Interview conducted (in French) on August 29th, 2016.
The interviewee has chosen to remain anonymous.
A sample of the recording will be available soon.
Café Dakar shares interviews with real people living in Dakar, Senegal. We talk about life here in West Africa’s francophone capital. The ups, the downs, what we love and what we could do without. Café Dakar is all about diversity and tolerance; it’s about work, life, fun and whatever we feel people should know about this unique corner of Africa.
K.S.: Welcome to a new edition of Café Dakar. Here we are with a young, Senegalese woman who is born and raised and currently living and working in Dakar. She will share with us a bit about herself, her life and how she sees this city. Perhaps we will be lucky enough to hear her share with us some of her hopes for herself and for her city, her country.
K.S.: Could you please tell us a bit about yourself, your family, and your activities at this time.
Anon: Well.. I won’t introduce myself..(smiling)
K.S.: No worries…
Anon: Well, I am a young Senegalese woman, born and raised in Dakar. I finished my high school diploma here at ITECOM, a private establishment, and it’s also where I also received my training in accounting, I got my “BTS”, my Bachelor’s degree.
K.S.: Currently, are you working?
Anon: Yes, I am working. I’ve been working for about 16 months now.
K.S.: Where do you work?
Anon: I work at an office as an assistant to the management.
K.S.: And what does this office do?
K.S.: (also laughing) Ah, because our listeners do not know!
Anon: Well it’s a maritime insurance survey firm. Completely different work from what I studied! (laughing) but it’s OK, I’m figuring it out OK. Because when I arrived here I hadn’t even worked 1 month in this field, but I just dived into the deep end and they explained everything to me and I thank God it’s all OK. I didn’t get the specific training to do this job but it’s OK.
K.S.: And what do you think are the specific skills or talents that you have that allow you to work in a field different from your area of study? Which, by the way, I feel happens often in Senegal!
Anon: Yes, myself as well as classmates from university, we rarely have the opportunity to work in our chosen field of study. It’s a good thing though our training is so applicable to so many fields – we can find accounting anywhere, and this has helped me immensely in this work.
K.S.: Great (smiling). So, what do you like to do in your free time?
Anon: I love being at home, and cooking. I like to take care of my home. Do the laundry or do the cooking. Because when I’m not at work, I’m always in the kitchen! It’s always me doing the cooking!
K.S.: Are you the eldest daughter at home?
Anon: Yes, I am. That is to say I’m the eldest daughter from my mother, but not from my father.
K.S.: OK (smiling). I love this subject of polygamy in Senegal. What do you think about it? For me, as a foreigner, polygamy is something very exotic to my mind and very difficult to understand.
Anon: For us here it is normal. I was born into a polygamous family, my grandfather had 4 wives and they all lived together in one home.
K.S.: And they got along together very well?
Anon: Absolutely, they were very close, like sisters, truly.
K.S.: Incredible. But really, do you think that is the exception or that is the norm?
Anon: No, it is rather the exception. Because in our case we can’t tell the difference between the daughter or child of the first wife or another, they are all equal. We would even say that they are from the same father and mother. And this I would say is an exception.
K.S.: Because often there is competition among them (the wives, the children)? It seems so complicated. Personally, I couldn’t imagine sharing my husband with another woman! (laughing)
Anon: Well no, no one wants this! Even I do not want this, I assure you. Of course I would want to have my husband only for myself. But..
Anon: But we are Muslim, so we have to accept it, whether or not we like it.
K.S.: Well, I don’t know about all of the Muslim cultures, but I understand that polygamy is not practiced in all of them.
Anon: Polygamy is allowed, but it not something that you necessarily do. If you do not want to, you do not do it. It’s not forced. There are great Muslim men who only have 1 wife.
K.S.: So it becomes a personal choice.
Anon: Exactly, a personal choice.
K.S.: (smiling) well, unless I’m much mistaken.. you are to be married soon.
K.S.: Would you like to share something with us about your fiancé? How did you meet? (smiling) I love love-stories!
Anon: Well, we are neighbours, we grew up together.
K.S.: So you have known eachother for a very long time then.
Anon: Since I was born! We lived in the same neighbourhood, and I was friends with his younger sister. He left to go on a trip and one day he came back and I went to visit his sister, since her and I were friends. I had known her brother before, but we had not seen each other in 4 or 5 years.
K.S.: And in this time.. you blossomed into a woman!
Anon: (smiling)..So we said hello, we chatted.. and then I left to go back home. And 2 days later he called me, and I was surprised. I asked myself how did he get my number, and so on.
K.S.: Oh, I’m sure he found a way! (smiling)
Anon: And well after that conversation everything started for us.
K.S.: How long has it been now?
Anon: It’s almost been 7 years.
K.S.: Is he your first love.. your first true love?
Anon: Well. you know.. there were small side stories here and there, but, yes.. he is my first real love.
K.S.: I hope it all goes well (Inshallah)
Anon: He is my first love and I hope he will also be my last!
K.S.: I also wish it for you (smiling).
K.S.: I do have another question. You’ve mentioned to me before your father spends a lot of his time abroad, and I know your fiancé is often out of the country. How is this for you? This is normal?
Anon: Yes, my father lives abroad, his sisters also. They are in France or in Belgium, and one aunt lives in the United States.
K.S.: That always surprises us in Canada, you know, we’re not so used to having our family members spread around the globe like this.
Anon: Yes, but for example we all come together during Tabaski (major Muslim holiday) here in Dakar.
K.S.: Perfect, so soon everyone will be here.So you have moments like this when everyone is here together.
K.S.: And your family that lives abroad what do they say they miss the most from Senegal? Except for family of course.
Anon: Well yes, they miss their family of course.
K.S.: Do you know families here in Dakar that are all here? Does that kind of a family even exist?
Anon: It would be difficult for me to say, because even if the family members don’t live abroad they may be in different regions or villages of Senegal.
K.S. Everyone is moving around then and getting by as best as they can. .. Is it quite difficult then to find work in Dakar?
Anon: Very difficult.
K.S.: People look endlessly for work and can not find it?
Anon: There is a huge amount of people looking for work, especially the young people who have a diploma or other qualifications and can’t even find an internship.
K.S.: Yes, this surprised me when I started to work out in the field here, visiting the warehouses and I met warehouse managers who had post secondary diplomas. They said that they took the work they could find, even if they are over-qualified for it.
Anon: They figure it’s better than nothing.
K.S. Of course.
K.S. Changing the subject.. have you travelled outside of Dakar?
Anon: Yes, but not that much.
K.S. Still.. when you come back to Dakar, what do you appreciate the most, or what do you feel?
Anon: Dakar is not like the other cities in Senegal. Dakar is Dakar! (laughing). There’s nothing quite like it anywhere else!
K.S.: And what neighbourhood do you live in here?
Anon: I live in Medina.
K.S.: You know when you read a travel guidebook of Dakar it will tell you that Medina is the most “African” neighbourhood. I’m not even quite sure what that means!
Anon: It is the heart of Dakar.
K.S.: And you feel at home in Medina.
Anon: It’s where I grew up, it’s home to me.
K.S.: I find Medina chaotic! I also find it fascinating.. but I would have a hard time resting there. Like when we were at the marriage of our friend.
Anon: Yes, there is a lot of noise, a lot of people.
K.S.: Are there nights like that when you try to sleep and you hear drumming and…?
Anon: Oh yes! And as we have the different Muslim brotherhoods, the Mourides and the Tidjane, for example, every Friday evening they come together for prayer, or recitation and drumming.. it makes it impossible to sleep. But what are you going to do, we don’t have any other choice.
K.S.: If you had Godly powers for just 1 day and you could do absolutely anything – what is the 1 thing that you would change in Dakar?
Anon: I would decentralize. Everything in Senegal is concentrated in Dakar, but there is more to Senegal than just Dakar. There are other regions, why not go there, there is more room, why don’t we develop those regions and then Dakar would be less crowded.
K.S.: And for you, if you could do any job in the world, what would it be? Imagine all of the doors are open, anything is possible.
Anon: (smiling) I would be a hairdresser.
K.S.: (laughing) That’s beautiful! So you would have your own salon.
Anon: Just like my aunt, she has her own boutique. I was born into a family where everyone knows hairstyling.
K.S.: That’s so cool. Thank you.
K.S.: Oh, and as an aside, since I’m a foreigner and we’ve known eachother for a few months now.. is there anything in me or in my behaviour that you find shocking or very different?
Anon: No really I find you very normal, truly.
K.S.: No, I mean really…nothing too strange? (laughing)
Anon: No, for me, everything is OK.
K.S.: Thank you.
On another note, I’m curious – is there any kind of advice that you would give to young Senegalese women? May I mention your age (nods head). Ok, so we are both 28 years old, so we have already been teenagers. But if we were to meet a young 18 or 19 year old woman in Dakar, what advice would you give her?
Anon: To focus on their studies. Because there is a time to study, and it’s important to focus on it when it comes. Especially when it comes to the high school diploma. The other things, they can come later. For me, the focus was on the studies.
K.S. Yeah, just focus on that. It’s so easy to get distracted when you’re a teenager!
Anon: You need to know what you want. You may be a teenager, and can have time for rest and socializing, but there needs to be a balance. But first and foremost it’s studying and education, they are the most important.
K.S.: I feel certain it’s your parents who taught you this.
Anon: Absolutely, especially my father. And now I do not regret it.
K.S.: Do you have brothers?
K.S.: Did your father say the same thing to your brothers?
Anon: Absolutely. He doesn’t differentiate between his daughters and his sons (smiling)
K.S.: You love your father! It’s so visible.
Anon: Yes, well people say that I am his favourite (both laughing) but well you know…
K.S.: Ah, the light I see in your eyes when you speak of your father!
Anon: It is difficult for me to put into words the relationship that I have with my father. He is my everything.
K.S.: I would wish the same for all women on Earth! I love my father also.
Anon: He has done everything for me, my father has never denied me anything. In every way, and I will never forget that. He has always been there for me.
K.S. Oh now I wish we had done this interview on father’s day! (both laughing).. oh it’s beautiful.
K.S. Thank you. (pause) Oops, I almost said your name! (both laughing)