So you know what makes people like 8 billion more times more likely to not think you’re an asshole? Stumbling through “hello” in their first language. (Shocking, I know.) I entered Senegal with the impression that this language was, for most people, French. It’s not. Instead, it’s Wolof–and now that I know how to appropriately greet people in it* people are substantially less likely to glare at me. Success.
As far as I know, Senegal is unusual in rejecting the colonial language in favor of a native language for the lingua franca. Though there are of course other major languages in Africa in general and in countries specifically (like Swahili and Hausa), countries like Kenya use the colonial language in public discourse in attempt to appear forward-looking to the west.
Senegal, despite having been the capital of French West Africa, seems to have rejected that. Of course most people here speak French (and Wolof, Serer, English, and Spanish), but it’s a learned language just like it is for me. There are some interesting identity politics going on behind what language people do their business and greeting in, I think. Of course I don’t speak enough Wolof or know enough Senegalese to really know much about this. It’s something I’ll be looking for as the semester goes on and my Wolof improves.
Otherwise, Dakar remains as the place with the most beautiful weather that I’ve ever lived in. Now that I’ve been here four days, I’m getting to know the neighborhood. I’ve managed to negotiate purchases in French and Wolof without horrifying people (not true, always), and I’m learning where things are. I don’t like the first few days of adjustment to a new place, so settling in is nice.
Host family move-in happens tomorrow, and I’m excited to meet my host parents and siblings. Apparently my family is well-regarded by everyone who knows them–in particular, everyone who I’ve mentioned my host dad’s name to has said that he’s super-nice and super-knowledgeable.
* The greeting, as well as several of the basic exchanges, seems to actually be pulled from Arabic. The fun and excitement of the Muslim world!