“Asalaam maalekum” is a greeting in Wolof (and other related languages). The response is “Maalekum salaam”. Wolof is the language spoken by a majority of Senegalese people. Greetings in Senegal are one of the most important aspects of the culture. They express a respect for those around you. Most greetings start with a hearty handshake and then go on for several minutes. How is your mother? How is your grandson? How are your cattle? The greeting differs across the country and by age, sex, or religion. More conservative Muslims do not shake hands but clasp their hands and pump them at you in greeting. It is aggressive to look people in the eye, even during conversations–something I will need to keep reminding myself of.
We have classes between 8 to 6-7 pm. So far we’ve had lots of culture classes about food, drink, etiquette, dress, religion, latrine use. They have delicious foods here. We’ve been eating amazing lunches of rice with some sort of meat and roasted veggies. Meals are eaten around a huge communal bowl on top of a mat. No shoes on the mat. There is typically rice or millet with meat/veggies in the middle. There are leaf, okra, peanut, tomato, palm oil, and onion sauces that are poured on top. You eat with either a spoon or with your RIGHT hand, directly eating out of your portion of the bowl. You only eat what is in front of you and should ask before taking pieces from other parts of the bowls. In Senegal, you do most things with your right hand. It is polite to slurp when drinking tea. People do not talk at dinner but concentrate on the meal. Conversation is saved for tea time. I have tasted cola nuts, tamarin juice, baobab fruit.
They use toothsticks to clean their teeth (better than toothbrushes we hear), incense and bim-bims (necklaces) to attract their lovers, sap from gum arabics as laundry soap. Dress is very important in Senegal. In America it expresses individuality. In Senegal, dressing sloppily is disrespectful and reflects your opinion of those around you. The people here are dressed beautifully, even on their way to work in the fields. Beautiful fabrics throughout the market that are taken to the tailor to make outfits.
Islam is practiced here by about 90% of the population. From our training center we hear prayer early at dawn until dusk. The only time when greetings are not welcomed is during prayer.
Our entire Peace Corps Trainee group was anxious about the use of the latrine. But we’ve learned the basics of douching. You squat, use a “poop” kettle of a cup of water to rinse, and use the left hand to wipe. In reality it is much cleaner and environmentally-friendly. I had to tell!
We have also begun training in gardening and tree-planting. We were able to explore Thies for the first time yesterday. There is much to tell, but I’ll save that for another time. After this comes our homestay (beginning on Tuesday night) in a nearby village. Paul and I will be learning Pulaar. We were told that our actual service site will be more urban in a very beautiful area of Senegal with lots of wildlife. Most Pulaar-speaking areas are up North, but we will see at the end of training where we truly end up.
For the most part, Paul and I are really enjoying our time here. The teachers here are all so knowledgable. They are patient teachers with wonderful senses of humor. It is funny to the Senegalese to say things like “You know nothing,” “You cannot say anything,” “Your tongue and ears must be broken.” This phrase will be repeated to me over and over again in the next 8 weeks.
Baa beneen yoon. A bientot. See you later.