Psst. Psssst. Pssssssst.

Alec Yeh - Senegal


October 13, 2009

The Senegalese hiss. I don’t quite understand why, but they hiss at you. They hiss at each other. They hiss at everybody. Instead of saying, “Hello!”, they just go “pssssst.” It’s how people in Senegal try to get your attention. And it’s not just because I’m American. They do that to each other. They hiss at people just to ask “where is this bus going?” or “how far is the supermarket from here?” It’s so strange.

So I was hissed at by some child. He also tapped on me. He was a beggar. I said “sarax si agg na” which is “I’ve already saved my soul today” essentially. It’s suppose to get rid of beggars. The kid stared at me and a huge smile came across his face.

“Huh?” He said.

“Sarax si agg na”

“Hahahahahahhaa,” he laughed. “huh?”

“Ba baneen,” which means “next time”.

The kid laughed and laughed. He repeatedly asked me to say it again and it again. One of his friends came over and laughed too. They thought it was so hilarious that I, some American, was speaking Wolof. This made me feel like such an outsider, yet oddly enough, it was also comforting. It made me laugh, and I just smiled back at the kids. I apologized to them, still with the smile on my face. It was incredible that some child beggars could make me laugh and smile like that. I think it was comforting because I’m not Senegalese, and I shouldn’t try to assimilate into their culture. I’m American. I’m Chinese-American. I’m there to observe yes, but I’m not there to be invisible. I think that really hit me then. And a sense of relaxation and acceptance came over me.

Also, I saw some native Asians. That also made me smile. There’s actually quite a sizeable Asian population. Back when the Senegal was part of France and France was at war with Vietnam, many Senegalese soldiers were stationed in Vietnam. Many of them took Vietnamese wives. That’s why there are so many Vietnamese restaurants in Dakar. Also, the Chinese like to do business in Dakar, so there are a few Chinese people hanging around. I saw a Vietnamese couple and a Chinese couple in the supermarket (I think they were Vietnamese and Chinese. Tapping into my Asian-recognition powers.)

These anecdotes comforted me, made me realize that I don’t fit in, and I’m not suppose to. Oh, and that Asians are taking over the world. Just kidding.

Alec Yeh