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Published: October 22nd 2009
Louis Armstrong's song, "What a Wonderful World," says I see friends shaking hands, saying How do you do? but they're really saying I love you. When people get together here the hellos seem endless. They shake hands with all others at a bus stop. In a room full each new person shakes each hand and says "Ça va" (How you doin') 2, 3, 5 times. No medical report, just repeat. My take is that they are paying respects and show they take a moment for each one. People say hello ("Bonjour" or "Asalam aleikam") many shake hands, even kids with each other or to adults. My American self is refraining from thoughts of move on, already.
There is a lot more than just a time zone difference. There is a different time-mind-set. Maybe it is knowing that life is not really about the number of years that we spend on earth? Life is eternal; always was, always will be, what are a few minutes, days, or years. Some evidence of that is the school year. The opening date was Monday, Oct 5 but everyone knew it was a general target. It takes until November before it is fully in gear.
Hairstyles are varied. A very popular style is corn rows going into a ponytail, which is of purchased hair. Very young girls are as fancy as the women. Of course the obesity rate is tiny and shapely ladies are the majority. African dress, jeans, skirts all are fitted tightly to show their assets J. Head wraps are common, in the same or coordinated fabrics. Many wear shawls (over much more clothing than I find tolerable) and hats, caps for men.
My first meal here was at a Senegalese home, midday. Delicious rice, spicy condiments, fish, and pieces of meat. The next day's meal at a restaurant for locals was oily and I could not eat. No more such qualms. We've been eating at small places where there is a dish of the day (no menu). All have been very good.
Guidebooks said the custom was to eat with the hands, scooping up rice with meat, but (thank goodness!) everyone uses a tablespoon. When a group eats one large platter is given and each digs in. It's been rice pretty much every day, but with variety that includes lots of fish and goat or beef, well seasoned. One "sub sandwich" had meat, onions, tomatoes, and french fries, all in the bread. Juices are fresh and tasty; tea is served after meals. There are fewer cups than people, but they just pour more in the same cup when it is the next one's turn.
Senegal is certainly not affluent, but there is little major poverty. Food is excess at meals and leftovers given to animals. Even stray dogs look healthy. There is one group of beggar kids, called Talibe. They are dirty, underfed boys, usually 5 to 12 years old, using a plastic bowl to beg. One person I know carries little packets of food to give them. I want to do something similar. Some are orphans but many are given by their parents to be raised by a religious group. They do not really seem to receive any or much religious instruction. In asking and thanking for donations they mumble Koranic verses.
"Too much information?"
The heat has caused so much sweating that pee-ing seems to be reduced. All the better since most toilets are… non-Western. There are almost none with a US type bowl, never paper, and they use little water (usually by large cup or bucket). Others are a hole, with or without porcelain.
There are supposed to be screens on the windows, and in the room I am using one part does—so the bugs have to use the other half.
While I give an effort to avoid it, I know I get charged the price for a "toubab" . In Dakar signs for admissions to tourist areas were blatant. Foreigners 500 CFA (Central African Franc), Africans 250, Senegalese 100.
In this Muslim and traditional society men are polite to me, almost paternalistic and condescending. There is lots of lip service to gender equity yet I feel it is theory more than everyday situations. For once I was glad to play the gender card. When I went to look at several places to live, the best had common bathroom facilities, except one room with a private toilet, and the other 3 tenants are men. They are switching around to give me the privacy. It really feels more a cultural than gender importance to me, but I am the beneficiary now.
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