Desole, I thought you were Senegalese!

Mathew Davis - Senegal


October 5, 2009

As everyone I have ever come into contact with knows I like to talk. I love to have discourse about things of substance. I know there are different forms of communication but it pains me to not be able to speak French or Wolof. I have so many questions. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the awkward similes and hand gestures that are used when someone doesn’t know the language. I think that it is a part of the fun of learning but it can only get us so far.

Another thing is that I’m in Senegal and since I am African American everyone thinks that I am an affluent Senegalese man. Most of the time if I greet them in either French or Wolof with confidence the greeting ends and they usually perceive me as Senegalese. There have been some instances where I have gone along with it and people have become very confused. Both me and the Senegalese. For example when me and the Fellows were in Washington D.C. during our layover I went to use the bathroom. It had been a long flight from San Francisco to D.C. so I needed to splash some water on my face in order to wake up a little. After dousing my face in the sink I turned around and there was a Senegalese man also covered in water. There we were two black faces caught in each other’s gaze. We stared at each other for about 5 seconds but it felt like an hour.  Then I slowly looked down to his feet and noticed that they were also wet. I infered that he was cleaning himself for prayer. It  dawned on me that he thought I was Senegalese and was also cleaning for prayer. My eyes got big and we both smiled. Luckily, he spoke English and I went on to explain that I was neither Senegalese or Islamic. Which was followed by laughter and the realization that we had been in the bathroom for about 15 minutes talking. Abu was his name and we talked on the plane to Dakar and he made sure we were safe when we got to the airport.

It will be interesting to see how my interactions in Senegal go as I learn more French and more Wolof. Something tells me that they will be alot less awkward and a lot more dry.

Mathew Davis