There’s a difference between things I don’t understand and things I’ll never understand. The former makes me curious and the latter drives me bonkers. So let’s just look at a couple things about life in Senegal that I don’t understand, in hopes that some of you can enlighten me.

At an ngente back in 2003
At an ngente back in 2003

Eyebrows on babies
At baby naming ceremonies, ngentes, the child of honor is usual dressed to the nines and wrapped in swaddling beach towels. The baby may have on a touch of red lipstick but almost always has heavy black eyebrows penciled on. Can anyone explain this? Is it just a cultural view of beauty, like our putting those little garters on baby girls who don’t have hair?

Louga vendors
All over the world there are Senegalese vendors selling sunglasses, souvenir trinkets and bootleg CDs. Usually they can be found at popular landmarks and tourist hotspots, but also just walking up and down the beach. If you stop and talk with them, you’ll learn that many come from the small town of Louga, which is between Dakar and Saint-Louis. And as far as I can tell, that’s all it is – just a small town between Dakar and Saint-Louis. So why are there so many vendors from Louga around the world? Anyone have ideas?

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A little boy dressed as a big mama in the village. (I loved that they stuffed their hips and butts as part of the costume.)

Cross-dressing at Tamkharit
Just a couple days ago was the celebration of Tamkharit, which most of the Muslim world calls Achoura. (Bonus thing I don’t understand: why Senegal calls Muslim holidays by different names.) This holiday celebrates the Muslim New Year and ends with children cross-dressing and going around the neighborhood singing and dancing, asking for money or food. Not a too-distant cousin of Halloween, but I still don’t understand it.

Soupu kandja
So what is soupu kandja? The real question, in my opinion, is why does soupu kandja exist? In a land of amazing food, I do not understand why a Senegalese cook had to invent this slimy green sauce made from okra that is eaten over rice. Not a clue.

The ties are so notorious that they've inspired quite a few Halloween costumes. (Photo used without permission, but I think Mike and Ryan will forgive me.)
The ties are so notorious that they’ve inspired quite a few Halloween costumes. (Photo used without permission, but I think Mike and Ryan will forgive me.)

Short ties
If you walk through Dakar, you’ll see guards in front of many homes and buildings. Guards who work for professional agencies wear uniforms that often include a tie. A very short, like only six-inches long tie. Is this so the bad guys can’t grab them by the tie and choke them? Any other explanations?

What about you? Anything to add to this list that you don’t understand?