wax: to say

On my return from the Île de Madeline (Madeleine Island, an island off the coast of Dakar and an easy day trip—less than 30 minutes away by pirogue) I run into one of my guard friends on the street. He is my favorite of all the four guards at this station, always ready with a friendly face and great advice for me. I greet him and his friend sitting next to him.

Foo jogé? (Where are you coming from?)

Île de Madeline laa jogé, I say.

Ah, nexoon na? (Was it good?) they ask.

Waaw waaw, nexoon na, I agree.

My guard friend asks if I swam there. Sangu nga foofu? When I say yes, they both widen their eyes with surprise. Senegalese always seem to be surprised when they find out I have just gone swimming in the ocean; they think the water is really cold. Xanaa seddul? (Was it not cold?)

Dafa sedd tutti (it was a little cold), I agree.

Now, I try to use a little more Wolof—specifically the word ngelaw, which means wind. Ngelaw, dafa bari foofu (there was a lot of wind there), I say. But they stare at me blankly. I try again. Ngelaw, dafa bari foofu. Still no recognition.

I start to feel a bit stupid and lost, and am considering giving up when suddenly, they understand. Laughing, they both say, Ah, ngelaw! Ngelaw, dafa bari foofu!

My guard friend explains it to me. It’s nge-LAW, not n-GE-law. You say it with such an English speaker’s accent!

Ah, I see! They make me say ngelaw a few times correctly before I can leave, enunciating each syllable until I have it down. After I leave with a parting thank you, I think that I will never forget how to say the Wolof word for wind!

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