We’ve talked about greetings once before, and those were greetings I learned during training. Since being a PCV I have learned a lot more Wolof, and I want to share some of it with you. This past week I also got the chance to travel across the country so I learned some of the regional differences regarding the language, and Peace Corps in Senegal. It inspired me to write this post, so enjoy!
This is a typical sight while traveling. All sorts of things will go on top of cars including animals. How else are you supposed to transport them long distances? These kinds of cars are called Sept-plasses (seven places) and they make the fewest stops, that means the cost of a seat is this car is the most expensive out of all public transportation options.
My site is Saint-Louis, the fourth largest city in Senegal. You can learn more about it here. When I meet someone new, locals often assume I am French. When I start with the first greeting “Asaalam Maalekum” they often don’t listen to me long enough to realize what I am saying, instead they often respond with “bonjour.” When I continue to greet “nanga def?” they will often reply with “Ça va?” Finally, when they realize that I know Wolof, they get really excited. This varies by city in Senegal. There are some cities like Thiès, that’s where our training center is, so most of the locals know about Peace Corps as an organization, and what we do in Senegal. Kaolack is another example. In Kaolack there are triple the number of volunteers in the region compared to mine. There are few tourists and ex-pats living there so when locals stumble across a foreigner, they often assume we’re volunteers, and they know who we are and what we do. The opposite is true in Saint-Louis. There are only 8 volunteers in my entire region, so when I meet someone in the market or around town, I have to explain what I do, why I do it, and why of all places I chose Senegal. In addition, there is a large ex-pat community and a large tourism industry. I think this brings something more exciting to my site. I get the chance to shape someone’s mind in how they think of Americans and Peace Corps. This is especially exciting since I am an Asian-American so I offer them a very unique perspective. Of course, this has its challenges, but at the end of the day, the Senegalese accept who I am even if they have a hard time understanding my cultural background.
Like I said, I just traveled across the country so lately, my conversations have included:
“Gejj naa la gis” (Long time no see)
“demoon naa Tambacounda” (I went to Tambacounda)
“Naka wa Tambacounda?” (How are the people of Tambacounda?)
“Nunga fa, nëpp nungiy ci jamm” (They are there, they are all in peace)
“Tambacounda, neexoon na?” (Was Tambacounda good?)
“Neexoon na, wante fi, moo gëna baax” (It was good, but it is better here)
“Foffu, dafa tang!” (It’s hot there!)
“Waaw, amoon naa ñack bu bari” (Yes, I had a lot a sweat)
“Namoon naa la” (I’ve missed you)
“Maa la ro” (I pass you)
“Yaangiy nos” (Are you having fun?)
“Nos naa bu baax” / “Waaw, Maangiy nos” / “tutti rekk” (my fun is good / yes, I am having fun / only a little)
“Naka mu?” (How is it?)
“Jamm rekk” (Peace only)
“Naka affairy?” (How are your affairs?)
“Mungiy dox bu baax” (It’s moving along well)
“Naka sa chono?” (How are your activities?)
“Ba sonno” (Until I am tired)
“Yaangiy lekk sa xaalis” (Do you like eating your money?)
“Waaw waaw” / “amuma xaalis” / “Dama bank” (Of course / I don’t have money / I’m bankrupt)
“Naka liggeey bi?” (How is the work?)
“Mungiy ci kaoam” (I’m on top of it)
Typically after someone says they’ve missed me I will restart my greetings because we’ve just established I haven’t seen them in a while. I ask how they have been, I ask about their family, their children, their spouse, their work, etc.
Sunrise in Tambacounda city
After reading these greetings I hope you’ve begun to see a pattern in the Senegalese people. They are very caring. They love asking and ensuring that everything in your life has peace, and that everything is in peace. This is all part of Senegalese hospitality which is called “teranga” in Wolof. The idea of teranga is that you are a welcome member of the family in any house you walk into. On top of that, you are a welcome member of the culture. For example, when I go to my counterpart’s house he gives me a pillow because I look sleepy, and since I am a welcome member of his home, I am highly encouraged to nap on their family couch when I am tired. Another example, when I walk into someone’s house and their eating a meal, I often get “doo añ” / “doo reer” which means, don’t you eat lunch / don’t you eat dinner respectively. They insist that you join them for a meal even if that means they have to eat less because they didn’t cook your share. To them, that isn’t a burden, it’s a privilege because you are part of their family. It’s a key value in Senegalese culture, and it is evident in all aspects of daily life here.
Now go practice some Wolof!