The best of senegal, and the parts I struggle with

Elise Petersen - Senegal


March 14, 2017

I keep trying to find the words to describe what I’m experiencing.
When family and friends ask about my life I find myself wanting to
tell them all about the wonderful pieces of Senegal. I often fail to
mention anything that makes this year seem less than perfect, but
there is so much more to the past 6 months than nice people, and great
adventures. This blog will be about the best parts of Senegal and the
parts I struggle with a little.

Let’s start with the best. There are no words to describe my host
family. My 20-year-old sister, Elisa is smart, beautiful and sassy. I
have five brothers named Ablaye, Andre, Pierre, Jean and Jean Pierre.
They are funny, respectful (though one did tell me he’s in love with
me) and always dancing around the house. I don’t see my host dad
(Jean) often, but he is definitely good for providing for the family.
My mom (Khady) became stepmom to my five siblings when she was 24. She
has loved them and taken care of them like they were her own. And now
she has done the same for me. Even though we have our differences,
the amount of respect and love I have for her outweighs all of our
issues.

One thing I (and I know my other fellows) struggle with is the large
amount of sexual harassment thrown our way. I get yelled at,
predatorily hissed at and approached any time I go anywhere. I have
had more marriage proposals than I can count, and on more than one
occasion 1’ve been told “very sexy, very nice” while in a swimsuit on
the beach. This problem is more extreme for foreigners, but when a man
atop a passing donkey cart yells to my host sister that she should
pull her dress up higher and show her body, it becomes apparent that
this extends far beyond “getting to know a foreigner”.

Senegal is the land of Teranga. This is a beautiful concept that
directly translates to “hospitality” but in Senegal means so much
more. I see Teranga when my family cooks an extra bowl of lunch for a
family whose mother just passed away. I see it when my strongly
Christian family accepts and loves my Muslim host mom so completely. I
see Teranga whenever someone greets and wants to know every single
person they pass on the street. You can find Teranga in everything
here, and if America could follow in the example set by this Muslim
majority country, we might have a more loving, peaceful world.

Being completely immersed in another culture brings a lot of
differences such as food, language, clothing etc. while celebrating
those differences is important; one I wouldn’t necessarily want to
throw a party for is the gender roles. The household ideals are very
“traditional” here. Women cook and clean and take care of the
children, and men get a job and provide a house and such. This isn’t
always a bad thing, but when the 12-year-old daughter does everything
from cooking and cleaning, to her brother’s laundry, because she’s the
only girl in the house, it’s hard to accept. Times are changing
though, just like the rest of the world.

When people ask me what I’m doing in Senegal It’s hard to explain that
I’m simply living. I’m not here on some great mission to rid the world
of poverty or “change” Senegal in any way. I’m here to live, to learn
and to experience everything I possibly can good and bad

Here are some more not so good things

• There is trash all over because the laws about litter are not enforced.
• Young boys beg for money in larger cities and taxi garages.
• I get charged more money for things because I’m white.
• Children yell “toubab cadeaux” at me a lot, which pretty much means
“white foreigner give me a present.”
• The sheep my family owns like to head-butt me when I go outside.

Here are some more things I love about Senegal
• There is always a huge variety of animals roaming the streets.
(donkeys, goats, sheep, pigs, dogs, chickens etc.)
• You can trade your hand in marriage for almost anything. (just do
your best to know when someone stops making a joke out of it.)
• If you start clapping or drumming, someone will get up and dance.
• Women carry their babies on their backs and you can see their tiny
feet poking out on either side of the mother’s waist.
• You don’t ever have to wear a bra.
• The food is phenomenal.
• Everyone wants to know me.
• Goats fart a lot and it’s really funny.

Elise Petersen