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.

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 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!

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).

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.*

lifting cargo out

unloading cargo

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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.

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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…

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.

A day trip to the Island of Gorée, in images

A journey in images from yesterday’s trip to Ile de la Gorée.

The island is a 30 minute ferry ride away from Dakar.

Arriving into the port.

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Then, an impromptu photo shoot near a beautiful, bright blue door. This is my first adventure with having custom-made clothes sown using the local fabrics. I’m convinced that us Caucasian ladies can pull off some of the darker, lighter designs like the one on this skirt. Your thoughts?

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We visited one of the artisans that turns different coloured (and sourced) sands into charming artwork. Would love to come back and make a few of these myself!

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Views from our walk through the streets of Gorée. Relaxed, clean and quiet streets and beautiful flowers at every corner.

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Yup, that is the big city out there on the horizon.

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.. and a few shots of some of our fellow travellers on the ferry coming back.

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