Nit Nitay Garabam-Man is Man’s Own Remedy

Before Senegal, I had never heard this phrase so adequately put.  Yet, it makes so much sense. When a person is in a sour mood, upset over something in their life, or even physically ill, people’s companies have a great deal of helping the person’s well-being.  There are many studies done by psychologists and medical scientists who prove when cancer patients are undergoing treatment in a hospital, the company of loved ones, a friendly canine friend, or any type of company to illicit laughter, will serve as a medicine just as strong as any chemotherapy. 


            Being inSenegal, I have seen and heard of many occasions where being surrounded by people is just part of the day to day life.  Already in households, you have many family members living together, sleeping in the same bedroom and bed, and private space is never to be found except for the bathroom.  My education professor explained to me that when his son recently past away, he was never left alone at his home.  People were constantly surrounding him; friends, family, neighbors and friends of friends that he might not have known well.  When he explained this, he didn’t sound like he minded their constant presence or that it was a burden-it was the thing for them to do.  Even when he didn’t feel like talking to his company, they stayed around him; enjoying the time being spent with him and hopefully making him feel better.  InAmerica, if a person passes away, it is always generally courteous to leave a family in peace for about a week to grieve.  It’s customary to bring dishes of food and give condolences but never to stay longer than an hour.  Only close family members stay together for a long time in times of tragedy.  My teacher explained to us that even if you don’t talk or have anything to “do” when a person comes over to visit, it is still nice to share their company-for as little or long as they choose to stay.  He emphasized us not choosing to hide out in our rooms to do homework or read, even though we are being “courteous to our families”, but we should bring our projects, books, and even merely ourselves to share the same space-even if we are only watching television together. 


            I experienced this cultural value of Senegalese “company” when I was downtown looking for a bus to get back to my neighborhood after a long day.  My friend and I had asked a married couple who were packing up their items for sale at the end of the day, where to catch a bus that would run up the VDN.  Instead of merely pointing down the street in an unfamiliar direction as I know I and many other Americans would have done, the husband insisted on leading us to the bus stop and waiting there with us for the next 20 minutes.  At first, my friend and I were concerned that he wanted some sort of retribution or the chance to get our phone numbers, however the longer he sat with us in silence after we tried to make small talk in French and Wolof, we began to realize he was just enjoying our company and listening to our rapid fire English as we gossiped.  That, or he was avoiding the work he was supposed doing with his wife (hahaha).


            Personally, I love my own space; more so, than I think a lot of people even back home. One of my favorite things to do back home is go to a coffee shop by myself among the coffee aroma and low bustling and write in my journal or read, for hours.  It is my own mental break from school, family, and the hustle and bustle that comes from living with so many people.  Even as I sit in a restaurant in Senegal, drinking a coffee and doing homework, I regard the scene and find myself the only person alone.  Granted, restaurants are unlikely places for people to go to by themselves-what can I say; I’m weird, but still.  Don’t get my intentions wrong-I don’t consider myself a hermit or a people-hater.  I love engaging in conversation with someone new, learning their story and maybe something new.  I enjoy surrounding myself with friends with laughter, chatter, and some good cheese and bread.  I feel more energetic, the lightness of heart, stress free atmosphere, and the mental health benefits every time I’m with friends.  But, I am a very independent person in general.  Therefore, the Senegalese value of nit nitay garabam is sometimes a difficult one for me to deal with-especially after a long day at school when I am tired and just want to relax on my bed or dive into a new book.  It’s difficult not to want to just come home, mutter your Wolof greetings to your mom, and then shut your door and collapse on to your bed before dinner.  Since the conversation with my education professor about “company”, instead of feeling obligated to retreat to my room if I needed to read something or feel the awkward silence creep through the room while watching a French or Wolof television program, I’ve begun making my use of my living room, the churning in and out of people, and the realization, that although I might not be able to hold that deep of a conversation about politics and religion with them while watching the news or listening to the radio, my presence in the room with them is enough to be their medicine and be my medicine too.  Because, at the end of the day, no matter how tired or discouraged I may have felt about the school day, being with my family recharges me and makes me feel loved sitting in their presence.



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