My Senegalese friend was horrified to find out that I hadn’t had massages after Pape was born. Apparently, this is customary in Senegal. (Yet another thing to love about this culture!) Depending on your social status, the massages are done either by female family and friends or by a trained professional.
Fast-forward to Pape being nearly eight months old. Cheikh decided it was time for me to get that massage. A friend of his had recommended a Senegalese masseuse who works at a hospital in Dakar and also ‘freelances’ on the side and does massages in your home. Purrr-fect.
Based on our phone conversations, I was expecting a woman in her mid-20s with wiry muscles from working out knots in shoulders. The woman who walked through the door was every inch a grande dame sénégalaise, from the faint cloud of incense surrounding her large frame to her elaborately piled headscarf, gold jewelry and flowing dress. And she was in her mid-50s or so.
I felt like a fancy houseguest had just arrived and I was wearing part of Pape’s mushed veggie lunch on my t-shirt. But since only part of that was true, I lifted my chin and decided not to allow myself to feel awkward, but to make the most of this massage. Good call, as she certainly wasn’t bothered by the food on my shirt or my old flip-flops.
I wasn’t quite sure how to proceed since I’m not accustomed to having people come to my house to massage me. I realized I didn’t even have any massage oil or smell-good lotion, so grabbed some olive oil and poured it into a plastic cup. Cheikh had set up his portable osteopathy table and covered it with a sheet, so that part was good to go. And, miracle of miracles, Pape had just gone down for a nap. I was all set.
“So, uh… um… What do I…? Do I take… – Oh. Okay then.” Just as I was starting to wonder how much one undresses for a Senegalese massage (guessing it was somewhere between the super-modest American and the uninhibited French), Madame Masseuse stripped off her fancy dress to put on a white smock. So we do it the French way, eh? Got it.
At the end of the hour she asked how I felt. I told her I felt very relaxed and my stomach felt better. She basically replied, “Of course it does.” It was the perfect pitch of confidence without any arrogance. She’s been doing this for years, since 1972 actually, and knew what I needed after the physical challenges of pregnancy. But still, the ease with which she said, “Of course it does,” made me smile as I wobbled across the room.
Although I wouldn’t mind researching the topic of Senegalese post-baby massages further (all for science, you know), I can only tell you about this single experience for now. It was very similar to massages I’ve had before, but she kneaded my stomach for a long time and also had me lay on each side so she could massage my waist. I wouldn’t say that it felt good, but it sure didn’t hurt as much as it would have right after the C-section! I don’t even want to think about that. But the end result was really good.
It was especially, incredibly good when you consider the price. There are a lot of things about living here that are difficult. But one of the perks is being able to have a one-hour massage in your home for about $12.
(Yeah. Bet you wanna’ come visit us now, eh?)