Toubako in Mako

Kevin Do - Senegal


March 11, 2013

One month into village life.

One month of being a toubako, or foreigner in the local language of Pulaar. As one, I draw stares from many people, but I’m not the first foreigner in my village of Mako. Actually to call it a village would be wrong considering there’s roughly 3000 people who live in it, many of which are children.

The children who see me have one of two reactions. The first being excited to see a new sight. They smile, laugh and shout things at me, like “Chinois” or “Toubako.” Of course I understand they don’t mean it in a alienating way, I’m just an interesting sight in the village. The other reaction is of course, since I’m a new sight, they stop, stare, get scared, and start crying. Rather funny too. One child in particular always stares and slowly walks to an older child and hides behind him. When he notices me looking at him, he just looks away with a terrified look on his face.

Also as a toubako, specifically an American, I’m bombarded with requests to teach people English, after which I tell them the name of the surrounding few things like “sky” or “moon.” Other demands are a bit more extreme though. Some examples include taking a baby home with me to America and foster it there, writing letters to the embassy so people can get visas, or even offers to take a man’s 6 year old daughter as a wife in the hopes of getting money for it. Rather bad really.

Surprising to me, popular American culture can definitely be seen amongst the youth in this remote town in Senegal. When I’m chilling with my Senegalese friends, we often listen to Justin Bieber or Chris Brown. People even ask me about my opinions on WWE and John Cena, asking if it’s actually real. People know some things about popular American music that I didn’t even know, like that Slim Shady was actually Eminem.

Also as a toubako, people are genuinely surprised when I attempt to speak Pulaar and work in the village. When I say “work” I mean like in the corn fields. I’ve picked corn, loaded it onto a donkey-driven cart and transported to my house where we remove the husks and push the kernels off to make couscous. I also cleared the field of the corn plants’ roots and helped start a garden for the local women’s group. I shall be helping them with their agribusiness. I also help to teach English and math in the junior high school and maybe even help the park rangers maintain the national wild-life reserve.

My hope is that by the end of this journey, I can consider myself an actual member of the community of Mako and NOT just a toubabko.

Kevin Do