Friends

Hilary Brown - Senegal


February 1, 2010

A few nights ago, after accompanying Victoria to her host house, I walked the twenty minutes back on the route nationale with two Senegalese friends. While it was dark, it was only about eight thirty and we could see by the car lights streaming past us. Randomly, a shiny new truck pulled off the road. A middle aged white man, cigarette in hand, leaned out the window and called to us. We walked over and my friend whose French is the best out of the three of us stepped forward. He quickly indicated, however, that he wanted to speak with me. He told me he had seen me on the road before and wanted to make my acquaintance. Not wanting to be rude but feeling like this very forward man was being inappropriate and knowing that it would probably not be a good idea, I quickly searched for a way to kindly get rid of him. Before I could say anything my friend was already giving him my number. At that point there was nothing I could do but stand there. As I was walking away quickly as possible I realized my friend was still talking to him. A few minutes later she came running up clutching 4,000 CFA he had just given her.

When we returned to the house my two friends recounted the whole event to another friend as if we were freshmen in high school and I had just been asked to homecoming. The next day the usual “nanga deff” was replaced with “did he call?” He had but I decided not to answer. This news was met with shocked faces and exclamations of “why not!?” I tried to explain my reasoning to them but from the beginning I knew it would be difficult for them to understand since relationships are different in Senegal. Many women marry in their late teens and early twenties, often to men much older than them who already have money to support a family. In addition, Senegalese women tend to be open and flirtatious, so one of the most challenging things for many of my friends here to understand is that when I say I don’t want a boyfriend I mean it. Somewhere in the middle of all of this I realized that if any of my friends in the U.S had given my number to a complete stranger I would have been mad at them and thought they were crazy. But here, the culture and relationships between men and women are just different.

When we arrived in our rural locations, all of the Senegal fellows were given an assigned friend. This was a person outside of our home stay families who could show us around the community and introduce us to more people. I was lucky to be assigned a friendly, intelligent girl my age with a big, welcoming family. Having never been assigned a friend before at first I think we were both a little uncertain of our roles, but with similar personalities after sharing many meals, holidays and celebrations by now the friendship is much more genuine than assigned. Living across the street we see each other almost every day. Usually we sit in front of her mother’s boutique and watch people go by on the route nationale, or she will teach me something such as how to braid African hair or cook beignets. Often we talk about events taking place in the community or I ask her questions about Senegal. Sometimes we just sit in a comfortable silence and hang out, which has been difficult for me to learn how to do but necessary in Senegal.

Until this point, I have felt like I am comfortable with my Senegalese friends and act like myself around them. However, this recent situation made me aware that I have unconsciously been acting different with them than I do with my friends at home. I am not sure if this means that while I think I am my self around them I am really not or if I have just adapted to the cultural differences but what ever it is it has made me more conscious of how, while it may not be noticeable to others, throughout the past two months my actions, attitudes and even thoughts have slowly changed hopefully for the better.

Hilary Brown