The most common factor in Senegal (and I’d say in Africa as a whole) is that everybody takes care of everybody. From a simple “ça va?”, repeated over and over, to the division of food, of work tasks or whatever, everyone knows they’re part of a bigger community. And, what’s most important, everybody believes that their welfare derives from the community’s one.
Resources are few and need to be carefully managed. Usually every part of life (and the proper behavior associated to it) follows a rather strict set of rules, well known among all: from what to do during the rain season if you’re going to work in the rice field, to general family dynamics or street laws (the parallel ones, made of hand gestures, horns and light warnings).
The reason is quite simple: if they don’t help each other nobody else will. Neither the State, whose deficiencies are clear, nor toubabs (white people), no matter if tourists or even engaged in international cooperation.
This way of living shows its limits too. There are a lot of road accidents, for instance, and often families are too intrusive into somebody’s life (and the supposed Western freedom of choice is a very envied ideal).
Furthermore there are children everywhere and the limit between enforcing a rule and showing it to them is subtle. Kids watch and learn things they will do when grown up. Or maybe it’s true the other way around: grownups do what they do just because there are kids looking at them.
From my perspective, as a toubab, such a strong feeling of membership and belonging to the community highlight something as strong and opposite happening nowadays in Europe: we are getting always more lonely and sad. We are afraid of the neighbor and out of our comfort zone we feel immediately threaten.
To say hello to every stranger in the neighborhood probably won’t work in our cities. To show true interest in our closest ones might instead be a good starting point and could give us back personal enrichment and a little more happiness.
If only there were more children around probably our behavior would change too.