Jërëjëf samay xarit!

Weekly Post


Asalaa Maalekum! It’s likely that Mrs. Blackwell’s class will not see this post, as their school year ends tomorrow. But DANG, what a sweet and goofy group of kids! We started off our final celebration by learning how to say Hello (Asalaa maalekum; maalekum salaam!) and How are you? I’m doing well! (Nanga def? Maangi fii rekk!) in Arabic and Wolof. We listened to some Youssou N’Dour, passed around some goodies I brought back to Dakar (including wax fabric, a hand-woven box, jewelry, bin-bins, and glass paintings), and talked about some of the highlights of my time in Senegal. There were many good questions, from the kiddos as well as Mrs. Blackwell! I felt welcomed from the moment I stepped into the classroom, seeing the smiles break out across the students’ faces. “It’s Rheanna, she’s here!”

As a parting gift, I left the kids each with a plastic bracelet wrapped in wax fabric and a sothiou (pardon, I’m not sure of the Wolof phonetic spelling), a Senegalese toothbrush made of a particular kind wood that is supposed to be chewed and scrubbed against the teeth. They wanted to use them as magic wands, which was to be expected, and we parted on a high note as the class ran outside for afternoon recess to show their friends the goodies and feed off that end-of-the-year energy that seems to be universal in the elementary school experience.

My experience in Senegal felt heightened throughout the 4 1/2 months I was there when the thought constantly streaming through my head was, “I can’t wait to tell my class about this!” It gave me a lens to view my experiences through that encouraged me to pay closer attention to my surroundings, remember conversations I had with people, take photos of things I may have ordinarily passed by. I looked forward to the questions from Mrs. Blackwell’s class each week, as sometimes they, too, added a perspective to my experience that I would not have considered before. The brash curiosity that comes from kids is an untapped resource for discovering new angles, ideas, pathways to things we wouldn’t necessarily consider as adults.

Jërëjëf, samay xarit – Thank you, my friends. This semester would not have been the same without you. I hope I’ll be reading about your own adventures soon enough.

Ba beneen yoon, insh’allah – until next time, God willing.

Much love, 



Ba beneen yoon, insh’allah

Weekly Post


Asalaa Maalekum, everyone! As you know, I left Senegal two weeks ago, but this is my final blog post until our in-class celebration (!!!). I wanted to spend this week’s post reflecting on my semester as a whole, as a sort of goodbye to Senegal and Dakar. The first part of this post will be a longer piece of writing, and I’ll use the rest of the post to share some of my favorite photos from the last 5 months.

The day I left Dakar, I spent an hour doing a meditative reflection at my favorite spot overlooking the ocean. After sitting and thinking quietly to myself for the full 60 minutes, I focused my energy towards writing down what I thought would have a lasting impact on me once I return to the States. I don’t believe that one’s life has to be ‘changed’ for better or for worse after visiting another country, but I do believe that we are impacted and also impact upon the places we visit, regardless of how long we are there or what we are doing. Here are a few things from that list:

  1. Aesthetics. Beauty is an incredibly subjective thing – this means that what we as people decide is ‘beautiful’ is not only based on personal preference, but is also very affected by what we are taught to see as having value from things like our parents, the media (TV, advertisements, magazines), and the culture we live in. Some Senegalese ideals of what is considered beautiful, valuable, and desirable are different from those of what we might typically see in Oregon. Living in a culture where my skin tone, clothing, hair, mannerisms, and general way of living in the world are often different from those of the people around me helped me to have a wider perspective than what I have been taught to see as being ‘beautiful’.
  2. Patience. Senegalese culture, much like many other cultures around the world (e.g. Spain, where I currently am typing this), generally has a different concept of time than most places do in the U.S. What we might consider to be ‘late’, i.e. 15 to 30 minutes late, would not necessarily merit an apology in Dakar. This is not better or worse than cultures that generally stick to a tighter time schedule, but it is an adjustment for someone who is used to things happening on time. The time difference mixed with the struggle of speaking different languages, not knowing the transport systems well, and other unforeseen mishaps could turn what would be a half-hour meeting in Portland into a full-day affair in Dakar. Patience is a lovely virtue – when you have the ability (and flexibility in your schedule) to let things go and enjoy the ride, humor and charm can be found in places you wouldn’t normally expect.
  3. Sharing. As I mentioned in the food post, it was startling to me how much I had taken the concept of sharing things for granted until I spent time in Dakar! My experience in the U.S. has been that there is a constant feeling that there is ‘not enough to go around’; not enough money, food, time, things. This leads to a sense of urgency and the idea that if someone else has something, that means there is none left for you. This is so silly to me. I hope to bring the habit of always sharing my food, time, conversation, objects with other people when I can back with me to my life in Portland.
  4. Acknowledgement. At first, the constant greeting of everyone all day long felt exhausting to me in Senegal. I didn’t understand why it was necessary to say hello to someone you didn’t know very well, just to continue a conversation using the same questions and responses every time. What I came to understand for myself is that the importance was not always the content of the conversation, but rather the fact that you recognized another human being and acknowledged their presence in the space. Sometimes, people don’t need a long conversation about deep topics – they just need to feel seen and heard. Not everyone wants or needs to be recognized and acknowledged in the same ways, but the simple act of saying hello can go a long way in making a person feel appreciated.
  5. Humility. I know it’s cheesy, but I think that, (within the bound of reason), life is just too short to get hung up on feeling embarrassed. There were so many moments living in a foreign country where I said or did the wrong thing, inevitably ending in being laughed at by a local person who could so clearly see my cultural faux-pas (missteps). Don’t take yourself too seriously; never be too shy to dance.

Tomorrow is my last day abroad before getting on a plane back to the U.S. I’m sure that when I come in to visit, I’ll have a few more insights and reflections after experiences being back in the States. I’m feeling scared about coming home after being away for 10 months, especially for ‘reverse culture shock’ (the shock of experiencing your home country after living abroad) and for feeling overwhelmed with seeing so many people I have missed so much.

My biggest hope for this blog project was to inspire you all to think with a more open and curious mind about Senegal, West Africa, and Africa in general (which you have more than proved to me with your amazing country reports!), and to encourage you all to feel excited about travelling in your future. What language would you like to try and learn? Where do you most want to visit in the world? I want to hear everything. 

I’ll save the thank yous and goodbyes for next week. For now, here’s a short highlight reel of my semester in Senegal. ❤


Big mama baobab down in Kaolack.


Mother dearest.


Diané, the best teacher ever.


Papmodou Tall, my Senegalese BFF.


Dan working on his ‘luteur’ stance.


Exploring Ile d’Ngor.


My sweet host dad, Pa Sarr.


Marieme’s Birthday.


Finished product of a workshop I held with the kids at my internship.


Queen of the Desert


Ba ayubés bii di ñew, insh’allah! (See you next week, God willing!)




Weekly Post

Asalaa Maalekum, everyone! This week I wanted to shine a spotlight on just a few kinds Senegalese music and dance. Feccal means ‘dance!’ in Wolof. Music and dance are intertwined in Senegalese culture, so much so that it’s hard to talk about one without the other. Something I experienced on a regular basis was that in situations where people in the Pacific North West (Seattle, Portland, etc) might feel shy about getting up and dancing, Senegalese folks never seemed to have that hesitation. If there was music, it was only natural that someone would be grooving along. This post will be mostly videos – feel free to watch just a minute or two of each, to get an idea of the sound or movement, but I highly recommend you watch all of the last video on this post!

First we have Sabar, the traditional drumming and dance of Senegal.  Sabar is a historically Serer music and dance (my host family is Serer!), originating hundred of years ago in the Senegambia region. Sabar dance is big and full of energy, using the dancer’s arms and legs to their fullest. I only saw Sabar being danced a few times while in Senegal – at a dance performance, and at my brother’s wedding. Though it’s not danced as often as other, more modern dances, even my 6 year old sisters knew the basics of Sabar and would try them out every time a song came on while watching TV.  (It was adorable).


In Wolof, Mbalax means ‘rhythm’, and it is used to describe the specific rhythms used in Sabar music. However, the rhythms of Sabar and the more modern genres of jazz and pop fused together to create it’s own genre, also called Mbalax. Youssou N’Dour is the most famous Mbalax singer in Senegal, and I’ve heard it said that his music has done more for the country than all of the NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations – organizations that do aid projects in Senegal, usually) in Senegal combined. Any time Youssou N’Dour came on the TV or radio, each of my family members would stop what they were doing to sing and dance along. Some other famous Mbalax singers are Pape Diouf, Coumba Gawlo, and Cheikh Lô (though Cheikh Lô is more of mix of genres).


The Kora is an instrument native to West Africa, specifically in Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, and Burkina Faso. It’s a 12 stringed double-bridged lute harp (wow!), and is traditional to the Mandinka peoples. It’s made with half a calabash shell, wrapped in cow hide to create the drum base. How is the Kora different or similar to other ‘classical’ music and instruments you have heard? 


Senegalese music and dancing isn’t all Sabar and Mbalax! People listen to all sorts of pop, rap, jazz, and hip hop from all over the world (every time I introduced myself I received a “Oh, Rheanna? Like the singer? I love her!). However West African pop, mostly from Nigeria, was by far the most popular. This song was blasting everywhere during my time in Senegal, accompanied by the dance Maître Gims does in the video. Most pop songs come along with a specific dance, much like the Whip Nae Nae, that everyone knew how to do. The few times I went out to the clubs, people would be dancing their hearts out to Nigerian pop until 6 in the morning. Do you like this song? Do you think it would be popular in the U.S.? Why, or why not?


There are many, many more kinds of music and dance styles from Senegal that I would love to explore with you, and hopefully I can play some for you when I come visit! This video above was made by a dance studio right next to my house in Mermoz, making an A-Z alphabet of different styles of African dance. How many did you know about before this video? Which ones would you like to try out?



Me, caught in the middle of a Sabar dance circle at my brother’s wedding. 

Ba ci kanam, insh’allah!



Kii, jangkat la!

Weekly Post

Asalaa Maalekum, everyone! I left Senegal this week after the end of my program, and will be in Europe the next few weeks. However, I have some posts lined up about different things in Senegal for the remaining few weeks of this blog! The other week, I finally had a chance to interview our resident jangkat, or student: my little sister Ayou.

Ayou is 9 years old, in the year CE2 at her elementary school. Senegal has the same school system as in France, which is very different than the U.S. Instead of grades 1-5, the French use a different system:

After the first few weeks I was in Senegal, Ayou had the misfortune of getting hit by a car on the way home from school. She was okay, but ended up on the couch for a month away from school with a broken leg. Now, I’m pleased to say that Ayou is up and running with the rest of the neighborhood kids, working twice as hard at her studies to catch up! Ayou is funny, sweet, and has a sharp sense of humor that will snap at you if you’re not careful. Here’s our interview with your questions!

Emma: What do you like to do for fun? I like to play with my friends. That’s all!

Grace:  What types of food do you eat when you go home for lunch? Ceebu jën (cheb-oo-jen), chou kandia (shoo con-juh).

Rayne:  What is your favorite? Soupe kandia (soopa con-juh) is my favorite!

Connor:  Do you have middle school and high school? Yes.

Grace:  Do you have colleges and do you get homework? Yes! Yes, we have homework. Mostly exercises. And lessons to read. Mostly the math. But I don’t like math. You calculate, and calculate, and calculate, and that’s it!

What is your math like?  Do you have to learn fractions and negative numbers? Addition, subtraction, division, multiplication! Yeah, I know about fractions and negative numbers.

Do you have recess?  Yes. There are two recesses (called ‘creation’ in French) that are 30 minutes each.

Givonne:  Do you have to go to school in the summer? Yeah! In Senegal, school is closed for vacation between October and January.

Eric:  Do you have teacher planning days? Yes.

Do you have report cards? No, I get my grades back in my notebook at school and at the end of the year I get all my grade on a piece of paper.

Ayan:  What do your play grounds look like? Yes. There are rocks, and sand, and a field for the boys to play in, a place for the girls – it’s a little square box that we sit in and write on the ceiling who gets to be the next president of our friend group. I always vote for Kolibala, she’s my best friend!

Eric:  Do you have field trips? Yes. We go to Hann Park, the fair, and the swimming pool.

Do you have outdoor school? Non, not really. I don’t really know. I don’t think so.

Grace:  Do you have any class pets, as in animals? No.

Ayan:  Do you have a mascot? No, there isn’t one.

Eric:  Do you have iPads or other electronics? The teacher has an iPod!

Do you have cell phones? Non, but sometimes a kid will have one yeah.

What do kids get in trouble for the most? Fighting each other. Today one kid but rocks and sand in the president’s eyes!

How long do you go to school each day? What time does school get out?8am to 1pm and then from 3pm to 5pm.

Rheanna! Give me 50 minutes to do something. Fifty minutes? That’s a lot. Yeah, I need 50 minutes to do something really important. Like what? Drink water. You need 50 minutes to drink water? Yes. Wait for me there.

Eric:  Do you do class photos?  Do you have picture day?  Do you have yearbooks? Yes, yes, no!

Genevieve:  Is there a library there? Yes.

Grace:  Do you have teacher appreciation week?  What specials do you have, like PE or Art? Yes! The ‘gentillesse’ (in French: the kindness). We have sports, not art.

Eric:  Do you have chalk or white boards? Blackboards.

How many questions are left? Only five, don’t worry. Uuuuuuuugh.

What do you wish your school had? I don’t know. More races!

Eric:  Do you have Legos? No, what’s that?

Genevieve:  Do you read comics? No, not yet.

Are we done yet? Soon! Hold on, just two more! 

Grace:  What do your classrooms look like? There are tables, white walls, and a blackboard.

Genevieve:  Do you have a dog or a cat? No, no dogs or cats.



Ayou and Laura at Laura and Cheikh’s wedding.

Thanks for the questions, everyone!

Ba ci kanam, insh’allah.



Jabar ak Jekker

Weekly Post

Asalaa Maalekum, everyone! In Wolof, jabar means ‘wife’ and jekker means ‘husband’. Typically the first question I get asked by any new person I meet after “How are you?” and “How’s your family” is Am nga jekker? or, “Do you have a husband?” Marriage is incredibly important to Senegalese life and culture, and the wedding can be quite the party. Yesterday I had the honor of spending the day preparing for and participating in the wedding of my host brother, Cheikh, and his wife, Laura! I thought I’d make this week’s post talking about the festivities that went down. This post is mostly photos, so excuse the length!


I woke up to the comforting sounds vegetables being chopped, rice being stirred, and the ladies of my family chattering excitedly in Wolof. The biggest pot I have ever seen was being used to make a giant batch of ceebu yapp, a delicious dish of spicy rice with diced vegetables and mutton.


Taken from the 2nd floor window looking into the dining room!

I stuck to my room for most of the morning, finishing my final papers for school. Guests started arriving at the house in the early afternoon to chat and wait for lunch. All the while, my mom and my aunties, who came to Dakar for the wedding from all over Senegal, were laughing and singing in the kitchen, enjoying the opportunity to all be together at the same time.


At long last, Laura made her first appearance! Being escorted into the house by her best friend, she was greeted with cries of excitement, applause, and flashing iPhone cameras from the guests. Typically, modern Senegalese brides wear a white dress for their wedding. However, since Laura’s going to have a 2nd, more traditionally American wedding in the U.S. with a white dress, she wanted to wear something more traditionally Senegalese. Cheikh, in his traditional bubu, and Laura went outside to pose for photos with all the guests. What do you all think of these Senegalese outfits? 


Look at that embroidery!


Finally, lunch was ready! The guests filed into giant tents set up outside the house to eat and enjoy the company.


Bébé Ayou gettin ready to mange some ceebu yapp!


At 5pm, all the men went to the Mosque for the traditional Muslim marriage ceremony, which typically includes the fathers of both Laura and Cheikh who agree to marry their children to each other. The women are not allowed at this part of the ceremony, including Laura. Around 6pm, the men had returned and Laura made a re-appearance in her evening gown.



For the rest of the night, everyone danced, talked, and ate the hand-made snacks that came with goody bags handed out to each of the guests.


After most of the guests had left and the dancing had quieted down, the final part of the ceremonies took place. I was about to fall asleep, and I’m so glad I got up to check out the hubbub outside my door! For this tradition (that not all Senegalese people do at their weddings, but Cheikh and Laura decided they wanted to do), the wife and husband are escorted to the husband’s bedroom by a griot, an important community member that tells stories through song and sometimes accompanies traditional ceremonies (griots do a lot more, but it’s hard to go into completely). The couple are given a bowl of lakh, a dish made of sweet yogurt with millet, almost like a tapioca pudding. The couple feed each other the lakh, and in doing so try to get some on the other’s face. As tradition has it, whoever gets the lakh on the other’s face first get’s to be ‘in control’ of the relationship for the rest of their marriage. Who do you think won? 🙂

Typically, this tradition isn’t as competitive as Laura made it, but everyone loved it anyways.

Other marriage facts:

  • People in Senegal tend to marry young, and it is still normal for families to occasionally arrange marriages for their kids
  • After a couple gets married, the wife is supposed to move in with the husband’s family. It is completely normal for there to be multiple generations in one house! In my house, the grandparents, parents, and little kiddos all live together
  • In Senegal, polygamy is legal and widely practiced (in contrast to monogamy in the United States). This means that husbands can have more than one legal wife. Sometimes the wives live in different places, but often they live all together in the same house. The husband is culturally obligated to spend the same amount of time, money, and attention to each of his wives. Wives, however, are not allowed to have more than one husband.

What do you think of Cheikh and Laura’s wedding, and about marriage in Senegal in general? How is it different than in the U.S.? Would you want to have a Senegalese wedding?


Our maid (though she’s an honorary member of the family, and my dearest sister), Ndock and I.

Ba beneen yoon, insh’allah!


Cosaan senegale: Ile de Gorée

Weekly Post

Asalaa Maalekum, Mrs. Blackwell’s class! Thanks for all your awesome questions last week, I’ll answer them later this week. This week, I’m going to focus on a more heavy subject in cosaan senegale (Senegalese history): the slave trade and history of Gorée Island in Senegal. This is waaaaaay too large of a topic to properly tackle in one little blog post (some people dedicate their lives to studying this, not to mention the ), but I’m going to do my best to give you an introduction to this part of Senegalese history that continues to have a huge impact on Senegal today.


The port of Gorée Island – fun fact, ‘Ibrahima Sarr’ is my dad’s name!

Gorée Island is right off the coast of Dakar, a 20 minute ferry ride from downtown. It is a tourist destination as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site – President Obama himself came to visit in 2013. The history of Gorée is that it is widely believed to be one of the main trading ports used in the trans-atlantic slave trade to ship West African peoples out to the Americas and Europe for slave labor.

A very, very brief and summarized historical interlude:

The region of West Africa now known as Senegal and the Gambia (the smaller country download (4).jpg
within the borders of Senegal) were home to many powerful empires of African people before Europeans set foot on West African soil. Mansa Musa, a king during the Mali empire, was rumored to have so much gold that during his religious pilgrimage to Mecca (a very important Islamic religious site) he brought thousands of men along to carry his pounds of gold bars, erecting cities for him and his entourage at every stop along the way. Of course, whether or not all of that is true is not certain, but what is important is that his reputation alone reached all the way up to Europe during the 1400s.

In the 15th century, the Portuguese set foot on West African soil in search of gold and trading opportunities, including the trade of slaves. Though slave trade had existed within African countries long before then, the arrival of Europeans in West Africa (Senegal has been passed back and forth between Portugal, the

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General map of the trans-atlantic slave trade

Netherlands, Denmark, France, and England up until the final colonization by France in the 1800s) began the long history of taking African slaves overseas to work on plantations for European enterprises. Between the 15th and 19th centuries (that’s 400 YEARS of slave trade), it is estimated that at least 10 million African people were enslaved and transported to Europe or the Americas to work. Though the majority of slaves were taken from Central Africa, especially the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a large portion of slaves in the trans-atlantic trade were taken directly from the Senegambian region.


La Maison des Esclaves and the Door of No Return:


Myself and some other tourists exploring la Maison des Esclaves, which has been turned into a museum about the trans-atlantic slave trade.

The ‘Maison des Esclaves’ (House of Slaves) on Gorée is large, bright, spaceous, yet interspersed with small, cramped rooms with barely any light. These rooms are credited towards being the last stop for enslaved African people on their way out to sea to be transported across the Atlantic Ocean – a deadly journey where the majority of people died before reaching the shore due to illness, malnutrition, and suffocation from being shackled side-by-side in impossibly cramped quarters.

Within la Maison des Esclaves, there is an opening in the back of the building known as the ‘Door of No Return’, commonly discussed as being the last door enslaved Africans ever went through before heading out on to the dangerous open sea.


Today, the idea that Gorée was the most important slave port in West Africa, or even that there were many slaves there at all, has been debunked. There were other places in Senegal that had more enslaved people taken from (namely Zuiginchor), and it has come to light that the Maison des Esclaves may not be much more than a symbol representation of what some slave houses were like. However, just because some of the facts around Gorée are more likely myths, it is only a small myth within an enormous, overwhelming truth. The trans-atlantic slave trade was real, it was horrific, and the effects of its damage can still be found all over the world. Today, Gorée stands as a sort of symbol and memorial to all of the people who were taken from their homes in West Africa to a life, if they lived, of brutal torture and slavery.

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The plaque above, found at la Maison des Esclaves, reads: “Millions and millions of men, women, and children today are saying ‘no’ to the misery and the shame, because the men who were treated as slaves by the people in power knew in their heart that they were men. And many have died in those three centuries so that no one will ever forget it”.

What do you think about Gorée Island? Did you know about this part of West African history?

It is impossible for me to try to explain the entirety, or even a relatively small portion, of the history of the trans-atlantic slave trade and colonialism in Senegal. I encourage you to learn more about the history of slavery – in Africa, in Europe, in South America, and especially in the United States. It is a part of the world’s history that will never, in our lifetimes, not be relevant and important to understanding how our world works today.

Do you have any questions about Gorée and the history of slavery in Senegal? I can do my best to answer them later this week.

Ba ci kanam, insh’allah.





Sama weekend bi ci St. Louis

Weekly Post

Asalaa Maalekum, everyone! Hope your weekend was as great as mine! ‘Sama weekend bi ci St. Louis’ means what you probably guessed it means – My weekend in St. Louis. Last Friday, my program in Dakar took all the students up to St. Louis and Lompoul for a three-day field trip. St. Louis is 264 kilometers north of Dakar, near the border of Mauritania.


Sweet cutie cow takin’ a snooze under a pirogue.

On Friday we piled into buses early in the morning to drive the four hours straight to St. Louis. We were on the trip with our professor who teaches a class about Environment and Development. This photo above was taken at a fishing village on the coast of St. Louis. We learned about how with global warming increasing the sea level one meter closer to shore each year, this village is predicted to be flooded in only twenty years. What do you think the effects of global warming will be like in Portland? 


La barrage de St. Louis!


Walked 15 minutes and ended up in Northern Africa, whoops.

For another part of our Environment class, we visited this dam that separates fresh and salt water in St. Louis. With short walk north past the dam, we reached the border of Mauritania! The Mauritanian border guards all spoke in Arabic and were very kind to let us take this cheesy photo. Northern African, in general, is regarded very differently than West Africa, where Senegal is. For starters, the majority of people in West Africa are Black. The majority of people in Northern Africa are lighter-skinned, Arab peoples. However, like Senegal, there are a few North African countries that also speak French as well as their local languages. Why do you think so many countries, so far from France, speak French? If you looked at a map of Africa, could you point out which countries were in Northern Africa, West Africa, East Africa, and Southern Africa? 

From St. Louis we took a day trip up to the National Bird Sanctuary of Djoudj. We saw pelicans, wild boars, and of course the usual donkeys. Many of the birds were already gone, as we’re headed into the off-season for the park (I was so sad to miss the flamingos!).

Saturday night, we headed to Lompoul, a small desert in the middle of Senegal. Lompoul is not technically a part of the Sahara desert – in fact, that the Lompoul desert exists at all is a bit of an anomaly. Senegal is part of the Sahel region, which is the region of land south of the Sahara that mostly consists of grasslands.

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One of the tents we slept in at Lompoul. So peaceful.


Camel rides!

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This one’s name was Joe.

We arrived in Lompoul a little before dusk, and the lot of us started off sprinting towards the dunes. The sand was soft and cool between our toes, and the steady silence of the desert was delightfully refreshing after months of the noisy, crowded streets of Dakar. I would have spent a week in that silence, doing nothing but reading and napping and playing in the dunes.

If I had the chance, I would have loved to travel south to the Casamance region of Senegal. Down there is full of lush greenery, I’ve heard, and a stark difference from the desert/grasslands areas of northern and central Senegal and the dusty, beach-lined coast of Dakar.  I was able to travel all the way to south east Senegal, which is famous for having a gorgeous waterfall and steep hillsides. It’s amazing how varied the landscape of Senegal is depending on which area you go to. Do you associate Africa more with the desert, grasslands, jungle, or something else entirely?

I know you all have a few posts to catch up on, so I’ll keep this one short and sweet.


Tryin’ out my raptor impersonation in St. Louis.

Ba ci kanam, insh’allah!



Photo de la Semaine: Week 4

Weekly Post


This photo was taken at the Lac Rose (literally: the Pink Lake) just north of Dakar. The algae in the water attracted to the salt makes the water look strawberry pink in the sunshine. The water is so salinated that if you scrape the bottom of the lake, you’ll come up with a handful of pure salt! My friends and I took this pirogue across and back to have lunch at the little restaurant on the other side for 1500CFA.

Looking forward to hearing from y’all!

Ba altine, Insh’allah! (See you Monday, God willing!)


Kai, lekkal!

Weekly Post

Helpin out in the kitchen!

Asalaa Maalekum, everyone! 
Hope your week has been a good one! From your previous questions and comments, it’s been easy to gather that food has been on everyone’s minds. And rightfully so! I loooooove the food in Senegal, I’m going to miss it dearly when I leave. ‘Kai, lekkal!’ means come, eat!! in Wolof. ‘Lekkal’ was the first Wolof word I learned, as my family is very keen on me eating my fill at dinner.


Breakfast at my home is the same every single day, between 7-10am. The maid sets up the breakfast table every night before going to sleep (Side Note: no matter how much money a family makes, if they have


Breakfast at a hostel in Tamba.

enough, they hire a live-in maid. This is completely normal and expected, and often is one of the better jobs a woman can get in Senegal depending on her situation). In the morning we have white baguettes, fetched early in the morning from the neighborhood boulangerie (bakery). With the bread there is a choice of either ChocoPain, a kind of knock-off Nutella, and margerine. The bread and ChocoPain is usually accompanied by a nice, steaming-hot cup of Nescafe instant coffee with sugar cubes (I use one or two, but I’ve seen Senegalese folks use up to six!) and powdered milk.


On days when I don’t eat breakfast at home, I get it on the way to school. Women set up shop on the side of the road with tables surrounded by sheets, making a sort of breakfast tent. They have huge covered bowls filled with beans, peas, hard-boiled eggs, beef, and other goodies to put into breakfast sandwiches. Sometimes they have my favorite kind of bread, a softer-and-fluffy loaf eaten in smaller towns called tapalapa!

Lunch and Dinner:

Lunch is my favorite meal of the day, and the most important meal in Senegalese culture. We usually eat pretty late, between 1:30 and 4pm, but it’s almost always worth the wait.


Ceebu jën, how I will miss you.

The most famous Senegalese dish is called ceebu jën (or thieboudienne), pronounced ‘cheb-ooh-jen’.Ceebu jën literally translates to ‘fish and rice’ in Wolof, and that’s exactly what the dish is – a giant steaming pile of spiced rice typically topped with fish, carrot, casava, bitter tomato, yam, and cabbage. Most dishes for lunch are some variety of ceebu jën with different meats, sauces, and vegetables. Let me tell you – it is delicious.


Last week I spent my Friday learning how to make ceebu ñebbe, or ‘rice and beans’ with my maid. We made the rice and beans, but in addition added sea urchin, sea snail, dried fish, salted fish, smoked fish, and all of the vegetables mentioned above!

Dinner is typically something similar, but there are a million different delicious Senegalese dishes I’ve eaten here that I can’t even begin to describe in full! My favorites are soupe kandia (rice with sticky, spicy okra sauce), yassa poulet (white rice, carmelized onion sauce, and roast chicken), and mafe (white rice with beef cooked in a thick, peanut butter stew). Dinner is usually around 8:30pm, but can be as late as 11pm!


Ceebu ñebbe. I made this!


Another ceeb dish with a thick tomato-y peanut sauce. Mmmm.

Cultural norms and expectations:

Something important to remember is that for most cultures, eating isn’t just about the food. In Senegal, as with any culture, there are specific cultural ‘rituals’ that accompany meal times. For meals, as you can see pictured above, the family eats around one giant plate. My family is a bit more modern, so we each get a spoon to eat with, but at most households the whole family eats with their right hand. Eating with your left hand is considered very disrespectful and unsanitary, as it is the hand you use when going to the


Ruth modeling excellent table manners

bathroom (eeeew). Talking during meals is okay, but not encouraged, and when you are done you simply get up and leave. It is not expected to wait around and chat – chatting is for later, when we drink ataya (a kind of sweet tea).


Another thing extremely important to Senegalese food culture – sharing! The rule goes: If you are eating something in the presence of someone else, no matter how much you have or how many people there are, you always offer to the other people. Bottle of peanuts? Pass it around. Eating an apple? You better offer a bite to your neighbor. Not everyone will say yes, but it’s the principal that’s important. If there’s anything about Senegalese culture that I hope to take back with me to the states, it’s this.




Meals are often huge in Senegal, so there’s not a lot of reason to snack. That doesn’t stop


Natalie and Lena are VERY excited about their yoghurt baggies.

me, though! Fruit stands can be found on any street corner selling all sorts of sweet treats. I usually have a kilo or two of apples and bananas at school to share with friends. On top of that, you can always find a woman selling re-purposed liquor bottles filled with roasted peanuts to satisfy a pre-lunch craving. Something that struck me as funny when I arrived is that you can buy all sorts of liquids and snacks in baggies – water, juice, milk, even yoghurt!

My favorite snacks include peanut brittle, freshly fried beignets, fresh coconut (they’ll bag the coconut water for you to drink, too!) and these sweet little peeled oranges that you can eat like apples on the walk home from school.

What do you most want to try? What do you think are your cultural norms and expectations around eating in your household? Can’t wait to hear from you all!


Mango munchin’ down in Kegougou for Spring Break!

A la prochaine, insh’allah!

– Rheanna


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