My experience staying in a Muslim Polygamist Senegalese family

My experience staying in a Muslim Polygamist Senegalese family: a holistic and functional blend of African genealogy, French colonialism and Islamic influence.IMG_8327

I started my day this morning waking up by killing a roach-type bug and seeing a mouse crawling out of the wall by my suitcase. I almost screamed but I didn’t want to alarm the family. Last night, we met our host family which has  two mothers/wives, one father/husband, two daughters one is 22, and the other 21 and I don’t remember her name, two sons—one tries to communicate to me but I don’t speak French! Lastly, there’s a cute baby that I am in love with.


We ate in the main room on the floor on a mat around a bowl. With our hands. Our right hands. Let me repeat this… With our bare hands! The family was nice enough to supply us with forks on the side but wow what a difference from the US! The bowl is full of noodles, chicken and bread. Everyone grabs from the bowl with their right hand because the left hand is culturally frowned upon–traditionally is used for going to the bathroom.

Half of the house didn’t have a roof i.e. the kitchen was open. Our window faced the inside courtyard kitchen and our room was full of smoke and cooking smells.

I really liked what Yuting said to me today when I was commenting on our living situation. She said, “try to think of this as a not permanent learning situation where you will gain such a rich experience to tell people about and go back with gratitude.”

Not being able to speak French has put me in a very difficult situation. I rely completely on the other U of M student, Yuting, who is a junior and from China. She is very sweet and speaks Chinese, English, and a little French. She has become my translator and I am so thankful for her. A lot of the time I am asking Yuting what the family members are saying and she doesn’t even know. She tells me to smile and pretend we understand. 

Back to the family life—the two sisters are very interested in talking to us and we talked to them a lot last night. Communication involved a lot of hand gestures and Frenglish. The 22-year-old, Mime, is married and her husband is living in France. The 21-year-old had her birthday so we celebrated with her by eating a very nice cake. The only people who came to celebrate her birthday in the living room was just one of the older women, Mime, and the father, Papa. That is how I know the father has two wives because the other women did not come celebrate—i.e. not her biological child.


The birthday celebration was very simple and minimal compared to the America way to celebrate birthdays—my birthday celebration has been a week-long celebration ever since I can remember. The birthday girl bought her own cake and lit her own candles. Yuting and I were the only ones in the room that were excitedly saying ‘Happy Birthday’ and singing to her; if it was my birthday and I had to buy my own cake with no one serving or honoring me, I would be appalled and even slightly angry because it was MY day and I DESERVED it.

I think that this cultural tradition clearly reflects specified cultural values; the USA values individualism, independence, and material things where, from what I have observed, Senegal values community unity, family, and is less, for lack-of-a-better-word, selfish or self involved.

Experiences like this make me want to continue exploring the world!


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