Fieldwork and Exploration

Wednesday July 23rd marked my second week out of the hospital and my fifth week into the trip. It was also my first day of fieldwork, an accumulation of six months of preliminary research, two months of editing a survey, one month of talking with Senegalese political leaders, and several weeks of finding a research assistant. After doing all this, I just had to trust my preparation and finally do what I came here to do.

Leading up to that day, I had been meeting with my recently hired research assistant to plan out which neighborhoods and which days I would be surveying. His name is Macadou, a doctoral linguistic student who is one of the nicest, most generous people I have met. He is abundantly enthusiastic about my project that he frequently emphasizes that he does not care about the money. He even invited me to meet his family at his hometown Thiès, which is two hours away from Dakar. 

My survey seeks to capture the political opinions of Senegalese youth aged 18 to 30 in the capital city. For the next three weeks, Macadou and I plan to walk throughout 8 different neighborhoods in Dakar to survey at least 15 people in each neighborhood, aiming for a total of at least 120. I purposely chose the eight neighborhoods, or communes d’arrondissments, out of the 19 in the city to properly represent its youth population, covering multiple socioeconomic and social characteristics. The demographic geography of Dakar, a city of one million, is fairly simple. The wealthier downtown port area is located in the south of the peninsula and the further north you go, neighborhoods become increasingly disadvantaged and impoverished especially in the suburbs, a spatial trend that contrasts with that of the typical American city. I will survey these struggling suburbs, or banlieues, as well as middle-class neighborhoods close to the downtown area. Within each neighborhood, I will randomly survey households by counting off every 10 houses and making sure I cover ground in all areas of the neighborhood. 

Map of Dakar

Since Wednesday, my research assistant and I have completed four days of fieldwork and gathered 30 total survey responses in two middle-class neighborhoods, Grand Yoff and SICAP Liberté. A typical fieldwork day starts at 8 A.M. and ends around 3 P.M. The amount of time that it takes for subjects to finish my survey has taken an average of 20 minutes, which is longer than I expected, so I may not get as many responses as I initially planned. Besides that, Macodou and I have not encountered major problems as people have been open and welcoming to us. In a typical Senegalese home, there are usually up to 15 people living together. A maid often answers our knock or doorbell and directs us to the oldest member of the household, the father or mother. Macadou explains my research project and asks if there is any young person aged 18 to 30. If the family approves of our study and a young member agrees to participate, the family invites us to sit next to them in their living rooms, bed rooms, or in the courtyard while the person fills out the survey on my iPad tablet. We have found ourselves in a variety of homes: from crowded, run-down huts to well-furnished, air-conditioned apartments. We have interviewed college students, women with children, working men, young maids, Muslims and Christians. Sometimes, we are with the person alone in a quiet room and other times, we are among a group of other housemates gossiping about their everyday lives. For a handful of respondents who were not literate in French, Macadou would explain every question in Wolof, the indigenous language. Translating this way and appropriately approaching Senegalese households are exactly the reasons why I need him. Some of my participants were clearly more interested in politics than others, but people generally responded with a ostensible care for their country, no matter how many problems it faced. We have encountered many households where the people are not present, not available, or not willing but overall, I have been delighted by the hospitality, or teranga, that Senegalese people are known for.

Walking through Grand Yoff


SICAP Liberté, which is more middle-class than Grand Yoff

Although my survey and methodology are sound, I have approached my fieldwork with tempered expectations. Unlike Afrobarometer, an independent research organization that conducts public opinion surveys in 35 African countries and yields teams of professional fieldworkers, I am one undergraduate student with limited funding and time. I only have about 2 weeks remaining and I still have to go to the hospital almost everyday to change my bandage for post-surgery maintenance. Given these circumstances I know it will be difficult to get enough respondents for my results to be statistically significant. I am determined to gather as many survey responses as possible until my departure date. Later, I can decide how to best analyze the data and pinpoint how my findings apply to the current state of Senegalese politics.

On my way to a full recovery from the surgery, I have not only made strides in my project but I have also begun to explore the city again! Here are some of my visits described in pictures:

In front of the Presidential Palace

In front of the Legislative Assembly


Shop at Marché Kermel

Bought some great statues from a native sculptor

Enjoyed a free contemporary dance show

Marché at Grand Yoff

Lunch by the coast with a friend from the Korean Embassy

African Renaissance Monument, the tallest statue in Africa

Mosquée de la Divinité

Friends and I at Ngor Island

After a busy week of surveying, I have about three days off because the end of Ramadan is coming up tomorrow, Tuesday July 29th! Most young Senegalese who left their rural hometowns to pursue an education in Dakar, like my research assistant, return home to their families to celebrate one of the most significant days of the year. La Fête de Ramadan or La Korité marks the end of a month-long fast in which 95% of the country participates. Senegalese people will rejoice in the name of Allah with food and family, as no one will be working on this holiday. Apparently, it is the one day that this country embraces eating lots of meat and yesterday, I saw my family preparing over 30 pieces of beef along with traditional dishes and desserts! As a food lover, I could not be more excited.

Until next time,