Olivia Hill - Senegal

January 25, 2013

The New Year brings about thoughts of reflection and change.  In this spirit I’ve come up with a list of ten things I like or have enjoyed about Senegal so far (in no particular order of importance):


1.     Ceeb (rice):  When I say rice I really just mean all food here.  While it can get a little repetitive at times, I have a solid appreciation for Senegalese food (and so does my body as I’ve gained a solid ten pounds).  My favorite dish, ceebu gen bou weex(rice and fish-the white version versus the red), comes with a complimentary dish called macat which includes bisap, a local vegetable (or is it a fruit…?), and tamarind.  When I first saw macat I was hesitant to try it but ended up falling in love.  Some interesting facts about macat are that a. if you eat it you will get a really big butt and b. kids are not allowed to eat it because they’ll turn stupid.


2.     Wolof

A year ago I never would have imagined I’d be close to fluency in another language, let alone a native language in Senegal.  There are many lessons that come with learning a language.  I’ve had to be extremely proactive as language doesn’t just fall into a person’s lap.  I carried around a small notebook 24/7 so I could write down any words I heard and didn’t know.  I’ve become more lax with it now because I am changing my focus to grammar as my vocabulary has grown.  The best part about learning Wolof is when a stranger finds out I speak it; because I’m white it’s assumed I speak French.  I then explain in Wolof that I do not speak French, they’re shocked and only have words of praise.


3.      Diarrhea

That’s right folks.  It’s happened.  Can’t say I’m proud, but it’s happened.  From eating too much yapp (meat) on a holiday to eating too many peanuts to eating too much macat, nearly everything here can give you the shits.  Not to worry, I’m now an expert.  Simply drink (or eat) bui, another local fruit or vegetable, which will solve your diarrhea problems real quick.  In fact, drink too much and you won’t poop for days (I am not exaggerating).  Do I like or enjoy this about Senegal?  Maybe not, but being able to laugh at yourself is a key part of staying in a good mood and learning.  Bodily functions gone awry are perfect examples of what a person needs to laugh at.


4.      The sun

I had no idea what I was missing in Washington with a majority of days being cloudy, gray, and rainy.  In fact, I thought I preferred the cold to the warm.  That was before I experienced more than two months of nothing but sun then suddenly have a day that was cold and gray.  It can get cold here, especially when you don’t have a hot shower to warm your bones, but most days end with the sun shining no matter what.  There really is something powerful about vitamin D.


5.      Suma waa ker (the people of my house)

I consider myself extremely lucky to have been placed in the family I have.  There are fifteen people that live within the walls of my “house”, not including family from other parts of town.  Over the course of the last four months they’ve taken me under their wing and tried their best to teach me the Senegalese ways.  They are the biggest reason I am at all competent in Wolof; it’s always a lot of fun when my family jokes around accusing someone of having several girlfriends or saying someone can only eat bread/rice/etc., and in the end I’m able to hold my own and join in.


6.      The small things

Anything from remembering someone’s name to knowing where to get the best beignets (a donut of sorts), it doesn’t take much to bring about a little happiness or even a lot of happiness (the beignets are REALLY good). Now when I greet someone it has the power to bring me out of a funk when we acknowledge each other and say hello, or every day when my friend comes to collect the rest of my breakfast bread that I couldn’t manage to eat. Normality is hard to come by when you stick out like a sore thumb, so when something does become normal it becomes so much more important.


7.      The fashion

I’m not one to care about what I’m wearing or what my hair is doing, but here in Senegal boy do they care. Everyone is always looking their best when they go out because looking nice earns the respect of other people.  This is the opposite of my philosophy, which is to not care what anyone thinks because only the opinion of myself matters.  This has definitely been a point of conflict, but I’ve tried my best to take on the persona of the culture.  I now have several Senegalese outfits, one equipped with ruffles.  I love seeing all the outfits that are made and even take mental notes to see if I can get the same thing made.  It was extremely fulfilling the first time I was able to wrap my musoor (woman’s head wrap) myself.  I emerged from my room and the women of the house clapped with excitement.


8.     Attaya (tea):

Every Senegalese past the age of ten can make it and I’ve never tasted a bad batch.  This tea is a specialty here and is taken very seriously.  Anytime I spend the day(s) away from home I’m always asked if I drank attaya, and if I didn’t my experience is automatically deemed neexul (unpleasant).  The person making attaya is in charge of pouring every adult (as children are not allowed to drink it) a small glass worth, comparable to an espresso shot.  There are three rounds, but more than likely you’ll only get two.  I myself have recently become the official attayakat (attaya maker) of the house and look forward to bringing the tradition back home.


9.      The animals and the bugs

Have you ever seen a baby goat scratch its back against a wall?  Just picture it in your mind.  Now picture a weird duck-turkey cross-breed. Animals here mostly get to go where they want, and it’s become less of a shock to see. Sometimes random goats or sheep will come into the yard and start eating stuff or try to eat what’s cooking.  Cars often honk at the goats to get them out of the road or a herd of cattle will come waltzing on down the street.  During the night I hear cats get into fights over the houses they’ve claimed, and I’ve now made it my goal to kill every mosquito in sight.  There are weird bugs I’ve never seen before and I’m more scared of the giant crickets than the spiders (which jump).  What is interesting is how the people react to the animals; they don’t seem bothered at all. Yes, there’s poop on the road, but no one complains.


10.  Appreciation

Before this experience I never felt like I belonged anywhere and didn’t feel like America was where I was meant to stay and I would never get home sick.  However, I can now say that I will be happy to be home, in my bed, eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, with my mom rubbing my head, and no mosquitoes in sight.  I will miss Senegal and all I’ve come to know here, but there will always be a place in my heart for home, and only this experience could show me where that is.


So there you have it, folks, Ten snippets of my life so far.  The good, the bad, and the ugly.  Happy New Year!

Olivia Hill