Category Archives: Senegal

6 Normal Things From Life Abroad

When you move to a different country you become immune to many “normal things” that at first you thought were weird. Here are some *prizes* for my favorite normal things from life abroad:

1. Dirty streets, dirty feet [Bolivia]
Yes, you can get used to your feet being constantly caked in dust. In fact, in some places you really don’t have a choice.
In Senegal my host mother always insisted I wash my feet to avoid microbes “getting me,” but after spending 8 hours a day like this, I bet the microbes still “got me.” Bolivia wins the prize on this though, because nobody there ever suggested I wash my feet.

2. Street animals [Turkey]
Saint LouisChat de GoréeIMG_4794In some places it’s goats and sheep, in others its dogs.
Some have homes, others are wild.

At first you take pictures and ask what’s being done for them, but eventually you get used to their presence.

Turkey takes the prize because of its cats… they are literally everywhere.


3. One potato. Two carrots. [Spain]

I remember being very taken aback the first time I realized that I could buy only the singular fruits and veggies that I needed.


When I lived in Spain I had a fruit store on the corner, a bakery down the street and a small grocery store that saved all the weird-shaped tomatoes, like this one, just for me.

4. No silverware. Just your hand. [Senegal]

Eating with the hand


I cannot stress how much I LOVE eating with my hand.

It gives you intimacy and connection with your food.

Senegal wins the prize for teaching me to do it right. Even though I only lived in Senegal for 5 months, I still use my hand for rice dishes when I’m home alone.

5. Poor translations. [Czech Republic]

Brno - Mendel MuseumIMG_6217

Every non-English speaking country gets credit for this one, but the Czech Republic wins this prize.  I’ve seen many botched restaurant menus, but the Czech apparently dared to translate poetry at Gregor Mendel’s garden in Brno.

That said, the “30 Second Dispel Horniness” L’Oréal cream is my all-time favorite find. I found it in Turkey but since there was no Turkish on the packaging, it can’t qualify the country for a win.

6. Explaining Arkansas. [Wikipedia]

No matter where I go I always have to explain something about my state. That’s especially true when I gawk at funny-shaped tomatoes or my roommate comes home and I’m eating dinner with my hand.
What is life like in Arkansas? Thankfully, Wikipedia has always been there to help me find the words:







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Illicit Nail Polish

My little host sister Aicha loves to draw.
She doodles, she sketches, and, above all, she really love nail polish.

This is a problem because nail polish not approved of by the Koran. At least according to her Koran teacher.

The day after my 12-year-old sister Aicha asked to paint her nails with me, her Koran teacher informed her that nail polish is bad– especially on the toes. Apparently it is expressly forbidden on the toes and not as bad (though certainly not approved of either) on the hands. So that night, Aicha went in the shower and scrubbed the brand new polish off her toes with a rough sponge.

Later, I found two pictures she drew of decorated hands (with nail polish).
The top of the first one says (in French):

“Nails not well accepted by the Muslim religion” 

and the top of the second one says:

“Even if certain people don’t like it, I love it!”

The best solution to being able to decorate her body without getting into trouble is to use henna.

Henna is a natural plant, with color varying between yellow-orange-dark orange (practically black). There aren’t any other color choices, and the color is dependent on the quality of the henna, the best henna dying the darkest.

Aicha told me (though no other sources confirm this and my Professor for the History of Islam claimed it was outright incorrect) that if you die with henna on your hands then you will go straight to heaven.
“Which is why older women like my grandmother tend to do henna a lot…they know they might die soon.”

When I asked Aicha why she didn’t do henna more often, she told me that young people don’t really like it because it’s not a very pretty color. She would probably do it more often if the henna was pink! But the only way to get pink is to use nail polish, and, of course, she can’t do that.

Aicha also likes to design clothing – both on paper and with fabrics scraps that she sews together for Maymona, a once stuffed dog now converted into … well I guess she’s a BIT more humanlike?

Maymona, by the way, is in love with Mahmoud. Mahmoud is my miniature stuffed black cat, about the size of a beanie baby. So last time the two of them got together, they made traditional Senegalese outfits.

But something else was worrying me about Aicha: she always draws on lined paper.

As the daughter of two artists, I think it’s important for kids to draw and be encouraged to express themselves through art. To do so, it’s important to have the right materials. Lined paper and an everyday yellow pencil #2 doesn’t cut it. So I decided to fix the problem. I went to the bookstore, bought a pad of big, white drawing paper, and a couple of graded hardness pencils, gave them to her and, to make it less of a gift (we were told that our host families would frown upon gifts if we didn’t approve them with our host mothers first), I asked her to make an image for my blog. This is what she drew:
Conclusion: a great image for my blog, and a happy little sister!


My Grandpa was Polygamist: Polygamy in Senegal

The tradition of polygamy in Senegal is quite interesting.

Yes, polygamy actually does exist!

When I asked my host mom about it, she told me:

“Well, I come from a polygamist family, and it worked just fine for us!”

It turns out grandpa had 4 wives. The woman I know as grandma (or yaay in Wolof) is wife #2.

With a lot of openness and sharing, they made it work out. It was one big happy family, and she considered her half brothers and sisters as true siblings who all shared 4 mothers.

My mom conceded that for many families it seems to cause a lot of problems. But that could be because they get into it for the wrong reason.
Wrong reasons might include:

  1. Finding another “better” woman and not wanting to divorce the first
  2. Taking another wife as a show of wealth
  3. Umm, etc.

“One man I knew,”

she told me,

“decided to take a second wife because he told me that he just need to make love all the time. He still loved and had a great relationship with his first wife, he just needed another woman to be completely satisfied.”

Apparently it worked out for him, too.

[Cover photo: Women in part of a women’s group searching to better their community in rural Senegal.]