Israel Nelson - Senegal

October 10, 2012

It’s not every day you see a woman carrying a bucket on her head. It’s definitely not every day you see a woman with a bucket on her head dressed in western clothing. And it’s definitely not every day you see this woman with a bucket on her head walking down the road in western clothing texting on her iPhone. Welcome to Dakar.

Dakar is the biggest city in Senegal, with over 70% of the population living within the city limits or its suburbs. And with Dakar comes a mixture of what you’ve seen of Africa in the movies (women carrying things on their head, baby wraps, traditional clothing, etc.) combined with everything you’re used to in the States. During my first month in country, I was afforded a glimpse of an Africa that’s been extremely shaped by Western influence.

I talked to a Senegalese mother who was mad that her teenagers spent all their time in their room on Facebook instead of spending time with their family (and not spending time with your family in Senegal is completely counter the ingrained cultural values), I heard a lot of American rap (circa 2005) blaring from cellphones, and saw a lot of French dubbed American TV dramas (anyone ever heard of The OC?). I suffered through frequent power outages as I witnessed the effects of an infrastructure that wasn’t built to handle the massive new need of electricity (The infrastructure for the entire country was only built to handle 2.5 million people and was built when Senegal was still a French colony) and watched sewer water flood the streets during rainstorms due to the sewage system that was not built to handle rainstorms or the millions of people who are living in Dakar now.

Most of all, I realized that most of the cultural lessons that we received at the Baobab Centre should have come with a note saying “Not Applicable to Dakar” when I witnessed a group of girls dressed in short shorts and high heels kissing their boyfriends in public (things that aren’t so shocking or strange in the States but are definitely not culturally accepted in Senegal). Dakar definitely reinforced for me that big cities in most places definitely do not necessarily follow the rules of the society in which they reside (Compare the people and the mentalities of the people in NYC to Gastonia, NC or anywhere in Kansas, Kansas).

Israel Nelson