Most Caucasian foreigners who stroll through the town of Nioro du Rip in central Senegal elicit cries of “toubab,” the local slang for “white person.” But residents greet Chris Andrews ’07 far more personally. “Moussa,” they say, echoing his Senegalese name, “Nanga Def?” (How are you?)
Andrews began his two-year stint with the Peace Corps in September 2007. Living with a Senegalese family and speaking Wolof, he has adopted the lifestyle of his neighbors.
The Vermont native didn’t speak any Wolof when he arrived in Nioro. Now Andrews speaks the local tongue not only with his family but also with dozens of women he’s helping build small businesses. “People accept you quicker and are more open to you, more willing to work with you, if you’re doing the work in Wolof instead of French,” he said.
Using loans from the United Nations and Senegalese government, the women’s groups are creating restaurants, sewing shops, and Internet cafés with the Colby economics major’s guidance as they learn to price goods, track expenditures, and market their products.
The job requires an understanding of cultural and technical obstacles, such as frequent power outages. “You have to slow down your expectations for everything,” Andrews said. “If someone says something is going to get done tomorrow, there’s a good chance it won’t.”
In Nioro Andrews has running water, electricity, and even Internet access, unlike his peers in nearby villages. But he’s still an hour-long bush-taxi ride away from other amenities: other English speakers, a bank with an ATM, a “proper” restaurant.
He eats with his host family in traditional Senegalese-style, sitting on the floor around a large bowl that everyone shares. Although he sometimes uses a spoon, he has mastered the technique of eating with his right hand, rolling food into a ball in his palm before bringing it to his mouth.
He can never eat enough to satisfy his host mother. She uses the French word for “eat” familiar to speakers of Wolof, French, and Italian: “Mangé!”
—Alexis Grant ’03