My five short months in Senegal flew by much too fast. While I advocate for the element of surprise as a crucial aspect of cultural immersion, here are a few tips and tricks that may be useful on your journey.
Basic Cultural norms:
- About 95% of the population practices Islam- it is a fascinating religion I love learning about. Do your research and be aware of religious practices and expectations (especially if you are traveling during Ramadan or other holidays)
- You are free to wear what you please. Ladies, Senegal is a more conservative country and values modesty more than my community in the United States. That being said, women may wear shorts, short skirts, short dresses etc. While this is acceptable, you will most likely warrant even more cat calling and inappropriate comments. Dressing more conservatively became much more comfortable as I was harassed a lot less.
- The left hand is considered dirty
- Most places will not have toilet paper and instead people use water and their left hand. For this reason the left hand is considered dirty and you should never give or receive anything with this hand. Nor should you eat with your left hand (as a left hand eater, I simply had to adjust)
- “Toubab”- you come from privilege
- “Toubab” means white person/ foreigner in Wolof. You will likely hear this as you roam the streets or markets and chances are, people will ask you for money. Regardless of what you consider your socio-economic status to be, chances are you are relatively fairly well off. Having the means to travel sets you apart automatically. There is no need to be offended or be rude when you get approached. Simply smile and continue walking or respond “Am uma xaalis” (am- ou-ma-ha-leese) which means “I do not have money” in Wolof
Don’t forget to include these items on your packing list:
- Comfortable, light weight clothes for the heat
- linen pants ended up being my go to bottomsMy travel doctor mentioned mosquitos are attracted to blues so avoid that color
- Good walking shoes
- Diva Cup
- this is a big one! Trash cans in restrooms are rare, this means that disposing of sanitary products turned into a nightmare. Each month I regretted not investing in one while I was in the states- this was literally one of my first purchases upon return
- Malaria medication
- I used mefloquine, the once a week medication was much more convenient for me than a daily pill I would likely forget
- Shower shoes/ beach shoes
- Lightweight sunscreen
- Adapter for charging
- Medication for traveler’s diarrhea
*** People tend to dress much nicer than we would in the United States. People don’t stroll around in exercise clothing. Your outfits are up to your discretion, I went to goodwill to buy some skirts and long dresses that looked nice but I was not upset about sweating in or getting dirty- this worked very well for me.
- Haggling is huge- As a foreigner, don’t expect to pay same prices but it would be a good idea to ask around to see how much a taxi ride to a certain place would cost or how much a certain good should cost. Chances are you won’t get a local price, but hey, you are supporting the local economy!
- Be open minded and talk to locals. People in Senegal are very kind and willing to help. I learned the most and had the most fun chatting with people I met at markets, restaurants, etc.
- Bring a journal- I did not take up journaling until I went to Senegal and I am so glad I documented all the fun, challenging and unique memories.
- Take lots of pictures, you will never regret taking one but can regret not taking enough.
To see more pictures of my study abroad adventure in Senegal, check out my first blog.