Yow, foo jòge? – City vs. Village

Weekly Post

Asalaa Maalekum, everyone! I heard the weather in Portland this weekend was almost the same as in Dakar – I hope everyone got to soak up that vitamin D on your three-day trip!

Yow, foo jòge (pronounced ‘yahw, fo jo-gay’) means where are you from? in Wolof; a common question to hear within the first five minutes of meeting someone. This week I want to talk about the differences between what it’s like to live in the big city, Dakar, in comparison to a small rural village. One of you asked me during the Skype date, “I mean.. what does it even look like, over there?” I can’t wait to show you!

Hometowns, Names, and Ethnicities: 

In Senegal, there are over 20 different ethnic groups that each have their own specific language. The average person in Senegal speaks around three different languages! In Dakar, almost everyone speaks Wolof, but Wolof is actually specific to the Wolof people. The most populous ethnic groups are Wolof, Serer, Pulaar (including the Peul, the Toucouleurs, and the Pula Futa), Jola, Mandinka, and Soninke. Asking about where you come from and what your last name is is important to people here, because it can generally determine which ethnic group you are from. Senegalese folks tend to be very proud of their ethnic group, and like to talk about the stereotypes associated with their people. My family’s last name is Sarr, and we are Serer – when people ask my name I give them my Senegalese name, Awa Sarr, and am immediately recognized as being Serer. Serer are known for being friends with everyone, for being extremely loyal, and for eating too much couscous!

In the big city: MERMOZ, DAKAR

Though a lot of things are different about Dakar, a lot of things are fairly similar to any other big city. Dakar is very diverse, with every type of ethnic group represented (though Wolof is majority) as well as a large population of foreigners, like me. What do you notice about the way things look? What is similar or different from Portland?


My little sister, Ayou, accompanying me back from a trip to the boutik.


‘Dibiteries’ are little shops that sell meat. This one, right down the street from me, has deliciously greasy chicken sandwiches.


Bar Mermoz, a local hotspot for a plate of Yassa Poulet and a cold beer.


Dakar is littered with little ‘Salon de Coiffeurs’, or barber shops.


Goin’ deep down South: TEYEL, KOLDA

In February, I spent a week in the far South of Senegal with a volunteer for the Peace Corps in her village of Teyel. In Teyel there is no running water, no electricity, and it is VERY very hot. Though a few people spoke Wolof, the ethnic group in this part of Senegal is Pulaar, and they speak a branch of Pulaar called Fulakunda. For those of you who remember my last post well, I had to take two sept places, a minibus, and then hitch-hike in a car to get to Teyel with my Peace Corps volunteer!  What do you immediately notice as being different from your pictures and expectations of Dakar?


A typical hut, loungin’ in the shade of a giant mango tre


Me and the big mama baobab!!


Having ataya (tea) and giggling fits at the neighbor’s hut.


This tiny bottomless pit, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a wanag – or ‘the toilet’.

In Dakar, I spend my days taking taxis and busses to the nearest cafe with wifi to do homework, lounging on the beach with friends, and hanging out with my family at home. In the Teyel, it was so hot that most people spend hours simply sitting in the shade, doing nothing but enjoying each other’s company. Though they are such different places, I had an amazing time during my stay in Teyel.

Questions for this week’s post:

  • Which do you think is a more accurate representation of the majority of Senegal: Dakar, or Teyel?
  • How much money do you think the average Dakar citizen makes per day? How much do you think for Teyel?
  • When you close your eyes and think of ‘Africa’, which set of photos is closest to what you imagine? Why do you think that is?
  • How does the way that Senegalese people talk about and identify with ethnic groups compare to how you talk about different races and cultures at home in Portland?

Whew, those are some pretty big questions! I can’t wait to hear what your thoughts are. Feel free to add any comment or question you think is relevant!

Ba ci kanam, insh’allah! 

– Rheanna



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