Dinner with the Thiaws

Alec Yeh - Senegal


October 13, 2009

The habits of dinner are very very different here than they are in the US. It takes time to adjust, and I still haven’t quite adjusted to it. Breakfast and lunch are at pretty normal hours; whenever you wake up, which is around 8 or so, and around 1-2 respectively. However, dinner is just incredibly late. I don’t quite understand how the Senegalese curb their hunger. We don’t have dinner until 9:30 here. In the US, I get hungry around 6 or 7. Perhaps they snack, but I rarely see my family snack. One thing they do here that Americans don’t tend to do is nap. A lot. The Senegalese usually return from work in the middle of the day for lunch. They also might take a short nap since they’re already home, and they definitely shower (the Senegalese tend to shower 2-3 times a day to combat the humidity and heat, which is causing my wardrobe to rapidly disappear). But maybe their naptime makes them less hungry? Who knows. They also tend to go to bed incredibly late and wake up incredibly early, since they nap so much.

Like I said, my family eats at gender-segregated table. Well, the other night, the men of the household weren’t there for dinner. So lucky me, I got to eat dinner alone. I asked the women why they never eat at this table, or why the men never eat at their table, hinting at the fact that I didn’t want to eat alone at this big table on the other side of the room. They simply said that that’s just how it is. My table is for the men and guests, and theirs is for the women. I just have to go with the status quo.

So what’s also very strange to me is the fact that my family has a maid. I figure I’m in a well-off family. But when I ask the other fellows, most of their families also have maids. Which makes me think, are maids a social norm in Senegal? I am curious about that.

The maid’s name is Doe. She only speaks Wolof, and she doesn’t speak much at all. I don’t really know what to say to her, so I’m always very awkward. But my family doesn’t seem like they’re very nice to her. She tends to sit on her mat outside my room in the dark, either praying or sleeping. She waits for my host mother to call on her to do something. And she never eats dinner with any of us. The family seems to give her a plate of food, and she takes it and either eats it in the dark on the mat, or in her room. But of course, this could all be of her own volition. I really don’t know.

Alec Yeh