Recipes for enjoying oneself in the cultural melting pot of Senegal

editorial image

Saluam Malekum! – a greeting, meaning “peace to you”, in Wolof (the language spoken in Senegal).

My Wolof is slowly improving. I tried it out in one of my high school classes and they all found it very amusing. Although French is the official language, it’s clear that the people here (like Souters) value their traditions and want to keep this unique language alive.

Also I personally find Wolof easier to speak than French and people warm to us more when we speak it. It also helps when bargaining at the local market. It’s one of the skills I have been learning in Senegal.

My cooking skills have been coming along nicely. I can cook some of the Senegalese dishes such as Yassa and fried fish. The women don’t use chopping boards, so there is an unusual technique they use to chop carrots and onions.

The Senegalese love a strong sweet tea called Ataya which is made over a small coal cooker. The more froth the better. This is achieved by passing the tea high from glass cup to glass cup.

Alma, my fellow Project Trust volunteer, and I have been practising at home and after ruining a few pairs of trousers and my fingers turning a permanent colour of red because it burns so much, I think we have cracked it – although we’ve been warned not to drink it with strangers as there was a report that a French girl was drugged with the stuff.

I feel more comfortable teaching and our timetable has become fuller and fuller. We have just set up a Saturday school for children who don’t attend school because their parents cannot pay for education. We are just teaching the basics but at least they are getting some education. Some children turn up with no shoes and dirty clothes – however, they are all very enthusiastic and competitive, and eager to learn.

My hours at both the nursery and primary schools have increased and I am in the middle of setting up an after-school art club. The pupils’ creative skills are very limited and it becomes noticeable at high school level as they really struggle with exercises that need imagination.

I was also shocked when teaching a class of seven/eight-year-olds that most of them could not spell their names. I think it is to do with the large class numbers as individuals don’t get much attention. However, they seem to be enjoying my classes as whenever I walk into class they all cheer, which is reassuring.

There English club at the high school qualified to travel to the capital Dakar. The drama they performed, which beat off efforts of nine other schools, included wrestling and the theme of the drama was the constant teachers’ strikes.

When the winner was announced, the club went wild – lots of cheering and hugging, which was great, apart from the fact I had some serious sunburn, so I don’t know if I was shouting from happiness or pain!

But it was one of my personal highlights so far to see that their hard work paid off.

Alma and I attended a Joala convention with one of our Senegalese friends, Peter. It was a celebration of their ethnic group.

The women prepared the feast while the men sang traditional songs and played the drums. After lunch we got dressed into Joala clothing, which included hundreds of beads around our waists and bodies, but the men’s outfits totally stole the show.

They made rattles from broken glass and placing it in old cans, and then tied it to their legs and arms, so when they were dancing it added to the music. They all danced Joala-style, which is so difficult to copy, but we had a go. At least we gave them a laugh!

It was a fantastic cultural experience and nice to see how proud people are of their heritage.

The main religion in Senegal is Islam. Muslim and Christians have a very peaceful relationship and are very tolerant of each other’s beliefs.

Some strict Muslim men refuse to shake a woman’s hand and can have up to four wives as long as they can treat them equally, whereas other Muslims are very relaxed, drink alcohol and don’t pray.

In Ziguinchor, Christians are known as the party animals who know how to have a good drink. There is a pub beside our house and at Easter there was a party that continued for three days. The people who dance for the longest are usually the oldest.

Alma and I headed back to our house at 6am – but there was still 60-70-year-olds partying hard. It was very funny.

My aims for the rest of my time here are to continue working on my language, keeping my lessons interesting and the pupils enthusiastic, and making sure when I return to Selkirk I can cook a few decent Senegalese meals.

The rainy season is coming up which I am personally looking forward to – seemingly it is incredible to watch the lightning and the rain.

I hope everyone is well in Selkirk.