Catching the Monkey

Charlotte Benishek - Senegal

October 3, 2011

Of all the Wolof words and phrases I learned during my one week stay in Leona, the village where I will work and live this year, I can easily identify that which I’ve seen most represented in the Senegalese psyche. “Ndank a ndank,” or little by little, was a constant refrain during my stay. Actually, the complete proverb is “Step by step you catch a monkey in the forest.” Forgive me, but my current Wolof vocabulary renders me unable to translate it to its original Wolof. I’m learning.

My host family applied “ndank a ndank” to my Wolof learning. I expected that. Of course I’ll learn little by little. However, I didn’t expect my host mother to admonish me to walk to the market “ndank a ndank.” Apparently my hurried toubab gait was entirely unacceptable. My host mother emphatically informed me of this, complete with imitation. Now I sigh and walk beside her as we make our way to the market ever so slowly – ndank a ndank.

This theme also arose again as I watched an aunt prepare attaya – the strong, sweet Senegalese tea we drink multiple times per day. She poured the tea between two small glasses for minutes – creating a healthy layer of foam on top. Pouring and pouring. At one point I doubted how much more foam was being created, but the methodical pouring of the attaya continued.

A final expression of the culture of “ndank a ndank” occurred when I asked for a tour of Leona, my village. I asked my host father about this early in the week, and gently reminded him a few times. One day my host mom was too busy to go, then I was sick, and another day it rained. My host dad wasn’t concerned. “You’ll get to know Leona little by little,” he explained. I was honestly a bit miffed, being used to things happening quickly and efficiently – on a Western schedule. Society at home says that waiting is torture – a cause for righteous indignation; “I shouldn’t have to wait!” is the prevailing attitude in the United States. Welcome to Senegal, where it’s perfectly acceptable for life to progress “ndank a ndank.” I’ve concluded that will catch that monkey in the forest, ndank a ndank.


Charlotte Benishek