4 Frustrating Things About Living in Senegal

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I like my life about 99 percent of the time. But sometimes I worry I give stumblers upon my blog who are soon to live in or visit Dakar the wrong impression with my glittery unicorn of a blog. There are things that suck, just like anywhere. (Although I do occasionally commute to work on a rainbow and gumdrops fall from the sky each weekend.)

Complaining is difficult for me, because we want for nothing and big glasses of white wine don’t taste great when you’re living a privileged life in a third-world country. But here’s a shot at some things I don’t like about Senegal (oh, this is painful…):

1. No personal space on sidewalks
Josh asked me for my number-one complaint about Senegal and I said this. See that pretty sidewalk up there? If one was, say, huffing through an evening jog on said sidewalk and there was but one person heading the opposite way, they’d somehow manage to take up the whole damn thing. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to jump off the curb into the street to continue running, crash partway through the foliage, or turn sideways to squeeze past someone. There is no concept of “scooching over” in Senegal, even when a lumbering, tired runner is heading straight toward your face.

2. “Oh, you’re fatter!”
In Senegal, it’s a good thing for a woman to beef up. Girl, if you thick, you healthy. But that’s obviously not the mindset for many Western women. Just yesterday, my best Senegalese friend happily told me that, roughly translated, I’d “enhanced my weight a little” since the first time he saw me. Now, that may very well be true, because I’ve managed to put on about 7 pounds since we moved here, what with all the weekend beverages and palm oil-covered plates of ceebu jen. My girlfriends have experienced similar incidents. I explained to my pal that he should never say something like to an American girl. Ever. Unless he’s not all that fond of his man parts, that is.

3. The street vendors
Most of the time, the guys hawking various crap on the streets – everything from Phil Collins CDs to brooms to remote controls – are ok. Ignore them or say no, and they go away. A few, though, are relentless. When I reallyreallyreally don’t want to buy a random watch but the sales pitch gets forceful, it bugs me.

4.  There are no visas in my pocket
I’ve only had this happen to me with one person in Senegal, but it perturbed me enough to write about it. A man at the grocery store has approached me on two separate occasions to ask me to take him to America with me. I explained it’s not that easy – he needs an immediate family member who’s a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident to petition for him, or to study there, or to get an employer sponsor. He’s not convinced, though, and thinks I can just “invite” him there because I’m a U.S. citizen. I explained it doesn’t work like that, not even for a tourist visa for a Senegalese citizen. He started to get a bit upset with me, as if I were lying to him, and held my arm and wouldn’t let me leave the store.

It makes me sad someone is that desperate to go to the United States and leave their home country. Regardless, I can’t take you with me, grocery-store man. I jokingly suggested we get married, since that’d be one of the easiest ways for him to immigrate. He grabbed my hand and immediately said yes.

A fall wedding sounds lovely.

(By the by, lots of expats here complain about the trash. There’s no public trash service and people litter – a lot. If you’re coming here, expect it. It doesn’t bother me, so it’s not on my bitch-and-moan list. Perhaps because I tend toward slovenliness myself. )

Rachael Cullins
Rachael Cullins is a twentysomething American girl living in Dakar, Senegal, with her husband and two dogs. She blogs about her adventures in Senegal and travels elsewhere in West Africa. She will reside in Dakar until summer 2013, when she and her family will move to another foreign post as part of her husband's career with the U.S. government. In addition to West Africa, she has traveled to France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Italy and Costa Rica and plans to continually add to that list.
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One Response to 4 Frustrating Things About Living in Senegal

  1. Charlotte June 27, 2012 at 5:29 am #

    I’ve been reading through your posts – your life there sounds amazing! I’m glad to see that these three are the worst things about your life there.

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