Spending our first two weeks in the coastal villages of Dene and Mouit, we have been introduced to various wonderful aspects of Senegalese culture. Welcomed with open arms by the locals, I have quickly learned that the people are what have made our two weeks here so special. Various families have opened their homes to us for daily lunches, dinners, and most notably, our first day-long homestay experience.
The hospitality of the Senegalese people has been humbling. Anyone I met over the course of the past few days greeted me as though we’d been friends for years. And greetings are an essential part of conversations in Wolof, which I see as emblematic of the Senegalese culture in whole.
That being said, I’ll offer the first couple exchanges of a sample conversation (with a literal English translation) that’s commonly seen between friends and strangers alike. Oftentimes, these greetings are accompanied by a handshake that can last up to a minute long, so in the sweltering heat, your hands can come away quite clammy.
“Asalaa maalekum.” (Peace be unto you.)
“Maalekum salaam.” (Peace be unto you too.)
“Nanga def?” (How are you?)
“Mangi fi.” (I’m here.)
“Jàmm rekk.” (Peace only.)
The idea of being “here” is visible in all aspects Senegalese culture. Upon arising, the emphasis is placed on the present moment, which means consequentially, we often lose track of time. But as someone who’s typically late (which I blame on genetics- thanks Dad), the slow pace of life is one I’ve embraced.
For example, it’s customary to linger after meals, especially lunch. After devouring chebujen (fish with rice and veggies), it’s encouraged to be present. Oftentimes lunch is followed by attaya (sweet mint tea), so hanging around for a round or two of attaya allows for lunch to digest and conversations to ensue. This time spent together is often full of reflection of our surroundings and the wonder of the vast Senegalese landscape and people around us. So I thank the people of Senegal for both engaging in conversation with us (though often in broken Wolof and French) and reminding us to embrace both the present moment and the people around us. Alhamdulilah (thanks be to God)!
So until next time, Ba Ci Kanam (See you soon)!