Pictures from Senegal

Wednesday, March 9

Random Facts on Senegal

These are little tid-bits, specific to Senegal’s people or culture, which should be shared. However they are too short to be described in their own individual postings so I’ve compiled them here. Their briefness doesn’t somehow make them less interesting, though, so pay attention:

1.       Senegal is translated from the Wolof sunu gal to mean “our boat” because when the colonists came that’s what the people kept saying… Hey, that’s our boat. Only the colonists thought they were learning the name of the country. Well, that’s the lore anyway. Lost in translation, what?

2.       The night club in Mboro throws a party every month or so. This basically means the older grades of high school- and those who’ve just graduated- have an event that equates to a school dance. Alcohol is for sale, cover charge applies to men only ($3) and any of the private school kids are welcome to attend. Unfortunately, every song is a slow song and there are no chaperons. Get a room! The night club is not available for any other occasions, but the bar next door is sometimes open for business.

3.       The Post (office) may say they’re open on Saturday mornings, but I’ve yet to see it be true. Whether there’s a sign saying their closed for a particular reason, or no, I’ve never successfully wandered by or purposely showed up to an open Post on a Saturday morning. Ever. Yet, they still keep advertising it as a provided service for their valued customers. Maybe valued customers are not found in Mboro.

4.       The African Renaissance Monument is not appreciated by the Senegalese people for the following reasons (in no particular order): the figures are scantily clad, the power will go out everywhere else in the city- but never at the statue, it cost millions upon millions to build (which could have gone to helping the aforementioned power issue?!?!), an unknown sum of tourism proceeds goes to directly to the president’s pockets (not the country’s) because he “thought of it,” and the child is pointing away from Africa towards the Americans as though to represent the burning desire of every African to leave the continent. Hmm, I get the animosity.

5.       Senegalese people, whether Christian or Muslim, enjoying using Christmas music as ring tones all year round. They also like other English songs such as “Happy Birthday” or any top 40’s hit sung by a black artist- but not nearly as much as the Christmas classics. Oh, holy night… Weird.

6.       This culture is huge on theater sketches; they absolutely adore watching and participating in them. They are always educational. Always. Ninety percent of the time they are humorous (the remaining ten being at some schools) so they’ll be informative and funny at the same time. Even when we organized a talent show at our girls’ summer camp, and encouraged the girls to choreograph their favorite dances, more than half of them choose to animate an important life lesson. Examples include not getting married too young or making sure to wash your hands before eating out of communal food bowls.

7.       Senegal may not celebrate St. Patty’s Day, but her Catholics do celebrate Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) in the same fashion. This makes explaining the crazy drunken partying that is St. Patty’s Day a whole lot easier when in a country of predominately non-drinking Muslims. The kids all paint their faces and dress up while the adults get drunk. Sounds pretty similar, right?

8.       The Senegalese tend to be very superstitious people. The Muslim population (and even some Catholics) will get gris gris (good luck charms) made from leather and string. Inside the leather square is a piece of paper with the purpose of the charm- such as safe travels or ability to learn- that is blessed by a local Maribou (religious leader specific to West Africa and Sufi-Islam). Once ready, the gris gris is most commonly worn on the body as a bracelet, arm band, or waist band. Another example is the metal bracelets for infants that are worn until the child’s wrist grows too big for the piece. I have often asked for a charm against getting sick, but have yet to receive one. Bummer.

9.       Having domestic help is very common in the wealthier households of Senegal. I suspect it’s because there are typically fewer off-spring available to do the work (but subsequently additional funds available to pay for the help). A good maid is hard to come by, so we’ve gone through almost a dozen in my 1.5 years at Chez Ndaw. Her (always a she, never a he) tasks include sweeping the sand in front of the house and in the back courtyard, sweeping and moping the entire house, scrubbing the bathroom with bleach, doing the dishes from the night before, making lunch, cleaning dishes after lunch, sweeping and moping once more in the afternoon, ironing the laundry, and doing prep work for dinner (such as precutting veggies). In return she gets a meager salary, breakfast and lunch daily, and no vacation days (unless she calls in “sick”). You know a maid is about to or wants to quit when she’s sick a lot.

10.   Shea butter is huge in Africa. Shea is prevalent in our corner of the continent and transforming it into a marketable lotion for export can be done relatively cheap. This was discovered decades ago thus many an organization has already jumped on the economies of scale and mass production, so now I can buy a large bottle of the vitamin D rich lotion for about $2. What’s the price back home? Think about it and let me know if you want a bottle brought back...

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