Senegal Reflections: Tin-Roofed Shacks, Maseratis, Mansions, Yummy Mafe & More….

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We’ve been in Senegal for one year but even 365 days in, when people ask me “What’s Senegal like?” I have trouble answering. Senegal is a land of contradictions. A place of kindness and dirt, Maseratis and poverty, mansions and tin-roofed shacks. I still don’t know how to describe it. Nevertheless, here’s a smattering of knowledge bits I’ve acquired after year one.

Things I’ve Learned in Senegal”

The white girl running is an anomaly. She will receive as many words of encouragement and cat-calls as possible.

The Senegalese are creatures of habit. I teased one of my friends about eating the same thing for lunch every day and asked what he’d do in America, with cheap lunch options galore. He didn’t hesitate before answering, telling me he’d try a few places, pick one he liked, and eat there every day until…ever.

When in a foreign country and culture, one should say yes as much as possible. It’s how you end up with fun stories that include piling 500 pounds of grass in your car and eating random yassa poisson in the mailroom at work (we did that yesterday).

When prepared well, mafe (stewed meat with a dark, peanut-based sauce, served over rice) is the greatest food known to man.

Be wary of someone with one long pinky nail. Why, you ask? Because toilet paper isn’t really a “thing” for most Senegalese people, so some find unique ways of…how do we say it? Wiping? Scraping? Yes.

Toni Braxton, Rihanna, and Phil Collins are popular music artists in Senegal.

Senegal, while modern compared to many other African nations, is still a bit backward. During the February presidential elections, one village had the bright idea to sacrifice an albino person. Luckily, he escaped before anything happened. WTF, Senegal? WTF.

“Tampon” means “stamp” in French. Not, you know, tampon-tampon.

If you live here, your dogs will inevitably get a mango worm or two. And you will squeeze the worm out, like a living zit. And it will be disgusting, yet oddly satisfying.

The car horn is a powerful, powerful tool for luring in potential taxicab customers. Or you’d think so, anyway, from how frequently said horns are used.

Contrary to my thoughts when first moving here, I will not, in fact, die if I see a cockroach in my house.

There are no driving lanes, only spaces that are either big enough or not big enough for a car to squeeze through. Think it’s the latter? Try anyway.

It can get cold in Africa. Should not have put nearly all my sweatshirts in storage.

One final thing: I’ve learned – or reaffirmed – I made the right choice by moving abroad. I love my life and I love Senegal, and I’ll do my best to fall equally in love with the next country we move to one year from now. I have the perfect balance of creature comforts and adventure and there isn’t a day I’m not grateful for this opportunity.

Ok, enough of the sap. One all-important question remains: After a year here, am I now officially more Senegalese than Akon?


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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