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, 



Photo (vidéo) de la Semaine: Week 9

Photo of the Week



Asalaa Maalekum, everyone! OH my goodness, I love your country report projects so much! I cannot wait to see them all in person. Thank you so much for putting so much time and energy into these reports – I can see how hard you worked. I am so, so proud!

This week, instead of a photo, I wanted to share this video I took of my friends Annabelle and Matou going through the typical Wolof greetings. Greetings in Senegal are VERY important, and can take up to 15 minutes just asking questions about friends, family, work, or just the weather! At the end of this post after your questions, I will post a transcript of what Annabelle and Matou are saying in Wolof and English. How are Senegalese greetings similar and different to how we greet people in the U.S.? 

  • William: What is your favorite vegetable? My favorite vegetable is a lemon cucumber! Have you ever had one?
  • Rueben: Legos are extremely fun and they are the best thing you can ever play with. I whole-heartedly agree with this statement.
  • Sigourney: Do you like to play video games? I do, but not often. My dad makes video games, so I grew up with them around me all the time.
  • Grace: What is your favorite type of soda? I really like Sprite.
  • Ayan: Was that a picture of the school? That picture was of an elementary school I went to, but not actually Ayou’s school, unfortunately. I didn’t have an opportunity to go to her school!
  • Eric: Do they have Rubric’s Cubes? Do you have walkie talkies? They DO have Rubiks Cubes! My friend in Senegal, after reading my blog post, reached out to tell me that she saw a man selling Rubiks Cubes on the side of the road. I’m not sure about Walkie Talkies, but I would imagine they do have them!
  • Ayan: Do they have X Boxes? I never saw any X Boxes. Maybe for some of the more wealthy families? I didn’t really see any video games besides iPhone games.
  • Eric: do you have Takies? (hot orange chips) I never saw any Takies in Senegal, but I DID see them this week in Spain (where I am right now)!

Thanks for your questions! Ba beneen yoon, insh’allah.


– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – — – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Transcript for the Video ‘Wolof Greetings’

(Cultural Note for the Video: In Wolof, instead of saying how is your family, one will usually say where is your family. Saying ‘I am here’ or ‘they are here’ means not only that they are physically there at home, but also that they are mentally and spiritually present and healthy.)

Matou: Ko kan la? Who is it?

Annabelle: Man laa. It’s me. 

M: Yow la kan? You, who?

A: Man laa Annabelle. Me, Annabelle.

M: Aaah okay na nga def, waay? Ah okay, how are you, friend?

A: Maangi fii rekk! Yaangi ci jamm? I’m here! You’re in peace?

M: Waaw, maangi ci jamm. Yes, I am in peace.

A: Alxamdoulilah. Ana sa waa kër? Praise be to God. Where is your family?

M: Ñungi fii. They’re here!

A: Ñungi ci jamm? They’re in peace?

M: Ñungi ci jamm. Yes, they’re in peace.

A: Alxamdoulilah. Naka suba si? Praise be to God. How is your morning?

M: Suba san gi nii rekk! Maangi ci kawam. The morning is here! I’m on top (I’m doing great).

A: Alxamdoulilah. Praise be to God.

M: Alxamdoulilah. Yow nag, naka suba si? Praise be to God. And you, how is your morning?

A: Maangi sante Yallah. Maangi ci kawam. I’m thanking God. I’m on top of it. 

M: Naka ligéey bi? How is work?

A: Nungi nii! Nungi nii, mungi dox. We’re here! We’re here, it’s working great.

M: Mungi dox bu baax? It’s working really well?

A: Waaw, bu baax u baax. Yes, really really well.

M: Naka njàng bi? How is school?

A: Alxamdoulilah, maangi ci kawam. Praise be to God, I’m on top of it. 

M: Aah, baax na! Aah, wonderful!

A: Waaw, baax na. Ana sa yaay? Yeah, it’s great. Where is your mom?

M: Mungi fii! Mungi ci kër bi. Waaw, mungi neelaw, waaye, dafa teel. She’s here! She’s in the house. She’s sleeping, it’s early in the morning.

A: Dëgg la, kaay. Nuyul ma sa waa kër! It’s true. Say hello to your family!

M: Insh’allah dinañu ko dégg. God willing they will hear it.

A: Maangi dem. I’m leaving.

M: Nuyul ma sa waa kër! Say hello to your family!

A: Insh’allah dinañu ko dégg! God willing they will hear it!

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!


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


Photo de la Semaine: Week 2

Photo of the Week


Gotta hand it to Coca Cola for their international advertising. This was taken at my local grocery store! Can you pronounce any of these Senegalese names?

Great questions this week, everyone!

  • Givonne: What kind of transportation have you been on? Do you like the colors of the buses? How old do you have to be to ride a motorcycle? I’ve been on every kind of transportation mentioned in the post except for a moto! They scare me a little bit, since people often don’t have helmets and traffic can get pretty hectic. I’m pretty sure the only rule about riding a moto is that you have to be big enough to ride it properly (even then, when I was in Tambakounda I saw kids of all sizes on motos). And yes, I love the colors of the buses! Dakar can get pretty dang dusty with sand, so everything everywhere seems to be covered in a light beige. The bright colors are a nice change. 🙂
  • Ayan: Why do children get to ride on motorcycles? Motorcycles are just not seen as particularly worrisome or dangerous here. Our school director told us a story about her brother-in-law coming to her house one day, bringing with him a brand new moto. “But you don’t even know how to drive a car!”, she said. “So what?” said her brother, “it’s only a moto”.
  • Kalab: Do they have vending machines? Do you have horses?You know what? There might be one at a fancy hotel or something, but no, I’ve never seen a vending machine. Instead, on almost every single street corner there are little corner stores called ’boutiks’ that sell everything you’d find in a vending machine and more. Anything you can think of – bread, tea, soda, toothpicks, spices, toilet paper, teapots, batteries, literally anything can usually be found at a boutik. I go to one at least once a day for something or other. I’ll try to take a good picture of one! I’m good friends with my local boutik man. And YES, there are horses everywhere! One transportation thing I didn’t talk about were the Charettes – horse-drawn carriages are found all over.12966139_10209478325461767_165680798_n
  • Grace: Where do you keep the cold food at the grocery store? In many small villages all over Senegal there is no electricity at all, so there are no grocery stores and no cold food. However, in Dakar and every other city (and any small town!), food is kept in refrigerators just like back at home!

For the questions about welfare, food stamps, and homelessness – I am going to answer those questions in another big Monday post a different week. There are just too many things to talk about! Homelessness and begging are a huge problem in Senegal, though, and I’d love to talk to you all about that.

Next week I wanted to introduce my neighborhood and everything that can be found in it, to show you a bit of what Dakar really truly looks like. Is there anything in particular you would like to see or hear about? Let me know!

Jërëjëf! Léegi léegi, Insh’allah. (Thank you! See you soon, God willing).

– Rheanna