The Sunburn King

the story of a pale american in dakar, senegal for the semester. Ask me questions.

Culture Shock

So I’ve been back in America for something like 24 hours, but I’ve already had to experience some sorts of culture shock.  Here’s a list:

  1. I didn’t have to wash my underwear in the shower with me.  Weird.  But the water pressure almost hurt, it was so strong.
  2. I walked down the street and no cars honked at me.  There weren’t any horses and carriages anywhere in sight.  Also, residential streets are really wide here.
  3. I had to make my own breakfast AND wash my own dishes.
  4. They had exact change at the grocery store AND they accepted large ($20) bills.
  5. It is FREEZING here in Saint Louis (~75 degrees).
  6. Stores have really big parking lots.
  7. There is grass.  No sand in sight (except for the remnants on my shoes).
  8. No mosquito nets in my bedroom.
  9. Cars follow each other very far apart.
  10. Our pantry has SO MANY snacks and boutiques are SO NON-existent.

It’s so weird to be back.


So, in fewer than twelve hours, I’ll be starting my journey across the Atlantic. Consequently, I am extremely nostalgic and sad right now, so this post is going to be pretty sappy. I just wanted to put together a list of the things for which I am thankful before leaving. There are many things and people that I have really appreciated in this country, and so this list is far from exhaustive (aka if you’re not on it, it’s not because I didn’t like you).

  • I am thankful for my host brother, Papi. I don’t know how I could have survived this homestay without him, and I’m really going to miss him.
  • I am thankful for Caesar’s. Without my (sometimes daily) Granita Fraises, I’m not sure I could have survived this semester.
  • I am thankful for any meal when we did not eat rice or liver. While rice is okay, it was nice to switch it up.
  • I am thankful that the mouse has finally disappeared from our house.
  • I am thankful Cameron jumped that wall for me to let me in the house (and didn’t die).
  • I am thankful for a marvelous Spring Break.
  • I am thankful that it has been warm enough in Dakar to go to the beach since January.
  • I am SO thankful for the people I’ve met here and the new friends I’ve made. I’m going to miss everyone so much. It seems really overwhelming right now.
  • I am thankful for a semester of personal growth, cool stories, and even learning, one that I am so glad to have had.

It’s been a good semester. A great semester. I’m not really ready for it to end.

Ways My Study Abroad Experience is Not Like Yours…

Ok, so I think we all safely assumed that studying in Senegal would be pretty different from the traditional European experience, and definitely far removed from life at Vanderbilt.  In the style of Sarah Sagan, here are the top reasons my study abroad experience is just out of control (in no particular order):

  1. The Animals: Goats in the street.  Longhorns in on the sidewalk.  Dogs and cats everywhere.
  2. Having to carry diarrhea medicine at all times (just in case).
  3. Sleeping enshrouded in a white mosquito net (which I always struggle to escape in the morning).
  4. Having three maids clean your room and bathroom every day.
  5. Wishing you had your NorthFace coats when the temperature drops to 70…
  6. No Starbucks anywhere in the country.  Anywhere!
  7. Election Violence, as in being quarantined in your house because somewhere, the police are shooting protesters with rubber bullets and tear gas.  
  8. Super cheap mangoes everywhere.
  9. Thursday Ouakam Market Days = digging shirts out of piles that cost less than $3
  10. Drinking water out of plastic bags (cheaper than bottles).

But here are a couple ways it’s probably just likes yours:

  1. Never understanding anyone (what is with all these languages, Senegal?).
  2. Not studying at all except for at the end of the semester when suddenly school becomes real.
  3. Occasionally missing America.
  4. Learning all about a new culture.
  5. Meeting a group of incredible people.

Senegal, I’m really going to miss you.

Doudou’s little tailor shop.
I’m going to miss this place.

My Favorite Things 6


Or more specifically, Doudou the tailor.

See, fabric in Dakar is wild and very inexpensive.  Custom made clothes are even cheaper.  So, people in the program have this fantastic habit of buying awesome Senegalese prints (and some tamer American styles) and having clothes custom made!  The girls are all about dresses, funky pants, and skirts, while a couple of us guys have gotten shirts custom made.  That group of guys includes me, which is shocking, I know.  

Anyways, Doudou lives a couple of minutes from my house and is super friendly and sweet.  In general, he does a great job, and is pretty good with alterations as well.  I love just stopping by his shop to admire what he’s doing next.

General Prices

  • For a button-down shirt: $6 fabric + $6 tailoring = $12
  • For shorts: $4 fabric + $6 tailoring = $10
  • For dresses (this varies based on fancy-ness): $6-8 fabric + $6-10 tailoring = $12 - 18 

My Favorite Things 5


Teranga is a Senegalese concept of generosity.  It means cooking more food than necessary for lunch, in case someone else drops by.  It means always welcoming people into your homes and trying to make them as comfortable as possible.  It means sharing what you have with everyone around you.

The idea is centered around travel.  The Senegalese people are very generous with strangers, because they feel that if their children are ever in a strange part of the country (or world), they hope that they will be treated in the same way.  It’s sort of a way of banking good deed for future withdrawals.  

In my life, teranga has meant showing up to a waterfall only to have random Senegalese people give us lunch and juice.  It has meant being openly welcomed into people’s homes and always asked to stay for a meal.  It has meant that I am always welcome to invite people to the house.  Teranga is a wonderful concept, and it’s one I wish was more present in the US.  Hopefully I’ve learned something from it that I can apply in a few days when I return home.

Things the Senegalese Don’t Do 5


I’m sort of kidding.  A large proportion of the population (including my entire host family) practices monogamy.  However, polygamy is not out-of-bounds or even really that abnormal.

See, under Senegalese law, when a man marries his first wife, they must choose whether the marriage is monogamous or polygamous.  You can’t ever change from monogamous to polygamous, but you can subtract wives if desired.  A polygamous man is permitted up to four wives.

Several people in our program live with 2nd, 3rd or even 4th wives.  In Dakar, each wife tends to have her own house, and works at least a little to support herself and her children.  In the villages, everyone lives together in the same compound - BUT each woman gets her own room.

Many people argue that this system is degrading to women and should be abolished.  However, more and more educated women are turning to polygamy, simply because they become more autonomous and independent.  Their husbands are only around a few days a week - at most - so they can live as they like.

Ultimately, polygamy vs monogamy is an interesting concept to think about.  It’s just another example of the differences between American and Senegalese cultures.

Images of a Daara

Visit to a Daara

With my Education class, we have been visiting a number of different kinds of schools.  One of our most recent visits was to a Daara, or a Koranic school.

Daaras are actually fairly controversial in Senegal.  The students, young boys, live there and only study and memorize the Koran.  They live under a Marabout, a Koranic teacher.  These students are called taalibe.  

A major component of their education is learning humility.  For this reason, the students are required to go out onto the streets everyday, begging for money to support the Marabout and the Daara.  At this particular Daara, the taalibe were also required to beg for their own food, which they would all share.  

It is this reason, and the lack of education in core subject areas, that the Daaras are controversial.  The Marabouts and parents of taalibe believe that a life should center around Islam, and thus believe strongly in the Daaras.  However, others view them as highly exploitative.  

Ultimately, it’s very hard to come into a society and try to judge what is good and what is not, particularly for me.  Daaras seem like somewhere I would not want my own children to go, but if Senegalese parents are actively choosing these, then I have resignations about calling for them to close.  As usual, the culture here is fascinating and very different from my own.  

Kimmy and Nicole intensely working on their mousse while making ataaya in French class.