Mosquitos and Smiling Faces

One of the natives of Senegal, the Baobab Tree

As the summer progresses, I draw nearer and nearer to the start of an exciting adventure, a semester in Senegal. I am beginning to scrape the surface of everything that I need to gather together, while wrapping my head around the concept of traveling to a country that I know next to nothing about. So, instead of deciding on which mosquito repellent to buy, I have decided to do some research on the culture of the Senegalese people, and what exactly I will be walking into in less then 2 months. The Senegalese culture is made up of traditions from various African tribes, the Islamic religion and old French colonial social structure. The two major languages are French and Wolof, the language of the major African culture presence, along with at least ten other more localized dialects and African Languages.

As I page through my travel guide, I notice the continued mention of a cultural concept “teranga”, which directly translates to “hospitality”. Senegal prides itself on being the “smiling coast”, and its people will go out of their way to make others feel at ease. This gives me hope that the culture will not immediately disown me because of my outsider status, but the rules of etiquette still have me worried. Etiquette in the sense of who to shake hands with and who not (Some higher status men refuse to shake hands with women), how to dress (dresses at mid-calf length or longer, conservative necklines and shoulders covered) , where I can go at certain hours (for women there are many limitations at night, not only for security but for cultural safety as well), and how I eat (I must always eat with my right hand, a difficulty¬†for a born and raised lefty). Upon discovering these cultural aspects, I am torn by excitement to be there and experience it all first hand, and fear that the clock is ticking, and I need to have my supplies and cultural know-how ready to go when I leave on September 3rd. For now, my first step is to search for conservative dresses ( a difficulty¬†with today’s American fashions) and research more cultural phenomena that I should alert myself to and begin eating all meals with my right hand.

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