Veer Diarra's dance troupe showing off the moves
One thing you'll quickly learn upon visiting Senegal is that you can't go anywhere without being noticed. If you have light skin especially, you will stick out like a sore thumb. Even walking down the road will garner attention to make you feel like a diplomat or famous international star. When following local customs, you can greet people with 'Nanga def' or answer that greeting with 'Mangi fi' but most often, you'll use the French greeting 'Ca va' and will say it at least 50 times a day preceded by 'bon jour' or 'bon soir' depending on time of day. The word you will hear more often than even these greetings is 'tubop'. I discovered that it sounds a little different depending on where in West Africa you go. In Mali it's 'tubob' with a 'b' instead of 'p'.
One side of the compound housing
In other areas you'll even hear 'tubabu'. The spellings vary and sometimes you'll see it written as 'toubab' or some other variation. 'Toubab' is the generic name for a white person used in many parts of West Africa to address a person. It is not meant in a derogatory way but sometimes you have to remind yourself of that. In the areas of Senegal I visited, 'tubop' practically becomes your name.
As you walk down the street, you come upon houses where often times, children will be milling about or playing out front in groups of sometimes up to 15 or more. When they see you, they come running out to the road, arms extended and ready to shake hands. This process can become overwhelming when you have 15 little grubby hands to shake and each one of them is proclaiming 'tubop' over and over.
Then, the children from the other side of the road will see this and come running out to join in and this ritual begins all over. A 10 minute walk into town can have you going through this a dozen times or more and that 10 minutes easily turns into 30. There is no getting anywhere quickly in Africa. What I had to remember often is that no harm is meant by the term and the locals are really just excited to see a 'foreigner' since, in Tambacounda
, it is a rare occurence. Remembering this helped me to temper my attitude and my response although it was a challenge at times. So, if you go to West Africa, a typical day will consist of being called 'tubop' about 300 times. Tubop! Tubop! Tubop! Tubop! Tubop!