My Love-Hate Relationship with Senegal

Aissatou Barrie-Rose - Senegal


March 6, 2013

In the past few months, Senegal and I have developed a very complex relationship. At moments I love everything about being here, and other times I find myself utterly confused as to why I chose to spend 8 months in a place where nothing seems to make any sense to me. With this is mind, I’ve decided to share the three things that I love/hate the most about living in Senegal:

Greetings

In Senegal, every time you enter a new room, house, building, or space of any kind, it is obligatory that you greet every single person within the vicinity. This means that it is completely acceptable to interrupt people mid-conversation and peep into closed office rooms in order to say hello.

Hate: Ever have those days when you are about to head home from work, and you suddenly realize that you have to pee really, really badly? Instead of using the conveniently located, unhygienic toilet in your office, you rush home to relieve yourself in the comfort of your own space, burstingthrough your front door and heading straight to the bathroom without a second thought. In Senegal, this seemingly perfect plan would never work. The moment you’d burst into your house you’d spot your grandma, uncle, cousin, little brother, distant relative who lives 2 hours away and your older sister’s best friend since primary school , all sitting in your living room, awaiting to be greeted by you. In an ideal situation, a quick “Assalamualekum” and hand clasping in their general direction would do, but of course everyone will begin to ask you about your work, your state of peace, your mom, dad, grandparents, and whether or not your aunt has fully recovered from her cold. These extra seconds are an eternity when your mind is focused on making it to the bathroom.

Love:Picture yourself walking down a familiar sidewalk in America, heading towards you is a group of four people, only one of which is you actually know. When the group gets within a reasonable distance you call out, “Hey Donald!”, and completely ignore the other three people, Billy, Sally, and Eugene. But what about Billy, Sally and Eugene? Even though you have no idea who they are, they should at least be greeted. In Senegal, this would never happen. Everyone is expected to greet everyone one else, under all circumstances, so no one ever gets left out, or feels unwelcome. It also gives everyone an entry point to start up a conversation with someone that they would not have normally talked to, so no one ever stays a stranger for too long.

The Food

At my home in Senegal, my diet consists of a four meal rotation. Breakfast is always the same: a cup of coffee and 4 inches of french bread covered in a Nutella-like chocolate spread or Laughing Cow cheese. For lunch, 99% of the time, I have ceeb bu jeen (rice and fish, and a few vegetables), and my dinner is either fried fish with french fries in an onion sauce with bread, or mushy rice with beef.

Hate: I am on a high carb, high salt and vegetable oil diet. In Senegal, cooking rice in vegetable oil is the cool thing to do, so everyday my family pours in 1.5 liters (3/4 of a big soda bottle) of oil into our rice for our family of ten…yummy. The rice is also flavored with a substantial amount of seasoning cubes, which are full of salt, MSG, and plenty of other unhealthy things. Eating the same thing every day gets boring very quickly, and I greatly miss eating food that is not swimming in vegetable oil.

Love: EVERYTHING TASTES SO GOOD! Well, once you give up all hope on having a healthy and varied diet.

Laundry

The most underappreciated appliance in America is the washing machine. Here, I do my laundry by hand, and it is a bit of a struggle. To begin, I fill up four buckets with water and line them up in a row. In the first bucket I soak my dirty clothes in water for a few minutes, then they go to the second bucket where I scrub them with a bar of laundry soap, then on to the third bucket where I turn my clothes inside out and scrub them again, then they go into the fourth bucket where I rinse out all of the soap, and then I ring out all of the water and hang them up to dry for a few hours on our clothes line.

Hate:It takes me at least an hour and a half to wash my clothes, and I hate every millisecond of it. During my first attempt at doing laundry, I scrubbed so hard that I rubbed away the top layer of the skin on my right index finger. Although this was a small injury, it has affected me ever since, and only fueled my hatred for washing clothes.

Love: The only thing remotely enjoyable about doing laundry is the kick that the girls in my family get out of watching me struggle. When they do their laundry a squeaky noise is made as they scrub their clothes, and this is the ultimate sign of good clothes washing skills in Senegal. Unfortunately for me, the only sound heard when I wash my clothes, is the occasional sloshing of water, and the girls in my house never let me forget it.

Aissatou Barrie-Rose