Posted by: The Glove | February 16, 2012

What Would You Like to Know About Senegal? (Part 1)

When I joined Peace Corps, I signed up to do a partnership through an organization named World Wide Schools. I was paired up with a high school in America, who nicely sent me a bunch of questions in the fall. I took my sweet time getting back to them, but I thought my answers might be of interest to all of you. If you have any additional questions, I’ll be happy to respond. The whole thing ran to about six pages, so I’ll post it in parts:


Senegal was colonized by France. Do you see any evidence of French culture mixing with the African culture. Can we have some examples.

The largest remaining evidence of colonialism is in the schools. Although very few people in Senegal are raised speaking French at home (they speak local languages), French is the language of instruction beginning the first year of primary school. Students need to learn French in order to learn the various other topics. Furthermore, like in France, the school week is Monday-Saturday, unlike its neighbor Gambia, a former British colony. Interestingly, you also hear people pepper French words and phrases into their local language, either because those words do not exist in the local language, or because the French words are easier.

In large cities, you see more of a French influence. You can find “upscale” French restaurants and old colonial buildings. At the village level, there was very little contact with colonial authorities, so you see almost no remnants of that.


What’s the food like? Do they eat any type of exotic foods (foods that Americans do not normally eat).

Food in Senegal varies according to class. At the village level, people will typically eat millet or rice porridge for breakfast. Depending on availability, it will consist of rice/millet, peanuts, sugar and either water or milk (fresh or sour). In cities, people will often eat bread with either a chocolate spread or beans. If one can afford it, lunch will be rice. If not, more millet.

There are three staple dishes for lunch. First is ceebu jen, often called the national dish of Senegal. It is whitefish stuffed w/herbs served on top of rice cooked in oil. On top of the rice you can find onions, potatoes, carrots, cassava and eggplant (although not very much). You can substitute meat for the fish (when we eat this, it’s usually with goat meat). The second dish is mafe, which is a peanut butter and tomato sauce, again served over rice. If you can afford it, you can add meat or vegetables to this as well. The third dish is yassa, my personal favorite. The sauce is based around onions and mustard, and usually it is served with a lot of carrots too. This can be eaten with meat or fish as well. Additionally, in my region, our normal lunch is a sauce named “foleere,” which Is made from okra and hibiscus leaves. This is the staple dish of my region.

Dinner will typically be leftover rice or porridge made of millet couscous. The coucous is very dry, so you will either pour milk over it, or a broth that can include beans, peanut butter, tomato paste, and many other assorted ingredients.

In terms of exotic foods, the biggest difference is probably the amount of goat consumption. In poor villages, goats are the most commonly consumed animals. Moreover, when families kill their animals to eat, they eat all parts of the animal, not just the choice cuts. I try to avoid eating the grosser organs. The more rural you get, the more likely they also are to eat bush weasels or any other animal they can find/kill, due to a lack of protein.


What type of music do they create, listen to and like?

Up until recently, the biggest music was a genre named mbalax. It’s a type of dance music, whose most famous proponent is Youssou N’Dour. However, recently rap music has become the most popular music for youth, particularly Akon, who is of Senegalese descent. They listen to a lot of American pop music as well, and you’ll hear people talk about Justin Bieber, Michael Jackson, etc. In my region, the people are ethnically Pulaar, a large West African ethnic group, so they often listen to Pulaar music. This is my favorite Pulaar song.


What type of clothing do they wear?

Men typically wear a traditional two-part African robe called a boubou. The top can go down all the way to the ankle (or higher if one chooses), with either full of half sleeves. It features a great deal of embroidery around the collar. The pants have a drawstring and are usually fairly loose. Women can either wear a similar outfit (with the pants replaced by an ankle-length skirt), or a two-part shirt/skirt combination where the shirt has either short or no sleeves (like a fancy tank top).


Do they have Breakfast, lunch and dinner? What are their meals like?

They eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, much like Americans. However, unlike Americans, meals are eaten communally at a small number of bowls. My family usually has six people eating out of one bowl. People will either eat with their hands or with spoons. At the more rural level, spoons are less often seen (thus leading to problems with hygiene). Lunch is usually served around 2-3 in the afternoon, and dinner is typically between 8:30 and 10 PM.



  1. I would like to know something about your “what would you like to know about Senegal?” piece. What is that song about and what makes it your favorite? It sounds nice and reminds me of the Caribbean!

    • The song is about the losing candidate in the 2010 Guinean elections, Cellou Diallo. It’s essentially a bunch of campaign promises (there will be enough water, food, electricity, etc.).

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