The Nigerian experience is physical, emotional and sometimes international. No one knows it better than our features on #TheAbroadLife, a series where we detail and explore Nigerian experiences while living abroad.
Today’s subject on Abroad Life took a road trip to Senegal in 2019, stayed there for two months and decided she wanted to move there. She talks about struggling when she arrived because Senegal is so different from Nigeria, and how Senegal is a peaceful, amazing country for tourists but not so much for the Senegalese.
Tell me about your first trip to Senegal.
I visited Senegal for the first time in 2019 after I decided to go on a road trip from Nigeria. I went through Benin Republic, Burkina Faso, Mali before I got here and then I stayed for two months. My initial reason for coming here was to take a break but I somehow ended up working with West Africa Think Tank.
Before I made that trip, I was thinking of moving to a francophone country. The best options were Cote d’Ivoire, Benin Republic and Senegal. Someone told me that if I was going to a West African francophone country, it had to be Senegal because that’s the best place to go to, and I decided finally to make it happen in September 2020.
What were your first impressions of Senegal?
It was different. I remember the first time I walked into a supermarket and everything was so unfamiliar. I remember feeling some kind of sadness overwhelm me in that moment. It’s not like I was missing Nigeria — I studied in Ghana, so I was already used to not being in Nigeria — but I quickly realised that Nigeria and Ghana are similar but Senegal is pretty different because of the influence of the French. So, in that supermarket, I didn’t find baked beans. You won’t find a lot of the types of regular stuff you see in Nigerian supermarkets here.
But soon after I settled, I realised Senegal makes you feel relaxed, like you’re living your life on vacation. One thing I love here is the beaches. I can walk from my office to a beach. There’s beach football and all that too. Tourists love Senegalese beaches.
What about food?
I struggled to find food I was used to until I met someone who took me to a Nigerian restaurant. It was just a tiny bukka, but that day, I ate eba and egusi, and it was the best day of my life.
As I got used to being in Senegal, I also got used to the food, the people and the language. They speak French and Wolof.
What’s one interesting thing you noticed during your first visit?
The roads, especially in the residential areas, are very sandy and it’s a bit strange to see because in Nigeria, sandy roads indicate rural settlement. Here it’s just because Senegal is close to the Sahara desert. So under the sand, the roads are actually good. I’m not talking small sand o. I mean sand that looks like you’re walking on the beach and if you’re not careful, you’ll fall. I found that so amusing. They try to clear the sand sometimes, but it just gathers again.
Another thing is architecture. A lot of the buildings here are built together without fences. I can count the number of fences I’ve seen in Dakar. Akar. A lot of the buildings also have flat roofs so people can hang out on them. It’s really nice.
Are there any similarities between Senegal and Nigeria?
When I went to the market for the first time, it made me feel like one thing that ties Africa together is that the markets all look the same. If you close your ears in the market in Senegal so you can’t hear people speaking Wolof, it becomes a Nigerian market.
Tell me about the people.
When I was in university, someone told me I looked Senegalese, and at that time, I didn’t know anything about Senegal. I didn’t even know where it was on the map. But now that I’m here, I see that they’re really dark-skinned. Maybe that’s what they meant.
It’s supposed to be a predominantly Muslim country, but it’s not as conservative as you would expect. Even in Abuja or Kaduna, I’d know I was in a Muslim space. Here, I can count the number of hijabs I’ve seen. But they’re really passionate about their religion.
Generally, the people are very welcoming and nice. They’re used to foreigners because Senegal is a tourist destination. It was when I got here that I realised that Nigerians are not tourist friendly at all. Many people come here and decide that they don’t want to leave, so they just settle here. I have a Spanish friend from the UK that visited and decided to settle here.
The people are also very proud of the reputation Senegal has in West Africa. There’s this idea that Senegal is a special, beautiful and peaceful country. They also have a huge diaspora population in Europe because the coast of Senegal is close to Spain. The cost of my flight to Nigeria was more than the cost of a flight from Senegal to Spain.
There’s a but, though.
A big part of the population, actual citizens, don’t enjoy the things foreigners enjoy. It’s a very expensive country and actual Senegalese people cannot afford a lot of the housing and lifestyle. The idea of Senegal as a paradise is true, but mainly for expatriates and foreigners. The people don’t feel like they’re on vacation like the rest of us. They live a hard life. In trying to get a better life, many Senegalese people get on boats to run away to Spain, and they die on the Mediterranean.
As much as I want Nigerians to visit Senegal, I also want people to know about the things the Senegalese go through. It’s not great to see.