Africa,  Semester at Sea,  Travel

Lulu Meets Ile de Goree, Senegal

What’s the biggest culture shock experience you’ve ever had?

Other than hanging out with Americans as a Canadian (you’d be surprised at just how different we are!), my biggest culture shock experience this entire voyage would have to be today, in Ile de Goree.

Ile de Goree is a historically significant island due to its involvement with the Transatlantic Slave Trade. It was the last piece of land that slaves in the past would have seen before passing through “The Point of No Return”, where they were taken forcibly to the New World, or died during the voyage in substandard conditions. Because of its rich history, the island is a popular tourist destination, however, with the Ebola outbreak in recent years, the Senegalese have seen a decline in tourism. This decline may be the reason why I experienced such aggressive sales tactics by local shop owners – a very different shopping experience from what I am otherwise familiar with in the Western world.

Sand painting! The different colours of sand are from various parts of Africa.

Walking around the island with our tour guide, I had engaged in polite conversation with a shop owner. She invited me to come back after the tour and see her once we’ve finished looking at sand paintings. Of course I agreed.

When I went to visit the lady in her shop as I had agreed, other women were grabbing my arms left and right, ushering me into their own little shops. I felt uncomfortable being physically touched by people I did not know at all. Hell, I can’t even make eye contact with strangers on the C-Train during my morning commute in Calgary! Nothing that the women were selling appealed to me (all of their merchandise seemed to be the same), so I kept browsing from one stand to another. However, the first lady I had a conversation with asked me why I did not buy anything from her. She said to me, “I thought we were friends? You know my name, I know yours. You promised to come back – yet you’re not even buying a keychain!” I’ve never had a shopping experience where I felt so guilty. Exasperated, I purchased a dress along with some bangles and hurried along. I couldn’t wait to get back on the World Odyssey after that!

Insights from this experience:

  • The Senegalese are collectivists. The women in the market – all local entrepreneurs – supported one another’s shops because it meant bettering the economy as a whole.
  • Senegalese culture has a higher tolerance for low proxemics. People from Canada and similar countries are accustomed to greater spatial distances than in Senegal.

If we’re not a little bit uncomfortable every day, we’re not growing. All the good stuff is outside of our comfort zone.

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