No, I’m not inviting you to join in an African dance undiscovered as of yet by the Western World. Nor am I proposing for you to engage me in sexual and/or alternately illicit activities. I just want to go to market.
The feug jaay, pronounced fooki jaay in English, is a Wolof word meaning to shake off and sell (Source: my Senegalese friend, Hussein Diop). Imagine your local American Goodwill or thrift shop, but then cut the prices in half, take away the non-descript building that smells faintly of ramen noodles and cats, and multiply the inventory by a thousand. Then take those 90’s prom dresses, cheap crystal, and weird shag carpets and stuff them into hundreds of stalls lined up in the middle of the street for at least a mile. Each vendor sells his or her own genre of used goods—men’s pants, women’s lingerie, children’s miniature get-ups—and each stall has its own method of organization– clothes ironed and hung on the steel bars of stalls, folded in stacks higher than your head, or thrown haphazardly into a pile that gets churned every couple of minutes by a teenage boy walking around barefoot over his wares. If you are patient, you are sure to find something, even if it’s not what you set out to find in the first place.
This is the feug jaay. A hipster’s dream, a compulsive shopper’s nightmare, and a song that Macklemore wishes he wrote.
In Senegal, “Wanna feug jaay?” is common Peace Corps jargon. Perhaps it’s our best kept secret, but you know that tattered chic style we are always rocking? I didn’t get it from my momma, I got it from the feug jaay. The feug jaay, like many things we’ve learned about in our unique situations as volunteers, is a term not known well by the larger expatriate community in Dakar. I admit that after two and a half years, I have become lax in my differentiation between what is Peace Corps gobbedlygook and what is plain English. For example, a couple of months ago I became aware of my shameful slinging of Peace Corps slang/local language when I demanded that everyone attending my birthday party should go to the feug jaay to pick up a cheap white shirt.
I didn’t think again about it until a day before the party when a non-Peace Corps friend asked me exactly what the hell was I talking about when I said to pick a t-shirt up at this “feug jaay” place and was I expected to believe she knew what that was?
I dragged my toe through the dirt in shame and shrugged my shoulders. Apparently not.
My shame soon turned to optimism though, as I realized the great opportunity I had to convert my non-Peace Corps expatriate friends into avid feug jaayers. And is there really a more delightful activity than cavorting through troves of the world’s trash-to-treasures in a West African market on Saturday?
This last Saturday, with a theme party of the greatest importance on the horizon, I seized the chance to take my feug jaay-virgin friend (whose name will remain anonymous in order to protect his previous non- feug jayying status) to a particular neighborhood known for having the best and most diverse feug jaay on Saturdays.
We didn’t know what we were looking for, but it didn’t matter. Every absurd costume idea materialized before us as we squeezed into the alley between the stalls. Our world became a kaleidoscope of brightly patterned clothing, wriggling bodies, and tinny loudspeakers announcing the cheapest prices. One minute, inside a tent of fancy dresses from 10 years ago, I could be a prom queen. In the next minute, I aspired to a Britney Spears, a football player, or perhaps a Go-Go dancer. And sometimes I just bought stuff because I wanted it— like a vintage black vest, some blue-diamond patterned pants that need a bit of tailoring, and a set of gold Pulaar earrings.
When feug jaaying, it always helps to take another enabling shopper. I was pleased that my friend quickly adapted to the scene, egging me on to buy totally ridiculous and totally useless items and popping up at the right moment during the delicate art of bartering to confirm that my price was a perfectly legitimate offer. He even managed to shuck off his amateur status by appropriately assuming that nothing is off limits in the feug jaay. Upon glimpsing a truly priceless “I Heart Haters” necklace worn by one young vendor, my newly minted feug jaayer friend bartered with him until the teen removed it from his own neck and sold it to him.
The feug jaay is a place to feel alive, to bump arms with hundreds people doing the same thing you are, to press your face into the strange smell of a piece of clothing with unknown history, to buy a small plastic cup of café touba as you peruse the stalls, to make new friends with the Guinean Pulaars who beat the shine into fabric with wooden clubs, to meet old friends accidentally in the hubbub of that crowded alley. You leave with a sore body and buzzing ears, swinging a black plastic sack full of hard won items that don’t add up to more than $5. Does it get any better than this?
Find out for yourself. Grab a wad of small change and a good-humored buddy and get on over to the feug jaay.
**For those interested in discovering the feug jaays of Dakar, here are some Peace Corps suggestions on the neighborhoods and times when they happen:
Liberte 6- Saturday
Marche Collobane, downtown- Always