From America To Senegal: How This Black Family Made The Move & Helping Others To Do The Same
By Parker Diakite
Aliyah Mahdi and her husband RJ Mahdi are the co-founders of Made In Africa, an organization that helps to build local businesses and improve local and international commercial trade between the diaspora.
The Mahdi’s founded the organization in 2014 after repatriating from the United States to Senegal.
Five years later, the project has turned into a resource for those who are interested in investment opportunities or relocating to Africa.
In an interview with Travel Noire, Aliyah discussed how her family made the transition from America to Senegal and opened up about overcoming some challenges along the way.
Travel Noire: Since moving to Senegal, what have you discovered about yourself that you wouldn’t have realized if you stayed in the United States?
Aliyah Mahdi: Moving to Senegal has helped me to realize a number of things about myself. Not only have I realized how strong I am as a wife, mother, and business owner, I have also found myself adapting to the culture, doing things that I never in life would have imagined.
For example, cooking on a coal grill or handwashing clothes. I realized that I am a resilient, black, Muslim woman who has become completely confident in who I am.
Time moves differently in Senegal: everything is slowed down. People take their time. Having this time on your hands actually gives you an opportunity to really focus in on what you want. It sparks your creativity. I realized my creativity has helped shape the structure of our business: The Made in Africa Project. I have also realized that having the time to tap into my creative side has not only been of help to myself, family, and friends, but to those, we assist with their move to Africa as well.
I realized through my story and life lessons, I can help others make their transition to Africa as easy as possible.
TN: Was the transition easy for you and your family?
Aliyah Mahdi: I won’t say it was easy. It was a challenge, but a challenge that was well worth it.
We prepared about one year prior to our departure. We learned how to live as a minimalist, and we had a strict budget until we reached our goal. Adjusting to the new lifestyle was definitely a challenge initially, but it did get easier.
Thankfully, we came into a community that was an amazing support system. People who were open and willing to not only help us get on our feet but were very supportive in all of the projects we started for ourselves. They helped me with my son, taught me how to cook local dishes, helped us learn the local language, and instilled in me sacred wisdom that has helped me progress through some of the challenges we faced while living abroad.
TN: If anyone is thinking about relocating to Senegal, what are some things you think they should consider that you wish you had known?
Aliyah Mahdi: Just do your research on where you want to live within the country. There are some rural areas that may not have the accommodations you are looking for, especially coming from the States. For example, there were certain products/services that I missed while living in Medina, that were readily available in Dakar.
If you don’t speak French, be open to learning the local language which is Wolof. You can pick up courses of either language online before you come.
Visit first, get a feel for the country by touring different cities and engaging with the people. Learn the etiquette, always bring a gift for your host.
Understand your cash flow before you leave. Are you looking to invest, do you want to get a job or start a business? There is also a culture around business, that you may not be used to. You will need to know how to maneuver through this. Consider hiring a consultant.
TN: How is the job market? What about schools for people with young children?
Aliyah Mahdi: There are plenty of jobs, but I always recommend one to come ready to start a business or invest, because the wages are significantly lower than what you would receive in the States. If you are just getting started and would like to get your feet wet, a job could be an option for you because some of them even offer housing during your contract.
There are plenty of schools available for your children to attend. There are public and private just like in the States. You will find that most of the private schools do offer English in addition to French and Arabic. You can find a school on just about every corner. Two of my favorites are both owned and operated by African American women.
TN: Can you tell our readers why they should relocate to Senegal?
Aliyah Mahdi: Well, there are a number of reasons why people relocate to Senegal. If you are looking for a country full of hospitality (teranga), Senegal may be for you. If you are seeking a peaceful country, Senegal may be for you. If you are looking for good food, beautiful scenery, beaches, a culture based on principals, investment and business opportunities, Senegal may be for you. If you are looking for true freedom and a chance to escape the rat race of America, Senegal may be for you and welcomes you with open arms.
Senegal makes it easy for foreigners to own land, rent properties, and start businesses.
TN: Lastly, is there anything else you would like to tell us that I did not ask that you feel is important for this story?
Aliyah Mahdi: I have spent 5 years in Senegal, there will be challenges along with the benefits. You have to remember your purpose for being here. Always make sure your good outweighs the bad, and understand that a move to Africa is a move that could benefit your family for generations to come. Know that the land we own here will continue to pass on from generation to generation. Lastly, know that African Americans have just as much right to Africa as anyone else and you should enjoy it and benefit from it.
Our entire mission from the moment we stepped foot on the ground was to become a bridge for the diaspora to connect with Africa. You should be here. Come Home. Leave your mark, your skills, your talents.
If any of the readers are interested in relocation assistance or investment opportunities they can reach out to us via www.madeinafricaproject.com. We would also like to speak with you if you are interested in assisting us with building our city Alkebulan.