So I forget…

To write here more often, especially when I have things to write about or generally show people. I’ve been hoarding it on instagram and my facebook page. During my service in Senegal we were given a simple ‘dumb’ phone, that is instead of a ‘smart’ phone (who comes up with these ideas anyways) it was a simple nokia. Bless nokia’s heart for that phone. Something that can survive a lot. I’m not going to go into details…lets say squat toilet and leave it at that. But with iphone’s being more available now with resale of older models, they become a ‘must’ when traveling.

Due to having an iphone instead of just a camera, photos, videos, and the like simply get sent to instagram or facebook with a few clicks and addition of a caption. Instead of downloading photos to my laptop, editing, uploading to the blog or an album. Hence my blog has suffered.

I’m trying to right my wrong today but giving a better glimsp of my photo posts, my visuals captured and reasons to what I shoot.

Typically I will upload photos to my albums on facebook, simply as its relatively fast to upload,  many of my friends/people get to see them, along with I can share with a link.

I have more than a few photo albums on facebook

 So for example I have 3 albums for Grenada already. Grenada-May. Grenada-June, July, August, and Grenada-Carnival. Most of these pictures are literally taken with my iphone through out the day/week as needed. Typically no reason, sometimes to remember something, or to look something up. Mostly to capture an interesting view or thing.

I should back up a little and explain that I use Picasa to organize and edit photos. It also has an awesome ‘collage’ feature. Over all very easy to use when searching for an image as it scans (based on settings) your computer for images constantly. And drag and drop for sorting into folders. LOVE.

Screenshot of my Picasa

The other place I typically have photos is on Instagram.

Randomness of my instagram

These are much like facebook are random shots from where I’m at. I have been trying to start taking photos of themes. So far #nectarplants or #honeyplants, as of course this is part of my ongoing research here on the island but in a larger scope (see here if you missed it). But also try to find the local stories, names, and history of this wonderful place. I’ve had Grenadians abroad tell me how much they enjoy seeing my picture of the island and make them homesick.

Much of my over arching goal here on the island and the third goal of Peace Corps is: To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. Or the way I interpret it, to help Americans get a better sense of places outside of America. Of course people reading this and seeing images I post are not only Americans, but capturing the sense of place, culture and people, giving it some context or description helps anyone better understand something.

I strive to understand the cultural context of the thing I’m taking a picture of, not just capturing it for the sake of a pretty picture. Typically I ask a few locals what the thing is, how it’s used, if it’s ‘normal’/’known’, and usually starts a larger conversation.

I have found my asking people of different ages and genders about anything will give me a much varied response. A younger generation might know the name and how it’s used. But someone older might remember using it or having it around when they are young, the object having a daily use in the household, typically more than one use and sometimes multiple names. This of course generalized and sometimes is reversed as the younger generation travels more broadly and know of more broad use or understanding of the ‘thing’ in question.

Much like ethnography, ‘the scientific description of the customs of individual peoples and cultures’ I want to better understand the ‘thing’ through the people here, rather than the ‘thing’ standing alone out of context.

Of course the ‘thing’ could be anything. From language, specifically word usage, plants, events, clothing to history. Of course some of these things can not be photographed but having the understanding helps to further understand other things. Everything is interconnected. And then try to explain my own culture, or American culture in general on top of that.  

It’s very fun capturing the nuances of a place. Lately I’ve been reminiscing of things I learned in Senegal that the locals would find ‘local knowledge’. Being a playful, teasing culture with many languages,  typically ‘outwitting’ your partner in conversation was always a goal. Having enough understanding of the culture, language and people made you a stronger player in the game.

Simularities and Differences: Grenada and Senegal

In some ways I dislike the idea of the topic of this post, but in other ways I have realized this is now I figure out my ‘new normal’ now. By taking what I know (or lived by for the last few years) and compare and contrast it to what I am seeing.

Strangely comparing was a ‘regular’ thing in Senegal for Senegalese to do to just about anything. At first I found it very annoying as things are ‘better’ or ‘worse’ they are different. Maybe you prefer one more than another, but being ‘better’ is only ‘better’ to you. I do not think I get my habit of comparing and contrasting from living in Senegal, but from stereotypes in general.

Stereotypes are a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing allows us to make efficient shortcuts and sense-making tools to understand the people and places around us more easily.

Without a due a few observations:

Praying with hands open and facing up: Interestingly enough this is done in a few of the churches I’ve attended and was the common way to pray in Senegal.

Non-verbal communication: Stoups (or what sounds like loudly sucking of your front teeth) is a sign of mostly annoyance but could be also shock, disbelief and amazement. Making a group wait to long in a queue would be taken very personally annoying and cause someone to do ‘stoup’ very loudly in a public setting in Grenada. Strangely more okay to be done in pubic (in general setting) than in a private (directed toward one person). I’ve heard grandparents becoming very upset by grandchildren doing it in their presence.

Clicking with the back of your throat (Idk if this has a name) is also done in both locations for a sign of simple agreement or understanding while not interrupting. (This is also apparently more on the East Coast than other parts of the island)

Transportation: Small passenger vans with sliding side doors wait till full and bring you along a route based on major towns. Public transportation has a cut off time at night to certain locations and doesn’t run on Sunday. This was also is very similar to Senegal. Buses in Senegal and historically Grenada were even painted simularly.

Right Grenada circa 2009 and left Senegal present day

Head coverings: Many people cover their heads with scarves, hats, stocking caps in Grenada, while in Senegal head coverings for women were standard as is common in Muslim religion,  unless it was for a big event where extensions of hair would be added for a more elaborate braided hairstyle.

Dressing for everyone else: In Senegal it was told to me at some point that your dress reflects your relationship with everyone else. It’s a sign of respect to your community, friends and family. In Grenada uniforms and dress are also very important and also show status and class. But I believe this idea of dressing for ‘them’ is also true here. It’s not to be ‘seen’ but to dress appropriate for the people attending the event.

I find the most interesting difference in dress being between the 2 churches I’ve attended. Catholic and Pentecostal.  Catholics were very modest and having almost no print even evident in most of the outfits, while the Pentecostal was much more colorful and patterned. Leg and arms could be shown at either, but cleavage and exposed shoulders were almost none. Scarves and light jackets covered any straps and bodices that may have been too revealing.

Very very welcoming: My initial host families (CBT and at site) in Senegal did not fit this idea, but the other families that adopted me in Senegal very much did. I have never been so well cared for by people that hardly know me. Strangers take you in to their house and you are immediately part of their families. It’s pretty cool. Senegal and Grenada both have this down. People here are really quite fun and welcoming and are very tolerant of ‘new’ people. Even my land-lady/host mom’s Catholic church ‘claims’ me as I’ve attended a few times and very much enjoy chatting with the congregation.

Catholic Church in Grenada

Overall, I’ve been very happy and living here has been ‘easy’ on many accounts and this I’m very grateful and blessed.

Going In and Coming Out: Not What You Think

Some of the first things we were taught in coming to Senegal with the Peace Corps are cultural norms that we will be using everyday and need to be aware of with our host families and working within this culture in general.In most cultures other than America, the right hand is considered your clean hand and your left is considered dirty. This is the simple basis of why we shake hands with our right hand. In Senegalese culture, this is very true. Handing things to another person with your left hand is considered not only rude but a sign of disrespect. So we are taught and trained to eat with our right hands. Not so easy for left-handed people who are using either a fork or more common a large spoon. Also the more common way to eat is without a utilizes here, using your right hand you scoop a small amount of rice, pressing it into your palm to make a small bite of food and then add sauce or meat to it before eating the entire thing in one bite.

There is or course, most certainly, a reason for this. Of course there is. There is always a reason right. Right hand of God. So that’s why, right?


You eat with your right hand. Like dig right in like a “2-year-old-and-scoop-it-up-and-put-it-in-your-mouth”. That sounds crude.”

Research shows that our bathroom posture plays a bigger role in these ailments than a lack of dietary fiber”

My favorite ethnic group here

So as weird as that might sound and of the many ethnic groups of Senegal, having one you prefer is just as normal as having one you don’t. Whether its the language you learned when you first came here or it’s who your host family most identifies with or who throws the best parties (any and all are good reasons) its easy to have. Tribes, clans, families, people you share sometime with is how we not only identify but confirm our sense of purpose in a place.

This favoritism might sound a bit xenophobic but we all do it. We show a preference to things, people and places over others. Hopefully not to the point of fully excluding some things, people or places but also if it’s not good for you, there is no reason to make yourself be around it.

My name last name is Sarr, is Sereer, but I live in a mostly Wolof village. With my open, big personality strangely I shy away from the Wolofs who are typically argumentative, loud and proud (this is not always the case, but is much more so generally than other ethnic groups)

While Sereers are quieter, seem to be more educated and seem to keep more of the historical stories. Personally, I would agree with this and since I’m writing this, of course Sereers are my preferred group of people to be around.

Some of the volunteers say that you can tell some of the ethnicity apart by looking at the, much like you can in the rest of the world, when you have an idea of what groups are involved.

Girls attending a wedding in my village

In reading Senegambia And the Atlantic Slave Trade by Bouabcar Barry I love the description of my family’s ethnicity,

“Farther south, the Wolof region shades into territory inhabited by the Sereer. The Sereer are a peasant people, originally from the Senegal River valley, where records indicate their presence up until the eleventh century. Having rejected both Islam and the domination of the Jolof, the Sereer gradually settled on the wooded highlands of the Siin and Saalum, traveling in successive waves of large family movements…who thus became the first to take possession of the woodlands, took on the functions of community heads and territorial rulers until the fourteenth century…” p. 16

Group of teenagers in my village sitting on a basin out at the gardens

Strangely reading this after being here for a year and half, I find it true as well. I do love Sereers and find myself drawn to them more so than others here by chance. When talking to a fellow volunteer in a Sereer village she mentions how typically dark skinned they are; deal with confrontations quietly, sometimes whispering even; and are overall hardworking and forward thinking.

There are Wolofs, Mandinkas,  Seerers, and some Pulars and Bamberas in this sub-region as well. And in Senegal are many more smaller ethnic groups such as Malian, Mauritanians, Gambians and others.