Dakar Travel Blog› entry 1 of 37 › view all entries
Communication. I must be crazy to think that this should be my major. I cannot for the life of me communicate properly. At first, I was the most nervous about my rudimentary French speaking skills in general. But my experience meeting a member of my host family for the first time today was intimidating and I struggled like never before in my whole French-speaking "career." If you're learning a language, I beg you to get into some kind of immersion experience or consistent and regular convseration of your subject as soon as possible. Even if you never become fluent, it is so worth the education in understanding others in our gigantic (yet oftentimes still small) world.
Anyway, enough ranting. The trip actually hasn't been that bad yet at all. If anything, my big communication problems will start in two days when I actually move into the homestay home. Today, I just met my "brother" and awkardly spoke with him for thirty minutes. The family sounds cool - apparently they have a sheep.
I think the jet lag has finally worn off; we at last had enough energy to explore the streets around our hotel. We had an activity this morning where we were each given a Senegalese object, had to ask locals about it, and share the information with the group. Yesterday we had a brief "Wolof 101" class where we earned the basic salutations of the local African language. "Nanga def" roughly tranlates to "How are you?" So, we approached random people on the street with objects such as an old tomato can with a wire handle, a rolled up stick of leaves, a handful of seashells, and a pot filled with some kind of nut. As we met them - "Nanga def!" Over and over again, reciprocation consisted of serious stares and shifty eyes as they continued to walk away. Even the "Bonjours" we projected failed to get us any friends in this predominately French-speaking country.
Then, a girl in my group remembered a magical word, a word not often tried my foreigners, but when used properly, can gain one entry into the heart and sympathetic soul of any Senegalese man or woman. This word: Asalaamalakum. Try saying that ten times fast. Essentially, it's simply a greeting. And the confusing part is the standard response, which is the word inverted: Malakumsalaam. (So imagine me opening with this second response in attempt to talk to people, and them looking at me like I was deranged.)
Asalaamalakum! It's the key! We seem to shout it out into the street to nobody in particular, and heads turn in our direction, smiles spread across faces, and a resounding "ahhhhh!!!" is the heard. Immediately, a construction worker put his work down and talked with us for fifteen minutes, a woman took the time out of her journey home to explain in detail each of our objects, and another woman even demonstrated how to use the shells to predict the future.
So, if you ever find yourself in Senegal, and your French salutations are getting you minimal 'oui' or 'non' answers, "Asalaamalakum!" is your yellow brick road to success.