La Vie Quotidienne Senegalaise

Because of the public and relatively academic nature of this blog, I have thus far avoided giving details of my vie quotidienne with my Senegalese family. However, I’d like to offer some updates.

My family is a traditional, Muslim, Senegalese household. I live with my mom, my aunt, my two older brothers, one older sister, and one younger sister. My dad is around half the time because he is polygamous and has a second family. I have yet to discover if my mom is the first or second wife, but I assume the first because of her relatively advanced age.

We eat around the bowl every night, with our right hands. I didn’t expect it to be as hard as it is with the small grains like couscous or with slippery things like spaghetti, but I have improved my ball-forming technique of sticking the food together. Bread also comes in handy as a sort of spoon. My favorite meals are yassa poulet (chicken with onion sauce, white rice, and some times French fries and salad), mafe gerte (meat—beef?—with peanut sauce and rice, and a meal of meat with French fries, macaroni, and garlic sauce. The meat here is fatty; a salad consists of lettuce and tomatoes placed in the bowl along with all the sauce and oils. I have mostly adapted to the fish; we eat it every day for lunch, which I thankfully often avoid due to my class and internship schedule. The Senegalese cook the fish whole—eyes and bones and all, but my family has recently taken to barbecuing the fish which gives it a taste not that unlike chicken.

I have discovered that my father enjoys avocados just as much as I do, so I have taken to bringing them home to add to the nightly bowl. Senegal has a gift-giving culture; it sounds strange to say, but people here really do like you more when you buy things for them or give them presents. Possessions aren’t really for just one person either, so people will encourage you to give them something they like for no reason. I have been asked by a total stranger to give him my sunglasses, “not to borrow, like as a present, you understand?” I brought my family slices of cake when I returned from my pilgrimage weekend and provided ice cream, chocolate, and tangerine sundaes for desert on my host dad’s birthday and I reaped the benefits for days afterwards.

My family here is probably one of the most loving and caring I have met. They gave me a gift too—a traditional dress they had tailored for me which I wore in Tivuoaune, their Tijaani pilgrimage site. Having clothes made here is unbelievable for me!  I picked out fabric at the main market with my sisters, designed my clothes and had them tailored. For about $8 each, I have had two dresses, two shirts, a skirt, and a matching skirt-shirt combo custom made.

Prices here are very difficult to navigate because everything has to be bargained for. A taxi to my school, which is about a 30-minute walk from my neighborhood, should cost about 500cfa—the equivalent to $1 US—but I generally end up paying the Toubab price of 600-700cfa. A banana is 100cfa, an avocado 500cfa, a coca cola can range from 300 to 800cfa. I bought a Mauritanian necklace for $20 US from an artisan’s workshop, called an atelier; I bargained with the vendor for 45 minutes to get the price down from his starting offer of $150 US, but my Senegalese sister said she probably could have gotten it for $15 US.

I expected certain things about life here to really bother me. For example, I expected to feel an inseparable sense of disgust at my father’s polygamy. Instead, it doesn’t bother me at all and I actually kind of like it. It feels to me when he’s away like he’s on a business trip or something, and it ensures he’s always really happy to be around when he is here. Men here are certainly an imposing presence, but I have found it relatively natural to be in a somewhat subservient role because of my gender. Though I am undoubtedly the princess of the house as the white, talkative foreign-exchange student, my brothers sit on chairs while I sit on the floor and eat with spoons or forks while I eat with my hands.

In my past blogs, I have tried to convey the prominence of the Wolof-language and the lack of value placed on efficiency. To further illustrate these phenomenons, I thought I would share the greeting regimen here. At this point, I can speak both the future and past tenses in Wolof, so I have the ability to communicate both my plans and the events of my day. Instead, even my long conversations continue to revolve around nothing substantive, simple pleasantries with standard answers.

– Asaalaam Malekum! – Good morning, good afternoon, good night! (literally “God is with you!”

Malekun Salaam — (“And God is with you!”)

Naka nga def? – How are you doing?

Mangi fi rekk. – Fine. (Literally, “I am here only.”)

If one has met before, one says:

– Nama nala. – I have missed you. – Mala raull. – I have missed you more.

Ana waa kerga? – How is your family?

Nunga fa. – They are also here and fine.

Dafa feebar?—Is anyone in your house sick? (Literally, “Is it sick?”)

Tubarfkalla, Alxamdulilah! – No one is, thank you. (Literally, “Thank God, Thank God!”)

At this point, if one knows the other’s family, one proceeds to ask how each

member is. For example, Ana sa yaay? – How is your mom? – Munga fa. – She is here.

Sa yaram jamm? – How was your day? (Literally, “Are you in peace?”)

Jamm rekk, Alxamdulilah. – Peace only, thank God.

Sant yalla bu baax. – Thank God strongly.

Lu bess? – What’s new?

Dara bessul. Yow yaa bess. – Nothing’s new. You’re here now and that’s new!

Deedeet, Yow yaa bess. Numu Deemee? – No, You’re new. What’s going on?

Nii rekk. – Only me.

Naka affaires yi? – How are your affairs? à note: one can refer to affairs with about 15 Wolof words, but no one ever directly asks about work, schoolwork, or finances and the like.

Affaires yaangi ni rekk. – My affairs are okay.

Yaangi goor goorlu? – You are working hard? à note: working hard is a cultural value here and has nothing to do with the standard Western conception of a formal job.

Maangi goor goorlu bu baax. – I am working very hard and well.

Alxamdulilah! Yaangi ci kawam? – Praise be to God! You are on top of it, your affairs?

Waaw, maangi ci kawam. – Yes, I’m on top.

This series of questions begins literally every positive interaction. With unknown persons on the street, it is usually slightly shortened. After exchanging these greetings, both members are considered to be in one community and one can begin speaking about something substantive if one so chooses—for example, if the grocery store carries a certain product.

To close the conversation, there’s generally:

–         Jerejef! – Thank you.

–         Jaa jeff waay! – Thank you friend.

–         Nokoo book. Nuyul fanaan ak jam. – You’re welcome. Let us pass the rest of the day in peace.

–         Jam ak Jamm. – Peace and Peace.

–         Waaw, Jamm ak Salaam. – Yes, peace and only pease.

–         Ba baneen yoon! – Until next time.

–         Ba baneen yoon! – Until next time.

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2 Responses to La Vie Quotidienne Senegalaise

  1. nicole says:

    Ha! Ba baneen YOON.

    Great post! Didn’t know your host dad was polygamous. That’s pretty interesting… do the different families ever co-mingle?

  2. Jennifer Lang says:

    Never. Supposedly they don’t mind each other, and my host mom told me that sometimes the kids hang out. But in my two months, I have met all the relatives on my mother’s side and know zero information about my father’s. They are never spoken about and definitely never invited to the celebrations at the house.
    Funny side note: there is a popular saying here, “If you annoy me, I’ll take a second wife.”

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