Letter Home from Dakar, Senegal

A Letter Home from the Fall 2014 Cities in the 21st Century Track 2 Students:

Nanga def from Senegal— hello from Senegal!

The past month has been an entirely different experience from our time in Buenos Aires, Argentina. From weather to home stays, we had a month full of sunshine and new experiences. We’re grateful for Waly and Marianne, our country coordinators, for designing this dynamic program that enabled us to experience all that Senegal has to offer. Thanks to the program, we visited such places as Goree Island, where we learned about the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade and Keur Moussa, a village outside the city where conducted our case studies on gender, food, and health.

On Neighborhood Day, one group of six students visited the neighborhood of Plateau. The neighborhood, which used to be the French colonial center, is now a place of business, markets, and government buildings. One moment that stuck with some of us was when at Sandaga Market, a market vendor named Ibrahim said that he understood what we were doing in studying the market, because people came and studied the markets all the time. He also noted that no one sends their finished study with him or the others in the market. This moment caused reflection on our positionality as students and who and what we study. Who do we study for and why? The group ultimately obtained Ibrahim’s e-mail and told him we would tell him our findings on the neighborhood.

Much like the activity surrounding the markets and the services we inter acted with, we learned about and experienced what may be considered as an informal economy. This type of economy manifests itself all around the city with about 60% of the population participating in it. We can see it in the bargaining of our cab fares, to the people selling bissap pops, bags of water and cashews and to the multiple tailors we consulted to craft our colorful fabrics into beautiful clothing. While we were quick to call all services were were not used to as informal, we learned from lectures and discussions how the definition of informality can be challenged and does not imply disorganization or chaos. The system we see in Dakar works for Dakar and speaks to the force of globalization from below.

Upon meeting our new home-stays, we realized that we would be in for a big change in this country. In Buenos Aires, many home stays included only host grandmothers while in Dakar we were greeted by large families spanning multiple generations. This was not the only difference though. Many daily activities within the homes varied as well. Our breakfasts switched from dulce de leche on bread to chocolate on bread. Most all other meals were eaten communally and often with our hands! Although some of us were nervous at first to jump right into meals with our hands, our host parents were very encouraging and cheered when we finally did. They were also very supportive in our journey to navigate the language. We quickly found out that many residents prefer to speak Wolof which we only had limited classes in. When we did attempt to communicate in Wolof, though, they were very joyous.

Jerejef ci seen teranga, Senegal— thank you for your hospitality! Until next time! Ahmedabad, here we come.


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