It has been three days since I landed in Senegal and I am trying to make sense of this unfamiliar yet comfortable culture in which I have found myself. Dakar is a vibrant, indescribable city that has left me at a loss for words. With this in mind, I will do my best to articulate insights and experiences encountered since my arrival. My expectations were shaped by not buying into the negative one dimensional stereotypes of Africa but in doing so I romanticized on the other extreme of being a paradise. Thus, culture shock manifested because of the fusion of cultural elements in this country that I once believed to be mutually exclusive.
By looking at Africa as more than poverty and rural landscapes, I set an expectation to see tall buildings that towered over the city. Neither of those are present. What I do see is horse drawn carriages next to luxury black sedans that glisten under the sun; beautifully dressed people in their Senegalese garb crossing the street with those peddling on the street with stained ripped jeans. In this city one could also find sand everywhere frequently covering curbs and sidewalks and sometimes covering entire streets with busy traffic of taxis and buses. The French identity is not defined by Islamic faith and the faiths identity is not defined by the French language; however, in Senegal the blending of these two drive the culture here.
The stewardess on my flight to Dakar spoke French and Arabic and the Dakar airport was littered with signs in French. This is the first time in a country where I did not speak any of the languages and the incident in the Casablanca airport foreshadowed my relationship to French in this context. A woman walked up to me and asked me in French if the seat next to me was available. I tried to indicate yes, but the language barrier made it hard to make a clear point. Once, I made a gesture for her to sit. She clarified, “You don’t speak French, do you?” I replied no and that was the last word she spoke to me. The expectation of me speaking French has also been overwhelming. I was asked very bluntly from a receptionist why I don’t speak French. As well as a house helper being humorously frustrated that I did not speak French and slow to understand Wolof.
Learning this language of wider communication allowed me to understand it as musically driven. There is a staccato to the attack of a word and the lyrical melody to a sentence or phrase that assists with my learning of the national language. Despite the frustrations with language and the intense expectation of me, I am always put to ease with the presence of Teranga. This belief includes so much care for the well-being of a guest. This can be demonstrated by walking them out and to the road in which they are traveling, making sure they are not walking barefoot, or insisting they eat more to become full. As I spend more time in this environment I hope to learn more about Teranga and other places it is display. For example in the rural setting of Mouit. Ba Beneen (See you later)
– Javonni McGlaurin