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Now What?

                                                             NOW WHAT?

Dear readers,

I am back, and I am sorry for such a long silence. At this junction, I felt the need to write on the blog, again. There is this urgency that took hold of me as we entered January and the inevitable is upon us. You know what I am talking about. The 45th President of the United States of America is going to be inaugurated on January 20th, and I cannot help but feel restless, and continuously disappointed with how the 2016 presidential elections unfolded.

I was super excited about this election, even more so than in 2008 when the possibility of the first Black President gave us hope for progressive change, and made many of us root for Barack Obama. This election was a milestone for me. I was going to have my voice heard after years of sitting on the sidelines and watching. As a recently naturalized citizen and a first time voter (Yes, I am ashamed to confess that I never voted in Senegal, although I was the first to complain about the government), I could not wait to cast my vote. I registered as undecided and studiously read about the history of both major parties. I followed the campaign closely and leaned toward Bernie, though the possibility of having the first Woman President took over my heart most of the time. When it was clear that Bernie would not be the democratic nominee, I easily went with Hillary. I watched all debates and was confident that her opponent had no chance at winning. Not because I underestimated him, but because I overestimated the American people’s goodness, their tendency to fight for justice, and their ability to think for themselves. However, when I saw his rallies on television and listened to people around me, I was shocked that so many, especially women, found him capable of assuming the highest office in our democracy. The realization that such a large number of people espoused his scary ideas was overwhelming.

I voted early in my state to make sure I did not miss out on the opportunity. I proudly wore my “I voted” sticker all day, and smiled every time I looked at it. I was elated, and proudly American. I guess like many of you, I was too arrogant and comfortable in my belief that she would win. I did not necessarily agree with all she stood for, but the alternative was not an option for me, and I liked to believe that it was not the option for most Americans. Although it is true that the majority of Americans voted for her, he still won, and THAT, is the truth that we need to face. A good number of Americans thought that his rhetoric and propaganda were what they needed, and went out in numbers to have their voices heard.

My nervousness turned into shock when he won. I did not know what to tell my children when they woke up excited that she had won. My daughter cried, and my son sat on his bed, silent. I hugged them and held my tears. I realized then that they went to bed in one country, and woke up in a very different one. One in which we might have to fight harder than even before, to matter. I considered taking everything I own and run back to Senegal. As the Wolof saying goes: daw ca ba ngay ami tank [One should run while one has legs]. Yes, I freaked out. At work, my colleagues cried with me. Without telling me, they had worried about me because they saw me as one of the people he was targeting in his speeches and tweets: I am an immigrant, a Muslim, and a woman. Their support showed me that many Americans were not happy he won.  After the initial shock, I was numb for days.

Now, the man who vowed to deport millions of immigrants and block another million of Muslims from entering the US, a man who was caught on tape talking about women as objects with no value that he could use and discard at his will, is going to head the most powerful country in the free world. This worries me so much that sometimes I do not sleep well at night. I am worried about the future, and I cannot find peace in knowing that America is a strong democracy with a majority good people who would not stand aside and let him have his way. I am worried about the future of my children who know no other country but this one. However, when I thought more about going back to Senegal, I was reminded that this country is mine too. I have lived here most of my adult life, and my children were born here and know no other home. They have the right to this country as much as I have a right to Senegal.

It is only few days before his inauguration. My shock and panic are dissipating slowly and I have come to terms with the inevitability of his presidency. However, I will not be disempowered. I have decided that he may have won the electoral vote, but he will not win over me. During the first weeks after the elections, I hesitated to answer people’s eternal question “where are you from?” These days I respond: “I was born and raised in Senegal, but I am an American too.” Depending on how the conversation carries, I might add: “I am a Muslim too.” If they voted for Uuru Aara[1], they would know that I am pretty much the sum of all identities whose rights he promised to alienate. But they would also see that I am here, I am staying, and I am not afraid.

As always, your comments and feedback are welcome. I’ll be thrilled to hear your experiences with this year’s elections and how you feel about the future.

Senamericanly yours.

[1] In Wolof culture when you are upset with someone and do not want to utter their name, you call them Uuru Aara, which does not really have a literal meaning but is understood as “the one whose name I do not want to utter.”

Ferguson: Playing it Safe Does Not Make us Safe


It has been three weeks since Michael Brown― an unarmed African American teenager —was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. His death has sparked several days of  protest in his community and across America against the brutal execution of young black men by a majority white police. Once again, a young black man has lost his life for seemingly no reason other than the color of his skin. We know too well this scenario and how it will end up. The policeman will be found not guilty of any wrong-doing while the black community stays awake at night wondering who among them is next. It seems like there isn’t much they can do other than cry out loud that they are outraged by America’s casual acceptance of racial injustice. Amidst this tumult, I have yet to hear the black immigrant communities raise their voices against the victimization of native-born blacks. Where are the Africans, the Haitians, the Jamaicans and other black immigrant communities in the US?

African immigrants might think that we are beyond police brutality because we are different, we speak with an accent and try to raise our children to be the “good blacks,” by playing it safe, minding our  business, and abiding by the law. However, staying on the sidelines will not protect us from racism and racial profiling. The  police that killed Amadou Diallo in 1999 is the same police that is indiscriminately shooting and killing young black men in 2014. This police will not ask to hear your accent no will it inquire about where you are originally from before riding bullets across your body. More importantly, our children are not different from African Americans. They do not always speak with an accent or walk with the African swagger that we use to recognize each other. They are blacks in America. That and only that, makes them immediate targets of racial profiling, and eventually police brutality.

As  immigrants, we might feel that America is just a temporary home and that sooner or later we will go back to our countries of origin, but for now, this is where we live and work, and this is where our children were born and will likely live the rest of their lives. Right now, this is the only home we’ve got and it is in our best interest to make it safe for us. I understand that most of us do not identify with the African American community, and we should not because many of us became black when we came to America. Culturally we are different, but when it comes to racism and racial discrimination, all blacks are treated the same. Keeping quiet and telling our encounters with racism and racial prejudice only in our private homes, and acting as if whatever is happening in the black community does not concern us, will not save us. It only makes us more vulnerable because when racial injustice imminently befalls our communities, we will not be equiped with the means to fight back. We need to be more involved in our communities, school boards, and local government. We need to show that we do not support the victimization of other black people by rejecting the fallacy of being “the good black” because when it comes to racism and racial profiling, all blacks whether native-born or immigrants, are suspects until proven innocent.

Few days ago, I attended a last minute event organized in my community in remembrance of Michael Brown and those killed by police brutality. There were only four of us, and I was the only black person. Sitting there and chatting with the three white participants, I wondered whether I had any business being there. Then driving home and reflecting on the events surrounding the killing of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and now Michael Brown, I felt tremendous fear and anxiety for my sons. I imagined them as teenagers and young men, and realized that they would not look any different from Trayvon or Michael. They would wear hoodies and walk in dark alleys at night, they would go out at night to a dance club or just hang out with their friends; they will be young black men in America. This vision made me realize that I too should publicly protest the killing of Michael Brown for the human being he was, for the dreams he had that we will never see realize, and for the sake of my children, I should scream that black lives matter too. I should extend my hand to Michael Brown’s mother and tell her that I feel her pain, that I too am scared for my sons.

I am not condoning Michael Brown’s alleged crime nor am I supporting the looting and chaos that happened during the protests. I am also not  saying that all police officers engage in racial profiling. However, we do know that blacks are more likely to be arrested for routine violations and petty crimes. Since the election of Barack Obama, there seems to be an heightened fear of the black man. For these reasons, I do feel that black immigrants should have joined the protests in Ferguson, and they should have raised their voices against the shooting and killing  of unarmed young black men across America. I wrote the draft of this post on Tuesday morning last week, and on Thursday, this article appeared in the Guardian. I am glad I am not the only one who feels this way.

 I look forward to your comments.


Senamericanly yours


#Ferguson : My Thoughts on an American Flashpoint

This is by far the best reaction I have read about the events in Ferguson. Just brilliant.


“…It was the corroboration of their worth and their power that they wanted, and not the corpse, still less the staining blood.”  James Baldwin, “To Be Baptized,” from No Name in the Street, 1972

I have been asked by many people to take a close look at the Michael Brown shooting case in Ferguson, Missouri and offer my opinion.  I felt it best to take a step back and really absorb all the circulating currents of opinion and matters of fact before I made any personal pronouncements.  This is my best attempt to answer that call, hopefully soberly, responsibly and with as much restraint as I can muster in the face of this deeply American tragedy.  This is inherently a blog about food and food culture, but anyone who regularly reads this blog understands that it also is a blog about social and cultural justice.  It is clear to…

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My daughter is very curious about how I did things when I was a child. Recently, she wanted to know what I dressed like for Halloween and was almost sad for me when I told her that we did not have Halloween in Senegal. She was shocked when I revealed to her that we do have something similar but people do not trick-or-treat for candy! How can one trick-or-treat for anything other than candy? I know those of you who are from Senegal know which holiday I am referring to, but for the sake of my readers who are not, I would like to explain Taajaboon.

Taajaboon is a celebation held on the night of Achoura or Tamxarit (Wolof) which often falls between the 9th and 10th day of the Muslim New Year. In the Muslim tradition, Achoura commemorates the day Moses freed the Jews from Pharaoh. It is meant to be a day of fasting, prayer and accomplishment of good deeds such as touching the head of an orphan or giving alms. For Sunni Muslims, the day is one of happiness and rejoicing while for Shiites, it is a day of mourning because it is also the anniversary of the decapitation of Imam Hussein at the battle of Kerbala in the year 680.

In Senegal, a majority Sunni Muslim, Tamxarit highlights the country’s religious hybridity becauseTaajaboon is not practiced in other Muslim communities and the whole celebration combines elements of indigenous religions with Islam. Tamxarit is celebrated with a copious dinner made of millet couscous and a fancy lamb or chicken stew. Adults would spend the day saying verses of the Koran on their rosaries. However after dinner, families would take turns saying three consecutive wishes on the back of a bowl (usually the one they ate dinner from) and turning it over to the ground at the end of each wish. Later that night, children, and adults who feel like it, would cross-dress, paint their faces with ashes or white talcum powder, and go from house to house trick-or-treating. This is the Taajaboon part of the celebration.

The local Muslim lore suggests that it is on the night of Tamxarit that the Angel of Death chooses those who are to die during the course of the upcoming year. So children are jokingly told to eat well at dinner so that they are too heavy for the Angel of Death to carry. The cross-dressing and the painting of faces translate this notion of hiding from the Angel of Death who would not recognize men from women since the gender lines are blurred through costumes and the unrecognizable faces. The costumes and scary faces also add humorous and spooky elements to the celebration.

Children are told to leave a shirt with pockets in the living room for the angel to bring them gifts (I believe this part is borrowed from the Christian tradition of Santa Claus bringing gifts on Christmas night.). The day after is the culmination of the holiday when families gather in the morning to recite specific verses of the Koran and pray for the year ahead to be better than the previous one. It is also believed that at a certain time of the day, those who put black kohl around their eyes and look up the sky, would see the soapy waters discarded by Fatoumata Bintou (daughter of the Prophet Mohamed (SAS)) after she finished washing her clothes.

An important aspect of Taajaboon is the singing and dancing that goes along. There is pretty much one song delivered in different versions throughout the night. The song emulates a conversation between the Angel of Death and the person it has come to take. The lyrics state that the Angel of Death has two sides. It will come from above and land on the ground. It will ask the person if they have prayed and fasted. If the person answers no, they would go to Hell. If they answer yes, they would go to Heaven. Groups are often divided by age. When they arrive at a house, they would sing the song and show off their costumes. When they receive a treat, they would dance and say prayers before heading to the next house.

The best part of Taajaboon for me as a child was the anticipation of the event and the creativity involved in making a drum from large tin cans, as well as borrowing clothes from my dad’s closet in order to have the most “manly” costume. It was an occasion to bond with friends because like Halloween, the essence of the festival is to have fun. The treats range from a cup of rice, millet, corn or sugar, to money. Often, groups would meet and strategize about their action plan and how to get the most treats. Our group would get together later in the week in order to have a party where the proceeds of our trick-or-treating would be prepared into a meal. Depending on how much of each item we got during Taajaboon, we would resell a portion to our moms in order to buy other ingredients we would need for our party.

Taajaboon has many similarities with Halloween such as the port of costumes, the trick-or-treating, and the bonding with friends. A major difference though is that Taajaboon does not have the consumerism culture that surrounds Halloween with the ridiculous amounts of candy and costume sales. But despite the fact that I worry about my kids’ teeth on Halloween, I really enjoy the holiday! I wrote this post wearing my purple witch hat.

Happy Halloween!

To my Senegalese readers, happy Taajaboon on November 12!

Immigrant Children and Language


Language is an important aspect of our cultural identity. As immigrants, being able to keep our native languages alive by passing them on to our children is a source of great pride. It is also a way for some of us to demonstrate that despite our physical displacement, we remain culturally grounded in our communities of origin. However, sometimes our children are not ready or willing to speak our languages. In this case, there is no greater source of frustration for the immigrant parent. Because I work in the educational field, I often have these conversations with students whose parents are immigrants from different parts of the world, and many acknowledge that they refrain from speaking their parents’ native languages in public because they do not want to come across as different to their peers. This is the reason why some children may be comfortable speaking their parents’ native language at home, but in public, would respond to their parents in English only. I have seen this in the Senegalese immigrant communities I have interacted with. I have also observed that some parents, because they are eager to claim the American experience, or fear that their children will speak English with a foreign accent, choose to not teach their mother tongue to their children. I belong in the first group.

I enjoy speaking Wolof to my children, especially in public because I want them to have a sense of pride in their cultural identity.  I also think that it is very important to know more than one language. Before I had children, I imagined them to be trilingual like their parents, speaking Wolof, French and English. But it turns out that on a daily basis, we use only English and Wolof in our household. In an earlier post, I have shared how I don’t care much for the French language. Since relocating to the US, my usage of French is mostly limited to reading and the occasional conversation. Of course, there are some words I only say in French because they have been adopted into the Wolof language. For example we still use “ça va?” to greet each other.  But teaching French to my children was not an imminent goal. I however was determined that my children would be fluent in Wolof.  I spent a considerable amount of time researching multiple strategies that would make it possible for us to raise bilingual children. While there are several studies on how to teach children multiple languages, they all agree that the best way is that each parent would exclusively speak one language to the child. For example if parents wanted to teach their children Wolof, French, and English. One parent would speak only Wolof to the child while the other would speak only French. Then when parents are speaking between themselves, they would use English. I have seen this work out great for a family that I know.

In my case, I set out to speak only Wolof to my children but I did not realize how hard it would be to stick to it. I switched languages throughout my life going to school in French and English and then speaking Wolof at home. Doing the same with my children turned out to be a challenge. I spoke mostly Wolof to my first child and it worked out ok. She understands pretty much everything and with few trips to Senegal, manages to express herself in the language, most times. She also is curious about expressions she does not know and often takes the initiative to speak Wolof.  I was not as lucky with my second child. Although he often undertands what I mean, he doesn’t attempt to speak, unless he wants to make fun of me by repeating everything I say to him. This frustrates me because I know it is my fault that he is not as fluent as his sister.  I must have changed my approach and spoke predominantly English to him. It could also be that he went to daycare earlier than his sister and was therefore exposed to an English-only environment at a critical moment in language acquisition. In any case, something different happened in the ways languages were introduced to the two of them. Knowing this, I decided to speak only Wolof to my third child. Although I could tell that he understood most of what I said, I could not see any signs of him speaking the language, mainly because he is still very young to have an elaborate speech. But since he’s been going to daycare, I noticed that he was trying to utter English words in his babbling. I was getting alarmed that my linguistic efforts were vain.  So one can imagine how thrilled I was  few days ago, when he started telling people: “Kaay, kaay!” [Come here, come here!], gesturing with his fingers in the manner one would summon a person!

Some linguists argue that when children are taught multiple languages simultaneously, they tend to take longer speaking because they are trying to process and separate them before beginning to talk in either language. Maybe this is what is happening with my third child. Other experts suggest that there are three windows when the child’s mind is more open to learning a second, third, or even fourth language. The optimal window is at the time when the child is learning their first language, which is from birth to three years of age. The second window is between ages two and seven, and the last window is between ten and thirteen. This gives me hope that all is not lost for my second child, provided I break my habit of speaking English to him.

Please share your experiences and tips.


Senamericanly yours,

Becoming ang Being Black in America

This is part two of my series on raising children in America.

In the aftermath of Miley Cyrus’s debacle at the VMA, a Facebook friend wondered why everything in America has to be seen in Black and White, referring to this article, which argues that Cyrus’s attempt at twerking and her entire performance were racist. The reality is that it is hard to not see things as Black and White, especially when the parties involved are black and white. However, I do understand why my friend was so annoyed. As first generation Senegalese immigrants, we “became black” when we came to America because race is not an issue in Senegal.  Although we are the victims of several types of negative stereotypes associated with Africa, sometimes we are not able to recognize some of the nuances of racism. Also, as adults, we are better equipped to fight, avoid, or even downplay situations where we might be exposed to racial discrimination. This is done through playing it safe by sticking with our kind, or not associating with African Americans because we do not want to be put in the same “negative basket” where our black American cousins have been for centuries.

On the other hand, our children are “Blacks in America,” and will be treated as such. There is a difference between how our generation and theirs experience and process racism or racial prejudice. At a very early age, they are exposed to racial difference, and unlike us, they cannot avoid playing or interacting with their peers of different races.

Last week, I took my daughter to a local commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. There, we met a Caucasian colleague/friend with her daughter who is the same age as mine. Our daughters have known each other since they were toddlers and went to the same school for a couple of years. But since my daughter moved to another school, the two of them see each other occasionally. The girls hugged and sat together chatting, giggling, and being cute. A photographer saw them and asked to take a picture, remarking to me that “this is what Marin Luther King’s dream was about.” Minutes later, the duo was joined by another little white girl they both know. I know this girl’s mother through her business and other child-related events in town. The three girls sat together and chatted. When it started raining, people brought out umbrellas and like I always do, I had left mine in the car. My colleague/friend gave an umbrella to her daughter, under which the three girls huddled, projecting a true image of an inclusive and post-racial America. I too could not help but snap a picture of “Martin Luther King’s dream.” As the rain intensified, the second girl’s mother invited me to share her umbrella which was as big as a tent. She also offered to go to her car for an extra one. I declined the offer. She then decided to go get it for her daughter. When she came back, the rain had slowed down. Now, the two white girls had each an umbrella and my daughter was staying next to them watching them play with their umbrellas. When I asked her why she was not playing, she replied: “They say I do not have an umbrella.” When the second girl’s mother heard that, she was shocked and decided to give my daughter the umbrella we were sharing. But when the two girls saw my daughter with the bigger umbrella, they took it away, gave her one of the small ones, and proceeded to play under the big one, still excluding my daughter. By then, I was starting to get annoyed and asked my daughter to come play next to me. She refused and continued to play with the small umbrella, alone. I tried to lure her with a promise to stop by one of her favorite restaurants if she agreed to leave early. She vehemently refused and continued to twirl the umbrella. Few minutes later, she gave up the umbrella and took my phone. She approached the girls while dancing to a Michael Jackson song. I painfully watched as she tried everything to gain their attention. I could see that she was sad that she was being ignored. I had to pull her aside and explain to her that she should never insist on playing with someone who did not want to play with her.

Now, I am sure that the girls’ attitude toward my daughter had nothing to do with the color of her skin. Knowing these girls and their parents, assured me that they were not excluding my daughter because she was “the black girl.”  Also before publishing this post, I shared a draft of it with my colleague/friend because I wanted her to know that I was writing about her child. She revealed to me that the two girls are more than best friends, they are sisters. They have known each other since they were toddlers and carpool every day to and from school. She also said that this kind of scenario has happened more than she could count with other children. Her daughter would be playing with someone but the minute her best friend/sister shows up, the two of them would pick up playing, leaving out the third party.

Despite the fact that I knew in my heart that this was innocent child play, I could not help but think in Black and White. I thought about how this would have played out if I did not know the girls and their parents. Later that night, when my daughter and I talked about it, she wondered why my colleague/friend’s daughter did not want to play with her. I explained to her that there would be times when friends would choose to not play with her, and that it would have nothing to do with her. I reassured her that she was fun to play with, to which she answered: “I know, I always come up with really fun games.” As I walked downstairs, my heart was heavy and I resisted tears. Although I was convinced these girls did not exclude my daughter because of the color of her skin, I knew there will be times when she will be ignored because of her race. She is a Black Girl in America. 

The recent acquittal of George Zimmerman who profiled and killed Trayvon Martin, a young black man, gave me tremendous anxiety about raising black boys in America. It made me wonder whether my children would not be safer in Senegal where the color of their skin would not make them into inherent suspects. Some might think that I am being melodramatic but this is a real dilemma for me. It is already hard that my children are a racial minority in their schools and often come home with questions that are very difficult to answer. My daughter is confused about the color black because as she rightfully emphasizes often, “We are not black! We are brown!” She also gets upset that she cannot put her hair in a ponytail like the other girls in her class. These kinds of issues freak the hell out of me and I wonder whether it wouldn’t be easier to pack up and return to Senegal.

I look forward to your comments.

The Difficulty of Raising Children in Two Cultures

I recently read an article  where some interviewees stated that raising kids between the cultures of Senegal and America while residing in the US is literally impossible. While I think that it is in fact possible, it is not easy to accomplish.  Parents must constantly negotiate cultural clashes while being sensitive to how confusions can negatively affect children. Most of our SenAmerican homes tend to naturally favor the Senegalese culture. Our attempts to “not lose” our “Senegaleseness” often lead to our children being taught one thing at home, and another at school, making it difficult for them to reconcile both.

Recently, my daughter wrote a list of chores and said that her teacher had told her that she could earn money at home by doing chores. I was shocked that the teacher had the audacity to introduce her to the notion that she could be paid for doing something I believe any responsible member of a family should do and not expect a reward. But I knew that we live in a culture where this is widely practiced, and even applauded. I had to be smart about how I spoke to my daughter about it. After I recovered from my shock, I asked her to come up with a list of all things that mommy does in the home. When we went over five minutes of enumerating “mommy’s chores,” I asked her to pay me a dollar for each item, each time I did it. Her eyes doubled in size as she realized that she could not possibly pay me. I then explained to her that I do what I do because it is my responsibility as a mother and a member of the family, and that each member of the family has a responsibility to the whole. We do it because we love each other and must contribute to the running of the household, not because we want to be paid. I talked to her about having an allowance and that she would get $.50 for every year of her age. I was careful to explain to her that an allowance is not something we owe her, and that it is our way of helping her have money for herself because she is not old enough to have a job! I also think that the idea of allowance helps children learn financial responsibility while giving them some freedom in acquiring things they want.

This strategy worked out quite well but I must confess that I am not always as lucky with parenting young children in America. For example, I am still struggling to teach my kids that mommy and daddy’s room is not a playground, and that when adults are talking a child does not get involved. One of the strengths of the Senegalese model of parenting is that it is often done within an extended family where other adults and sometimes neighbors, contribute to raising children. Children are socialized to know their place. There is a division of space within the home where children understand playing does not happen in bedrooms. While it is possible to teach these rules in America, it is not always easy because of the nuclear family. Many of our homes do not have other adults other than mommy and daddy. We tend to do everything with our kids. Although I love spending as much time as possible with my children, I think that our nuclear families make it difficult to teach them independence within the home.

Another area where I am struggling is extra-curricular activities for kids. Growing up, I played team handball and never expected my parernts to come see me play. In fact, I do not think my mother ever saw me play. She would hear from strangers about what a wonderful player I was but never found it necessary or important to come to one of my games. I have a vague memory of my father coming to one game but I might have dreamed about that. Although I wished that my parents would see me play, it was not the end of the world. I don’t think it did anything to my self-esteem nor did I feel unloved by my parents. In America on the contrary, parents who do not show up at their child’s soccer practice or play recital are seen as bad parents.  It also seems that American parents want their kids to do it all. Kids are engaged in several extra-curricular activities that they often do not like and parents, especially mothers, spend their week chauffeuring them from one place to another. I refuse to buy into this culture and tell my kids to identify one activity and stick to it as long as they like it enough to invest the time in it. My kids are fairly young and their commitment to a sport or instrument is very short. I am sure there will be a time when they would want to do something consistently. Even then, I would insist that they stick to a maximum of two.

The most challenging aspect of parenting in America is the issue of spanking children. In Senegal, spanking is accepted and used as punishment whereas in America, it is frowned upon and parents who practice it are viewed as abusers. I honestly have mixed feelings about this but I have opted to not spank my children. I have never been a fan of the practice but after having kids, I can see why some parents revert to the stick to keep some children in line. My apprehension is about its effectiveness. If the point of corporal punishment is to inflict pain on the child, I believe it can be accomplished with other means such as taking away beloved possessions and other privileges. I don’t however believe that every parent who chooses to spank their child is an abuser because there is spanking and there is beating up a child. The first when practiced necessarily could be fine while the second is abuse.

Parenting in America is difficult because as parents, we too are caught in between two cultures, yet, we must raise children within this space. Knowing how to negotiate these two worlds is not easy but I think it can be done if we pick what we think is positive in each culture and combine them. This requires a lot of work and trying out different strategies. There are many other parenting areas I struggle with such as religion, food, and language, to which I will dedicate entire posts.

I look forward to hearing from parents. Please share your parenting struggles and tips.

SenAmericanly yours.

Senegal Needs to Stop Using French as the Primary Language of Instruction


I was inspired to write about this thanks to a friend’s Facebook status about how Senegalese wrestlers were interviewed in French ― “when many of them cannot communicate well in Wolof, let alone in French.” Although the wrestling match took place in Bercy, France, the journalists who interviewed the wrestlers should have addressed them in Wolof and use interpreters to translate for the French. As my friend noted, when Americans go to France, they are provided interpreters and not forced to speak the host language, even if they could manage a basic conversation in it. As a matter of fact, Juan Carlos, the wrestler from Spain who adopted the Senegalese sport and was among the participants at Bercy, was interviewed in Spanish.  Language is one of the major carriers of culture. Imagine if the wrestlers were asked to perform their bakk, these intricate panegyric chants that often highlight a wrestler’s trajectory while taunting possible opponents, in French! The meaning of such performance would have become senseless, if not comical.

The second reason for this post is Bousso Dramé’s letter to the French Consulate in Dakar, which went viral on social media in the past couple of days. Ms. Dramé won the National Grand  Prix d’Orthographe, a prestigious prize that proved her command of the French language. As the winner, she was supposed to travel to France for an all-expense-paid training in film studies. But when Miss Dramé went to the French Consulate in Dakar to apply for a visa, she was repeatedly disrespected by the staff, as it is often the case for Senegalese visa seekers. To show her outrage Miss Dramé wrote a letter to the French Consulate renouncing the visa as well as the prize. As she states in her letter, “It is time for Africans to respect themselves and demand to be respected by others.” I could not agree more but I feel that respect for oneself starts from being proud of one’s culture and Senegal is too dependent on the French language. The Senegalese educational system is a copycat of the French model and French continues to be the language of instruction. This practice only devalues Senegal’s indigenous languages and shows a severe complex of inferiority. I am happy that the Senegalese have great command of French and are able to win prestigious prizes for it. I however look forward to the day when similar competitions are held for Wolof, Pulaar, Diola, Sereer, and the many other ethnic languages that comprise Senegal’s rich linguistic heritage. Respect for oneself should start with ditching French as the primary language of instruction in schools and adopting Wolof, Senegal’s lingua franca― which over 70% of Senegalese speak or understand.  I am not against teaching French in Senegalese schools. I just think it should be a second language like English, German, and other European languages.

French has been imposed on the Senegalese for too long and learning it is a traumatic experience for many.I believe my attitude toward French is because I feel the language was imposed on me as well. Although I initially came to the US as a French instructor, my usage of French has been limited to reading and the occasional conversation. One might think that I ditched my “French roots” in favor of American ones, but that is not the case. I simply do not care much about French. I don’t remember loving French or feeling the need to speak it. Those of you who are old enough to remember le symbole know how traumatic learning French was in Senegal.  To those who did not go through it, le symbole was literally a “necklace of shame” made with some disgusting materials.  In my elementary school, it was a huge cow bone attached to some rags.  Any pupil in 4th grade and beyond who was heard speaking Wolof or any other indigenous language, would have to wear the necklace of shame as a symbol of their faux pas and unwillingness to speak the language of De Gaulle. I never wore that horrible necklace. Not because I was fluent in French as a 4th grader, but because I was good at cheating my peers. I was one of the best students and my classmates probably believed that since I was a good student, my French must have been good too. On occasions I was caught speaking Wolof, I would defiantly deny it and invent a French word. But despite the fact that I never wore the necklace, I was terrified of it. I knew that if word got to my parents that I was caught not speaking French, I would get in trouble. Yes, parents also participated in this “Frenchization” of their children. Ironically, many parents, especially those who did not understand French, found it disrespectful if their child spoke to them in French. So in a sense children were told to switch back and forth from their native language to French depending on the place, as if language and culture are accessories one can wear and take off whenever needed. I know it is possible to navigate languages and cultures but when the switch is forced on the person, it becomes problematic.

Fifty three years after independence, I still cannot comprehend why major effort is not being made to use Wolof. I understand that the Senegalese have appropriated French and made it their own. Actually, I believe that the French language is alive and richer because of the many former colonies that continue to use it as “official” language. This does not change the fact that French is a foreign language for most Senegalese because they do not speak it at home. I believe this is the major reason why the Senegalese educational system continues to be in crisis. Children have to spend a long time trying to master the language before engaging is learning other subjects. This approach makes it difficult for them to learn through critical thinking. Imagine how much better and faster children would learn if they were taught in the language they think in. Primary learning engages both the conscious and the unconscious, and therefore can be best accomplished if done in the language one thinks in. It is counter-productive to force children to learn and think in a language different than their native tongue, and expect them to achieve proficiency early on in order to learn math, sciences, and other subjects.

Although Senegal has come a long way in reclaiming some of its linguistic heritage thanks to the proliferation of private radios, which made it possible for the news and talk shows to be delivered in indigenous languages, the bulk of the effort should be directed at making Wolof the major language of instruction. Some would argue that Wolof is not the only indigenous language, and that adopting it as the primary language in schools might undermine other ethnic languages. I would say that if people have not objected to French being the language of instruction, they should be fine with using Wolof.

I look forward to your comments.

The Colours of Darfur

Most of you probably have a general idea of Sudan, but have you heard of Darfur, “home of the Fur” in western Sudan? For those who the name is familiar, they must have listened to reports on the 10 year-old conflict between the threatening Sharia law-driven Sudanese government and Darfur. The gravity of the conflict has even led some people to talk about genocide in Darfur.

Recently I met Aisha, a young woman, activist and voice of Darfur. Now 21 years old and part of the Fur tribe,  Aisha began to understand the meaning and importance of human rights 10 years ago when it all broke out in Darfur. Unlike the rest of Sudan, the Furs practise their own language (Fur), their ethnic dances and their land offers majestic mountains. Although the Furs are Muslims, ethnic traditions are paramount and must be transmitted to future generations. Aisha describes those Fur traditions…

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Where Are You From?

For my first post, I decided to explore the idea of where a person is from. Having lived between the cultural and linguistic spaces of Senegal and the US, the answer to this question has become less obvious or clear for me. Is where one is from defined by geography, nationality, culture, place of birth, place of residence, language, and other denominations that make one identify with a place as home?

I get asked where I am from at least every time I meet a new person. Frankly, I get annoyed by it once in a while, depending on how the question is asked and when it is asked during a conversation. If it comes up as soon as I speak, I get put off. For me, the listener is trying to define me by my accent.  I tend to believe that from that moment, everything that I say is judged by this accent and what the person assumes about Senegal or Africa in general. I do however understand that this question is valid, and its answer is not always easy. Most times, I reply that I am from Senegal. But is it really true?

I was born in Senegal and spent the larger part of my life there. But for fifteen years of my adult life, I have been living and working in the US. I go back to Senegal at the most once a year. Many meaningful events in my life such as post-graduate studies, wedding, the births of my children, and my first real job, happened in the US. Although the majority of my extended family remains in Senegal, most of my friends now reside in the US. On a daily basis, I speak English more than I speak Wolof and French. As a member of the community that I live in, I pay taxes and benefit from institutions like every American. But despite this obvious fact that my life as it is, happens in the US, I do not consider myself as being from America.  Neither do I believe that Americans I interact with would define me as “American.”

When I go to Senegal, I sometimes feel that I am not from there either. The country as I knew it has changed. Dakar where I spend most of my time during my visits (Yes, those trips are visits because they are temporary and their purpose is to see my family.) has changed. Many times, I have gotten lost in this city that I knew so well. My family sometimes treats me like a foreigner and care is taken to make me comfortable, explain things to me, and see to it that I have a great visit. My nieces and nephews have grown during my absence and I often meet some of them for the first time. The connections I had with my siblings, although still there, have a different nature. I need to catch up on so many things and no matter how many nights we stay up talking, we will never recover those missed moments. I need help and guidance to reconnect with the community. I forget the names of neighbors and family friends. I spend a lot of time catching up about those who moved away, got married, those who died and which families I needed to visit in order to present condolences. People refer to me as sunu gan gi [our guest] or Americaine bi [the American lady]. I am asked about food allergies and whether my children would eat certain things. A family member once remarked that I speak Wolof with an American accent! This frustrated me and made me conscious of my displacement. Don’t get me wrong, I do not think it is an insult to tell me that I speak Wolof with an American accent, although I don’t believe I do. I think the family member was projecting an assumption that after having spent so much time in the US, I should speak in such a manner. Even if I spoke Wolof with an American accent, there is nothing shameful or wrong about it. My frustration was the effect of how often in America I get asked “Where are you from?” This question implies that I must not be from America. To be told in Senegal that I speak my native language like an American would, also suggests that I am not from Senegal―leaving me without a country.

So in essence, I am a doxadeem, someone who is considered a stranger and whose residency status is temporary. But where is this temporality? Am I a temporary resident of the US or Senegal? Who gets to define this status? I believe I should be the one. Therefore, I choose to live in that very hyphen between the two countries, Senegal (—) America. Living in this space allows me to claim both and get the best of what each country and culture has to offer. I can eat thiebou jen for lunch and pot roast for dinner. I can wear my sër ak taille basse in the morning and change into a suit in the afternoon. The way I cook food or wear clothes might even be hyphenated.

Where are you from readers?