After a week in the bustling yet somehow insanely sandy (seriously, where does it all come from?!) city of Dakar, I transferred homestays. I left a large, loud Wolof family where I was surrounded by constant, indecipherable movement to be transferred into a quiet, Christian, and very Western home. It felt refreshing to be in a place so calm juxtaposed next to the organized chaos that seemed to be Dakar. Yet, after a few days I began to question my decision to switch homes. Hearing of other fellow’s stories of trekking through cultural anomalies, I felt as though I was missing out. I ate every meal at a table with a fork and knife. Pasta and salad made regular appearances, and I rarely had the opportunity to practice my budding Wolof. I caught myself wondering if this experience was Senegalese enough?
But with my nascent understanding of this country, what would exactly fit my standards of “Senegalese-ness”? Is the concept of being Senegalese solely confined to eating the national (and might I add delicious) dish of ceebu jen with one’s hands from a communal bowl placed on the ground? Does the family need to keep goats sequestered inside a courtyard style home that is already overflowing with extended family members? Do all women need to assure their knees are covered in this 96% Muslim nation to guarantee harassment-free walk home? In a society with multiple ethnic identifications, and where it is common to see a horse-drawn cart sharing the same road as a shiny Audi, there are few things that seem to uniformly define Senegal, let alone this self-fabricated and rather arrogant notion of whether it is just enough.
If any of my former Humanities teachers are reading this, please forgive me, because I learned long ago that a series of questions is no way to compose a serious piece of writing. Yet it is the best way to compose my time here in Senegal. It’s clear that I already came into this experience with expectations of what Senegal should be and how its inhabitants should behave. Now, not only am I questioning everything I see and hear, but also myself. I am forced to question my actions according to the norms of the very culture that has baffled me every day since my arrival. I can only hope that after seven months of questions, observations, and, with any luck, understanding, I will envelope the intricacies of this “Senegalese-ness” whether they are ingested with a fork and knife or around a communal bowl.