Senegal Observations

Some random observations about Senegal:

You must bargain over virtually every purchase. I would have thought that would drive me crazy, but you get used to it. And the Senegalese sense of humor makes it fun, since a huge part of the bargaining process is making the other guy laugh. If you are at a place where negotiations seem to be at an impasse and you add in some Wollof sprinkled with even more broken French, they crack up into gales of laughter, and give in on the price. Once a guy told me that he could not possibly go any lower because the money was for his mother. I countered, “But this is a Christmas gift for MY mother, and I cannot go any higher!” (Sorry Mom, it was actually something for me!)

What really drives me crazy about this place is that NO ONE ever has change. It is really frustrating for the whole bargain to fall apart at the last minute because they can not make change. I have had a lot of time to consider this problem while waiting for people to run around trying to get change for my bills. It is not only a problem of me being a rich American with crisp big bills from the ATM. Even for small purchases, when I show up with a perfectly reasonable bill (for instance, a 500 CFA note for a 200 CFA purchase) the problem happens. It seems to be because there are too many sellers and too few buyers. The sellers probably only consumate a few transactions per day, and as a result they do not have a big bank to draw on to make change.

Senegalese food is really good. We have not yet found something we do not like. The fish is cooked with spices to make the meat tasty all the way through. Meat (beef, squid, and chicken) is served with a really tasty onion sauce. Bissop juice is one of our favorite drinks. It is a tea of hibiscus blossoms chilled and sweetened with sugar. Even the lowly tea made by men to pass the time is great. It is super strong, with a touch of mint. It is served in tiny glasses with a carefully crafted mousse on top. I learned how to make it from our friends here, and I plan to make it at home for friends and family.

We have taken to the local custom of eating with spoons from a shared plate. The other day we made an American-style potato and egg breakfast. Instead of having to do dishes for four people, we all readily agreed to eat right out of the pan as though it were a Senegalese serving platter. We did not, however sit on the floor of the boat, and as there is toilet paper in Wonderland’s head, we let the lefties use their left hands to eat. (If you don’t understand what toilet paper, left-handed people, and eating have to do with each other, check out this.)