Reflections from Abroad: The People I’m Not Lonely With

Date posted: Tuesday 15 January 2019

There is a word in Wolof — the language spoken widely across Senegal — which is “weytali.” There is no direct translation into English, but it means “the person I am not lonely with.” I learned of the word “weyt” (to be lonely) from my coworker at the creamery I work at, where we make soow — a local yogurt-like drink. He will often say before a weekend or time when I will be away from work for a few days, “Without you, I will be lonely.” I learned of the particular phrase “weytali” from my Wolof tutor. After learning the term, I started hearing it more and more often throughout my days here in Linguere.


Hospitality in my host home

A wonderful weytali; my host brother Jules.

I live with a host family here in Linguere, Senegal. I live with a host mom, uncle, two younger sisters, and three younger brothers. With so many of us around the house, it’s difficult to be alone. We eat our lunch and dinners sitting around a bowl on the floor — the traditional way meals are eaten in Senegal. In Senegal, hospitality is a very important value. As such, meals are a very important way to express hospitality.


As the guest in this household, my family makes sure I have enough to eat. Sometimes, however, this hospitality feels a bit insistent. After every meal I am told to keep eating, even if I am full. To my family, this can be both a joke and an expression of hospitality. To me, I struggled to tell how serious my family was being. For the first month or two I was here, I picked my spoon back up to take at least a few more bites when my host uncle insisted I keep eating. This cultural clash sometimes really got under my skin. I felt frustrated that my family was so insistent that I keep eating, especially because I had such a hard time understanding whether or not my family was joking.


All this has to do with weytali, I promise.


One day in December, I was having lunch with my family. My host mom and I were the last ones left eating. I was full, so I was about to set down my spoon, thank them for the meal, and get up. But my host mom, Rose, insisted that I stay and keep eating. I felt a little frustrated. Then she said, “Bëgg naa weytali.” In English, I understood it to mean, “Don’t leave yet. I don’t want to be left eating alone.”


I instantly understood so much better. This isn’t about how much food I am or am not eating. It is about sharing the meal together and being with one another. She wanted to share this time with me. Understanding why she was asking me to stay and keep eating made me much more willing to take a few more bites until she was done.


Two more of my favorite weytali's: my youngest host brother, Gabi (in front), and my host brother Joèl (behind me).

Striving to better understand

This instance made me wonder how many other experiences in Senegal have frustrated me, where they wouldn’t have if I had been more aware of the culture clash leading to our misunderstandings. How many other times have I been exasperated with another person, when really no one is to blame except for the differences in our cultures?


I strive to be better. To be more patient and to consider culture clash to be the most likely reason for frustrations I am encountering. I am so grateful to have people accompanying me on this journey. I have many “weytali’s” accompanying me throughout this year. My host family, my co-workers, supervisors, fellow YAGMs, and many more. I am grateful for the patience they have with me throughout this journey. And I am grateful for those moments of growth and understanding, which help me feel more and more connected to these people and this culture. I pray that you might have a “weytali” when you need one.


Maddie / Watéo


Madelin Lindahl is serving in the Senegal through Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) on behalf of the Saint Paul Area Synod & her home congregation Chisago Lake Lutheran in Center City. Learn more about Maddie & other missionaries here.