My Senegalese Cousin, the Rice-Loving Pig

Playing the dozens at a Samba Dia market


| May-June 2009


Stretching my legs after a cramped bus ride from M’bour, Senegal, I waited for the porter to throw my backpack down from the roof. I had a bus transfer in the village of Samba Dia on my way to the country’s Sine Saloum Delta.

I looked around the bus depot, a dusty field lined with boutiques. I strolled through aisles of vendors squatting next to their goods. Faded secondhand T-shirts. Multicolored plastic buckets and kettles. Sticky pyramids of mangoes, their nectar glistening in the afternoon sun.

Finally, I found what I was looking for: an old woman selling peanuts. She had about 40 plastic bags, each holding plain or sugarcoated nuts. Her head was wrapped in pink fabric and she was chewing on a neem branch, a favorite toothbrush of many rural Senegalese. When we started to talk, she pushed it to the corner of her mouth, where it bounced with every word.

My Wolof was not native enough to avoid being quoted the toubab, or foreigner, price. I decided to bargain Senegalese style: taking my time with small talk. I asked about her family, if she felt at peace, and we both praised God. Eventually, I asked how much the peanuts cost.

She asked my Senegalese name.

“Kuumba N’dour,” I replied. By sharing my adopted last name, I was revealing that I belonged to the Sereer, one of dozens of ethnic groups in Senegal. If she were also Sereer, I would have no problem negotiating.