Pictures from Senegal

Sunday, October 31


I talk a lot about how different things are here in Senegal, or Africa, when compared with the US. Everything from the physical aspects of climate and food, to the psychological ideals like perception of beauty and work ethic, feels like a 180 degree turn from all that I’ve known before. And yet, the longer I sit in this sand box the more I slowly pick out the things just happen to be similar. It’s not 100%, but a small fraction of something is similar to life back home. And that can be kind of comforting.

1. Chivalry isn’t dead, but it’s not obvious either. It may be true that a woman must give up her seat for a man, but that doesn’t mean that guy is above helping her with her multiple bags of luggage.

2. When it comes down to it, family comes first.

3. Sick days are important, and should be taken so that one can return to work healthy. The African adjustment is that there is no cap on the number of sick days taken, no proof necessary, and no repercussions for work missed. Hmm.

4. Kids still take naps. Actually, we all do… it’s called Siesta. But hey at least the kids are quiet and sleeping for a few hours of the day, even if this means they are then allowed to stay up all night.

5. I’ve seen a stop sign, and people who stop for it. It’s even in English, but is still a rare occasion.

6. Laundry is hung out on the line to dry in the sun. This may be out of necessity more than energy conservation, but that doesn’t diminish the similarity, right?

7. There is nothing like a cold beer after work. There is nothing like our happy hours back home either... and though they don’t exist here, a huge thank you goes out for the fact that at least the beer does.

8. Dieting is expensive. Buying all the veggies and fruit my family should be eating instead of rice and pasta is a significantly larger dent in our monthly food spending. However, I’m certain that the Senegalese eat carbs to fill their stomachs where Americans eat them for taste.

9. There isn’t a single show from back home that hasn’t appeared on my Senegalese television (with French voice-overs). CSI, Grey’s Anatomy, 24, or How I Met Your Mother… they may be a season or two behind, but that makes it easier on my translating. I guess this isn’t a similarity- more an exact copy- but perhaps the comparison is the type of entertainment sought out by the viewer.

10. Major sporting events are televised and large amounts of people gather together to view them. Sure, they’re watching soccer and not football or wrestling instead of baseball… but its none-the-less a highly publicized event splashed over TV, radio, billboards, and other media outlets.

11. Homework is put off until it’s due, rather than getting it done just after it’s been assigned. Ahhh procrastination, no one can escape you…

12. People watch the music channel on TV to see music videos. We have a French spin on MTV that mixes American top 40 videos with Senegalese and French ones. Let’s just prey they don’t start a version of Senegalese Real World. I can picture the drama that would be Real World: Matam- 7 strangers, that don’t speak the same language, living isolated but together in the dessert. Oh, mayhem possibilities.

13. Good help is hard to find. Whether it’s my mom firing another maid every 2 weeks, my counterpart that completely abandoned me 3 months after I arrived, or the endless stream of people that can’t be counted on to show up when they say they will… good help is hard to find in Senegal. And just like home, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I’ve got the number of a great leather worker, a reliable driver, and the very dedicated, hard working secretary general at the mayor’s office.

14. People hate not being able to understand others that speak in a foreign language. How many times have you seen/ heard someone say “We’re in America, speak English.” I am on the receiving end of that here.

15. My favorite veggies (potato, tomato, onion, carrot, etc) are here. Sometimes they are prepared in a similar manner to life back home (like mashed potatoes) but mostly they aren’t. Who would have thought to mix tomatoes with peanut butter?

16. People dress to impress to go pray. Here it’s Friday, there it’s Sunday, but whatever.

17. There is an obvious manner of dress change between a young woman and an older one. While short shorts may be all the rage with the young crowd in this month’s heat, a respectable older women will be sporting her traditional dresses.

18. It’s embarrassing to smell bad. No matter how poor, a person does not want to be caught in stinky cloths or without a fresh scent (whether it is thanks to inexpensive soap or a fancy imported perfume).

19. Antivirus software is severely needed. Probably more so here because no one has it, because they can’t pay for it, because even if they could no one has a credit card to pay online… it’s a messed up world.

20. There are plenty of unemployed able bodies here- that although they could, for whatever excuse choose not to work. The difference is that their families support them, not the government. A different kind of welfare.

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