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La Famille et Teranga

Family. Family is so important to the Senegalese. Perhaps only after Allah, family is the most important thing. They will be there for you no matter what, no matter when, no matter why. Even without blood relations, the people you live with are your family, your neighbors are your family, your friends as well, and for most people here all of Senegal is just one big family. It's part of the openness of this warm and welcoming culture. In Wolof, this is called Teranga. It implies hospitality, acceptance, and a culture of giving even when you have not. There is always room for one more at the dinner platter, no matter what.

My Senegalese family confused me profusely for the first few days: the layout, who was who, the connections, the whole shebang. At my house, I have Maman Rama, my brother Babacar, two nieces of Maman who are both named Rama as well, and two renters, Fatou and Jean-Luc. For about a month, we also have a German woman named Rike (Frederike) who lives with us. Aside from Rike and the renters, everyone in the house is related in some manner, but for me, everyone is a brother or a sister--it is so much simpler just to consider everyone a member of the family, especially since that is how it feels anyway.

Now, let me explain why the family confused me at first. On Saturday, Maman took me to a house-warming party of sorts; her niece (?) was married last week and was putting on her first big party as a married woman. There. Were. So. Many. People. Holy dustbins. Some people were introduced, some were not. Most were blood-related, but all were family. Even me! There were the endless siblings of Maman, some from the same parents, some from different parents. Some people were Maman's children, apparently, and I think I figured out the ultimate matriarch and patriarch, but I cannot be certain. There were some random Italian travellers there as well, and tons of children who got very excited when I danced the uza, this year's most popular dance style. I kept trying to keep everyone straight in my head, to remember names, to separate the French-speakers from the nons, to organize how each person was related, and to continue to smile and to interact in an almost chaotic situation. Yet, in retrospect, I realize now that knowing the exact details of the family simply doesn't matter because everyone is loved, everyone is family, no matter the connection. If I forget something or make a mistake, someone will remind me, laugh, and move on. People here really believe in being warm and kind, and they seem to be infinitely patient with the silly toubab that I am. And, as Babacar always says, c'est tranquille.


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