When your a little kid, one of the first and most important ethical lessons you learn is to share. Whether that’s sharing your favorite legos with your brother or sharing your heart by making sure that you love every member of your family equally, sharing is seen as something quite essential to teach at home and in the classroom. Growing up with an older brother, I learned quickly that sharing was not an option unless I wanted to have my Polly Pocket dolls pelted at my head.
` I’ve always thought that I was really good at being generous with what I have, but being in Senegal has made me realize how I much I cherish some of my personal possessions. One of the most important aspects of Senegalese culture is being able to sacrifice a little of what you have to be able to give that with those you love. If you had asked me 2 months ago if that moral was something we experience in the United States, my answer would be ‘yes’. But having to share literally everything I have with my host family has surprisingly been quite emotionally challenging.
Whenever I crave something that is a comfort to me or reminds me of home, like watermelon or anything that contains chocolate, I always have to make a choice to buy enough to share with my entire family or simply not buy it at all. At home in California, it is easy to share what I buy with my family of 4 people. In Thiadiaye, that becomes a tad more challenging when you have 13 people in just your immediate family. It becomes even more difficult when the children consume as much sweets as a full grown male adult. I have found it really difficult to share things such as the oranges I buy from the women in the market or the frozen bisap I pay 25 CFA for (equivalent to less than 10 cents). A thought always pops into my head when someone asks me to share what I’ve bought with them: “But I bought this with my ‘hard-earned’ money”. That’s another thing: my concept of money has been altered alongside my concept of sharing. I’ll expand on that in a later blog post.
I don’t just have to share material possessions with my family though; I share my time, energy, and knowledge with them too. This has shown to have it’s up and down sides. For example, my nieces who are 12 and 9 are now wanting to learn English. This means taking at least 10 minutes for them to focus on the task at hand, 15 minutes spent trying to stop my 3 year old niece from tearing every paper to shreds, and a minimum of 30 minutes learning how to say words like “sheep” and “water” in English before they get bored. This sharing of my time can be hard when all I have the energy to do is lay on my bed and read Harry Potter.
And finally, you’ve got to share the love here in the Dieye Household. With 4 little children competing for your attention like its down to the final 4 of the Hunger Games, I’ve been learning to manage sharing that attention evenly amongst each of the kids. This also involves learning to figure out what they like to do when we play together. Maam Fatou likes to be thrown around when she has a lot of energy but when she’s tired, she would gladly rather climb on my lap and take a nap with her head on my shoulder. On the other hand, DeXady would much prefer to throw a ball made of plastic bags back and forth or play a game called Estop. Then in between all of the shenanigans I get into with the children, I have to find time to bond with my older siblings and parents.
But this challenge of sharing in Senegal is not something I dislike or am bothered by, it is simply something different in my life now that I am learning to adjust to. It took a lot of frustrating moments and later reflection, but I have come to the conclusion that without being put in my “stretch zone” through sharing, how would I ever learn to appreciate what I have?
Watching the interactions between my family members and the people that we greet while walking around Thiadiaye, I have grown to have a huge respect for the way that everyone shares with one another. Surprisingly, the way I see this the most is through something we all take for granted: food. In Senegal, if you walk into someone’s house around lunch or dinner time, you will, without a doubt, be asked to stay for the meal. This doesn’t matter if you are a stranger or a close family member, anyone would be overjoyed to have you join them. Senegalese people take pride in their ability to share things like food with one another. When you are forced to stay to eat (I promise you there is no getting out of it), you will also be forced to eat more food from the communal bowl than you would eat at Souplantation.
The way that Senegal has taught me about sharing has allowed me to develop a large amount of respect for the way Senegalese people chose to live. Without any thought of greed or selfishness, they give a little of themselves and what they have to create Teranga.