False Impression

Shakhi Begum - Senegal


June 28, 2014

Journal entry from March 19th.

“Cai añ fi! Ceebujen bi neex na!” (Come eat here! The rice and fish is good!) Obviously I won’t turn this down. I have really good rice and fish in my house. Even my dear fellow friend, Lily, would agree with this.

In my host family, there are four compounds where each of my uncles live with their family in separate houses. Most days, three women, my host sisters, aunts, or mom would prepare different dishes on the common bowls for lunch. I am expected to have lunches from all the three bowls, at least a little bit from each or else it would be extremely rude to the ones where I wouldn’t eat. I gave up on the idea of skipping meals since I can’t. My sister would literally go to my work or to every house in Ndianda to find me when it’s time for lunch. And why shouldn’t I eat from everyone’s bowls? When will I ever have the chance again to have suupukañja (rice with okra and clams), mbaaxalujen (rice with ground peanut and fish), and my most favorite dish, ceebujen (rice and fish) all at the same time?

Spending time with the Ndao family, I have gained around 15 pounds. At first, I was really self conscious about it. But who cares? In fact, here in Ndianda, it is a good thing. Unlike to the eyes of common people in the United States, here, the bigger you are implies that you take care of yourself and is seen as more beautiful than being skinny. Everyone seems to be happy for me. They want me to go back to the United States and show people that I look better, that they were wrong about thinking I might be losing weight instead of gaining. To them, an American probably thinks of Senegal as a poor country, a country where people are starving and children are malnourished. It isn’t their fault to think that way though. They have seen outsiders come in and distribute food, clothes, and old electronics but they never get asked how did you spend your day?

They don’t want these things as much as they would like an outsider to come in to understand their teranga (hospitality), their culture. People in Ndianda don’t want to see another tubab (foreigner) get out of the car and buy lollipops from the corner store so that they can hand it to the kids on the street as if the kids never get to have any. Old men and women especially don’t want to hear comment ça va? (how are you in French), they would rather want to hear nanga def? (in wolof). They would want an outsider to jump in their dance circles whenever there are beats on drums for any type of celebrations. They want an outsider to come and join them around the common bowl as if he/she is just another human being.

By being in Ndianda and gaining those extra pounds, I feel proud to be a part of this community. Mainly, I am enjoying my meals around the common bowls with my host siblings and cousins and complimenting “Ceebujen bi neex na!”

Shakhi Begum