Barry McNamara  |   Published June 20, 2016

Teranga in Senegal

Monmouth College group learns about hospitality in west Africa
A group of Monmouth College students and faculty members gained a new appreciation for the meaning of hospitality.

That was one of the lessons the three faculty members and five students learned while on a 17-day interdisciplinary trip earlier this summer to the western Africa nation of Senegal to study issues related to food security.

The eight members of the Monmouth community discovered the role the word “teranga” plays in Senegalese culture.

“Teranga is Wolof for hospitality,” said faculty member Germain Badang, who is a lecturer in modern languages, literatures and cultures.

Badang, who is fluent in French, served as the group’s translator between English and the Wolof language spoken in Senegal.

“They work closely with each other and enjoy it,” he said. “They take teranga very seriously. They take it to the next level. They cry with each other, they help each other with everything. They lend money, they give food. They help each other in all instances and they rely so much on each other. If they have problems, it becomes less of a burden, because it’s shared with others.”

Assistant professor of anthropology Megan Hinrichsen, who teaches courses in Monmouth’s Global Food Security Triad, said that when speaking with Senegalese residents about food security, the Monmouth group repeatedly heard examples of teranga.

“Understanding this dynamic is an essential part of understanding how food insecurity might affect these communities and how it can be most effectively addressed there,” Hinrichsen said.

The third Monmouth faculty member who made the trip was assistant professor of theatre Vanessa Campagna.

Hinrichsen said that Senegalese form local cooperatives for food production and distribution to meet their food security challenges.

“I got a better understanding of how differently people eat and live in Senegal,” said Elizabeth Smith ’19 of Oswego, Ill. “They only eat foods that are in season and adapt to everything around them.”

A major discovery for Hinrichsen was defining what food insecurity is in Senegal compared to the definition used in the United States.

“They don’t see themselves as food insecure,” she said. “If someone is lacking, someone is there to help. They had a completely different view of it, much more focused on the community aspect, as opposed to how we might see an individual who is lacking.”

The Monmouth group learned to ask about the issue more from the angle of a French word – “soudure,” which means welding together.

“We asked them if they ever experienced hunger,” Badang said. “The answer was a sharp ‘No!’ in all the communities we had been to. ‘Soudure’ describes how they forge together, digging into the last things they’ve saved, on those occasions when the crops are late, and the reserve is already depleted.”

When it comes to outside assistance, Hinrichsen said Senegalese are more interested in receiving material items, such as simple buckets.

“More buckets mean they can collect more food (fish), which means they can sell without the middle man, which means they’ll have a greater income,” she said. “We also learned that they are affected by totally global issues, such as climate change and other countries fishing in their waters.”

The United States Agency for International Development has made a significant contribution, providing the means for Senegalese fish to be sold anywhere in the world.

Hinrichsen said the Monmouth students’ daily interactions with the people of Senegal provided a major lesson.

“The students had the opportunity to discover the complexity of food security issues through their own eyes, to interact with local people involved in food production, and to experience the excitement and problem solving necessary to travel to a new part of the world and conduct a short-term research project in a different culture,” she said. “None of them had been to Africa, and very few had been to a developing country. It was a great experience for them to be in that environment. To see the students have that excitement of taking in a new culture, to try to figure out what life is like, and to see their discovery and their curiosity, was very rewarding.”

Smith said the trip broadened her appreciation of several issues.

“I couldn’t believe how friendly the culture was,” she said. “Every time you saw someone – whether it was a member of our host family, or a random person at the grocery store – they always wanted to know how you were doing and what was making your day so great.”

Badang said he was thrilled by how the trip opened up the world to the students.

“It’s an experience that needs to be repeated,” he said. “Our students are really asking for this. They want to help. We are becoming a global world. We put a lot of examples in front of the students that we are not alone and that we should be empathizing with what is happening in the world – that it has consequences where we are and in other places. What do we bring to the students to bridge this theoretical talk from courses such as those in our Integrated Studies program with real experience? Trips like this push our Integrated Studies program to the level we want it to be.”

The trip included several days in the peninsula city of Dakar, as well as travels to Thies, Ngaparou, Rufisque, Joal Fadiout, Cayor and the island city of Goree.

“It was a very remote place,” Badang said. “You’d never assume we have things in common, but what I observed, and the comments I heard, were, ‘I thought it would be VERY different, but it was not that different.’ After a few days, the students would go outside and walk by themselves. They’d buy things without me there as a translator, which is huge.”

He concluded: “Our students reacted perfectly to (the trip). It made them better prepared for the global challenges they’ll face, and it also helped them learn about themselves. That’s what we don’t see immediately – the self-transformation that takes place in the students.”
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