Please note that the opinions reflected on this blog are solely MY opinion. They do not reflect the Peace Corps or the US Government in any way.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Always talk to strangers

It’s been a while since my last post and not a lot has really changed. I’m still doing my best each day to integrate into my village. This means fumbling through the language and just trying to find my place here in Senegal. Along the way I’m learning more and more, not only about the Senegalese way of life but also about myself. Some of the things I am learning go against those fundamental rules that we are taught growing up. For example, the title of this particular post goes against one of the first things we are told as children which is to never talk to strangers. Here, not talking to strangers is definitely a major faux pas. It’s considered impolite if you are walking down the street and you don’t greet each person that you pass by. This rule stands whether you know the person or not. You might think this would apply only in your village or town that you live but it’s also when you travel. When traveling it’s important to make friends with the other passengers in case you need them to have your back for one reason or another. I could and probably will one day devote an entire blog just to transportation in this country so that’s all I’ll say on that for now. Along the lines of behavior towards strangers; we were also taught to never take candy from a stranger. When eating here in Senegal it’s thought of as rude to not offer some to those around you. This can even include those complete strangers you happen to be traveling with. Although, if you followed rule one, they won’t be strangers anymore!

Another piece of advice (and common sense) given to us as children is to always look both ways before crossing the street. This is good but here it’s also important that you look behind you, in front and sometimes even above. You never know where the next stray animal or horse-drawn buggy is going to come from. Aside from those basic do’s and don’ts we are also usually told how to behave when eating or drinking. You know, things such as always chew with your mouth closed, don’t slurp when drinking, and don’t eat with your hands. Those forms of food etiquette are definitely not important here. In fact, here slurping your tea is the way it’s done so, slurp away!  Basically, if there’s not at least one person sitting next to you at the communal bowl (yeah, you all eat around the same bowl, sometimes up to 10 people) eating with their hands and spitting fish bones on the ground next to you; then you just aren’t in Senegal!

Those first rules are mostly fun parts of this culture that I have adapted more or less easily to. Then there are the things that are harder to tackle. I’ll tell you one thing; it’s not easy living in Senegal. It’s even less easy to be a young, foreign female living in Senegal. I’ve been having a hard time lately figuring out my place here in Senegal. I am here to work, this is true. But, the work women are typically expected to do here is very different from what I am trying to accomplish. Women in Senegal work very, very hard. They spend hours cleaning, preparing meals, taking care of the children, and taking care of the men. I’m not saying women in the states don’t do this as well but there’s something different about it here. They have no other choice. If a woman here was ever to ask a man to maybe help with the dishes after she just spent 3 hours preparing the midday meal bent over a hot coal fire; that wouldn’t go over well. I’m also not saying that the men don’t work hard. They work very hard. It just seems so much less balanced here. Men here legitimately don’t believe me when I tell them that men in America often help prepare meals, clean and spend time taking care of the kids. I try to explain that men and women are seen more as equals in America and help each other out. This is just not a concept they are comfortable with although that is slowly changing. With a new generation of Senegalese women chasing after jobs that were traditionally male dominated and going to college, things are becoming more equal. In the meantime though here I am; trying to find a balance between being taken seriously as an educated woman who knows what she’s talking about (hopefully) and also just simply being a woman in Senegal. I think I’ll get there, after all part of my job is to assimilate into this culture as well as share my own.

Until next time then,


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