An Ancestral Home: Why One African American Relocated To Senegal
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Meet Queen Sheba, a published author and the founder of a nonprofit operating in Dakar, Senegal. Love and a calling for service led her to become an African American living in Africa.
on Your path to senegal
When did you first visit Senegal and where do you currently live?
I first traveled to Senegal in 2004. The first place I lived was the Kaolack Medina Baye region. I've also visited and served in many surrounding villages and suburbs throughout Senegal. However, I currently live in Dakar.
How did you end up moving to Senegal?
Shaykh Assane Cisse is my late Senegalese husband. He first invited me to Senegal after visiting me in the U.S. Then, in 2004, I made my first visit to Senegal. I ended up making several visits over the years. However, I did not permanently move there until my husband passed away in 2008.
Personally, Senegal is my ancestral home by way of my beloved great-grandmother Sayida Ada Maryam and grandmother Sayida Iretta Brown, both Louisiana natives. These elders passed down stories about our Senegalese lineage over the years. So, spiritually I feel home in Senegal.
So, what was it was like moving to Senegal?
Migrating to Senegal felt like home because it was a dream I'd had since childhood. Still, I had to adjust to the culture, climate, and languages of the country. Visiting Africa for the first time is very gratifying. You’ve come home to the birthplace of humanity. It's a blessing no matter where you visit on this continent. It’s a very proud and humbling experience.
I am thankful for moving here under my late husband's invitation. It definitely made my physical and psychological transition easy. However, there were definitely emotional issues and concerns that I dealt with just as any new venture.
On Entrepreneurial Opportunities in Senegal
What kind of professional and entrepreneurial opportunities have you noticed in Senegal for foreigners?
I see many foreigners involved in nonprofit work, like myself. Many also come to volunteer in the field of education. Foreign entrepreneurs also own farmer's markets, stores, and supermarket. Boutiques are increasingly popular. Dakar, Senegal's capital, has over 20,000 boutique stores alone. Foreigners from the U.S. and Europe own many. Their businesses are definitely plentiful in this small but booming Teranga (land of hospitality)!
People consume a lot of imported products in Senegal. So, creating something unique here would be appreciated. Once you have your feet planted firmly on the ground contribute your talent and skills. This is my hope for many African Americans. Giving back to benefit the country and economy is vitally important.
On Starting A Nonprofit
You manage a nonprofit in Senegal! Can you tell us about it?
I am the founder and CEO of Queen Sheba Village. It's a nonprofit centered around women and girls empowerment. A global community of dedicated volunteers run the center.
We offer entrepreneurial and educational training. And, we're established exclusively for charitable and educational purposes. Queen Sheba Village assists impoverished women and children in improving health and hygiene. Our organization also provides school supplies to families unable to afford them. We collaborate with local organizations to eradicate horrific conditions of orphan and begging children. These children are often neglected, abused and exploited. We hope to continue building a global community of resources that is very much needed.
Running a nonprofit is time-consuming. However, it’s the best opportunity I’ve ever been involved with. It's fulfilling despite testing my patience, trust, and faith. We have invitations from all over Senegal and neighboring countries requesting our programs and projects. We also regularly host international visitors. So, if you're planning a visit to Senegal our doors are open!
What does the process of operating a nonprofit in Senegal entail?
We had to legalize documents required to operate (Queen Sheba Village was founded in the U.S.). The nonprofit application was like a thick book. Some people fill it out themselves. However, if you don't understand all of the terminologies definitely hire a lawyer! Starting a nonprofit is not easy or inexpensive. I am constantly learning new things about operating one.
Social Life as an African American Living in Dakar, Senegal
What is your everyday and social life like in Senegal?
I begin each day here with gratitude to GOD. It’s the foundation of my existence. Basically, everyday life for me involves my service work.
Most of my socializing is spent with the very old or the very young. This is because my nonprofit focuses on assisting these two vulnerable groups. I'm multi-tasking several roles. So, I don't have much of a real social life where I can just chill. During my free time, I'm generally researching ways Queen Sheba Village can serve local communities more effectively. I do enjoy going to a massage therapist from time to time. It's essential to relieving stress, though with a cup of tea (smiles).
How have the Senegalese welcomed you?
Senegal is called the land of Teranga—it's a Wolof word meaning hospitality. And this is a very welcoming country. It's known for its peace regardless of differences in religion and ethnicity. Senegal is 95% Muslim with the remaining being Christian and animist religions. People here are a very close-knit unit of solidarity. You really come home when you come to Senegal—seriously. Senegal is unique indeed.
The Ups and Downs of Life in Dakar
What do you love the most about living in Senegal?
Many parts of Senegalese culture are connected to and remind me of my own upbringing. My American roots are in Alabama and Louisiana. Many Senegalese arrived in the States from Senegal's Gorée Island during the slave trade. You can still see the remnants of their presence in the American South.
For example, the patchwork quilts that you see in African American homes are a reminder of a popular cultural art activity from Senegal. The caring love of family and food is a big thing in both the southern U.S. and in Senegal. The similarities I see are a reminder to me that I have come home. The friendly Senegalese hospitality is also similar to the South. You’ve got to be still and connect the dots, and I continue to marry pieces together like a puzzle.
What are the most challenging parts of living there?
The most challenging aspect for me has been learning the language—it's the first thing my husband wanted me to learn. I remember greeting him and he would automatically respond in his native Wolof and expect me to respond in Wolof, catching me off guard (laugh). I am working on my Wolof as fluency will obviously be very beneficial to me. Oh yeah, let me not forget to mention the horrible mosquitoes—yikes! Also, the fact that garbage is not collected in many areas is a challenge.
There's also a mentality that foreigners are here to do what natives supposedly cannot and I find it to be troubling. I think that with perseverance any native can do the same.
On the Cost of Living in Dakar
Can you share a few details on the cost of living in your Dakar community?
The cost of living in Dakar depends on several factors. Mainly:
- Where you live.
- The kind of lifestyle you want to live.
The currency here is the West African CFA franc. Just as in the States, the cost of living is pretty darn expensive in the city. However, the more you move away from the city, the less expensive it is. An average meal could be $5-10. It depends on the number of people eating.
Decent rental housing can range from $70 a month to $110 and up (what I would consider expensive!). It also helps to be connected with people who can support you. Otherwise, you can definitely end up ripped off. Many see foreigners as banks!
On Writing an African Travel Guide
You’re a published author! Can you tell us about your book on traveling in Senegal?
Yes! "Return to Glory: A Travel Guide for African Americans Returning to Roots" is my first book. People often ask me what’s it like in Senegal and Africa. So, I decided to write about it. I initially thought of just writing an article. However, I realized I needed to expand the idea into writing my first book. Al Hamdulilah, I was able to publish it with the help of MindWorks Publishing.
I think the book is a good resource for traveling. And it works to eradicate the fear of visiting Mother Africa. A lot of that fear comes from Western media. So, people really have to research and educate themselves. "Return to Glory" was also accepted in the Prince George's County Memorial Library System in Maryland. This was not easy. Every year, thousands of books are rejected!
I have three words for our interested readers. BUY THE BOOK! Proceeds help in the construction of The Queen Sheba Village Educational Empowerment Social Center for women and girls in Senegal. Thank you so much.
On Growth as an African American Living in Africa
What has being an African American living in Africa taught you?
Living here teaches you humility and reinforces gratitude. I have realized that in the West we take much for granted. We become lazy. We waste water and throw out so much food every day. However, Senegal has shown me that less is truly more. My nonprofit work has also revealed to me that women are the educators of the universe.
And finally, opportunity can bring creativity. And that can be used as a tool for development. It is us who will restore Africa back to greatness. My people, Africa beckons you to return to glory!
Where can we follow your experience?
Facebook: Queen Sheba Village