Toubab

“Toubab! Toubab!”

That’s what children (and even some adults) cry out when a white person passes in the streets.

Toubab means a lot of things.
It means being a white person, but also a foreigner.
A Toubab is someone naïve, but someone who has a lot of money as well.
A Toubab is someone who stumbles through the ghetto because they aren’t accustomed to walking through sand.
A Toubab is someone who cannot understand when someone is making fun of them because they cannot speak Wolof.
A Toubab is someone who will be outraged by the high taxi price offered to him, instead of calmly bargaining with the locals.
A Toubab cannot bargain and can thus easily be taken advantage of.
A Toubab’s synonym is a ‘ticket-to-France-or-another-western-country’.
A Toubab however, is also someone who is mostly immune to evil curses, someone who can bring good luck…

Many more stereotypes for white people exist within Senegal…

As a white tourist it is difficult to overcome these preconceived ideas, especially because when one voyages to Senegal for the first time, most of these are true!

When travelling, I think it is very important to adapt, to immerse oneself completely into a different culture. People who think speaking English will be fine anywhere in the world, know nothing about travel. Travel means communicating with people from different backgrounds and thus making an effort to learn their traditional language, even if it is just a few words…

One of my best days in Senegal was the one my friend sincerely told me: “Maïmouna, toi tu n’es pas Toubab.” (Maïmouna, you, you’re not a Toubab.)

In those few seconds, my body felt effervescent, so completely content.

And yes, I can say that pride rises within me: I can speak Wolof (even though very badly), I can bargain for sure, I know my way around, I know how to reply to Senegalese… I don’t stumble, I don’t mumble…

Yes, I am proud.

I love the feeling of acceptance that I have come to achieve. I love Senegal. And when people tell me “Charlotte, jouw Sénégalaise de!” (Charlotte you are Senegalese!), then I cannot help but laugh at the naïve little Toubab who first arrived here.

On the other hand, I know that I will never truly be Senegalese, I will always stand out wherever I go. I also think it is important to retain one’s cultural identity. I will always be French and nothing in the world can change that but…

A small piece of me, a piece which is growing every month that I am living here, is Senegalese.

From the depth of my heart, I hope to never lose this little piece of goodness.

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2 thoughts on “Toubab

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  1. It’s something similar here in Thailand except we are called ‘Farang’ which quite literally translates as white foreigner, it also (in another tone but sounds the same to me…) means guava…

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