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 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 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

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).

A Saturday description

As I’m sitting in my living room, I look around myself, all the way around, and I tell you what I see.

In front of me are the windowed doors to my terrace, on the terrace are the plants, new plants too, I brought a baby, baobab tree home today. I was told white blossoms on a baobab are rare; what I know is that they are beautiful. Across the street in front of me a new construction, grey, half-done, cement block, typical of Dakar. It won’t go higher than 4 stories, few buildings here do. If I step out unto the terrace and look to my right my view extends over the houses and palm-trees here, greens and beige and the bright, blue ocean only a few steps away, reassuring me. Back inside, the flight posters belong to my roommate, a pilot, reminding me there’s always more to see of Senegal, always more.

Jasmine green tea resides in a beautiful Moroccan tea-pot, a gift, patiently steeping. A collage of Vogue fashion and African images created several months ago hangs above the fan, turned off, and the light, unplugged. There’s plenty of light and breeze here now. Colouring crayons and a colouring book of mandalas next to me, an immensely colourful textile collage hangs behind me. Yet somehow, colour feeds the need for more colour, and I can’t wait for the next white lines and shapes to become undone.

Curtains flutter in the cross breeze between open terrace and open window, and I hang a pink scarf there too, so it can flutter along also, and it does, happily. My mosquito netting in the windows is splashed with the mud carried by the heavy rains during this past rainy season, you see, dirty. Somehow, it doesn’t bother me. Cushions line the bed-like sofas, our indoor baobab perched between. Books surround me, journals and personal planners too. Somehow it’s important to remember what’s important to me, you see, since anything is possible here, yet anything is not what I’m looking for, something special, particular and perfect for me is what I need.

I’ll bring a mango and messily eat it here, in a few minutes.
I’ll fill my pages with more colours, a few minutes after.

.. and then, I’ll take some time to relax even deeper.

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The Journey of a single bag of rice – Part I

At first glance, unloading cargo from a vessel looks like a horde of ants invading a juicy piece of cake. The vessel is huge, the people are little, and up and down the swaying ladder attached to the side of the ship, we (underwriters), insurers, other surveyors, dockers and supervisors climb on board to join the crew and get down to work. On the paperwork side onboard, everyone gets settled in the Chief Officer’s cabin and starts producing and signing tally sheets, daily reports and other papers. This temporary office will be the creation space of a vast paper trail that will allow the tracking of every single bag of rice during the unloading operations.*

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Meanwhile, the discharging shift has begun and some of the other ants crawl into the belly of the vessel to manually lift and load bags of rice unto the slings that then lift and swing over to the dock to be unloaded unto delivery trucks. Dozens of shirtless, sweating men, with their gleaming muscles in the African sun move with dexterity on top of the bags that will soon be lifted out and unto the land. Other men sit inside the holds with clip boards and count the amounts discharged and the number of bags torn. On the docks, the same frantic scramble continues, this time on and beside the trucks. Lift, carry, pile, count, classify, smack a tarp on it, and off we go to the warehouse. This continues day and night, hundreds of bags after hundreds of bags…until the cake is all done.

We can imagine that the bag of rice we’re following has made it out, safe and dry and untorn, unto the truck now on its way to the warehouse. We learn that while out at sea during the vessel’s 4-week journey, somewhere near South Africa, the crew was slow to close the holds during a moment of passing rain… and some of the rice inside got wet.  What’s more there’s been many additional torn bags today, as there’s a faulty sling and a new, inexperienced docker ripping bags right and left. We’ve noted an infestation in hold number 3. In short, for a bag of rice to make it out of the vessel unscathed today is a rare treat.

And, alas, getting to the warehouse is another perilous journey. Bags are stolen during transport, torn and ripped, their rice-fillings swiftly sifted into nameless, plastic bags. There may be rain on the way. Some of the trucks encounter accidents on the road…spilling it all on the asphalt.

It’s difficult to know what may happen next and just how our bag of rice will do!

*unloading operations can take anywhere from 10 days time to 3 weeks, depending on many factors such as the amount of cargo, cadence of the dockers (workers) and the weather.

——————
As a cargo underwriter I represent the interests of the insurance companies that insure various imported and exported merchandise. Here in Senegal we’re doing a lot of imported rice (mainly Indian, Thai, Pakistani and Brazilian) which means that my days are full of rice discharging operations, lost bags of rice on the way to the warehouse, wet bags of rice because its rainy season and torn bags of rice because, well, lots of bags get torn. These need to be counted, recounted and accounted for. Damages have to be avoided or otherwise assessed, explained and fixed, if possible. All the while we create and sign all the necessary documentation. The logistics and amount of coordination necessary to successfully unload, transport, store, sell, ship and then retail the rice is astonishing. The amount of things that can go wrong during the process – countless.

Numbers and paperwork aside…what drew me initially to this work, and what intrigues me still, is understanding the intricate process that my food goes through before it actually arrives on my dinner plate. 

Stay tuned…

The 4 biggest differences when working with the French (and Francophones)

French is the official language in nearly 30 countries around the world. France was busy colonizing many parts of the New World and Africa…the remaining effects of which are the spreading of France’s language, culture and mentality to many nations around the world.

It is my pleasure and honour to have discovered several Francophone (meaning French-speaking) countries and regions while pursuing diverse personal and professional projects. Today, I continue this discovery while living and working in Dakar, Senegal. You could call me a true francophile (meaning one who loves French and French culture).

I started learning French in school when I was about 12 years old. The first time I actually found it useful was when I was 15 years old, on holiday in the Caribbean, and able to converse in French with a cute boy from Switzerland! Perfecting and fine-tuning the language began in my early 20s when in 2008 I spent a semester abroad in Bordeaux, France. Since then I’ve worked alongside both Quebec and French nationals in work, volunteer and personal projects in Canada, France, Haiti and Senegal. While these countries and regions are unique they all share a common ground, that is they are francophone – French-speaking – and thus influenced by France (and colonization) not only through language but also through culture, mentality and approach.

Indeed, there are many aspects of French culture that I adore. The obsession with good food, for one (reaches for café and croissant…) and an emphasis on participation in social and political movements, as a second. The Frenchies also have a love of culture and the arts which I find inspirational.

Nevertheless, I’m in more of a complaining mood myself now and in the need to point out what is different, and in my opinion, outdated and bothersome, in the French.

Arguably, complaining is also a French quality 😉

In any case, I’ve highlighted 4 points below in the ways of thinking and doing that are quite different from Anglo-saxon English-speaking Canada where I grew up (yeehaw, Calgary!!). Here, my observations. These are centered around work since my main experience with Francophones has, up to now, been in my studies and in the workplace.

If you also have experience shifting between Anglo-saxon and French work cultures – I’d love to hear your opinion.

1. Looks matter more than your results

In general, I find that my francophone colleagues pay more attention to the presentation of their work (fonts, colours, pretty folders) than they do to the real content of their work. Not to say that the quality of the content is necessarily poor…rather that when given the choice between a polished idea and a polished binder…they go for the binder. My Anglo-saxon reared self is more wired for efficiency and a get-things-done-right-at-the-core-no-matter-the-potential-messiness. As a manager, I’d much prefer to receive great content with some formatting to fix up.. rather than the opposite! Like cutting into a bright, red shiny apple which you later find to be a bit rotten at the centre… I prefer the slightly-bruised-on-the-outside, perfectly tasty and whole apple on the inside.

This adherence to image is also reflected in length of writing. On the one hand French, a language of diplomacy, is much more wordy than English, a language of science and efficiency. Then, also, there is a general fondness among Francophones for being long-winded and roundabout in their writing (or speaking, presenting, recording) approach. I was taught in my Anglo-saxon upbringing that the capacity to be succinct and express complex ideas in short, simple phrases is golden – and to that I hold. I find that some Francophones disagree.

It is easy to see other manifestation of the How over the What, the Form being more important than the Result in other aspects of life – for example, in fashion. I like to dress well, as much as the next woman, but I don’t swear by it. If I’m in the mood to step out in my pajamas to buy some staples at the shop on my street, I do it! I can understand and sympathize with the hypothetical American millionaire that goes out for a coffee in L.A. in their sweatpants. I think it’s OK and even commendable – a sign of being sure and confident in oneself without requiring outside approval every minute of the day. But this hypothetical billionaire would never do this were they of true French or francophone culture. In Francophone culture, image must reflect your quality and your social status, always.

This is the single, biggest cultural and professional difference for me coming from an Anglo-saxon approach into a francophone environment.

As Professor Higgins once rudely sang in “My Fair Lady” about the French and their obsession with proper French pronunciation “It doesn’t matter what you say…as long as you say it properly”.

Well, as in every cultural jibe…there’s some truth in this one too.

2. Being “diplomatic” tops being direct

In English-speaking Canada as in the USA good communication is understood to be direct and clear communication. We pay attention to verbalizing comfortable as well as uncomfortable truths so that everyone involved can have a clear understanding of the situation. We can be tactful – yes – while remaining direct. We think that good management and leadership includes these qualities of clarity, brevity and direction.

Here in the French-speaking world, yet again, form outweighs result and being diplomatic is often seen as more important than being direct. To be diplomatic though can be both helpful and harmful. It can mean the kind of diplomacy that helps to handle a delicate situation where many points of view and beliefs have to be respected, and it can also mean evasiveness, false flattery or outright lying. In Senegal, where people are conflict-evasive, this means that people will tell you exactly what you want to hear, while looking you straight in the eye…while never once having the intention to follow through on their words. Needless to say, this is tiring, confusing and undermines trustworthiness. The weight of our words is not viewed equally.

3. Reprimanding over rewarding

Perhaps I’m mistaken here… but I find the French management style singularly different from the American or Canadian model. The first places emphasis on highlighting mistakes and potential improvements while the former takes time to emphasize work well done and right attitudes. (Sarcastically) I have the distinct feeling that all the studies surrounding positive reinforcement, reward systems and motivations are made by the English-speaking and American community and remain there. Personally, I find it way too discouraging to continuously plod along in a cloud of could-have-been-better (of course things can always be better!)…I prefer to choose positivism, encouragement and reinforce in myself and others what has been done right.

 

4. Titles, diplomas and hierarchy

Here is another biggie – the idea of institutions and certificates firmly defining the personal or professional trajectory. Studies, titles and a properly planned career are fine… and so is the self-made man (or woman). The American dream lives on and its key component is the belief that time and energy invested towards an objective, any objective regardless its perceived outlandishness, reap the greatest harvests, always. My own journey of wildly changing career paths and interests in my 20s confirms that I really can do anything I put my mind to, whether or not it’s a field I’ve previously worked or studied in. In short, schooling, titles and career-climbing are OK, but it’s just one among many models for success and not the one true path. Here, Francophones are more rigid in their approach and prefer a traditional model. Titles are scrutinized and years of study and experience praised.

So, voilà. Feel free to agree and disagree, this is certainly a very personal list, nor is it necessarily complete.

If you too have had experience with working on the one hand in Anglo-saxon or English speaking cultures and also in a Francophone ones… would you agree with the above observations? Is there anything that you would add here? What do you find to be the biggest difference for you, the native anglophone, when working alongside the francophone?

Thanks for sharing – au revoir et au plaisir de vous lire!

Aïd el-Fitr (la Korité) festivities in Medina – the images

Celebrating the end of Ramadan in Medina, typical African neighbourhood of Dakar – in images. Peeking in on the women in the hair salons, the children in the streets and the beautiful, festive wear for the occasion.

Includes spontaneous bike tricks from passing youth.

…and, our fair dose of what I like to call “lounge photography” where, in essence, we sit on chairs and wait for the subjects to come to us. Luckily, on a street in Medina there is always plenty going on.

Enjoy!!

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Greetings from two months in

Me: Salam aleekum.
Taxi Driver: Malekum Salam.
(conversation around destination and taxi price ensues, in (my) patchy Wolof)
Taxi Driver: How long have you been here?

(a trickle of sweat slips down my back)
Me: Two months. Ñaari wer.…Two months, and a bit.
Taxi Driver: You are Senegalese now.
Me (to myself): It’s time I write something about Senegal now.

(replaces sunglasses back on nose after getting settled in taxi).

Dakar is located on the Western-most point of Africa, on a peninsula called Cap-Vert which is across from the islands of Cape Verde, not to be confused, please.
In many ways I feel we are far West from much of what goes on in Sub-Saharan Africa. But then again…what would I know. I’ve never been anywhere else except Abidjan on a one week work trip spent at the office, port and in a fancy hotel. I can only imagine, and listen to what others have to say. Supposedly – so the people say – elsewhere the beaches are not as abundant, the food less good, the people less friendly. Here, life is good here, real good. I’d say I’m smitten with Senegal (it slides off the tongue nice).. but I’m more like really jiving with it.

It doesn’t matter how short or long the work day, I come home satisfied. Perhaps it’s the lengthy greetings and taking many minutes with each person to ask them about their family and everyone’s well-being, I enjoy it. I’m satisfied to be in the warmth
and sun and to never worry about its lack when I’m inside with papers and computers. We have excess sun and heat here. Here, take some, there is plenty to share.

The dust is plenty too. The colours so near the Sahara, faded. The colours the women wear in the bright African textiles – bright. The music, Mbalax, a different lilt. Hard to describe. My current anthem ft. Akon (who is of Senegalese origins, by the way) – see if you like it.
Plenty. Life is slower, this is true, I like to think it’s more deliberate and less rushed. Nothing works anyways if you rush here. Doubly true if you get angry about the lack of rush. I find it’s hard to get angry when you’re warm and well fed, but hey, some people are persistent. Granted, in some ways, hustle is sought after. Ask Taha. Then again, if you’re OK to mosey along at your own deliberate pace then Senegal is happy to mosey alongside you.

Sooner or later, you’ll get hungry after all your mosing and nosing about. Personally, I’m addicted to the mangos. Ripe, golden flesh – I enjoy quality time with mangos in private so as to allow the juice to properly drip down my chin. Very attractive.

Other meals, these must be enjoyed with people. Key ingredients: abundant rice, seafood, vegetables, onion sauce, spicy sauce. Add generous helpings of conversation on many topics followed by a sprinkle of Ataya, traditional green-tea-mint infused with kilograms of sugar. Delicious. The Senegalese are talkers. We chat about everything, while drinking tea, while finding shade, while working, while hailing taxis, while negotiating.

Big cars, small cars drive next to horse-drawn buggies. The horses hooves slip and look for traction where there is none on the smooth asphalt. You turn one way, you see the coast. An airplane above. You turn the other way, you see the ocean. High in the air, above the water, falcons circle. Below, colourful fishermen’s boats brave the many breaking waves. Everywhere I look, there it is. Goats bleat. Motorcycles zoom by. Horns honk.

Plans change, energy moves. Ocean, dust, air, spirit and the burning sun…perched on the edge of black Africa.

A Sunday stroll on the beach in Yoff

Today is an important day for Muslims as they make their way to the Yoff Mosque to listen to a well-known Marabout speak. Everyone is dressed in white. Why? A young woman tells us this is so “you cannot tell the difference between the rich and the poor”.

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Then, a walk along the beach turning here and there with my camera trying to capture some of the action. Birds (falcons, I think!), horse-drawn carts, police on horse-back, kids, more kids, kids playing soccer, passersby and so many young people asking to have their picture taken!

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And my favourite shot of the day. So much to take in here!

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And a few more, of the colourful fishing boats and horse carts.

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Oh, the strange and not-so-strange things we can find on the beach. There were dead puffer fish too, some full of air like full balloons lying in the sand, some looked punctured.

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I would love to see how these fishing boats are painted! Or, better yet, participate in the painting.

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I love authentic smiles and natural, un-posed photos.

Near the water it looks like the goats are pilgrim-aging to the mosque as well. Some of them are even dressed in white.

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She was a bit camera-shy at first.

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Near my home I can hear both the airplanes taking off and the horse’s carts trotting along the street. Sometimes, all at once.

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Question, argue, negotiate, discuss, fuss, fuss, fuss, something pops…and you get your answer

“Jàmm rekk.”

Only peace.

After my fourth class of Wolof I can barely count to 4, although I can say hello, how are you (in 5 different ways) and ask about the health and wellbeing of every single member of your family. Wolof also makes a distinction in the way of questioning and answering based on whether or not you are located at that person’s home (where the family lives) or whether you meet in another location. This makes me want to get invited to someone’s home just so I can have the pleasure of correctly using this greeting nuance in real life. Instead, we practice in the classroom. Repeating, re-reading, muttering under our breaths and trying to hear the difference between a strong, accentuated “A!” and a less accentuated yet still forceful “a!”. Umm…be careful, the teacher warns us:

  • “Làkk” means to speak a language
  • “Lakk” means to burn.

Too bad I can’t hear the difference.

Kind of how my francophone colleagues say “sheep” instead of “ship” (bless them, my ear can barely discriminate between “roue” and “rue“!) and how I thought for the past 2 months that one of the vessels we were surveying is called “Sister Endurance” when in fact it is called “Seastar Endurance”. Ahh.. well, yes. For a cargo freighter, Seastar does make a bit more sense than Sister.

So wooly boats, streets and wheels aside, whatever it is that I’m stuttering out right now I feel closer to burning Wolof (sorry!) than to actually speaking it.

The classes are great opportunities to nitpick at every little linguistic detail I and my classmates can think of. I have noticed 2 general trends when it comes to getting our answers. First, one of us makes a remark about one of the phrases in the lesson’s dialogue. We get fussy about why an article is like this or why a preposition is like that. We’re 9 people, from 4 continents, likely holding a dozen distinct languages between us…conversations get interesting, fast. So far, a deeper questioning-of-Wolof situation has evolved in one of 2 ways:

Option 1: 

1. The teacher tells us to calm down (N’dank, n’dank!) and stop trying to understand things so soon. Foolish us. He recommends we fully accept certain things as they are, at least for now. He promises that we will learn what we want to know at some time in the future.

To summarize for your notes: The answer to your question is: you are not meant to know yet.

Option 2:

2. Our question sparks other questions and spirals into a small argument. We fuel the spontaneous blaze as everyone raises their own voice to repeat what they think they have learned and confirm this new learning with the teacher. Noise follows. We take a breath, noise dies down. The teacher shows us that in French there are arbitrary grammar rules too. This is meant to encourage acceptance of Wolof’s oddities (thus saving him from the explaining). Then, he translates his French grammar lesson to English because half of the class does not speak French (blank stares). Then, finally, with surprising clarity he gives the answer we have been waiting for. This is because of that because it belongs in that other category. Oh! We exclaim. Oh! Oh! Well that is exactly what we wanted to know! How straight-forward it all seems now.

Point #2, to summarize for your notes: The way to receive the clear answer to your question seems to be: Question, argue, negotiate, discuss, fuss, fuss, fuss, something pops…and you get your answer.

Actually, that summarizes my first few weeks in Senegal pretty well! Life, work and Wolof bumble along, in its own sauce of blissful surrender and ruckus of negotiation and insistency. At least, I think, I’m starting to get some answers.

Featured image: View on Dakar

It’s not really about the tea

After so many inspections of rice in warehouses comes the invitation to eat and drink. Everyone hovers around a big, metal bowl filled with spicy rice and fish elaborated with colours of boiled carrot and cassava and pokes a spoon in eagerly. It is delicious. I’m pretty sure we’re sharing spoons. Everyone crouches flat-footed on the dusty warehouse floor while I am offered a chair. I try to refuse the meal; it is brushed off quickly. I am hungry; I was only going through my own cultural rituals of politeness after all. Would I like an after meal tea? Why of course, the Ataya. I know the word, they are glad that I am learning. I am glad that I am learning too.

It is so sweet this tea, and I’m pretty sure we’re sharing glasses too. Bottoms up. Principles of hygiene aside, the hospitality here is, in a way, so matter of fact. As if well, obviously, the only way to be, is to share what one has with those one is with. Back at the office, I peek into my tin of my special brew of roasted-grain beverage that I brought with me from Europe. A taste of a luxury that will be difficult (or impossible) to find here. It has been looked into by another, the powder is less than half of what it was when I saw it last. I say nothing. They have shared with me. Obviously, there is an unspoken rule that if I leave things lying around it is assumed to be sharable with others. I hope it was enjoyed by whoever enjoyed it. I step out to buy fruit and ask my colleagues what they would like; bananas, mangoes, oranges and tiny Gala apples spread their colours out on the table and we share some more. This is how it is here, I am learning. I feel the belt that is my strict, Western concept of property and fairness loosen a notch. It feels more comfortable this way anyways.