It’s Just a Dollar

Last night, a situation occurred that I believe accurately sums up Senegalese culture as a whole. I will tell this story with as little bias as possible because I do not want to seem insensitive to this country that I love so much.

Time: I dunno. 8 PM?
Location: Kaolack, Senegal

My friend Kourtney and I are walking to the boutique together to buy Sprite. I have my wallet in my pocket, but Kourtney is carrying some money in her hand. We are approaching the boutique when Kourtney drops a 500 CFA piece on the ground (roughly $1). Neither of us has our phone (which has a fancy flashlight on the end), so we’re rooting around on the ground for a good five minutes looking for this money.

As we’re searching, two random Senegalese people get on the ground and start helping us search, too. Then, the owner of the boutique comes out of his store with a huge lantern, which illuminates the scene (it was rather dark before). Kourtney and I keep telling them that we can search alone, but the growing crowd insists that they want to help.

Finally, we give up. We tell them it was only 500 CFA, and that we can return in the morning and hunt for it some more. The helpful citizens go back to their original positions (aka loitering outside the boutique). While I am waiting for Kourtney to buy the Sprites, a girl stands up that had been silent and immobile the entire time. She walks over to the area where the money was dropped, picks up the coin, and hands it to me. I thank her.

Kourtney and I start discussing how wonderful Senegalese people are. In America, if I dropped money on the ground, a crowd would never gather to help me find the missing currency. We are genuinely impressed.

Unfortunately, as soon as these feelings of happiness arise, the girl who found the money finally breaks her silence with:

Girl: Give me 100 CFA.
Me: Excuse me?
Girl: I helped you find your money. Give me 100 CFA of it.
Me: ……
Girl: I helped you find your money! Give me 100 CFA! Give it to me!
Me [walking away and laughing]: Ha! You’re funny….

As Kourtney and I walked away, we discussed how typically Senegalese that whole scenario was. As a whole, Senegalese people are genuinely nice, but only to an extent. You can walk by someone’s compound that you don’t know, and they will invite you to lunch. This sort of hospitality is called teranga in Wolof. The Senegalese are famous for it. Regrettably, teranga has limitations. Yes, a Senegalese family will invite you to have lunch with them, but the second the meal is completed, they will either tell you to leave or completely ignore you, implying that their hospitality has ended.

Thus, the girl probably sat there the whole time we were searching for the money. She probably knew where it was from the beginning but wanted to be the one to find it so she could collect her reward. Unfortunately for her, the two stingy toubabs who lost the money in the first place were not willing to put up with that sort of behavior. We laughed and walked off.

I also find it funny (and I’m segwaying here) that people in Kaolack can always point out the Peace Corps volunteers. Kaolack is the third largest city in Senegal, so white tourists show up all the time. They are gracious and speak French. The Senegalese can always pick out the volunteers though because we speak in the local language and don’t put up with bullshit. When I am harassed at the garage, I yell in Wolof and shove people when they touch me. They always just laugh at say, “Ah, Corps de la Paix.” I guess I am pretty integrated because I act just like a Wolof.

I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

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    • mama
    • May 23rd, 2011

    “…laughed and walked off….” Your lucky you still had your wallet! Not handing over 100 CFA is one thing, laughing at her? No, not my toubab!?

    • Lindsey
    • May 24th, 2011

    That was definitely bold of that girl to ask you for a reward. And you know what we think of “bold.”

    • Sca-rah
    • May 25th, 2011

    That sounds about right. I’m so happy I have been there and can see in my mind the story as you tell it. Makes me happy.

    • kristen :)
    • May 29th, 2011

    I feel like I totally wouldve done the same thing as the girl haha

    Just want you to know that I think of you often love! Miss you.

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