Dakar, Teranga and my first perceptions of Senegal

Pablo Quezada Cortés - Senegal


September 29, 2016

“Tu vas aime Sénégal[1] was all that Mama Ndiaye said to me after our first conversation at her house. It was the starting step into the first stage of In-Country Orientation, in which I will live with a Senegalese family in Dakar for three weeks in order to learn about culture, languages (French and Wolof) and daily life in the city. In this case, the Ndiaye family received me at their house in Mermoz, a local neighborhood nearby the west coast of Dakar, with open arms and a good disposition towards the development of my cultural adaptation.

 

 

“Tu vas aime, Je sais[2] she repeated.
“Aussi, tu vas apprends le français et le wolof avec nous[3], Dangk dangk[4].

 

 

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After two days since I arrived in Senegal, she was introduced to me as my host mother for my time at Dakar. I must confess that I was overwhelmed by the sympathy and gentility that she radiates. Her kind smile and good humor broke any language barrier between us; even my broken French and my well-known mimics were insignificant at the efforts that she put to communicate with me in any possible way, including random words in English and as many signs as she could use. But the fact that I was ignoring is that she, with all her actions and intentions, was the first approach to a vivid reflection of a society that every day shows up an intense generosity, communitarian spirit and a great sense of humor.

 

Could be an exaggeration what I am saying right now? Possible, but let me explain why it could be not regarding, at the same time, that it is not an over idealization of a place; at some point everything has also thrones.

 

“Teranga” is the concept that the Senegalese society strongly embraces in all their interactions, becoming in a core value and emblem for them. Meaning hospitality, kindness and a strong sense of community ties, this concept configures any sort of word and action into the acknowledgement of someone that, being part of the community or not, may be integrated or helped. Even small things, as it could to say “Salaam Alekum[5]” to someone at the street, carried this acknowledgement about the importance of the individual within the community disregarding its origin, ethnic or religion.

 

“Harmony is very important in Senegalese society and is composed by the care and respect that anyone gives to the other around us, no matter who you are” commented me Pierre Faye, my French/Wolof/Sereer teacher for this time in Dakar. At every class, Pierre makes always remarks about the importance to understand and experience “Teranga” in this immersion experience, providing this lens through our language acquisition process. “So, today we are going to review greetings in Wolof. As you know, those are very important in our culture because they are the specific demonstration to acknowledge the existence of the person and its relatives. So, let’s go”.

 

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“Nanga def?[6] Naka wa kër ga?[7]asked me the newspaper seller as usual at the crossing point in the V.D.N highway. Every morning, I had bought “L’ Observateur” – local newspaper- from him when I am heading to the local school for language classes or cultural activities. Getting used to my face and being surprise by the fact that a foreigner buys every day the newspaper, this man offered me all the time a kind smile and great disposition to help me with my Wolof. “Mangi fi rekk[8]. Ñunga fa[9]. Yow nak?[10] are my timid answers hoping to not be wrong for that time. Smiling and shaking my hand, his answer was resolute: “Ñunga fa ci rekk[11]. Alhamdullilay[12].

 

Besides this known person, greetings do not stop to be said at every place or along streets. It only takes one look to just spell “Salaam Alekum” and wait for “Malekum Salaam[13]” as a given answer that is complement with a respectful gesture. Rather than just courtesy, that dynamic give you a key to evidence closely to how important is to know that every individual who surround us count.

 

However, as I said before, Dakar has its thrones. Most of them are related to be a foreigner visitor and even evident if you are considered as white. In that case sellers could overcharge their prices, taxis drivers will honk their claxons constantly if they see you walking at the street and assaults becomes a constant concern because you become an evident target. Nevertheless, these are also big cities’ issues and them do not cloud the gentile spirit of their people towards visitors, more if they want to learn from them and being integrated in their society.

 

Experiencing these first approaches at Dakar, my time in Senegal so far had brought a sight into social dynamics that differ from the place where I had lived. Here, it seems that individuals are important for the development of the community and its acknowledgement and acceptance creates the harmony of “Teranga”. Maybe Mama Ndiaye’s prediction is right; slowly this conception is getting inside creating a perception that makes me like what I have been seen so far.

 

 


[1] You will love Senegal.

[2] You will love Senegal, I know.

[3] Also, you will learn French and Wolof with
us.

[4] In Wolof “slowly, slowly”.

[5] In Wolof “Peace be
upon you”.

[6] In Wolof “How are you?”

[7] In Wolof “How is your family?”

[8] In Wolof “I am here in peace”.

[9] In Wolof “They are there”.

[10] In Wolof “And
you?”

[11] In Wolof “They are
there in peace”.

[12] In Wolof “Thank God”.

[13] In Wolof “Peace be
upon you too”.

 

Pablo Quezada Cortés