Why do we do the things we do? We usually have a reason that is either backed up by facts or by previous experience, or sometimes by tradition. Here, tradition dictates so many things in life. When asked, “Why do you do _____?” Often the answer is, “because that’s how it is.” Or “why is _____ bad?” The response is often just, “because it’s bad.” The older generations have ornate stories and traditions based on experiences and history that they can articulate as reasons for doing some of the things that they do, whereas the younger generation does not often know these reasons. They don’t often question why things are they way they are. It is just, “ko noon” (it is). Things are done in specific ways by most everybody, and going against these things is socially and culturally unacceptable. Here are a few things that either don’t make sense to me or people can’t explain why they do them. Some of them, even after being explained to me, still do not make sense.
Yawns – when a child yawns, you must cover their mouth with your finger until they close their mouth, then you touch their nose and their forehead as a prayer for health
Garlic – when cut in half, they cut the notch in the middle out because it “makes the rice taste bad”
Wrap up babies even when it’s hot – blankets and blankets! Woolen hats, socks. It is over 110 degrees midday! But no matter what, they keep them wrapped up. They often end up with heat rash, but maybe more accustomed to the heat?
Slurping the tea and drinking it very quickly – tea must be slurped loudly. It is often extremely hot, but you are expected to drink it very quickly.
Snapping when they raise their hands – really a good, efficient way to get attention in class/meetings, but Americans would find this rude.
Hissing to get your attention – gets real old.
Shoes upside down – when a flip flop is laying on the ground upside down, even if it is across the compound or house, someone will either flip it over or yell at a child to go to the shoe and flip it rightside up. This does NOT go ignored. I asked why they were so adamant about this and they said, “well if it’s upside down, people can’t wear them.” Yes, true. But yelling at someone from across the compound to go over to a random shoe to flip it over? Seems excessive.
Sweeping sand – Every day, the sand must be sweeped in the houses. This is a tedious task that takes up to an hour. This sweeps up the trash as well, which is good and ends up looking very nice and clean, but really… tedious. If trash was put in a trash receptacle, this would be done less often.
Fear of kittens, geckos, dogs – The way these were explained to me by an older generation Senegalese man was that cats/kittens are scary because if someone dies, they run away? Dogs, if someone dies, they sit. Somehow, this makes them terrifying to the point where people will not enter a house if there is a cat or dog nearby.
Squeaks when doing laundry – if you don’t make squeaking noises when you do the laundry (in a series of 3 to 5 buckets of water and different types of soap), your laundry is not clean.
Bathing in the river, river water is better for your body than tap water
Drinking river water is better for your body – this doesn’t make sense to me because river water often gives people giardia
Taking a shower when it’s too hot or too cold outside – it’s just ‘bad’.
Futuro, the 7pm/dusk prayer time – it is the time when you must go home, or so I am told every day. Also, you are not supposed to walk through doorways during this time (lasting the duration of the prayer) because there are ‘genies’ in the doorways.
Washing your face before you greet people in the morning – people do not acknowledge you are there before you have washed your face or they theirs.
Putting prayers in the doorway – protection.
Not eating the bitter tomato that they put in the lunch bowl every day but not saying that they don’t like it because that would mean they would be a witch.
Griots singing at you – they are religious people who sing AT you, not for you, and expect to be paid because they are praying for you.
Throwing out the last bit of water in the bottom of the cup every time you drink – even if you have spent the entire morning pulling that water from the well or cistern and making the effort to carry it to the house, the last bit is always thrown out (usually at the base of a tree nearby, which is good).
Holding onto the bowl with your thumb for good luck in marriage – an unmarried person around the lunch bowl must hold it from moving in order for good luck in marriage
Greetings – excessively and strangely. Asking people, how are you doing with tiredness? How are you doing with the heat? How are you doing with the stuff? Etc…
Gris Gris for protection against knives – prayers are written in arabic by a arabic teacher, they are then sewn into leather pouches that are hung around people’s necks, upper arms, and waists, and protect them from many things, one of which are penetration by knives. It is believed that, if you wear these gris gris and someone were to stab you, the knife would not penetrate you. Babies are adorned with these for protection of health, travel, snakes, etc.