Texas vs. Senegal

Barker Carlock - Senegal

March 12, 2013

Although Texas and Senegal have their obvious differences, my encounters thus far have unveiled core belief systems that link the two very dissimilar countries (yes, Texas is a country in its own right, and I will be referring to it as a “country”). Many similarities can be traced back to the religions within both countries. In Texas, there is a conservative “culture Christianity,” while in Senegal, there is a conservative “culture Islamism.”

These religious implications impact how people view each other in both countries introducing intimate networks of communities. The most important value of all in Senegal is undoubtedly community. From African solidarity to what it means to be an individual to how you eat every meal, community is inescapable. No one is their own individual. You are someone’s family. You are someone’s friend. Therefore, everyone is family and friends. I think this concept is similar in Southern culture. Just as it is in Senegal, people know their neighbor, and they know their neighbors’ neighbor. It is not rare to find people in both cultures asking their neighbor for cups of sugar when their supply runs out. People aren’t afraid to share. In fact, the Wolof word for relative/family is “mbokk” which comes from the verb, “bokk” meaning “to share.” In Texas and in Senegal, sharing is caring because we all live in one community.

Similar to what is known in Texas as “Southern Hospitality,” the Senegalese have the word, “Teranga.” If truth be told, there is no doubt that the idea of hospitality stems from Senegal. Teranga is Southern Hospitality on steroids. To put this into perspective, if a stranger were to show up on our doorstep, my host mother would be obligated and pleased to take them into our care and provide them with meals, a place to stay, and some money to continue their journey. This concepts stems from the rationality of ‘do to others what you would have them do to you’ (Matthew 7:12). However, an unfortunate reality is that both cultures are losing their senses of hospitality as modernization is coming into play. Teranga and Southern Hospitality are dying breeds in a modern world. People are slowly having to put their guards up to the point that many beautiful parts of the two cultures are being destroyed.

Despite this, the concept of community continues on to form another similarity. This is the superficial warmness within foreign relationships. It’s not too far off to say that in Texas it’s more than likely to hear a stranger say “Howdy,” or for someone to engage a complete stranger in conversation out-of-the-blue. Greetings in both cultures are particularly important, even if they are as simply to recognize another’s presence by a wink or a smile. Yet, some might say that the relationships formed within such societies are very superficial because one never stops to hold more than a warm greeting and short conversation. Relationships are not too close to where secrets of the individual are known, but they aren’t so distant that you forget their name. In effect, there is a devaluing of friendship and relationship in both cultures because everyone is your “good friend” when the word acquaintance would probably be more suitable.

Furthermore, Senegal—much like Texas—is a food centric culture, to say the very least. Ceebu Jënn, the country’s prized possession of a dish, is seasoned rice with fish and vegetables. Although not as good as my mother’s homemade fried chicken, I must say that it does rustle up some competition. Very rarely due both cultures accept the skipping of a meal; eating is sacred. It is interesting to further note that neither country’s pride cuisines, Tex-Mex coming from Texas and Ceebu Jënn coming from Senegal, are native to the regions. Senegal’s extensive use of rice is due to French Colonization and Texas’ extensive use of rice, cheese, and salsa comes from Spanish influence.

In Texas, the culture raises us to fabricate a facade in order to make others believe that we have everything “put together.” This is where the famous Texas pride comes into play. Apparent in the “Everything Is Bigger in Texas” motto, our pride is not exempt from this well known adage. The ability to be transparent and human, are rare phenomenon within Texas and Senegal. The word in Wolof Sutura which means secret or discreet exists because of the secrecy and prudence within Senegalese culture. Apart from the apparent issues with secrecy within a society like the inability to be impotent, this confidentiality leads to none other than, you guessed it, gossip. Those familiar with Southern society don’t need further explanation in comparison. This is evident in the Reality TV shows airing today that exploit the gossipy nature of many southern communities.

Coincidentally, “to put icing on the cake,” in comparing the two countries, a show named Dallas was very popular here some years ago. So Texas happens to be one of the only states with which many Senegalese are familiar. As soon as I say that I’m from Texas, many Senegalese feel honored to meet, “a true cowboy.”

Although separated by an ocean, Texas and Senegal have incredible similarities. I’m proud to be able to call myself a Texan, as most Texans are. But this statement in itself is dangerous. It is dangerous because it is always easy to over romanticize one’s own culture by overlooking the inherent imperfections due to bias. I think that one of the most invaluable experiences gained in this year was the unique opportunity to see many of the flaws within my own Texan culture by observing the various defects in Senegalese society. By looking through the lens of a different perspective, I have been able to recognize innate gaps within my own culture. Of course, there is no perfect culture. That’s the whole point of culture—seeking perfection within a civilization. In the words of Matthew Arnold, culture is essentially “a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world, and, through this knowledge, turning a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits, which we now follow staunchly but mechanically, vainly imagining that there is a virtue in following them staunchly which makes up for the mischief of following them mechanically.” That being said, I still tend to hold to the belief that Tex-Mex, Southern Hospitality, and cowboy boots are the combination that has discovered the perfect culture, but hey, I’m biased! Texas born, Texas bred!

Barker Carlock