University of Minnesota Morris

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Thoughts and things

Living for an extended period of time in a world so different from my birth culture puts me in a constant state of thought and reflection. There is so much uncertainty and variety in the journey of life, and such infinite beauty in that subdued chaos.Even the simple daily interactions with friends, acquaintances, or strangers show the complexity of human relations, especially with respect to culture and language differences. One thing in particular that I've been thinking about lately is the different ways we respond to "thank you" in the three languages we use every day here. In English, the sense behind "you're welcome," in my understanding, is "you are welcome to it, the thing that you thanked me for." French speakers say "de rien," meaning literally "of/from nothing;" that is, the thing you thanked me for was nothing, was not a big deal. In Wolof (and this is by far my favorite response), we say "noo ko bokk" -- we share it. This so perfectly reflects the mentality of Senegalese people. Everything is shared and communal, even when there is virtually nothing to be shared -- that's Teranga.

It's just so beautiful to me that something as small as "noo ko bokk" can say so much about a particular culture, especially when compared with its equivalents in other cultures. The more Wolof I learn, the more I find that the whole language is just a perfect reflection of its people (or perhaps vice versa). For example, when you say goodbye to someone, you say "ba suba," "ba beneen yoon," or "ba ci kanaam," and each is always followed by "enchallah." None of these literally mean goodbye, but rather are merely parting words that promise a reunion at a later time, God willing (enchallah). I know this is the third time I've used beautiful in this blog post, but it really is such an incredibly beautiful way of parting and I'm certain that I know no other English words that can do it justice. The hope that this parting will not be the last and the faith that the opportunity will arise again, and the recognition that both depend on something greater than ourselves -- that is such a fundamental and natural element of this culture.

Comme d'habitude, there are plenty more thoughts on my mind that I had intended to post about today, but they will have to wait for another post. Ba beneen yoon, enchallah.


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