The Jewish Pulaar of Senegal

On my return from Houston to Portland, I had the privilege of sitting next to a nice Jewish lady from Senegal whose native language is Pulaar.  Well… actually she’s from the Midwest, but she’s been to Senegal a few times – and actually her native language is English, but she speaks Pulaar.  She’s a linguist who specializes in endangered languages.  Her main specialty is Pulaar.  We had some interesting conversations and she’s a very intelligent woman.
She told me how the natives of Senegal were amazed at how quickly she picked up on the values of the various denominations of paper money there.  Being illiterate, they didn’t realize that all she had to do was read the numbers on the notes!  She told me how, wherever she went in Senegal, she was subject to being referred to (sometimes in a derogatory way) as “white person”.  Imagine the uproar if blacks had the same experience in the Western world.  At a marketplace there, a vendor accused her of being “racist” for not wanting to buy his wares.  I told her it was she who was the victim of racism.
A typical Jewish leftist?  Not exactly; she’s, to some extent, an observant Jew.  She keeps kosher and she wouldn’t even eat my Mexican cookies.  I got the (possibly mistaken) impression that somewhere in the back of her mind, she understands that racial differences are more than skin deep.  She did get small doses of HBD from me of course.
I asked her about the number of words in Pulaar, and other tribal languages of that region.  She explained that there are different levels of Pulaar speech, just as there are in English and other major languages.  There is sophisticated Pulaar and street Pulaar.  Unlike central Africa, and some parts of Eastern Africa, Senegal was not a historically isolated region.  It neighbors Mali and is not terribly far from Timbuktu.  The vast majority of the population, at least in the North, is Muslim.  So the Senegalese are not strangers to civilization.   Also, despite some recent incidents with Islamic extremists, it’s one of the safest places in black Africa.  Nevertheless, I told her I worry about a fellow Jew, especially a woman, visiting such a place.  I hope she keeps her own ethnic background discreet over there.
Meeting interesting people is one of the benefits of travel.  Next I’ll tell you about a man I met in Merida:  Cesar.

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4 Responses to The Jewish Pulaar of Senegal

  1. Amadou says:

    I’ve lived in Senegal and know the lingua franca somewhat. The term that is used by the Senegalese that many white people assume is a derogatory term for white person is ‘toubab’. I guess any term can be derogatory depending on its usage but this word just means ‘foreigner’, it just happens that most foreigners to Senegal are white. I happen to be black and I was subjected to this term on a regular basis. The street vendors in Senegal are very aggressive and a few are not above trying to guilt people into buying their goods, even going as far as accusing someone of racism. It’s a tactic. Of course I can only speak from my experience but I’ve never encountered any racism even in multiracial settings discussing controversial topics like colonialism and globalization. Minority groups, including religious minorities are protected by their constitution. Their first democratically elected president after independence was an ethnic and religious minority.

    • jewamongyou says:

      Thanks for reading my blog Amadou. You’ll find a lot of stuff, on this blog, that may come across as being offensive to blacks. But if you take it in context, you’ll see where I’m coming from. I don’t hate any individual because of his race, though I do resent it when one race tries to replace another. Also, I don’t shy away from racial/ethnic humor.

      • Amadou says:

        Yes, I read your about page as well as a few of your posts so I had an idea of what I was stepping into. I’m not easily offended and enjoy passionate but civil debate/discussion on controversial subjects. After browsing around a little am I correct to assume that you’re also from Portland, Oregon?

  2. jewamongyou says:

    Yes I am. I’m glad you’ve got a thick skin. Hopefully you’ll participate in other discussions on this board as well. I regularly chime in on blogs where very nasty things are written about Jews. I understand that most of those things are not directed at me and, even if they are, those views are by no means unanimous.

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