Heather in Senegal

Saturday, April 14, 2007

People like to tell me what they think of my Pulaar. Sometimes they are blunt about it not being great, other times they are very encouraging about the progress I've made. My most emphatic support for my Pulaar comes not when I use new vocabulary or have an in depth conversation, but when I make people laugh.

I was walking in the market a few months ago and heard a man hissing at me. Men often hiss to get attention. (I heard about a Peace Corps volunteer being thrown out of a restaurant in Europe for absorbing this habit and thoughtlessly using it to get a waitress's attention.) I did not turn my head to look at the man. The woman walking beside, whom I'd never met, told me that the man wanted my attention. I told her that were he a friend of mine he would call my name, and that his hissing showed he was just a flirt. She said, "You speak the truth," and we parted ways. A woman who had overheard this said to me with delight, "You can really speak Pulaar!"

When a roofer came to my house to talk about prices we had a long while to sit and chat before negotiations began. We talked about a variety of things, and he seemed impressed but not stunned by my Pulaar. As it always does, the conversation arrived at whether I will take him to America, and if I will not take him, what kind of gift I will give him. He told me I should give him a car. I said fine, but that he must give me a gift too. He asked what I wanted, and I said, "An airplane." He burst out laughing and told me I really speak Pulaar. He repeated this exchange to my host mom, and I have heard her repeating it twice.

When I interact random people on the street or talk to vendors, if one of the people is a man I will receive a marriage proposal. If I decline the invitation, saying the man is ugly, stupid, smelly, too wimpy to satisfy me in bed, or something else insulting, I win big laughs and will usually hear someone say approvingly, "she can really speak Pulaar!"

Last night my host sister said she thinks I don' t like wearing Senegalese outfits. She's right. The tops are too baggy and hot, and the wrap around skirts require too much thought. There are specific rules on how to tie them, including that they must always open to the left, and I am no good at tying them securely in such a way that neither limits my stride nor flashes views of my upper thigh. My sister said she could not understand why I don't like the outfits, arguing that she has seen other white people choosing to wear Senegalese garments. I have heard this before in terms of having my hair braided, piercing my ears, having multiple boyfriends, eating meat, drinking local water, and everything else I do not like to do that someone has at some point seen another volunteer or American do. I asked Khadja, the girl sitting next to my sister whether she likes cucumbers. She does. My sister does not, so I proceeded to tell my sister that it made no sense for her to not like cucumbers in light of the fact that other Senegalese people enjoy them. She laughed told me that because I can speak Pulaar so well now I am welcome to wear whatever I like.


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