Teranga

Maddi McGirr - Senegal


December 21, 2018

When you look at this photo all you can see is a mango, a dirt track and a lot of blue. But this simple mango is a reminder of the generosity shown to me since coming to this country.

I took this photo during my first weeks here in Senegal. It was a day when I was travelling back to my homestay after a regular language class in Thies with my two friends. After being dropped off by the car, we started walking home as had become routine. However, on this day we decided to walk a different route just for a change of scenery. We walked past some boutiques and pharmacies until we passed a row of small market stalls. It was there that a woman called me over to her stall where she was selling mangoes, encouraging me to take one. I tried to tell her I didn’t have money and it being the first month I was worried that my language skills would not support me here, yet she insisted. As I started to get flustered and ready to leave she placed the mango into my hands as I heard the word “cadeau” meaning present in French. She was giving me the mango for free because in her eyes she saw me as a friend.

In that moment I felt so happy, I took this picture so as to always remember that feeling I had when this woman gave me a mango out of sheer kindness, and when times get tough or I’m feeling a bit low I like to look at this picture and feel the happy feeling of it radiate off my phone screen.

Now, I met that women a few times since, in the same place, as I returned from Thies – during the time when I was sick with Typhoid and had to travel to the clinic almost everyday- and every interaction was only pleasant. She became a friend and I felt reassured knowing she would be there waiting when I would return from Thies.

However since then I changed route to going home – simply because the route I was taking required me to walk half an hour to my house when the car could drop me 2 minutes away- and I had not seen my friend in a long time. Almost one month. Until one day I was walking back home from school, the way I always go, and there she was, my mango lady – selling watermelons this time! As you might have expected, she gave me a slice for free and we started talking again. A story of coincidence and friendship I would say, the woman’s name is Daba and when I pass by her vendor spot we greet each other as friends.

They say that Senegal is the country of Teranga , literal translation meaning hospitality, and it couldn’t be more true.
I have never seen so much kindness and generosity in one place before , let alone as a universal concept shared in the culture. It is seen as rude to not greet people in the street, or not greet everyone in the house in the morning. There’s is always enough food for guests who might arrive for lunch, we always share things even when there might not be enough to share. It is a culture of sharing and giving, of friendship and support.

Let me tell another story, I have started to greet more and more people in the market on my walk to my apprenticeship in the tailor shop, a walk that should take 10 minutes but usually takes 20 because I have to greet so many people! I met a man who owns a shop that sells Western clothes , I told him I was a tailor and he told me that he was too. The days when I saw him on my walk home I would show him what I sewed that day. He seemed impressed and we would just talk about the day and such things. One day as I was walking home from the market with my two friends I saw him there so I greeted him as I should. After talking for a while he brings out a dress to show us, and, after telling him it’s a beautiful dress, he tells me that it is for me. He had sewn me this dress because I’m his friend. He has also since made me a shirt, and he has become a ‘regular’ on my walk through the market.

Never has such a thing happened before that someone I hardly know would do something so nice. And it is not such a rare thing here. My host family take such good care of me, as do my Senegalese friends and even strangers!

It is easy to feel welcome and loved because the culture encourages it extensively. You could be walking in the street and some people would shout “kaay añ” (come eat lunch) , or be invited to drink tea with your friends every day. I have really started to appreciate the Senegalese Teranga and it is a concept that is surely lacking in the UK. If we all opened up our hearts a bit and showed a bit more kindness to strangers, to coexist in harmony wouldn’t seem so foreign. Senegal is a country of peace, and kindness. A simple response to any greeting being “jaam rekk” meaning ‘peace only’. And I hope to carry some of the peace and teranga I have received and given with me wherever I go from now.

Maddi McGirr