Dec 2, 2010

Nan nga def? Ummm...Maa ngi fii rekk?

Khadim and two friends sit under the shade of a makeshift shed on Cheikh Anta Diop. On the street buses and taxis speed past. Car rapides pause to hustle more passengers in; often they are so cramped that passengers dangle precariously from the open back door, their only footing a thin step. The street is mostly demolished from construction. In the past two weeks I have watched the shoulder disappear completely. In its place is a giant trench. Red dirt is everywhere; workers take a break in the shade of construction equipment. In fact it seems that all of Dakar is under construction, with most projects appearing abandoned at mid point. Everywhere there are cavernous buildings that look like the remains of some horrible accident. Only they aren't the remains--they are a potential, a promise, unfulfilled.

Each day I walk on Cheik Anta Diop on my way to the bakery or the Club Atlantique. Always, Khadim and his friends are sitting in the same spot, Khadim selling drums, his friends selling baskets and shelves, all of which they have woven themselves. If it is only Maggie and I walking, they seldom call out or say hello, but if Jon is with me they will yell across the traffic of the street, waving. We stop to chat and each time it is the same exchange.

Khadim wears the most western clothes of the three--large, dark sunglasses, red basketball shorts. He leans back into his chair with attitude then reaches out to shake my hand. The others are dressed in a way I have seen many men in Dakar dress--cotton pants, faded tee shirt and sandals. They smile more freely, but all three are warm, friendly, and genuine.

The official language in Senegal is French, but the most commonly spoken language is Wolof. It is less common for westerners to speak Wolof, and so when Jon greets everyone he meets with the traditional Wolof greeting, they smile and seem to open up.

I, on the other hand, do not speak Wolof. I try to pick up on what I can, but it just seems to whizz by. So when Khadim and his friends try to test my language skills I usually don'y get very far before I stumble over my words and look to Jon for help. They laugh at me. Try to teach me. Today they said in french "your husband should teach you Wolof. It is good to learn Wolof." I laughed.

I really love the Wolof greeting. It takes time. Everyone pauses and has a real exchange. I better study because tomorrow or maybe the next they will ask me again. Practice, right?

So here it is, the Wolof greeting (with a bit of Arabic borrowings). I've only ever made it as far as Maa ngi fii rekk. What about you? Yow nak?

1: Salaam malekum - Peace be upon you

2:Malekum salaam - Upon you be peace

1: Nan nga def? - How's it going?

2:Maa ngi fii rekk. Yow nak? - I am here only. And you?

1: Maa ngi fii rekk. Naka waa ker ga? - I am here only. How is your family?

2: Nu ngi ci jamm. Alhamdulilah. - They are in peace. Thanks be to god.