From Uruguay to Senegal, a shared history

Julieta Lechini - Senegal


November 23, 2017

I often remember the stories that my grandparents and parents used to tell me about my country. An Uruguay where you could leave doors open, where you could buy a bag of sweets for 20cents and where people are welcome to eat or drink mate whenever they feel like. The path of life was slower, the sound of the drums more normal, and the city seemed to be less grey. It was everything about sharing, love, and family.

Senegal remains me a lot of those stories. Every time I do not need to worry about closing the door, every time I am invited to eat at other people’s houses even though I met them 10 minutes ago. Every time we drink attaya with neighbors and talk for hours, and the time does not seem to matter.

And I wonder, what changed us so much?

Some weeks ago I got to know that a new supermarket opened in Thies, the nearest city to my town. “Is like a real supermarket” I heard from one of my fellows. I was excited; I am not going to lie. Having the possibility to have tic-tac, Pringles and a Coke without the need to barge for two hours was comforting.  And I ended up going.

Auchan was a whole new experience. Was like entering into a bubble within Senegal for some minutes. It was full of people and full of products, probably more than I have ever seen so far here. I was walking through the shelves trying and failing to find the Senegalese sweets that I love so much, “Menthe Fraiche” when suddenly all my excitement went away. I had barely seen Senegalese products. And wait, where is this supermarket even from?

It resulted to be French and to be “spreading” through many African Countries now.

And it all made sense to me. We changed. We changed because imperialism happened. Because they brought their ideas and made us believe that it was better to have more choices as if being able to choose makes us free. Because we wanted to fit the West, and because we all believed that our lives were better by having that lifestyle showed on the TV.

While looking at the big amount of people that were surrounding me in the supermarket, I thought about the Botikes around the area. Botikes are small, family-owned kiosks. And the Kioscos of Uruguay came to my mind, and I remembered how much they have been disappearing since I was a child. It seems to be the same story repeating in front of my eyes. Just that this time I became aware of it.

“Buy local” Was written on a wall

I had a mix of frustration, anger, and proudness. The situation is fucked up, I thought. But people are aware of it. Buying local was something I heard hundreds of times before, and deeply agreed with. But here its meaning got stronger, is not only what you buy, but where you buy it. Is the difference between supporting a family main source of income or not. Is the difference between supporting a system that keeps exploiting developing countries for the benefit of a few others or not.

My brother has repeatedly told me how much Dakar is already changing, and how frustrating it is for him. “In Senegalese culture, people do not die of hunger because we share, in Dakar now it happens. People became selfish and materialist”.  While at the same time, you can hear from entrepreneurs how lucky “Africa” is for having so many investors during the last years.

Senegal is so rich in culture, is so different and so unique, that I hope will never lose its magic. I hope that they can prevent it better than we, in Latin America did. I hope they never get trapped by the routine and the fake idea that having the life showed by the TV is happiness.

Because I have never seen happiness purer than here.

Julieta Lechini