“To get the price in Euros, take the local price and remove the last three zeros and then multiply the remaining number by 1.5”, it was my first day in Dakar and my boss was sharing some Dakar life tips with me. Like most people who first arrive in Senegal it was initially sluggish work converting the local currency of CFA French francs to a more familiar currency like Euros or Dollars. His mathematical trick was very useful and relatively accurate too. I considered the room rentals I had seen for 100,000 Francs and realized it was equivalent to about 150 Euros. I practiced too with our current taxi fare: I took 4,000 Francs and arrived at 6 Euros. With some more practice during the next few days I was quickly seeing through the numerous zeros to values more readily understandable to me.
With the passing months in Senegal I enjoyed new meetings with expats and locals some of which developed into great friendships. We lived in the same neighbourhoods close to each other and would often meet for surfing or drinks at the local beach. Dakar being more like an overgrown village than a city you can easily bump into people you know without ever using your phone to message or call them. While observing and enjoying our colourful, African surroundings one Sunday afternoon a friend and I began musing on wealth. It clearly isn’t just about financial comfort. What good is money flow in an environment devoid of the pleasures of life, namely friendships, peace, sunshine and free-time ? What does wealth mean to me ?
We both agreed that living in Senegal we felt very wealthy in regards to human relationships, for friendships and for the sense of community. In Dakar you can easily be with people and engaging with people and surrounded by people all of the time. If you want your private and alone time you can carve it out for yourself (or learn surfing like I did and hang out alone in the peace of the ocean!) and when you’re ready you can go back to the people. In a tropical climate we spend more time outside anyways, so we’re constantly seeing each other. We were seeing the same smiling faces and growing in our sense of community. This difficult to measure feeling of belonging and unity was real and present. I was mentally counting all of my good friendships, like gently shifting precious jewels in a vault, and feeling very wealthy indeed. And I was rarely considering the realm of Facebook “friends” measured not by true friendship’s real weight in gold but by the penny hundreds. Few of these were close friends, many more were simply acquaintances. Facebook friendships converted to real-life friendship in a similar way as the local Francs shifted in my mind to Euros.
We counted among our other measures of wealth our physical good health and the abundant warmth and sunshine, these last undoubtedly adding to our mental health and happiness. I looked to a new painting I had created a few weeks earlier and considered my artistic wealth. I had done my morning practice of yoga and meditation that day and felt abundant in peace of mind. We dove into a delicious dish of fresh fish and rice and our bellies rumbled their own feelings of wealth and contentment.
It wasn’t until I considered the abysmally low Senegalese wages that I converted my own salary in Euros to Francs and realized with a start that I was in fact a millionaire. Ha! I had some savings and together with my monthly income I was quite literally rolling in the millions! I could take this a step further and consider my access to credit in Canada which would bump me up into the category of multi-millionaire. Of course these were millions of Francs and not millions of Euros and we already know how these two relate to each other. It gave me a giggle all the same and half in jest, half in earnest, I wrote down on my daily to-do list that day “become a millionaire”, and then crossed it off. In that moment it wasn’t about the financial disparities shared between the relatively poor and the relatively rich in Senegal (that would require a separate blog post/novel of its own!)…it was about an additional break-down of the so-called Western and capitalist values. “Make my first million” is on the minds and the milestones of many entrepreneurs these days. If I were to play by their rules then my mission was accomplished. Without meaning to, I had arrived. I observed another facade shatter. With a laugh and a sigh we went back to our lunch and our sunshine and greeted a new friend come to join us for the meal.
The day that I fully realized all of the measures of my wealth was the same day that I stopped converting the currency of my own values to those of another world.
***cover photo: Praya de Arrifana, Algarve coast, Portugal