I lived for a good many years in Senegal, West Africa.
People are always asking me what it was like. That's difficult to describe
without a common reference point, so I thought this would be a great place
to show readers a few drawings of Senegal. These drawings were done by a
fantastic Senegalese artist named Mohiss. I think you will agree
with me that they are wonderful, incredibly detailed and humorous, capturing
the unique African spirit better than photographs ever could.
The pictures below are tiny thumbnails. Click on each image
to display the larger version. These black and white images are very large--you
probably will have to scroll around to see them, even on a big monitor--but
I wanted you to be able to see the intricate detail of the drawings.
A typical African scene, bargaining over the purchase of a sheep. The men
might get very emotional but it's all an act designed to fool the other
guy. Traditional bargaining can take hours. It's really a form of mutual
respect to bargain. You insult the seller if you take his first offer. It's
a complex give-and-take social interaction that we do not have in America.
Once you've bargained with someone you are friends for life, even if he
tells you his children are going to starve because of the incredible "deal"
he just gave you. Sadly, this tradition is fading due to Western influence.
Instead of bargaining being a social engagement it is being reduced to a
strictly economic exchange.
Toys like this are very common in Senegal. I played with them myself as
child, though of course I prefered soccer, the greatest sport in the world.
Jewelry is important to the Senegalese. My Mom felt right at home at stores
like these. You can't see it in the black and white drawing, but the woman
is probably wearing a very colorful outfit. The Senegalese are not bland
dressers. The man washing his feet is a common sight, too.
Fortunately I didn't have ride the bus too often. This is not a rare sight,
scary as it looks. Don't even think about what it's like when there's an
accident. It's horrible.
You see these everywhere, right along the main streets with the cars. (You
also see guys in wheelchairs cruising along in the middle of the road with
a moped motor attached to the back of the chair, not to mention motocyles,
bikes, and pedestrians.)
I've eaten many meals in settings just like this. You see how mealtime brings
the family together? The meal is usually rice with a meat or fish sauce
and many vegetables. (I'm no good at identifying vegies but I know I've
never tasted anything like them here.) The meal takes much of the day to
prepare. The Senegalese usually eat one meal a day, at noon. You have to
learn to eat fast and grab up the good stuff quick, or it will be gone.
I've never seen people eat as fast as in Senegal!
Yup, if you wanted to get the good prices, you went shopping at the "mall."
(Prices at western-style stores are outrageous, and you can't bargain them
down, either.) Strips of little booths like these are common, as are the
items displayed here for sale. You can buy all sorts of black market American
items, too, such as Nike shoes not made by Nike (they fall apart in a week
or two). Don't forget to notice the sheep on the left!
The hole-in-wall store on the right is usually run by a Lebanese and he
sells everything imaginable. My Mom usually had me run to a store like this
(we had one on each side of our house!) to buy Coca Cola. The Africans thought
we were insane we drank so much Coke, but hey, we certainly weren't going
to drink the water! Once, while I waited for my lukewarm Cokes to be brought
to me from the refridgerator, a little girl came in and put down a few pennies
and bought three pats of butter! The man cut them off a lump and wrapped
them in a scrap of old newspaper and the girl left. I've seen them buy peanut
butter the same way.
These people are sharing a simple meal of bread and hot chocolate. Another
common sight is people having a traditional Senegalese tea ceremony. Having
Senegalese tea is an involved process that takes all afternoon. The tea
has a strong bitter flavor (nothing like Earl Grey or the flavored teas
we have here) and you drink it from tiny "shot" glasses. The tea
is brewed on a little charcol braiser like you see in the drawing. There
are a total of seven "courses" each with its own batch of tea.
Each subsequent serving is made sweeter than the previous, the last few
sickeningly sweet even to Western tongues. (I only remember sitting through
an entire tea ceremony once, and that was enough. After that I would time
my arrival to the middle batches when the tea was sweetened just right.)
The idea of tea drinking is that it is a social event and should not be
hurried. You have to sit and sip your tea while the next batch boils. We
Americans are always in too much of a hurry.
Another typical scene. For some reason, people in Africa lead a slower,
more relaxed life than we do in America. People lazing around during the
afternoon heat is common, though the people aren't lazy.
This one cracks me up. Not very sublte, is he?
Updated on Sat, Oct 2, 1999 at 10:07:15 AM.
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