Have you ever wondered what’s it like being a Jamaican living in Senegal? In this episode of “Jamaicans to the World”, Jamaicans.com founder Xavier Murphy speaks with speaks to Mickelle. She is a Jamaican living in Senegal.
Xavier: What is it like being an American in Senegal? Hi, I’m Xavier Murphy, the founder of Jamaicans.com. Today in Jamaicans to the world, we speak to Mickelle Hughes, who is the Jamaican living in Senegal. Mickelle, how are you?
Mickelle: Hi Xavier, I’m fine. Thank you so much for having me on you show.
Xavier: Listen, I love the patterns you have on. When you came on I was just like, “Wow, that’s just so beautiful!”
Mickelle: Yes, Thanks. I mean, that’s one of the things about living in West Africa. If you really like fashions you would really love being there, because the different fabrics that you have, and this is just one kind, because you have a lot of so many different kinds of fabrics. When you go to a fabric market, you can spend the entire day just going from stall to stall, trying to pick fabric. You know, you can imagine how much of my time I spent in fabric.
Xavier: Are you one of those fashionistas?
Mickelle: You know I wouldn’t say I’m fashionista, but I really fell in love with the fabric there and, the fact that I mean the tailors, you know, there are some places in some markets, you can buy the cloth, and you can give it to a tailor to mek (make) it at the same is time. Continue shopping and by the time you finished shopping, your clothes ready.
Xavier: That’s amazing. You know, back when I went to Nigeria, I was measured in a church. They measured me, and within 2 days they had the outfit ready.
Mickelle: Yeah man, some places you can get it same day. This is my way of trying to keep up with the Senegalese, because I tell you probably will not find more elegant people in terms of dress and the Senegalese and I always laugh at myself because, us, we are accustomed to dressing down on Fridays when we go to work, but in Senegal is quite the opposite. Yuh dress tun up (you dress up) on Fridays. Every Friday, even after three years I still never got accustomed to it, I was still coming to work on a Friday in jeans and a top, and see everybody dressed to the nines. I mean it’s how they just do it, men and women, I must tell you. Particularly, the men who would be going to mosque, because Senegal are majority Muslim in their country. The men are in their fine, and the women are in their finery. You could just sit there watching people coming and going coming and going. I’m talking not just people coming to work, or in our offices dress up. Everybody shows up on a Friday from person selling out on the streets, selling in the shops every, everybody’s just dressed to the nines on a Friday. This is my little small effort of trying to keep up.
Xavier: That’s the Sunday best is the Friday best basically is what you saying.
Mickelle: Quite so.
Xavier: You went into the people, tell us about the people, tell us a little bit about the people in Senegal.
Mickelle: Senegalese are one of the, you will be hard pressed to find people who are more hospitable and warm and friendly and welcoming than Senegalese, and I could extend that to West Africa, but I can speak for Senegal because I was there for three years. I mean, they even developed a word for it, Taranga, which is the Wolof word meaning hospitable, and they not only talk about it, but they actually live it. You just be walking somewhere and people are sitting there having their meal or even if they’re having their tea and they just offer you. My husband always made fun of me because every time I went to the hair salon, I would come back and tell him that they were having their breakfast or their lunch or whatever, depending on the time of the day, and I would literally be forced to share it with them because that’s how they are and it doesn’t matter. It could be just a sandwich, a baguette sandwich with some meat inside there, they are going to split it and share it with you. They’re just that warm, that friendly, that welcoming as a people and they don’t even have to know you. Just be walking on the streets and people just naturally warm to you. I mean, don’t ask for directions though, because they will not tell you they don’t know, but they will give you directions to somewhere.
Xavier: [Laughter] Oh, it’s just trying to be nice.
Mickelle: Just trying to be nice, and try to not be negative, just try to be helpful. They will always give you the directions to wherever you’re going even if it is not the right directions. They will never tell you they don’t know.
Xavier: The people you say are warm and, and so on. How did the people feel about Jamaicans. When they hear that, you know, I’m from Jamaica, what’s typically the reaction when they hear that.
Mickelle: First thing is if you know Bob Marley, right? And because that’s who they associate with Jamaica, but I must tell you that they really love Jamaica and Jamaicans, and all things Jamaican. When I came to Senegal in October 2017 was the very first time I was coming. In fact, it was the first time I was setting foot on the African soil, and I was taken aback because Senegal is a Francophone country, right? And I wouldn’t, although it was African, I mean, connections was in the Caribbean, I really wasn’t expecting such a close connection to them and to Jamaica, I know that they will be more in touch with the Francophone West African, but I really was pleasantly surprised at how much they knew about Jamaica, especially Jamaican music. And of course, our sports person. When you say you’re Jamaicans, a big smile, comes on people’s face, and like, ‘wow! you’re Jamaicans’. And I met a lot of people who it was a first time they were meeting a Jamaican and it was like, such a joy for them. They were genuinely happy to be associated with a Jamaican, because you know of what they knew about Jamaica and everybody that I’ve met in Senegal, they’re like, “Oh, my God is a dream of mine to go to Jamaica”. I need to go back home and talk to the Minister of Tourism.
Xavier: We got so caught up in our conversation in the beginning, right, I started and went off in another direction. I didn’t even ask you, right? How did you get to Senegal? Was it, you met someone. In some of the previous interviews I’ve done people meet people and it’s okay we got married and we went there or whatever or they went for work how did you get the Senegal?
Mickelle: Very straight-forward, I came here for work. I was working with the United Nations in Jamaica. I did four and a half years in the office of the Resident Coordinator there and after a time I decided that you know, what, I think I can really, I mean spread my wings and do some more and always wanted to work with the United Nations at an international level. I started looking for jobs and the job in Senegal, just randomly throwing out applications that I thought that I was qualified for, and the job in Senegal, I did went through the interview process and as they say the rest is history. But I was able to qualify for that job because as I said before, is that Francophone speaking countries obviously needed to be able to speak French to get that job or to be able to perform in the job and I mean, I had my history. When I looked back at it, I saw a lot of things in my life in the past 10 or so years that were preparing me for this. The fact that I didn’t get the opportunity to study French in UWI as I wanted to, but post UWI, the opportunities came to study French and then I spent some time in France both studying and working and then that helped me to improve my French so I would say I’m fluent and very comfortable. It helped me to get the job. I mean, it was the job I would say the United Nations that brought me to Senegal, and Africa.
Xavier: Okay, and then the other question I forgot to ask is which paat (part) of Jamaica yuh (you) cum (come) from?
Mickelle: I am so proud to tell you Albert Town, Trelawny, that’s in South Trelawny but in the mountainous part of Trelawny and it’s not the capital,
but it is a well-known likkle (little) part a Jamaica, Albert Town, big up yuhself (yourself) Albert Town.
Xavier: A gwine move on, food. Tell us about the food in in Senegal? What’s the food like? And if there’s, let’s do it this way. If there’s one thing you would suggest somebody try, if they come to Senegal, what would that be?
Mickelle: Food wise, coming to Senegal, there is a lot of things that you probably need to get accustomed to. But, coming from the Caribbean and an island where you know we have a lot of seafood then you find a lot of that there, because Dakar is on the coast so we have a lot of seafood and they incorporate that into their foods. The main dish and this is one that you have to, must try if you come to Senegal. Well there’s no way around it, because it will be everywhere, right? It’s called Chebu jën, and it’s a dish with rice and fish and some vegetables on the side, but they basically cook everything into one, and it’s very, very nice. They do it three different ways, you can either do it with fish, which is the most popular one or like when it’s a fancy function they exchange the fish for sheep meat and call it Ceebu yapp. As well as some people who probably don’t eat fish are sheep meat, will put chicken on it and its Chebu ginaar. But by far the most popular is Chebu jën, which I tried to make one time, but let’s just say I was not successful.
Xavier: Well, try and try again, you wouldn’t know.
Mickelle: I decided to just go and buy it in the restaurant, because it’s everywhere every day. Senegalese people eat Chebu jën every single day, and sometimes two times a day. Yes.
Xavier: It’s like we Jamaicans, sometimes every meal, we have rice with every meal.
Mickelle: That’s right.
Xavier: Staying on food, if there’s one Jamaican food that you really miss, what would that be?
Mickelle: I miss so much Jamaican food, but you know, I really would do anything for a patty. I’m going to be specific, a Juicy Patty because is country me come from, right? Juicy Patty is the patty that I grow up on, and it’s quite fundamental because when I was a youngster even in high school, I didn’t eat patties. I didn’t fancy patties but growing up afterwards, I came to like those patties and I really, really, really miss a patty.
Xavier: Well, people, yuh (you) hear what Mickelle wants, she says she wants it, so if you’re coming there, make sure you take, and the specific one.
Mickelle: A Juicy Patty.
Xavier: Juicy Patty, so you freeze it, and you bring it in. In terms of music, do you hear reggae music there. What type of music you hear and again I know people not really listening to radio but maybe you go out or you go to and occasion, whatever. Do you hear reggae music? Do you hear a mixture of music, what you hear?
Mickelle: You hear reggae music on the radio, you hear dancehall on the radio? And I’m always amazed if they really understand what is being said, because Xavier, a lot of times I hear the unedited version of the songs to be honest with you. The versions that you only play at parties you would never hear on the radio, and with the curse words and so on, they actually play it like that. It tells me that they probably don’t understand what they’re playing, but they do play. You hear the reggae and the dancehall like I said earlier, that is how Senegalese people connect to Jamaica a lot through music, but Senegalese also have their own music, their own entertainers which they’re very proud of. They have these concerts all the time with their artists. It’s one of the areas which I never really connected because the music, one it’s sang in Wolof, which is one of the native languages but it is a national language and official language. And I never really connected with it because I do not understand what they’re saying and also the beat was kind of off for me, I never understand, never really got to rhythmitize if I could say a word, I never connected to Senegalese music, but you hear reggae and dancehall and of course the other West African music quite a lot, like the naija beats, you hear that quite a lot too.
Xavier: What did you call it? Nitro…?
Mickelle: Naija, the music from Nigeria.
Xavier: Oh, so they don’t say Afro beats, they just say Niger beats.
Mickelle: Naija beats.
Xavier: Oh, I like that.
Mickelle: Yeah, that is music from Nigeria, which is really, really taking off now. I understand it’s very popular in Jamaica too.
Xavier: Yes, it’s popular. I love my Afro beats, I call it, but I’m now going to say the one from Nigeria is not Naija beats. I learned something new today. Let me ask you this a little bit. I’m going back to the people a little bit. Is there something, a custom that you discovered or encountered, when you were there, that you said to yourself this is really interested. And maybe, you know, something that they do. I know you talked about the custom of the Friday where they dress up on Friday, but is there any other customs that you found very, very interesting and unique to them that you’re like, ‘you know, I like this’ or ‘this is interesting’ or anything like that and I know, I see the thinking that is going on? And it could be anything, it could be you know, the women do this or the men do this, or, you know?
Mickelle: I was thinking because I was trying to figure out which one to share. But, there is something very interesting about Senegalese society, and it’s what I found rather interesting is how they seamlessly mix, the European because the Francophone, and you see it very strongly, a lot of Francophone influence, then you also see the West African influences. Then you also see the Muslim influences because it’s predominantly Muslim. It makes for a very eclectic mix. And one of the things that I got into is this thing about having tea with the Chebu jën, which I mentioned, because it’s very greasy and they explained to me that they always have this tea, after having Chebu jën, it’s called Attaya. It is made from about three different mint bush, and they’re having it all throughout the day, and so not just after the Chebu jën, but throughout the day. People would be just drinking Attaya. You go to an office, and at five o’clock everybody stop to have their Attaya. It’s like a very small cup like this with some mint tea and they put so much sugar in it. It’s so sweet, like they trying to give you diabetes. I found it interesting, because traditionally I love my tea, I have tea all the time, but it’s the way that they do it, and the fact that they boil it, they boil the bush over and over so that you will know it. As it goes throughout the day, it’s the same pot, and you keep boiling it, it lose the potency. They will sometimes hear they ask if this was the first boiling, or if this was the second boiling, because you can taste the difference in it. But it was something that I found very interesting. You would see at five o’clock, you would see like the security guards out on the street. They all gather round, and they’re all having their Attaya with some bread, it’s the French baguette, and they would just invite you to come and share with them.
Xavier: Nice. What’s the one place that you would say, or experience, it may be that you say, “Listen, if you visit”, you know, and it could be a tourist spot. It could be something simple as “Listen, the sun set over”. I don’t know if it’s there’s anything, what’s the one experience or place that you’d say, if you come to Senegal, go visit this.
Mickelle: I have a top one and number two. The first, very first one is this place called Île de Gorée or Gorée Island. It’s an island off the coast of Dakar, you take a ferry that takes you about 30 minutes or so to get there. What is interesting on that island, is that, this is where we also, they have the Maison des Esclaves, which is the house of slaves is where they would have held the enslaved Africans before they were taken away into slavery into the Americas. Here they will recount the history and you can see the tiny areas where they were held before they were taken away. You can just relive that experience but warning, it is a very emotive experience. But I mean, it’s something that you would want to experience and that is something similar in Ghana, and that one is more popular.
Xavier: That’s the one I went to.
Mickelle: Right, it’s in Senegal as well, and then close up and behind that we have Lac Rose which means the Pink Lake. It’s a lake, and what is interesting about it is that heavy concentration of salt. So the main purpose of it is for economic reasons because that’s where most of the salt that is used in the country is extracted from. But it is so, it’s almost like the Dead Sea, and where they say you can float on it. But it’s very interesting because at certain times of the day, the entire lake has this very pink, beautiful pink hue, because of the salt in there and then the action of the wind, and the placement of the Sun, gives it this beautiful pink look and I don’t think that there is one like that anywhere else in the world.
Xavier: Oh, man. I can’t wait to see what that looks like if I come there. I appreciate the time you spent telling us your story Mickelle. Just amazing stuff here, on the culture and so on. Here’s how I typically end. I typically end, and I think you mentioned the language, is it walla you said?
Xavier: Wolof. The language Wolof. I typically end with the guest teaching me how to say goodbye in the most customary and the most unofficial way from that language. So, can you tell me, how do we say goodbye in Wolof?
Mickelle: Fortunately, this is one of the probably five phrases I learned. To say goodbye in Wolof, you say, ‘Mangi dem’, and then you can add, ‘base I bu’, which is see you tomorrow, or see you soon. Manga dem
Xavier: Mangi dem.
Mickelle: ‘base I bu’
Xavier: ‘base I bu’. Okay, I will stick with the mandolin.
Mickelle: Mangi dem
Xavier: Mangi dem
Xavier: Again, thank you and Mangi dem.
Mickelle: Mangi dem, base I bu.
Photo – Deposit Photos