stopping in any village and asking for help. My favorite thing is when I come home from Pulaar lessons in Ibel on my bike, everyone in the streets calls my name and welcomes me home. Bottom line: people are so friendly here!
Another beautiful aspect here is the sharing culture. Everything is shared here, which at times can be detrimental but overall contributes to how friendly and welcoming the people are here. When was the last time a child split whatever candy he was eating in half and gave it to you without an adult telling him to share? Even though my little brother rarely gets treats, whenever he does, he always evenly shares. I remember walking home from the hospital one morning and passing a little boy I knew eating a lollipop and carrying another in his hand. Without saying anything, he immediately offered me his second lollipop. Although I refused, I nonetheless remained amazed by the generosity that everyone has rooted into their brains. Another example is around mealtimes, people will constantly offer you something to eat. They will say something along the lines of: “A naamii? A haarii? A haarii tuff? Beydu seeda.” (Have you eaten? Are you full? Are you really full? Eat a litte more.) Politeness is not the goal here. They genuinely want to make sure you’ve eaten. My family and relatives are also constantly exchanging small bowls of whatever meals they’ve cooked to eat later for snacks or if there isn’t enough food. Everyone is looking out for each other.
Wishing everyone a happy Thanksgiving! Sending peace and love to all my family and friends.