One of the beauties of Senegal is the value teranga, or hospitality. But it is more than that—it means a house where the door is always open, where family and friends drop by at any time without warning to sit and chat. It means strangers who invite you to drink àttaya with them on the sidewalk, under a shady tree. It means talking to everyone on the street—the fruit sellers, the security guards, the shopkeepers, the phone card vendors.
As a result of my daily walk to school and back multiple times a day, as a result of my various adventures around the neighborhood, I have made several regular friends who I greet each time I pass. It’s always a wonderful time to stop and chat with my friends on the street—each time, I learn something new.
There are the young security guards who work for the large house down the street from me, four of them who rotate. All of them are so friendly and kind, shake my hand, and teach me new words or tell me stories about Senegal. Sona Ndiaye! they cry happily when I come by, and I shake each of their hands. One tells me all about Zuiguinchor, when he finds out that I will be going there for spring break. Another gives me friendly advice when I walk by with my messenger bag—You’d best keep an eye on that! Carry that on your other side, away from the street. They are so fun to talk to, and I always look forward to greeting them, even after a long, tiring day.
There is the security guard for the Franco-Arab preschool that I pass on my walk to school, who is usually joined by another older guard, Malick, and an older grandfather-age man who lives in the house there. Sona Ndiaye, they grin, and extend their hands. To pass them every morning and exchange a few greetings is always a pleasure, and they always make sure I have eaten—Ndekki nga bupaaray? Añ nga bu soor? Did you eat breakfast already? Did you eat lunch and are you full?
Waaw, waaw, I always say. Maangiiy dem jangiiy, ba ci kanam! I’m going to school, see you later!
I have also made friends with the older woman who sells fruit in front of the mosque by school. Sona Ndiaye, she smiles. Nagadef? Whenever I buy multiple fruits from her—a bunch of bananas or a handful of oranges—she will always throw in another banana or orange on the side.
Another group I always chat with are the young men who sell Orange phone company cards just outside the supermarket and ATM. They are fun to banter with. Geej naa la gis! Long time no see! they tease if it’s been a day or two.
Not to mention Baye Fall who runs the boutik next to my house, with his big wide smile, loud voice and dreadlocks. Sona Ndiaye! he bellows. I am thankful for his friendly personality and the fact that I always practice the most Wolof with him. He has taught me so many words—gëj (beach), juma (mosque), and ñao (to sew), just to name a few. When I leave my house late one night, Baye Fall worries seeing me pass by—Fooy dem? Where are you going? When I tell him it’s just to the tailor’s down the street, he is clearly relieved. My whole neighborhood is looking out for me!
It is truly the people who have made my experience in Senegal such a wonderful time—not just my host family, but my friends on the street. Senegal truly is the land of teranga—of warm, friendly smiles, of greeting strangers, of making even travelers like me feel at home.