African American In Africa: Waameeka in Dakar
Meet Waameeka AheVonderae, a New Yorker who moved to Dakar, Senegal. After realizing the Peace Corps application process wasn't for her, Waameeka took her living abroad plans into her own hands, found a job online and moved to Senegal. She is a testament to the power of pursuing your African continental interests and making them a reality.
Where are you originally from?
I’m originally from "the Boogie Down Bronx" ☺ My mother is from Louisiana and my father is from the small Caribbean island of Antigua.
How long have you lived in Senegal and where exactly do you live?
I’ve been in Senegal for almost three years. I live in Dakar, Senegal’s busiest city.
How did you end up moving to Dakar, Senegal? What are you doing professionally there?
I've always wanted to learn more about where my ancestors are from. I was also tired of the racism in America and I didn't see it changing. I've always known that I would return and I wanted to bridge the gap between Africans Americans, West Indians/Caribbeans, and Africans
I originally planned on joining Peace Corps but they didn’t have any openings in Senegal that I was interested in or qualified for. I knew I had to make it here so I applied for a job I found on Idealist.org and moved here in the middle of the Ebola scare. Senegal wasn’t really affected but my mother thought I was crazy LOL.
Please describe your experience immigration wise, of moving to Senegal.
Honestly, I haven’t started the legal immigration paperwork yet. I think I will just get married and pray for the best LOL (joking!). In order to buy land etc. you need it. But no job I've ever received required me to have any formal type of visa but they did ask.
You moved to Senegal as a teacher. What has teaching been like?
I teach elementary school but have also taught high school and university-level English. Teaching in Africa is very different than being in an American classroom. Senegalese students seem way more focused and teachers are more respected. There are also some disadvantages such as a lack of resources and technology.
I’ve also noticed that some parents here pay expensive fees to send their kids to bilingual schools but then expect to have to put in less work on their end into their child's education. I don’t think this is all Senegalese parents but it’s an excuse I’ve never heard of in the States.
Everyday Life in Dakar, Senegal
How have you been welcomed as an African American or as an American in general?
I’ve noticed that it depends on the scenario. At the market, I am seen as an American. I think it's a money issue. At the end of the day, people have families to provide for and foreigners usually don't know the normal market prices for things so they inflate them. This is usually the case with fabric, souvenirs, and clothes. It doesn't happen that much when buying vegetables in the market.
At social gatherings or educational settings, I’m seen more as an African American. I’ve had someone call me a Toubab (White person or foreigner) but I corrected them and explained the history of slavery to them. The Pan-African movement is big here but sometimes they still neglect us Diaspora folk.
What's everyday life like in Dakar for you?
After work, I usually go home and relax. Sometimes I go to the market often to buy fresh vegetables and fruit. My life is really relaxed but there is a small social scene and most people hang out at home with friends. There are also many beaches to choose from so I usually go twice a month.
What is your social life like in Dakar?
My social life is pretty decent and I expect it to get better. There is always a movie screening, film discussion, live concert, debate, after work soiree, or reggae sound (reggae beach party). Knowing people from here is key to finding out about these events. Some of my favorite things to do are going to the beach or for a walk on the Corniche, a gorgeous road near the ocean. I also love going out to dance but I’m having trouble with finding a spot that I consistently love.
How important is it to speak the local languages in Dakar?
It's really important. You can get by for a while without it, but for the best experience possible you should learn the language.
My French is mumbled and my Wolof is terrible but I’ve met some really cool bilingual people. French is important for the workplace but Wolof is important because that’s the language people use when conversing with friends. Making an effort to speak the local language is appreciated and people will work with you if you try.
If you're quiet because you can't speak any local language, I think some may think you're uninterested or standoffish. People will ask what's wrong and assume you aren’t interested in talking to them. Also, remember to greet everyone! People will really take it personally if you walk past them without saying salam alaikum/bonjour/ça va or something similar. You will also notice that Senegalese people take a lot of time with greetings.
What do you love the most about living in Senegal?
For me, it’s the peace, beaches, and food. I’ve witnessed so many acts of community and kindness here that it made me realize how much of the negative aspects of American culture I carry.
What are the most challenging parts of living there?
- The language barrier.
- Being overcharged because I’m a foreigner.
- The obsession with lighter skin.
- The hierarchy of Western things and institutions.
- Sometimes, I find that some people are not very open-minded. It’s not every day that you can discuss religion and racism (believe meeeeeee) without people getting upset. But I’ve realized that colonialism has impacted Africans in a different way than slavery and oppression impacted us in the U.S. and Caribbean.
- Another thing that I find challenging is something that I know will sound crazy—you have to live here to understand. Senegal is known for being very peaceful but no one ever explains that this peace is often found by letting everything go.In theory, this sounds good, until everyone is telling you to forgive someone that stole from you or to "Leave it to God" when someone has done something very disrespectful to you. As a native New Yorker used to cussing people out, this can be very stressful. Because if you do curse someone out, for example, you will be seen as the person in the wrong. I know it sounds like I’m lying but wait until the guy who owes you $400 vanishes and your best Senegalese buddy is telling you to "Leave it to God." *sucks teeth and rolls eyes*
Can you share a few details on the cost of living in the community that you live in?
An average two-bedroom will cost you around $300-$400 per month. The internet costs about $50 a month if you use the major internet provider.
Water comes to around $10 every two months and electricity is paid every two months as well. It usually costs around $30-$35 every pay period.
Food is a bit expensive compared to the rest of Africa, but pretty modest for those of us coming from America. A kilo of apples is about $2.25 but seasonal fruit such as mangos and watermelon costs more.
Taxis are cheap but add up quickly. Always inquire with a friend about the price of something before you purchase it or travel because people will literally throw out any number at you and you must ALWAYS barter. If you pay the first price they offer then you most likely have been tricked, bamboozled, and played.
Advice and Final Reflections on Living in Dakar, Senegal
What advice would you give another Black foreigner considering moving to Dakar?
Practice your French! Also, you can come here for a job but entrepreneurship should be in your future plans. Make local friends and find people you can count on. Community is important here so you will definitely want to form a little tribe. Learn Wolof—it will make it easier to learn about the culture and make friends.
Don’t get married after one month of falling in love with someone. Some taxi drivers will really try you (carry pepper spray). And, remember that Senegal is a mostly Islamic country. Be prepared to interact with people who think differently from you. Also, the way you dress is the way many people will perceive you.
What has living in Senegal taught you? Or how has it changed you?
Senegal has really made me rethink and reflect on how I view family and family obligations. It has also forced me to go back to the days where I listened to grandma and refuse to wear sweats outside the house. Knowing that people are monitoring your behavior forced me to be more mindful of my interactions and relationships with others (sometimes).
How long do you plan to live in Senegal?
I’m really not sure. If I learn Wolof, maybe forever. I need to visit Ghana first to decide.
Follow Waameeka's Senegalese excursions on Instagram @mahogany_glowtribe
Enjoyed learning about life for an African American living in Dakar, Senegal? Then you'll definitely enjoy our other interviews and reflections from African Americans living across west Africa.