Integration and adaptation in Senegal
While I was there, I thought about issues of adaptation and integration. With our group of 12 Toubabs (white people), we were clearly the foreigners there. I made an analysis of how the processes of adaptation and integration took place there, and which were the success factors. I realised that there was a big difference between how the Senegalese treated us and how foreigners are usually treated in the Netherlands. Of course an important reason why we were much more welcome in Senegal was that we were bringing money and support to create a computer centre there. But that was not the only reason, the Senegalese culture is clearly much more hospitable. People greet each other in the street all the time, they do that just as much to foreigners as to locals. People invite you to their homes all the time, to talk and drink tea. A foreigner should be welcomed, he is asked to make himself at home and to feel at ease, to take some rest. The welcome of the stranger is unconditionally. People find it logical that strangers don’t behave in the same way as locals, so they don’t have to adapt completely and immediately. For Toubabs other, less strict social rules apply for how they should behave (and at the same time other prices apply, they have to pay at least twice as much).
I imagined what it would be like if Verdonks proposal would be accepted in Senegal: that I would only be allowed to speak Serrer in the village where we stayed (or also French in the most optimistic case, but for sure no English or Dutch). Or that I would have to pass my exams for a Senegalese assimilation course before I would be allowed to stay in the country.
The idea of a forced assimilation looked very strange to me there. On the other hand the issue of having the right to keep my own identity was no issue there either. I noticed that I really wanted to adapt to the Senegalese culture and to integrate as much as possible. I like the culture, I feel at home there, and I want to be part of it as much as possible. That’s a perfect integration model, I think, when foreigners are received with open arms and when they are very eager to fully accept the culture of the host country. It happened with many of the Dutch participants in the project, that they decided themselves, because they liked it, to integrate with the locals. We didn’t have to push them, they choose for it themselves and everybody liked it.
The reality is of course not always so positive as this ideal of voluntary integration, and the situation is different in the Netherlands, but still I think that it's good to keep this ideal in mind, also when the reality is more complicated.
Als een blanke Nederlander zich voorgoed in Senegal vestigt, met een Senegalese job en een Senegalees inkomen, zal hij/zij waarschijnlijk toch zijn/haar leven lang opvallen als buitenlander. En dus de buitenlanderprijzen betalen, al heeft hij/zij hetzelfde inkomen als de gemiddelde Senegalees.
Als een Noord-Afrikaan zich voorgoed in Nederland vestigt, zal hij/zij ook zijn/haar leven lang opvallen als buitenlander. En dus een grote kans op discriminatie hebben.
Soms denk ik weleens dat het mooi zou zijn de hele wereld in 1 keer te mengen. Allemaal koffiebruin, niemand valt op. Maar dan verzinnen we vast wel weer wat anders om op te selecteren...