12 things you can only do in Senegal

12 things you can only do in Senegal
By Emily Johnson
April 30, 2015
  1. Call the U.S. “Amerik.” People will not understand – and will probably look pityingly at you – since you clearly can't speak properly.
  2. Burp loudly in public. This is rampant in Senegal and is not at all considered rude; in fact, it’s quite commonplace. If you have to burp, you burp – even if it’s in the middle of a sentence. You do what you have to do and continue talking, and no one will comment on it.
  3. Show up to a meeting an hour late and find it hasn’t started yet. Punctuality is definitely not a thing here. While this can be incredibly frustrating at times, it’s also nice to know you’re never really expected to be exactly on time; when you're running 30 minutes late, chances are everyone else is too.
  4. Answer the phone whenever it rings, regardless of what you’re currently doing. When I say whenever, I really mean whenever. As in, even if you’re in a meeting. Even if you’re the one running the meeting. Even if you’re in the middle of a conversation with someone who’s actually physically in front of you.
  5. Pick up and walk away with other people’s children. A regular occurrence in Senegal – it’s definitely an “it takes a village” culture – but something that would almost certainly land you in jail in Amerik.
  6. Knock on a random person’s door to ask them to feed and house you for the night. I can personally attest to the strength of Senegal’s famous teranga, or hospitality. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve shown up in a village where I knew no one and been offered food and a place to sleep, I’d actually have a good chunk of change. The culture here is one of complete openness, kindness and trust in strangers, and it’s really beautiful. It’s also one of the things that Senegalese people can’t believe doesn’t exist in the States; I’ve had to dash the hopes of many Senegalese people who thought they’d be able to show up anywhere in Amerik and ask the first person they see to let them crash.
  7. Call people just to greet them. “Hello, how are you? How’s the family? How’s work? Everything’s good there? And your mom and dad, they’re good? How’s your girlfriend/boyfriend/significant other/pet? And you’re good? You’re doing okay? Okay, wonderful, I’m so glad to hear it. I just called to greet you. Talk to you soon!” Nope, definitely not a thing in Amerik.
  8. Hitchhike. It’s one of the major ways people get anywhere in Senegal, but it’s generally frowned upon in the States.
  9. Tell people you’ve literally just met that you love them and/or want to marry them. My community is continually amazed that courtships leading to marriages in Amerik can take as long as several years. They also refuse to believe that in American society it is, by and large, unacceptable to tell someone you love them within five minutes of meeting them (“But what if you do love them? It can happen, Djeneba!”).
  10. Eat and serve all food with your hands. I’m not talking about just sandwiches, French fries, pizza and chicken wings. Think spaghetti, rice, cooked vegetables, pieces of fish and literally anything and everything that you could possibly eat.
  11. Get super excited anytime you meet someone with the same name as you. Mini-celebrations whenever you meet a fellow Emily are, sadly, not a thing.
  12. Immediately connect with and, more likely than not, get offers of tea and dinner when you meet someone who shares your last name or is from your village. Senegal is incredibly family- and community-oriented, and this is one of the many ways that manifests itself. It’s a beautiful tradition, and one that I wish was present in the States.

Emily Johnson

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