Top 9 Tips for Gift Giving from Senegal
By: Kim Rochette
Tis the season for blogger gift guides! After nearly four years living in Senegal, I have transported the majority of the craft market in my suitcases every December. Here's my American in Africa expat take on the matter, featuring tips on how to avoid the tourist traps and what I've learned about giving African gifts over the years.
1) West Africa, and subsequently Senegal, is renowned for its bold and vibrant textiles. However, fabric patterns and colors are very subjective, especially for clothing. And having clothing made for friends is risky, even when you give their exact measurements to the tailor. I no longer give friends and family tailor-made clothing, or plain fabric (since most don't know how to sew and don't have tailors on hand!)
BUT! FEAR NOT!
Certain items made in African fabric are awesome and universally loved, such as: aprons, purses, make-up bags, and pillows. Oh, and men's ties, of course ;) I also made African-fabric ornaments and stockings for my family one year with our names embroidered - those were a big hit. Maybe its time for a comeback...
2) Oh, you wood objects, you. Much of the wood objects for sale in Senegal are extremely touristy... but I do like giving an authentic mortar and pestle for cooking and tasteful figurines carved in ebony.
3) Or antique masks and sculptures that at least look authentic. But, based on my gift giving experience, masks are controversial. While "typically" African and a souvenir many expect, its hard to know whether people will actually appreciate the sometimes eerie gift. Give at your own risk.
4) For kids: Wooden mancala sets are the best. gift. ever. I had two made for my twin brothers, their names carved in the sets... we looked up the rules online and they still play the game every day... a year later! That is miraculous when it comes to gifts and children, amiright? Another great gift for boys- pajama pants with African fabric. My brothers still wear these!
5) Hand woven baskets are a surprise favorite for the home, and appeal to pretty much everyone! These are basically my go-to when it comes to gifts from Senegal. They are light and easy to transport (the small ones at least), come in a variety colors, patterns, and neutrals, and they look great in every home! No wonder they're trending in U.S. decor these days...
6) For girlfriends, gag gifts from the market definitely ensure some laughs... bindbind beads (a "sexy" string of beads you wear across your hips), lingerie fabric wraps, and crocheted bikinis are always a big hit with the ladies.
7) Other options for women: organic shea butter (though the smell is strong for some Americans), typical African bracelets, and painted glass home goods. But when in doubt, stick to baskets, pillows, or purses.
8) For your grandparents and foodie friends, dried hibiscus leaves to make the ever-refreshing and Senegalese staple, Bissap juice. I've given other food gifts, like local jams and spices, but the reception has been mixed.
9) Tuareg metal pieces - chests, letter openers, spears - make for a masculine and stylish option for the men in your life. Dads are the hardest, but this is a safe bet (for a year or two... then they get old).
Don't forget the rule to bargaining in Senegal: divide the starting price by three! And no eye-contact with vendors unless you're really intent on purchasing. Good luck shopping and happy holidays from Senegal!
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