Cultural Dialogues and a Carousel of Feelings

Nafissatou Tine has worked as a lawyer for almost five years, during which she created a website designed to act as a reference guide for Senegalese law practitioners and service providers. She has also been involved in the activities of the Women Association Lingeer, which she co-founded and which promotes African women through arts and culture.

When I was informed that I would be “Coming to America”, I was first excited to meet all my African fellows in one place and learn from them. I was also thrilled about being in The United States of America and seeing real American people in their natural environment, between McDonald’s and Coca Cola.

Nafissatou Tine. (Photo by Meagan Doll)
Nafissatou Tine. (Photo by Meagan Doll)

So I met them, and I realized that “Thiébou dieune” * is the first word that springs to people’s minds when it comes to my country Senegal. I also learned that the Congolese culture goes beyond Papa Wemba and Sakasaka; discovered that Mauritius is located in Africa, and that Kenya is not only populated by lions and Maasai. I even met an Ethiopian who was not a marathoner; a Somali who was not starving to death and a Liberian free of Ebola.

However, I was less prepared to meet diverse samples of Americans: African American, Asian American, Latino American and even Native American called “people of colour”. They did not have the bright Colgate smile of Donald Trump, his Hollywood tanned skin, and his shiny blond hair. They taught me that America (or should I say the Americas) was not a country and cannot be reduced to the United States of America.

I met brown Americans just like me, some even darker, others lighter. I heard them speak perfect English, some with this recognizable melodious accent of our far away countries, others not. I told them how much I was impressed by their country, a rainbow nation, that could inspire Africa in resolving its ethnic conflicts. I felt their sorrow of not seeing their colour blend homogeneously with that of the American flag.

On my way to Chicago, I met a young African American, Kadil who could not locate Africa on a map, nor America his own country. “I am not that much educated” he told me, and I realized that USA and Africa shared the same problem of educating their young people.

Nurtured by the myth of the American dream displayed on TV, I have seen in Madison that for some people, the American dream comes true directly in the streets, on the sidewalks, or in beautiful parks with hasty bystanders as spectators.

I have met “low income families” and I saw them depicted in their natural environment by some of my fellows. It reminded me of what I have seen in my country with western tourists who also wanted to capture poverty’s soul… and the saying “do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you” took all its meaning.

Sometimes, I feel scared by the idea that in THE country of freedom, young people celebrating life could get shot by an another fellow citizen celebrating his right to carry a gun. United States of America, the same country that has been nurturing the dreams of a better life of generations of young people, all over the world.

Nafi Tassou**

*Thiébou dieune is the national dish of Senegal. It is made from fish, rice and tomato sauce. Other ingredients often include onions, carrots, cabbage, cassava and peanut oil. The name of the dish comes from Wolof words meaning “rice” (ceeb) and “fish” (jën).

**Tassou: in Senegal is a kind of speech with some rhythms, reminding one of rap music.