The Easiest Language in the World

Kaya Hartley - Senegal

October 6, 2011

I’ve been postponing blogging because it seems that every day I gain something new, and my understanding of Senegalese life changes and grows. I have officially been living in Senegal for over a month now, and the most apparent observation so far is the overall relaxed, friendly, open attitude of the Senegalese people.

The greetings here literally last 5 minutes, which is quite a long time in comparison to the typical 10 second greetings we dish out in the U.S. This overall attitude was even more of a culture shock to me than seeing people kneeling on their prayer mats at the side of the road or hearing the Muslim calls to prayer being projected throughout the city five times a day.

Of course, life in the busy city of Dakar and life in the rural village of Potou are completely different, but the same genuine and deep importance of human relations remains. The first day I arrived in the village of Potou my host mother gifted me with a traditional Senegalese outfit. This outfit consists of two pieces, a shirt and a wrap around skirt. The material is bright, BRIGHT yellow and similar to the material of a tarp used for camping, making it very difficult to put on. After many attempts on my part, my 12 year old sister ended up dressing me. Not long after, I discovered that it was not only difficult to put on, but nearly impossible to walk around in. The skirt was wrapped fairly tightly around my legs so that the only way I could commute from one place to another was to take baby steps which ended up turning more into a waddle. If I happened to take a step too large, the stiff material would stick straight up behind my leg resembling something like a ducktail and flattening it back down was another entire process.

Nevertheless, my family was either very amused or very proud of having their American dressed in Senegalese clothing and decided that they wanted to show me off. So I threw on my chacos and waddled behind my mother and sister as they paraded me down the dirt streets of my village. I definitely provided the comic relief for the people in my village that day. I suppose I could have scared some of the kids but I later learned that my outfit is typically only used for special occasions like Tabaski (Eid al-adha) so that was a slight relief. I’m glad (but not surprised) to report that although I looked completely ridiculous, every person I met was extremely kind and accepting. I’ve had experiences like this countless times and I’m sure there will be plenty more to come.

I am proud to report that I have learned to laugh at myself, because in all honesty… it’s funny. A large majority of every single thing I try to do in order to immerse myself turns into a rather hilarious failed attempt and laughter is like a universal language, so whether or not I am able to connect with my host family through being able to roll the perfect rice ball while eating with my hands or pronounce difficult French and Wolof words doesn’t matter. I have made an even deeper connection through the simplicity of laughter. So thank you, Global Citizen Year, for helping me realize that no matter how out of my comfort zone I may be there is always the comfort of laughter.

Kaya Hartley