The people of Senegal are known for their genuine hospitality, or teranga in Wolof. I got my first taste of true teranga this week, after I moved in with my host family on Tuesday. When I first walked in the door, my host mother descended down the stairs and immediately exclaimed, "ah, ma fille!", which means "my daughter!" in French. I would soon become aware of the openness, sharing, and friendliness that is inherent to Senegalese society.
Greetings here are very important. It is a necessary sign of respect to extensively greet friends and family, and even strangers or vendors on the street before "getting down to business." I feel as if I truly identify with this sentiment, as it places value on the personal interaction between people instead of limiting the interaction to what you may want or need. Merely saying hello is not sufficient, but instead questions about the day or family members are a common occurrence. This really promotes the caring and hospitable nature of the country and the people here.
In addition to the importance placed on greeting, sharing is another societal value. For dinner, my family always eats together out of one large bowl, instead of using individual plates. Everything is shared, from clothing to food, and the idea of a "free gift" is common. This also relates to one of the tenants of Islam, of which more than 90% of the country practices, of giving alms to the poor. However, this presents a sort of a paradox for me, in the sense of the eternal gap that exists between rich and poor, especially in Dakar. There are people living in abject poverty, on less than one dollar a day, and others that live in large houses with electricity and running water. There are newly built houses next to piles of trash. Children begging in the streets outside of fancy, Western-style restaurants. It is so hard to reconcile this unfairness.
Despite the harshness of life, the people here seem to be full of energy and optimism. The streets (les rues) are always bustling with life, filled with women dressed in brightly colored clothing and men selling their wares, from phone cards to electronics to mangoes. Family and tradition play very important roles in life. I was talking to a friend of my host brother the other day, and when I told him that I barely knew my neighbors, he was shocked. Here, the household is fluid, with people always entering and exiting, stopping by to say hello. Community plays an extremely important role, where as in the United States individualism rules the day.
I'll get more pictures up soon!