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:
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).
It’s been a good semester. A great semester. I’m not really ready for it to end.
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):
But here are a couple ways it’s probably just likes yours:
Senegal, I’m really going to miss you.
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.
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.
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.
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.