“Do you have peace? Does your village have peace? Does your family have peace?…” They can go on and on for a long time, these Senegalese greetings. In a culture that places a very high value on peace, it makes sense.
I never really experienced this greeting directly since I don’t speak French or Wolof and people knew that (go figure). I got the shorter, but equally warm version which displays the other prime Senegalese value: hospitality.
Most of us probably think of hospitality as inviting others into your home, sharing a meal, making them feel welcome. I think in Senegal people feel the concept must extend beyond the borders of their dwellings. Everywhere we went we were given the friendly, “Bonjour!” from nearly everyone we passed. Only when we were rolling by in a moving vehicle did it stop with the one word (yet still waved and shouted with great enthusiasm). If we were walking we would usually get the follow up, “Ca va?” which is a sort of “how are you doing?” And they genuinely want to know. So if you can speak some French you could have some real conversations with strangers.
This led to some frustration on my part as well as a fresh DuoLingo account upon our return home. The only annoyance I experienced all week (besides that one mosquito at 4:00 a.m.) was not being able to communicate. And I found it a BIG annoyance. My French is limited to what one can learn from Pepe LePew cartoons or songs missionaries should not sing, and I sound a lot like the chef in The Little Mermaid. So as you can imagine, I refrained from too many attempts to speak the language, as it just seemed prudent.
The other noticeable by-product of all that peace and hospitality is trust. This was the first time I’ve gone to Africa and been told I don’t need a buddy and two goons to accompany me for a short walk outside whatever housing compound we’ve been installed. Our house had a wall with a solid metal gate and two guard dogs, but we opened the gate freely to whomever knocked and I’m thinking the dogs were mainly for show, given that one was mostly Golden Retriever.
And I would be remiss if I did not wax eloquent on the food. Most of the time we just ate from our own plates, but it is common in friendly gatherings to eat communally from a very large bowl. Dining this way encourages conversation and a sense of closeness, but then again the food is so delicious one could also find oneself inhaling the rice and sauce in a manner that is most decidedly not conducive to speech. Not that we ate like that. No...
So far, of my three African experiences, this one left me with the strongest desire to go back for a longer time to really get to know and experience the culture and understand and connect with the people.
P.S. You can see the trip photos here.
We are missionaries with Engineering Ministries International, based in Colorado Springs, and traveling around the globe to serve.
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