Claire Amsden - Senegal

May 2, 2013

In Senegal, taking photos is called taking souvenirs. I can’t tell you how many times I asked my Senegalese friends and family to let me take a souvenir of them during my last two weeks there. (My photo count is telling: I had 400-something photos at the beginning of March, and had more than doubled that number by April.) The wording in Wolof for taking a photo shows how important it is to ask permission first. A photographer is taking a souvenir from the person being photographed, and the person in the photo will often expect something in return (possibly something that will help them remember the photographer in the future).

My whole experience was a constant give and take, take and give. All of my actions, even the choice to sleep in when tired, involved a give and take between me and my community. My family would give me time to rest, and I took time away from my day, when I could have given that time to my family by hanging out with them or doing chores around the compound. All of us, no matter where we are or what we are doing, are giving and taking from multiple people simultaneously.

While I focused on both my taking and my giving throughout the time that I was in Senegal, I want to take time to say thank you for everything that was given to me. I was given so much more than I gave back, and I will be indebted to Ndianda, Senegal and the people that live there for as long as I live.

I was given:

– six bracelets and fabric from Coumba Ndao my sister

– a binbin from my sister Ami Ndao (string of beads to go on your hips, only for girls)

– four bracelets from my mom Juma

– six bracelets, two earrings, fabric, and a beaded hat from my grandmother Diaya along with many wonderful visits and phone calls (she lived in another village)

– a bracelet from my cousin Petit who lives in Fatick a few hours away

– two hand-me-down outfits from Coumba

– fabric from my father, which I made into an outfit

– a pair of fashionable Senegalese pants for nights out from Dieynaba (JAY-na-ba) Ndao my sister

– fattayas and beignets everyday from my wonderful aunt Ndeye Sophie, and then from Mariame when she took care of the restaurant when my aunt was in Dakar

– five wooden statues from my family (four of which had to stay in the GCY office in Dakar as suitcase space was limited)

– a letter from my sister Ami and another from my cousin Petit

– an amazing feast and celebration courtesy of my father Magueye Ndao when my American family came to visit (including a goat, a new shower bucket, outfit for all four members of my family including me, and a Sereer guitar dance outside the compound the night my family stayed in Ndianda)

– The honor of becoming Astou Ndao, daughter of Magueye Ndao and Juma Sambura, sister/cousin to Coumba, Pap, Dieynaba, Moussa, Issa, Ndeye Coumba, Ami, Ndeye Astou, Modou, Fatou, NeNe, Ibou, Maguette, Souleye, Aliou, Petit, Davi, Alioune and Cheikh, niece of Modou, Fama, Tening, Gueye, Ndeye Sophie, Aida, Sambou, Gnilane, Madelaine, friend of Christine, Maam Diarra, Aida, Jean Noel, Bulu, Ousmane, Ami Diam, Bintu, Mariame, Astou Fall, Diouf, Aissatou, Marthe, Anna, Bernadette, Ismaila, Ibraima, Fatou Topp, and so many others.

This is a souvenir that will never break or grow old. I will remember you always. Sama xol bi fees na.

Claire Amsden