Inshallah-ing my way through life

I’ve been reprogrammed. I recognize it and.. I like it! At least this one specific program which has been rewired within me.

And the root of this wisdom lies in the Arabic term of “Inshallah”.
Literally translated it means “If God wills it”.
Translated to life it means that you can do everything right, you can be the best you can be and yet.. and still.. you have no guarantee that you’ll get what you want.
You may end up where you want to go or you may not. You may even end up in a very nasty situation despite your best intentions and efforts. Aha, you say: “C’est la Vie”..
aha, I say.. “Ça… ça c’est l’Esprit”

Please allow me to explain the rewiring process.

It began in Haiti with the Creole expression, one of the first I learned back in 2014 and it goes something like this: “Si dye vle”. It means, once again, “If God wills it”.

Naturally, as so much of what is beautiful and pure on this planet this wisdom has been abused. Myself, like most Westerners working in Haiti, found it incredibly frustrating to hear from a team member “Si Dye Vle” as an answer to a seemingly basic question: “Are we having the meeting tomorrow at 10:00” or “will you be here for the presentation next week”. A simple “yes” or “no” would suffice.. we would say to ourselves angrily. Referring to God’s will when your own will seems to be enough looked to me like a fancy excuse. No one ever said “I never made it to that meeting because God did not will it” and yet that’s how we were meant to interpret a no-show?.. Oh my…

Many developing countries function in survival mode and insecurities around everything from politics to the economy run high. The Western world however lends itself to the illusion of control over one’s own life and destiny (great organization and functioning systems can do that to you!). “You can be anything you want to be when you grow up” and variations on this theme are expounded to us daily, especially in America. While I’m all for self-actualization, I also recognize the deep Mystery and Spirit that pervades all and that has a schedule far different and far greater than our small self-centered understanding of our lives. I once heard a quote that goes something like this “Woe and misery come to the one who gets everything that he wished for”. Analyze it for just a second and you’ll see that there is so much truth to that. I have countless examples from my own life when I thought I knew what I wanted and something far different, and far better, came my way. Thank goodness! – said I. Thank goodness there is a wisdom and a Spirit far wiser than my own limited mind that cares for me always and carries me forward.
Side note: I now do my best to remember to wish upon others (and myself) all manner of goodness and blessings, but not necessarily what they think is best for them but what is truly in their Highest Benefit.

Which is why “Inshallah” is now a consciously added element to my own intention setting.

After 3.5 years in Senegal I’ve heard it used and abused quite as often, if not more, than the “Si dye vle” in Haiti. Then again, I have also seen it used wisely, by deliberate, intelligent people who have plans and a strategy to their lives. They move forward with purpose, they find the information and the contacts they need in order to succeed. And yet, through all of this, they remain humble. They state a project and a plan and follow it with a gentle… Inshallah. They take time to acknowledge that which is powerful and that pervades all – the ether, the Spirit, the Mystery within all that ultimately, plan or no plan, strategy or no strategy, will determine whether the tree bears fruit this year and whether your plans will come to harvest.

This rewiring of my own Western programming by spending significant time in more God-fearing lands such as Haiti and Senegal is a strength to me, a sobering element within me that reminds me as always that there is much beyond our control. It allows me to see beyond the systems designed for our comfort, and to continue to see just how much all of life hangs by a string. So fragile, so temporary, so fleeting. Most importantly it drives the message home that despite our best intentions things don’t always turn out as we thought (or do they ever?).

And you.. what is your version of “Inshallah“? How do you make sense of the unpredictability of life? How do you feel you are being guided forward by that which is truly best for you?

***

Image courtesy of Urban Howl.

Sundays in Dakar

Clip-clop, clip-clop, clip the horses’ hooves made echoing noises on the pavement as the thin man with his tired nag trotted smartly forward, pulling a simple wooden platform piled high with cement bricks. The horse-drawn cart was more audible than usual because the neighbourhood was quieter than usual, but that’s because it was Sunday. The most wonderful day of the week.

Practically every day is a day of the sun in Senegal, but Sundays in Dakar in particular were her favourite days. All week long the Senegalese and the expats battled laziness and the heat to move projects forward. For things did move forward here even if they moved forward slowly and sluggishly and with great attention to salutations, politeness and gentle speech. Things moved forward diplomatically, and there was great pride in the local people for their great skill of peaceful, unhurried living.

«You have wrist watches, and we have time» Africans were quick to chide Westerners. And yet the dark continent is far from immune to the capitalistic drums of progress. All week long offices filled, countless emails were sent and the relentless traffic expounded fumes and frustration. Civilization always felt like an improvised dance in Senegal; haphazard beige buildings reflected neither good architecture or Arab aesthetics but attempted to imitate both, with no more than square cement bricks and sweating, thin black bodies to erect them. The too narrow roads were shared by lorries, horse-drawn carts, motorcycles and cars alike with the occasional herd of cattle passing through. Dakar was like a village. Actually, it was like multiple villages that happened to come together and call themselves a city. Once the French administration brought in their language, bureaucracy and paperwork they then began to call it a capital.

Sundays in Dakar felt to her like a respite from the pretense of looking busy. The sheep bleeted as they always do, and at this time of the year, approaching a major Muslim holiday, there were several living on her neighbour’s rooftop terrace. The stupid, helpless «baaaahhh» sounds they coughed up carried therefore even better on the gentle breeze. She wondered how long they had to live before their throats were deftly slit and the meat divided among family and friends. They did this at the shore by times and little rivers of blood would merge with the waves.

The ocean was only a few hundred feet away, in fact, they were surrounded by it on many sides. It gave her the sensation that she too was like one of the many falcons soaring above and come to perch for a rest just inside the shore. She had come to stay for a while, to find refuge in the warmth, the sand and the easy-going smiles there. She ruffled her feathers and sank a little deeper into her perch with a gentle sigh.

«Kraawww, krawww» huge ravens circled together with the ravens on the terrace just one story above. From where she was sitting on her balcony, her feet on a small wooden table and her knees curled up to her chest she admired the scene. The clip-clop of the horse going by was a regular addition to the symphony of sound. Only two stories separated her from the music. Men and women, but mostly women, moved up and down the street this morning, heading towards one of the small boutiques perhaps to buy some bread slathered with a bit of mayonnaise from a huge container or some Kinkeliba herbal drink doused with sugar, or both. They called «Salam Aleekum»s and «Na nga def»s to each other as was custom here. With amusement she would perk up her ears and observe two people walking towards each other on the street below. They would begin with the preliminary hellos as mentioned while still across from each other, and then they would pass, without missing a beat in their conversation, and continue walking forward, away from each other while asking more questions and sharing greetings «Naka waa ker gi» (how are things at home) and «Yann gi si jamm» («are you in peace» translating to another way of saying «how are you») with replies of «jamm rekk» («only peace» essentially meaning «I am fine»). The distance now grew greater between these friendly exchanges, their voices slightly rising. This seamless action of moving, flowing, speaking and greeting was unhurried and uninterrupted. There was a satisfaction in speaking, in making sound, in adding ones voice to the ambient noises already present. It was a confirmation that one was, one was present, one had risen, one had been reborn from sleep to see another day. Alhamdoulillah! As the falcons screeched, the sheep bleeted, and the horses clip-clopped, the people added their own throaty Wolof to the mix. A car engine brought a punctuation as the vehicle turned into the pavement in a cloud of sand. A man below had begun to chant Muslim prayers and his strong voice carried far. This was the unhurried babble of a Sunday morning.

Her other senses thus nourished, a sumptuous breakfast added now to the satisfaction of her stomach. Fried eggs, fresh baguette and a tomato salad were rounded off with a big cup of coffee and a pain au chocolat. She had fetched the pastry for herself in the morning glad as always to slip on her sandals and take a walk in the warm, sandy streets and admire the blooming flowers and bougainvilles. Stray cats and dogs meandered about the low-rise buildings and small villas in a detached, friendly fashion. She took the side ways which meant little to no honks from passing taxis trying to catch a fare and no begging children approaching her with outstretched hands. That, in itself, was respite.

Her breakfast finished, she checked the time. It was a little past 10:00am and the neighbourhood was slowly waking up around her. She wondered with satisfaction if indeed all that was needed for a moment of happiness was a full belly and warmth in her body. Reaching for a good book and the cup of coffee she thought to herself that life really was quite comfortable, quite enjoyable, and that clichés about people and places were very silly. «We certainly have the good life here» she thought to herself and settled into her chair just an inch deeper. «But best we not spread the word about it too far and wide» she added to herself with a playful half-smile.. «otherwise they’ll flood this place with tourists and we’ll have no more peace on a Sunday.»

Clip-clop, clip-clop another horse trotted up the street once again, this time with more oomph and purpose to her step. The people were up and the day had begun.

***

Image courtesy of Talk Foreign to Me.

Africa is born within you

I’m going inside.
The cold means an internal and an external “turning within” – to fire and hearth, to bundles of scarves and wool. There’s a subtle tenseness to the skin, as we turn towards our innermost thoughts.
Good thing I’ve made inside of myself a safe place to be.
The first cold we feel is the crisp, too-cool air in the plane. I’m seated in an aisle seat somewhere above the Sahara by night as we move from South to North.

It makes the skin turn inside itself searching for the warmth of the pumping veins.
The Heart is first and foremost an instrument of survival.
It’s a sensation I had forgotten. This crawling of cold on skin.
It is familiar,
yet unfamiliar.
there is a newness in this re-experience of the bite.
I choose to welcome it. Explore its layers.
Finding solace in an involuntarily pumping organ distributing warmth throughout the body.
The end of my nose had not been cold in many moons.
I hesitate to make my next request, but I don’t hesitate for long.
Hot tea and a blanket please.
The warm liquid and the covers wrapped close help the cold nose, and overall, the situation. I push my body deeper into the seat.
One needs to ease the tropically adapted self back into Northern realities.

“We are not born in Africa, Africa is born in us.”

I’ve heard this before.

The fire that burns through my veins today is not the same as years before.

It is fueled by the human, sun warmth of the dark continent where bodies relax, sink closer to the Earth and ease into each other.
This mighty talisman is the gift I carry out of that life school of several years of patient studies. There are no certificates given, no external accolades.
…but it’s towards this light that my skin turns inward now to seek nourishment from this far deeper layer of warmth. The only warmth that can soothe right up to the soul.

I find that my blood serves me better now that it is connected to the very cradle of life. It pumps my True North.

Running Water

When the water don’t flow the day feels incomplete. I walk around my single room flat with the incense I burn before I sleep and it and the flames of the candles show me imbalance – we have fire but we have no water. Running water that is. Of course I have reserve water. No fool am I and this is not my first water cut. I am the proud owner not only of 100L of reserve tap water hiding about the flat and the balcony in 10 x 10L water jugs, but I am also the proud owner of a sure-made choice. And the choice is this: if I have to choose between a power cut or a water cut I’ll take power cut every time. Obviously having neither is ideal and having both at once is incredibly inconvenient. But the truth is that I kind of like power cuts, as long as my iPhone has a bit of extra juice and my playlists are accessible. I enjoy sitting around candlelight. I loved that one time during a black out that we sat with my friend and her two boys in her kitchen and spent an hour making hand puppet shadows on the wall against the candlelight. I love it when Dakar is allowed in this way to finally settle back into village mode. It’s as if all of the electronic machines and lamps and wifi and computers were all switched on to please the Gods of Advancement and the Deities of Development but once switched off, through no power or choice of our own, we are all finally allowed to be our restful selves and settle comfortably into our soft darkness. We can focus on just being and there is no use of pretending we’re keen on moving because without the electricity there isn’t much doing anyways. Occasional power cuts are a relief and a joy as long as you have some candles on hand and the aforementioned smartphone battery juice.  And they serve as a great reminder of our dependence on all of these modern comforts and gadgets. What’s more, if you’re like me and you don’t even have a fridge or a freezer then you’re doubly unconcerned about your frozen dinners defrosting too soon and icky food water beginning its slow dripping from your appliances. Nope, during a short power-cut, you’re right as rain.

Now a water cut is nothing like a power cut because water is essential to life and you never even realize how often you reach for the tap and sink during the same day until you realize there’s nothing coming out of the nozzle.

When everything stops flowing I think of the ocean just a 5 min. walk away and I’m glad that no one, not the SDE (Senegalaise des Eaux), not the president, the UN, not anybody, can turn the waves off. And I’m somewhat encouraged by the thought that if my 100L runs out too quickly, I would at least be able to shower in the sea. And I’d fill up my empty 10L containers with salt water and traipse back into the well-lit electrified apartment.  It would be a new experience washing my dishes with salt water, but I would think it funny and interesting. At least for a time.

The SDE has announced that it’s a city wide, perhaps even country wide water cut but that it shouldn’t last more than 24 hours. I’m sure they have to say that regardless of how long they actually think that it will take to solve their problem. I use my reserve water hesitatingly because I don’t fully trust that the water will be back on tomorrow. I feel my self switch into a deeper patience mode. This cut becomes another layer of waiting, the layer that’s lathered on top of the current Ramadan waiting game. Now the Muslims among us must wait not only to eat and to drink but to bathe with running water also. God knows that’s asking a lot especially considering the recommendations in the Koran for ablutions to be performed with flowing and moving water. There are specific instructions to steer clear, if possible, of stagnant water. Maybe one Muslim can run alongside another one with some stagnant water while the dude washes and they can call it running water and they will laugh about it and it will be OK. Maybe God will crack a smile and show his sense of humour too.

All I know is that when the water don’t flow it’s as though my own blood is flowing more slowly and my own life is on hold. I feel like sitting down for a very long meditation and practicing my patience. I sure as hell don’t feel like doing anything creative or original. I think twice before breaking a sweat knowing a bucket shower would follow. Aint enough flow in my bones to come up with any half-decent, half-cooked or half-baked idea at this point anyways. I go to sleep with fingers crossed that the water will flow again in the morning, and when I wake up, move to the bathroom and turn on the tap, it splutters and gurgles out, and a warm sense of contentment and reassurance trickles over me.

We’re back in the flow.

No, Thank You, I’m allergic.

Just found this little pearl of a personal note from the end of last year, when I was clearly experiencing a classic case of Africa-fatigue …a malady which manifests in my person every so often with symptoms of abundant and exasperated sarcasm.
17.10.2018 – Thiès – Day 3
Because you’ve heated up water on the stove which you’ve then poured into a 10L water jug as you drag it to the bathroom where the cold water drizzling out of the shower head makes a stream so pathetic that you can barely wash your body and you definitely can’t wash your hair in it…hence the 10L water jug.
Because you’re still disgusted by roaches, but by now you just grab your shoe and smash the bastards when and where you meet them in the kitchen. Walls, countertops or the floor : you name it, I’ll smash it. I usually keep one shoe handy close to the kitchen.
Then again, I impressed my Senegalese roommate once by smashing baby roaches with the soft underside of my fist. A shoe was not handy but my fist sure was.
Side note, if you paid me money I wouldn’t get up in the middle of the night to go to the kitchen because I know very well that darkness is when those beasties are on their biggest prowl.
OK, fair enough, it depends on how much money 😉
Because everything is slow and inconvenient.
Because people don’t understand the concept of customer service. I’m sure the term doesn’t even exist in Wolof.
Because you try to be friendly with the locals and you’re taking so much time and effort to learn their local language (deprived though it may be of terms relating to customer service), and you’re still getting nowhere.
And when every dose of friendly is construed as flirting and turns into questions about your husband, you sigh.
Exasperated.
It is just so annoying.
I liked my reaction today when I refused the free, hot (and very random) milk they were giving out in the street. Milk?
Like, is this a new, NGO milk campaign???
I told them I was allergic.
I’m not allergic.
I used to be allergic, but I’m not anymore.
but the thing is that allergic is an excellent reminder of a high-quality excuse.
“hello, would you like some goat meat now.”
me: “No, thank you, I’m allergic”
Which is not true. I’m almost vegetarian. We haven’t had a free street campaign on that yet, so it takes a long time to explain what it is. The concept of not eating meat is about as foreign here as wall-to-wall carpeting. I say that I’m not actually a vegetarian, I’m more like a vegephile.
What’s a vegephile?
It means that I really love vegetables.
Almost more than I love my future husband.
Sarcasm generously dripping.
“hello, do you have a husband yet”… now I’m thinking I’ve found a new answer : “No, I’m allergic.”
I make a tight fist with my right hand and poke my left index finger into the fleshy side while admiring how firm and soft it is.

Knock knock

When you work for an African NGO in a small town where all of your colleagues are your only social circle and thankfully there are a few who you actually want to be friends with.

I hear a tentative knock-knock on my bedroom door around 10pm. Sure we have been roommates now for close to a month but we keep to our privacy. To our semblance of a normal life. We try to keep our crazy laughter and endless discussions to the kitchen and the living room. This bedroom knock knock is a first.

I invite her in throwing a casual “I don’t bite” in French to encourage her tentative entry. She holds out a neatly pair of folded thongs. My own thongs. She tells me “I found these in my laundry”.

Peels of laughter ensue. N. continues. “Actually, I found them one time, but then I put them away and when the cleaning lady returned she put them in my laundry again. So I took this as a sign that she thinks they belong in this house. So I figured they must be yours.”

Me, in my head, thinking to myself that the only other roommates we have had here have been men, the CTO and a Development Manager, folks who come and stay for a week or so at a time. They certainly don’t wear pale blue with white speckles thongs. At least I hope they don’t.

P.S. I’m also secretly relieved that it’s my pretty panties she’s found not the faded, grey grannie bloomers that I also like to wear on an I’m-feeling-icky day. Phew.

Two silent minutes ensue.

Knock-knock I hear again on my door. I ask N. what the trouble is this time.

“I’m wondering if perhaps you have any of my panties?”

Considering she’s a specialist in data quality and audit it makes perfect sense that she found one anomaly in our laundry stacks and then prudently checked to see if the reverse might be true also. But I had to find my breath again after our laugh attack before arriving at that intelligent conclusion.

I make sure that my colleague does in fact have clean underwear for tomorrow (sometimes I find that I push my HR duties just a little too far), and I let her know that I haven’t yet found clothes or underclothes in my laundry that don’t belong to me.

I’m not fussed, as long as no one gets their knickers in a knot.

Sweat and Smile more: it’s October in Senegal

It’s that month of the year in Senegal when we all secretly wish we could exit the country – it’s October. It’s our month when we endure the heat and humidity of the rainy season but without the welcome breaks that come with the coolness of the rains. In short, it’s hot and humid all the time, no exceptions. Average daily bathing frequency increases to 2-3 times although considering that your skin is constantly sticky it’s hard to tell the difference between wet-just-came-out-of-the-shower and wet-I-just-woke-up-in-the-morning. I’ve always admired the people who look cool and collected during this time, as I myself feel like a soggy sponge. I can only assume these cool people live in a universe of air-conditioners while the rest of us have to make-do as best we can. You can fight it or you can embrace it. Here is a handy 6-step guide on how to meet the heat head-on: just sweat more.

1. Are you of Eastern European origins (aka. Polish, Russian) and/or you love drinking hot tea every day regardless of the season? Well, you’re in luck. Someone, somewhere once said that drinking hot beverages in hot weather actually cools you down (ummm.. ok..) but while that theory remains questionable rest assured you will sweat more with a mug of hot tea between your hands and in your belly. You’ll pay for your tea addiction however with a follow-up shower.

2. Turns out in fact just eating and drinking alone is enough to make you sweat more. Are you hungry? Option one is to bring a towel to mop up your face as you tuck into your breakfast. Isn’t it fascinating how you can literally feel the droplets of sweat appear on your skin as your metabolism churns and burns and extracts all of the lovely caloric energy from what you ingest? Yay for you. Just don’t lean in too far over the breakfast table and drip sweat from your chin into your coffee mug. Option two: fast. You can always tell people you’re making up a few of your fasting days that you missed during Ramadan.

3. Are you without A/C at night and eager to feel a fan’s gentle breeze on your naked body as you lie down in a subtle pool of your own sweat? Unless you’ve found that wonderful, silent fan (which every time I call the sellers in Dakar they tell me is sold out…) equip yourself with ear plugs if you’re not used to the fan noise. But, rest assured, you can always turn it off and splash along happily and silently in your sweat as you attempt to get some shut-eye. Waking up with a cold, tired, clammy feeling on the back of your neck and in your hair is a unique, character-building experience that should be lived by everyone at least once.

4. Do you love working out? Me too. and it just so happens that the best time to work out right now is at noon or 1pm when the sun and heat reach their zenith. Bring a towel (or 3) with you to the gym as you mop up your face, arms, and any exposed skin regularly every 30 seconds. You may even want to bring a second set of workout clothes as your first set will quickly be wet to the last stitch. Going pee between cardio and weight-lifting never took so long as you unroll your tight work-out pants down your thighs, do your thing, and then roll the soggy material back up  your body. It’s so sexy. Also, make sure you consume several liters of water while you workout to make sure you’re not drying up on the inside.

5. Get used to giving and receiving sweaty hugs with your friends. If sweaty hugs make you embarrassed you might even sweat a little more. Yay!

6. Do you love yoga? So do I! The great thing about October in Senegal is that Bikram yoga is free and it’s everywhere (and some might say it’s somewhat unavoidable). Enjoy your scorching rooftop yoga practice as you slip and slide around on your mat. Hold that side plank for 3 breaths now. Don’t mind your downward facing dog if your hands and feet slip beyond the edges of your sloppy mat. Never practiced Bikram before? Me either. But they tell me it’s done in 35-38 degrees Celcius conditions which sounds really cool and refreshing right now.

Cheer up folks. Sweat is 99% water (and 1% other stuff?) so as long as you stay hydrated and humble you’ll move through this phase of living in a wet and humid world gracefully. It’s a special time, so let’s enjoy it. Cold showers never felt so good. Face towels will save your face (literally and socially speaking) and shaving your head if you’re a woman sounds really appealing right now. Just keep your patience and your hair on, and this too shall pass.

The day that I became a Millionaire

“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

The so-called Universal Currency

“What time shall we have the meeting” I interrupt M., as he politely blinks up at me from his computer screen. “Whenever you like, whenever you like.” is his automatic reply. After nearly two years of working side-by-side with the head of our team in Senegal I’ve grown wise in his ways and I know he’s likely to slip out of the office, into his car and drive away at any moment. Whether he simply feels like leaving the endless barrage of questions presented to him by his employees, or there’s some kind of urgent rice cargo crisis to deal with at the Port of Dakar, I don’t always know why he leaves and where he goes. “You plan to stay here all morning?” I double check with him trying to keep my voice level. It’s hard to hide the fact that this meeting is important to me, and so infrequent are our meetings, between the movement of all of our bodies seeking the office, port, warehouses and lunch, that I’ll consider it close to a miracle if we are actually able to gather the 4 secretaries, myself and M. all together in one room for 10 minutes this morning. I’m also daring to dream for no cell-phone interruptions during that time. “Does 10:00am work for you?” as I glance at my phone which states 9:30. I wince internally at this display of OCD (from an African perspective) and regular-time-management (Western perspective). To some degree it really doesn’t matter how many books you read and how many people you talk to about our different concepts of time because when push comes to shove and when your nerves are rattled you’ll inevitably default to the culture which is most deeply ingrained in you. I’ve physically experienced the zombie-like state of waiting hours for a bus to fill before it leaves to your destination (in Haiti) numerous times, so you might say, on a deeper level, I really do understand the maxim “the bus leaves when there are enough bodies to fill it” as the very logical and reasonable answer to the question offered by the white woman “Please sir, when is this bus scheduled to leave?” I feel that if not for M.’s distraction while he tries to send photos of discharged merchandise, correct a survey report and answer an email all at the same time (while invigorating himself with a smack of his desktop PC and grumbling that he’s having technical problems again).. he really would tell me that the meeting will simply take place at the time when everyone gathers in the same place to have the meeting. Sigh. My exhausted Western psyche gives up on the questions of time, for the time being. In my last attempt at organization I tackle the question of location. I decide to make life easier for M. and to simply inform him in which room we will meet instead of asking him about it. I can tell that he is inwardly grateful and I leave him to his work for another 30 minutes. My own brain is quickly calculating what kind of work I can actually get done in this time frame. I sigh again realizing that the obsessive pursuit of efficiency is another pernicious Western quality that I’m gladly weeding out of myself with calm, calculated movements. That particular weed is obviously far from all-out, I realize. My nerves are tense and I feel like a cold, iron fist is closing around my heart. I know I won’t be able to get any real work done in this state. I also know that I’m doing the right thing and that it’s time to leave here, but that doesn’t make today’s meeting any simpler. How do you tell the kind, calm people (read: Senegalese) who have put up with your crazy moods and antics for two whole years that your time together has come to an end? In fact, it’s for this, for their patience and tolerance (especially for M.’s patience!) of my strange behaviours that I am most grateful. They’ve seen their boss weeping from exhaustion and frustration (I’m not very good at hiding my emotional break-downs and well, seriously, dealing with European clients when you work in Senegal is not easy) and heard me raising my voice at employees as I would get increasingly irritated that for the third time in the same week they’re explaining to me how they don’t have enough phone credit to call their colleague in such and such warehouse, in essence to properly DO THEIR JOB. Wow, my nerves still get rattled when I think of that. The point is, after every occasional outburst when I would start breathing again, I’d see that great cultural divide again, what looks in my mind’s eye more like the chasm of the Grand Canyon, between us and them and our different concepts of everything. And through it all, when I would come to my senses again, they were present there for me and smiling, and reassuring me, reminding me that I always had tomorrow to try it again.

It’s as though Western mind has so thoroughly bought into the ideas that time and money are to be dominated and controlled by us and buried it so deep in our thought process that we allow ourselves to forget that it is all an invention in the first place. Instead we discuss investment strategies and the benefits of morning yoga practices acting as though we are the Lords of Everything. An African observes Time, like a neighbour passing by, and doesn’t seek to respect it, while he pulls out the crumpled paper money from a dark hole, smooths it out, and considers it for using it as kindling to help along the small fire cooking his fresh fish. It is paper, after all. Trouble is, his mind has been warped with ideas of modern society as well, and whether he knows it or not he’s slave to the money dance now too. He’ll pocket the bill and try to find more. Besides, if local superstition is right his 1,000Francs note with careful prayer and attention may yet become a 10,000Francs note. Yet, superstitions aside, I feel his eyes will see paper first and currency later, as our eyes, if we care to see deeper, must make the opposite journey. Money then is defined not only by different currencies our nations use but by a different appreciation of what the paper-bill actually is and what it can do for you. Meanwhile Time, the so-called universal currency, bows to the African not unlike a slave to his master. It is glad to be molded by humans and not the other way around or otherwise, if it is too hot or we are feeling too lazy, it is equally happy to move on by.

Somewhere around a quarter past 10:00, I shepherd the secretaries, myself and M. into one of the office rooms, trying to ignore the bleating of the sheep outside, to begin our short meeting.

***

A month later, in early April, I receive a small, sweet taste of reverse culture shock. My mother and I have been visiting the historic centre of Warsaw all day and we’re feeling sleepy as we step back inside our flat at around 4:00pm. It’s a sunny, bright day and my eyelids droop as I head to my father’s office, temporarily my bedroom, for an afternoon nap. Few things feel as delicious on a Sunday (and on a holiday) as a sluggish cat-nap in the afternoon warmth and light. I snuggle in to the warm blankets I’ve laid out on the floor and sleep for atleast an hour. When I awake my thoughts are hazy and lazy. I do however perceive a small, nudge inside my skull reminding me that I have some kind of meeting at 6:00pm. Oh yes, the parents of a dear friend in Dakar are coming over for tea, I remind myself. Glancing at my phone it reads 17:40 at which point two parallel thoughts spring to life in my mind. Firstly, I think happily that I have plenty of time to take a shower, get dressed and have a bite to eat (haven’t had anything to eat since breakfast and my belly is rumbling) since no one shows up for a meeting like this on time anyways, so I can easily interpret 6:00pm as 6:30 or 7:00pm at the earliest. I sink in to happy visions of a warm shower and delicious sourkrout for dinner. I shake myself a little bit more awake though since I realize it’s a very Dakar-esque thought that I’m having and I am no longer there so perhaps it is not suited to be here. This is when the second though bounces in joyfully to remind me that although I am meeting this couple for the first time I should remember that Polish people are extremely punctual and so I can expect them to be here at exactly 6:00pm. Which also means that I have basically no time to do anything that I wanted to do before they arrive. Darn. That thought also reminds me about some idea of respecting-other-peoples-time being an importance concept in our societies and so on. I feel like I’m relearning basic concepts from my elementary textbooks while I nod sleepily, and somewhat guiltily, like the student in the back of the hot classroom who has been pretending to pay attention but has actually been doodling in their notebook and dozing this whole time. I mentally close the doodle-book, click my phone off and drag myself out of my pile of blankets laughing at this internal dialogue. The funniest thing is that thought number two is running around the room trying to get me to panic, aka. to stress me out. I acknowledge thought number two because it’s probably right in facts alone, and pat thought number one on the head since it’s way of being, its relaxed and calm manner, is much more to my taste than irritating, spastic number two. With ten minutes still at my disposal I move slowly and calmly to the kitchen to make myself a small coffee and then back to my room to change clothes. A face-wash and deodorant check will have to replace the delayed shower, and I plan to have my food while our guests have their tea. There, I smile, it’s 17:59, the doorbell rings and it’s time to begin.

The sole of the matter

I’m welcomed in to Djiby’s atelier a place on the work bench, cushion included, has been made for me. Today I’ll be taking notes and photographing the process. My mission: to learn how shoes are made, from start to finish.

We’re with Djiby’s assistant, Pape, and the two men will be working in parallel for the next two hours to create a pair of ballerina flats, size 45 for an African client. She has provided the woodin material (a tough, pure cotton material that comes in many colourful designs) and instructions that the flats come with a brown bow ties too. The shoe-makers get right to work.

The power is out in the neighbourhood this morning so we work in silence which is unusual for Djiby and Pape. I’ve been here already many times and I know that they usually have the television going with many programs on, from soap operas to nature programmes. The Senegalese in general like music and movement. I however am very grateful for the quiet as it’s helping me to concentrate and take notes. We also have a helpful draft coming in through the open doors in the front and back so the fumes from the glue are hardly felt.

Cutting brown woodin material for the edging

I’m asked to cut the material for the edging.  That’s pretty much the end of my hands on experience today as I need to first understand the process step by step and see how it’s all done !

cutting the woodin material which will show up on the outside

The cardboard piece used to cut the shape is called a “gabarit”, a pattern (used for sowing). Shoemakers have many of these, for different types and sizes of shoes. This one is size 45, as needed for this pair of flats.

This is the interior piece of leather which acts as backing for the exterior woodin material

The inner lining, la “doublure” is cut to the same size. It will act as support and lining for the exterior woodin material.

super power glue

making sure the inside piece of leather matches up with the woodin material

This is Djiby’s ancient looking and yet very efficient sowing machine. Run by a foot pedal and in the midst of our cutting and gluing I feel quite unaffected by this morning’s power cut.

Friends and men from the neighbourhood come in, some to say hello only, and some come to sit and chat for a while. The atelier resounds in a choir of “aleekum salaam”s as we respond to their greetings.

The material and lining are gently glued together and then properly sown together.

exterior with inner lining of leather and border are ready

Djiby’s atelier is a collection of dozens of materials and tools used in shoemaking as well as this one painting.

This material, like a harder foam, is used for the base of the shoe. It will be cut to the right size and covered with the same leather as used in the inner lining.

Adding some glue to finish the brown border, which will be bent over on the inside

Base pieces for the flats are ready.

These are the shoe forms (size 45). The base pieces are attached to the bottom using two nails.

The borders are ready !

and resown over the glue

We can now start placing the sides and tops of the flats over the form and attaching it to the base.

This is another form which has been used many times. The tiny holes from the small nails are visible everywhere.

While work continues on the pair of flats Djiby fixes a leather bag for another client. He’s adding a neat little clasp that comes with a tiny key.

Superfluous bits of material are removed.

 

 

 

 

It takes precision and practice to properly pull the leather and material over the bottom of the shoe. The folds that result are then cut away.

 

 

 

 

 

We also prepare the rubber soles. Of course first we take out the two nails attaching the base to the form for the shoe 😉

 

Due to our power outage we can’t use an electric machine to nicely round the edges of the rubber sole. So, as it was before we had electricity, this too is done by hand.

The heel in this case is flat. An additional piece of rubber attached to the end of the sole.

The family next door.

Rounding the rubber edges of the soles to make them smooth takes significant time.

Now, the fun part at the end. We are making the bow-ties.

The finishing touches are happening. That surprising moment when all the pieces come together and we have a ready shoe. More men from the neighbourhood come in to talk. The Attaya (traditional Senegalese tea made from green tea, mint and sugar) is not yet served, but will be soon. One young man is speaking loudly in Wolof; he is clearly upset about something.

 

The sole is glued and the shoe is finished.

The final effect. And I am honoured by being the one to place this beautiful new pair of flats into their plastic bag. They are ready to be picked up and enjoyed.

Tomorrow I will be trying my own hand at the art of shoe-making!

A pretty blouse, another tear masked

Stories about appearances.

A year ago, in my day-job in Dakar, we were having a horrible time coming to terms with a jumble of various damaged rice bags belonging to different receivers. Imagine thousands upon thousands of bags, some in containers, rotting, others thrown into warehouse corners covered in cobwebs their colourful logos faded with dust and water, containing caked, dirty, wet and dusty rice in various degrees of unfit-for-human-consumption. As insurance surveyor it was my responsibility to try to determine what was what, belonged to who, and to propose depreciation rates at which the damaged goods might be sold. So far we were having limited cooperation from the handling company. Granted, I’m sure the sight of me in their warehouses drawling on about how poorly they had sorted and kept the merchandise to arrive at such a level of mess was enough to make anyone resent the sight of me. But they didn’t…they couldn’t help but like me. As the warehouses coordinator herself exclaimed the first time she met me in person, after many months of email exchanges centered around our unhappiness with mixed-up and damaged merchandise..she could not believe that her mind now had to associate the curt and cold emails my work demands of me with the young, friendly, smiling woman before her. Yet it wasn’t until I arrived in their office on a Friday morning many weeks later, dressed beautifully in a long dress of blue African material that I fully understood the importance of appearances and being well groomed. Everyone who I knew from the field was pleased to see me. Until then we had only interacted in the warehouses where I’d be wearing jeans, t-shirts and sandals, given that I’d often need to climb on top of dirty piles of rice to estimate quantities and check for additional damages. It was my practical attire for the messy field-work. Covered in dust, my hair astray, I would then cheerfully ask for the handling company’s inventory lists and be kindly refused. Of course by “refused” I mean that they would say “Yes” to everything, after which I would in reality receive nothing. That Friday, my office and well-groomed self kindly requested stock lists and received them instantly. I stepped out into the sunlight of Plateau, papers gladly in hand, a moment of business victory mine, and I marveled at the power of appearances.

Humans are such visual creatures, as predators our eyes set firmly forward, like those of a lion or tiger, a biological sign of relying so much, too much perhaps, by what we see before us. We need forward vision to hunt, to achieve, to move through the world. Knowing that we observe and are so observed by others we step out our front door and, whether or not we realize it, we tell a story of who we are today.

I wonder if this may even be more true of women than it is of men.

Six years ago I was teaching French in an elementary school and living in Granada, Spain when my long-time boyfriend and I broke up. Not for the first or the last time I’ll add since our long-distance relationship went through many ups and downs before ultimately collapsing. At the time of course I took it hard. Undying romantic that I am, I was hurt and I felt it was a clear ending to a life chapter. What better way to begin a new chapter, I reasoned, than by showing through my appearance my internal, emotional evolution. So I cut off all my hair. It had been quite long and now it was very short (I was inspired by Emma Watson who had finished filming the Harry Potter series and had cut off all of her hair too). I had left school as myself on a regular Tuesday afternoon and arrived on the Wednesday morning someone new amid shocked looks from my 10 and 11-year old students. The boys gaped and then got back to their activities. The girls just gawked at me.

I’ll add that short-hair styles for women in Spain, at least at that time, were a no-no. I can confidently say that I was one of very few white women in Granada with boy short-hair. My students’ varied reactions were unforgettable. Their beloved teacher had clearly gone mad. Some were shocked while others were impressed. “Why did you do it?” they asked me, “your hair was so beautiful”. “I wanted a change” I said. Some of the girls shook their heads and told me they did not like it. One girl, named Africa, came up to me at the end of our class and told me in whispered confidence, “Madame, je pense que vous êtes très courageuse. Et ça vous va très bien les cheveux courts”. I remember the gleam in her eyes, the look that says : do what is right for you who cares what others think. She thought me strong, courageous. Inside I was quite a mess because I missed my man. But at least the outside world had taken notice that I had turned a new page.

Last week, I chatted with one of our Senegalese secretaries about this very thing. She complemented me on a nice ensemble I was wearing. I smiled, thanked her and remarked that although it was not the case this time, it was often when I was feeling my worst inside that I dressed my best. With my hair and make-up done I could more easily access my courage to face the day. She said, a wide smile spreading across her face, “You know when I wear a simple dress and less make-up and you look at me concerned, and ask if all is well”, she asked. I nodded. I was so used to her beautiful clothes and elaborate make-up (Senegalese women in general dress beautifully and take great pride in their appearance) that I wondered if a more sober look meant that she was feeling ill or unhappy. She laughed saying that oftentimes the days of her more humble attire were the days when she felt her happiest and her best.

We women are emotional creatures. It’s easy to get caught in an internal struggle of wanting to be seen in our truth, in our depth of feeling and so too in our vulnerability…and the strong need to build walls and to protect ourselves from those who would use our openness against us. We play with appearances. We change our outfits, our hair, our colours in order to communicate something to others about our values, about who we are or how we are feeling. The feminine exists to feel. So too it makes sense we want to share some of that feeling with others too. The trick is not to get too caught up by what your eyes alone can see..

Dakar to me, like many women, is a city of appearances. I often need to look at something or someone for a long time, and closely, before starting to see its truth. Beautiful villas hide behind high, grey and rough cement walls. Just like pretty exteriors may open up to messy, uninteresting interiors. In so many ways, things are simply not as they first appear to be.

A Timeless run around the Pink Lake

It’s not usual that I’m up at 6:30 on a Saturday, and on the highway to the Pink Lake (“Lac Rose”) by 8am. We’re headed for the first 10km race around the lake – heading there not to race so much as to enjoy the jogging and walking around the unique pink waters of the salt lake lying a short distance away from Dakar. It’s only a 40 minute drive, we assure ourselves as J. and I zoom out of the city in my newly repaired car. I hop out a few times along the way to make sure the engine isn’t overheating and the new pump working properly. To add to these mechanical checks we blunder through small villages as we take the wrong exit off of the highway on our way to the lake. We stop, impatiently asking directions in a mixture of French and Wolof and get redirected a few times until we finally get to the edges of the pink waters… only it’s 9:20 and so we’re 20 minutes past the start img_7438time. We jump out of the car quickly arranging water bottles on our backs and strapping music devices to our bodies eagerly looking up to the organizers with half apologetic-half hopeful faces. They are not impressed that we are late and inform us that the last trucks taking the runners to the starting line have already left and no one is going to come back for another trip.  We can’t even get our paper numbers pinned to our shirts since the keeper of numbers has left the area… voices falter and the organizers are about to shrug their shoulders in surrender when I exclaim that we will happily do the race without our numbers and in the opposite direction if we have to. All we can see before us is the finish line anyways, the starting point hidden behind a small village and trees a few kilometers away. “But we won’t be able to measure your time!” the French organizer exclaims at which point I assure him that the objective of our coming to run around the lake has little to do with knowing how quickly we can do it. Privately, I’m amazed that anything at all has actually started on time in Senegal! Just my luck that this time it’s me that’s late. I had been looking forward to running together with a big group of people yet evidently my run today is to be a solitary, meditative one. I’m glad to accept the change in plans. I happily tighten my running shoe laces and start off at a light jog away from the finish line backwards along the course towards the start line.  J. will be walking the trail instead. The dusty, grey road next to the gigantic piles of salt extracted from the lake is all ours…just like on the promotional poster for the race – a lone woman running off into the distant sand dunes, only her and the sun on the horizon. My favourite tunes are playing from my phone and my spirits are high. I can’t remember the last time I ran as far as 10km, yet something tells me that it will be effortless today.  And it is.

Once at the finish line, still numberless, I join the other runners enjoying their rest. I pick up my t-shirt, goody bag, water and mandarines and chat with friends. J. joins me after her walk of the lake, content and full of new photos, videos and encounters from the road, not to mention a free artistic souvenir from one of the artisans. We watch some of the awards ceremony to the fastest runners and decide to leave the hot sun for a tour in the village. We meander from hotel to hotel among palm trees, sometimes stopping for a fresh local baobab-fruit juice, sometimes chatting with local sellers. I find beautiful new, leather flip-flops. J. films some more videos in Polish, part of our own promotional materials (see YouTube channel here) encouraging our fellow Polaks to join us in Senegal for tourism and retreats. We’re becoming more selective with our video settings – should we choose to film inside of a colourful fishing boat, or near a pretty little fresh-water pond complete with frogs? Either way the relentlessly hot sun is high in the sky and thoughts turn to shade and to rest. We stop by to buy more mandarin oranges, papaya and watermelon and settle in the car for a fruit snack. Meanwhile one of the French officers (it turns out the event is organized by members of the French military based in Dakar) approaches us and asks us if we are the ladies who ran without our numbers today. Why yes we are.. well, he informs me, one of you has won a phone in the raffle! I spell out both of our strange sounding Polish last names to the gentleman as we ascertain that indeed it’s my complicated name that has won the draw. I received my prize gratefully, amused and thrilled at my good luck while joking that for someone who arrived late to the event and also ran without a number it’s pretty ironic that I should win a phone. At least it is well equipped with clock and chronometer! The main event organizer is there to award me the prize while we can also congratulate him on his tenacity and a whole year’s effort of bringing together sponsors and organizers for the race around the lake.

img_7439I help organize monthly events for Internations, I explain to him.. even that small taste of event planning in Senegal allows me to personally sympathize with his efforts. Still on the high of the morning’s excitement he tells me that they’ll soon begin planning for next year’s event. May we have an enjoyable run around the lake like this every year, we say…may it be so… Inshallah

Arms raised to me

Now.

Raising one hand, marvel at the mechanisms, the magic, the life-force creation here around, in soil, sun and sand.

Raise the other hand and the spirit slips through my fingers, its natural rhythm is in flight with the flocks, in tune with trance of trickling of the stream, with the whistle of the wind. It would flee from me.

Instead it is trapped, worse off than the wild mustang brought to the bit to be broken,
it is chained inside a human body,
this, this so wondrous and so futile, so fragile,
flung here to be ripped apart yet again

and in the light spilling through the gaps

to be brought to our knees to laugh, to smile, to cry again.

To gaze at ourselves now opened, perhaps more free this way, perhaps more.

The ocean’s waves next to me, the bird’s wings above, a constant reminder.
The ultimate tease.
To say
You, there. You on the ground below with your arms raised to me.
You are everything,
I’m not mocking you.
The bird’s beak twists to the side, and says again, in animal wisdom,
and yet
you,
yes, you
you are so helpless.

Bandia Wild Animal Park

Somewhere in the divine timing of right-after-rainy-season (when the foliage is still nice and green) and before-the-ostriches-get-aggressive (and visiting the park gets a wee bit more dangerous)… we visited the wild animal park of Bandia.

Here’s sharing some of our visit with you through images.

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Heading out.

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First sighting, the largest antelope in the world, the Giant Eland, originally of West Africa. Amazing curved horns.

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Close up.

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A first look at the “horse” antelope.

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Close-up 2.

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My favourite horse of all.

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In the distance, a 1-week old baby giraffe.

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Mama giraffe.

 

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Papa Giraffe : ) (his colouring is darker)

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Papa giraffe.. showing off the right flank this time 😉

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Rhino explanations part i. White rhinos are not actually white.

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Rhino explanation part ii. “White” is a mistranslation of the dutch word “Wijd” meaning wide. Truth be told this guy is wide.. and weighs more than 2 metric tons.

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Looks docile but can get riled up if needed.

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Water buffalo. Also looking docile, also can get riled up.

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Ostrich dance 1.

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Ostrich dance 2.

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Ostrich dance 3.

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Oooh look over there! (more beautiful gazelles).

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All ladies in this group, with one gentlemen gazelle to accompany them.

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He enjoys herding the ladies that go too far from the group back to the group.

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There they go!

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Baby giraffes part ii. The cutest most graceful baby animals imaginable.

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Stripes are always in style 🙂

“I love my father, he is my everything” Anonymous interview with young Senegalese woman

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?
Anon: (laughing)
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..
K.S.: 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.
(both laughing)
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?
Anon: Yes.
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)
Anon: (laughing).