Mahajanga

Here in the US, Monday was a Federal Holiday which meant that I had a long weekend. I opted to stay in town and began reminiscing of my trip to Mahajanga, Madagascar in August 2017.

With the sun shining, a long weekend ahead of us, a couple friends and I packed our sunglasses, shorts and swimsuits and headed northwest to the coastal town of Mahajanga (Majunga). Nine hours in a car later and 550 kilometers behind us, our weekend began.

Day 0.5

We arrived at Hotel Coco Lodge and about 10 minutes after checking in, the electricity went out. Forgetting where we were, we waited patiently for the generator to kick in. When this did not happen, we went down to the reception to inquire and they explained that power cuts usually don’t last long. As predicted,  about an hour later, the power came back. (very different from the day long power cuts I have experienced in other countries).

Shortly after, we headed out to grab a bite. Within 5 minutes we were on the “pier”. The pier reminded me of a scaled back version of the Santa Monica pier. There was a ferris wheel, bumper cars, rides, cotton candy, ice cream, burgers and just people having a good time. 

Day 1

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Le Cercle Rouge (The Red Circle)

One of the ladies at the hotel (Coco Lodge) offered to be our guide and took us through this wonder while telling stories. Including the story of a foreigner who decades ago decided to go for a night-time hike and as a result was robbed, killed and dumped there. With that cautionary tale in mind, we continued on our hike in the hot sun going further up and up along the edge. This hike is not for the unfit however you do not have to super fit to do it ( I survived it 😅).

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View from the top of le cercle rouge

 

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The effects of natural erosion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note, the hike down was quicker than going up however it was not necessarily easier. And here is why. My hiking experiences in Mada have gone like this: the guide starts the journey on what looks like a path through the jungle, forest, circle etc and then when they get tired, they let you know that it is time to head back down. Heading back down, is no longer on a path but rather on whatever rock, naturish thing that looks stable and down you go. And as you go down, you may slip or fall and as long as you don’t break a bone, it just becomes part of the experience.

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When you eventually leave the circle, you end up on the beach.

Continue reading “Mahajanga”

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Guess who’s back

It has been over a year since I posted and while I have often thought about posting and even started to write, I just felt like I did not have enough content. Why? Well, I moved back to the US earlier this year. When I moved back, I felt that I no longer had any exciting experiences to share (despite having traveled to Cote d’Ivoire, the Netherlands, Niger and South Africa) this year. Yes, I know this doesn’t make sense but go figure… Next year I plan to share my experiences with you.

 So, I moved back for a number of reasons and it has been an interesting year. With the year rapidly coming to an end, I feel like I have a lot (well some) to share. More importantly, I have decided that I am still thirdkulturejiri regardless of where I live. After all, I was raised in a culture other than that of my parents and I remain exposed to a variety of cultural influences. (thanks wiki for this lovely definition 😊).

The end of the year is rapidly approaching and as this happens, we start thinking about the highs and lows of the year vowing to make next year better. Do I have highs and lows? Sure. But I have decided that there have been more highs than lows and I am just thankful for another successful year. 2018 was definitely a high in comparison to 2017.  Do I have regrets from 2018? Of course, but you know what, I have decided that they will be lessons learned and not regrets. Life lessons that are making me a better person for 2019. So kisses and love to you, 2018 and thanks for preparing me for 2019.

Andasibe

With a long weekend ahead of me and an urge to finally leave Tana for the first time, my neighbor and I decided to go to Andasibe for a quick trip. Andasibe is a small town approximately 3 hours east of Antananarivo located in Moramanga and primarily visited by Vazahas (foreigners) for the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. The rainforest is known for its biodiversity and being home to 11 species of lemurs ( however I believe I only saw two species).

So Saturday morning, with my bags packed, inspect repellent and a couple bottles of water ( including wine) in tow, we set out for my first trip outside Tana. Although excited by the trip, I was a bit nervous as I was traveling with someone I didn’t know very well and her driver. No, I wasn’t worried about being kidnapped or being used for human sacrifice in the Malagasy jungle, more about whether we would get along and if the trip would be fun. Lucky it wasn’t awkward and we bonded over my time in Senegal as she is Senegalese but hadn’t been back for years.

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Off to a great start with smiles all around.

Saturday afternoon, we arrived at Vakona Lodge (which is not in exactly town) but definitely the best hotel in the area and with a car, accessible. After sipping on our welcome cocktails we check into our rooms, grabbed a quick bite and planned our itinerary.

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Welcome cocktail  which was just orange juice and grenadine 😦

 

Sunday morning and we opt for  the 3 – 4 hour hike option rather than the 6 hour option in the Mantadia National Park to see “animals”. So, for some reason, when they say animals in Madagascar, I expect animals but the reality is that animals usually means lemurs and lizards. They are “animals” but I need more variety.

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The famous black and white ruffed lemur
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A chameleon attempting to play hide and seek by pretending to be a leaf.
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Dancing in the rain forest because I can
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A quick selfie with our second guide because the first one was drunk ( don’t ask)

So after our 3 plus hour hike, we saw two species of lemurs ( not the 11 advertised) as apparently, as the day progresses, the lemurs go somewhere else but come back late in the night. Our lovely guide, suggested that we come back at night to see more species of lemurs but given that we both preferred to be sipping on wine or sleeping, rather than roaming through the rain forest chasing “animals” we politely declined.

With our tour over, we decide to embark on the 10km walk back to our hotel ( just for fun and exercise).

We ended the day by splitting a bottle of wine, grabbing dinner and calling it a night.

Monday arrived and prior to buying fruits and veggies en route to Tana, we decide to be tourists for one last time and we went off to see the crocodiles.

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Crocodiles sunbathing 
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Spot the orange frog!
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A fossa in captivity. According to the Malagasy people, a fossa is animal that is a cross between a dog and a cat that hunts lemurs.

With this final visit, we said Veloma to Andasibe and hit the road. All in all, a great weekend trip with just enough activities to keep us occupied. Never exhausted or bored.

 

Another New Beginning

So exactly 6 months ago, on March 26, 2017 I got on a plane and moved to Madagascar. Yep, I probably moved as far away as possible. Moving here was definitely not an easy decision. It was a decision that was full of emotions, doubts, fears, and just a little bit of hope. And to be honest, as I was making this decision and up until I submitted my resignation letter, I kept hoping that someone ( and I mean anyone) would ask me to stay. I needed a reason to stay but no one gave me that reason. Everyone told me ( with the exception of my Dad as he said I should finish my assignment in Senegal and then move back to the US to get married), that it was a great opportunity. It was one of those steps you have to take in your career before you end up in your dream job, dream position and spend the next twenty years of your life working for same company.

So, I left.Was the lack of a reason to stay a good enough reason to leave? I do not know but I do believe when you come across an opportunity whether or not it is something you sought, you have to say yes. I unfortunately am not yet at that point in my life when I can turn down these type of opportunities because I am scared. Sure, I have been 28 for the last 4 years and I do think about settling down, getting married and starting a family but I was no where near that in Senegal. The guy I was dating in Senegal did not exactly ask me to stay but said if I left he would try to join me.

Anyways, I landed (as my Naija peeps would say) in Antananarivo. And let me say, my first impression were not 100% great. I spent probably an hour in the immigration line and the drive from the airport to my hotel made me ask myself “what have I done”. Basically Antananarivo is the least developed capital city I have ever been to and I was a bit shocked.  Don’t get me wrong there were paved roads but the main roads that take us into the city have rice paddies on either side! OK, let me not exaggerate, there are plenty of brick houses, cobbled roads in city centre and the occasional tall building but it is still quiet different from my beloved West Africa.

So here I am, rice paddies and all on another new adventure seizing an opportunity and hoping for the best. Worst case scenario, I can be that person you know that lived in Madagascar. More to come on my adventures!

 

IL EST CON

 

S and I shared an office. S is a 57 year-old married man with one child in university and apparently an imam and an el hadj (however he has never been to Mecca). I indirectly managed S but being the friendly person I am, I do not throw the boss card around. Given that I was going to be sharing an office with S for 2 years, I tried to develop a friendly relationship. General pleasantries, ask about his family, occasionally bitch about work stuff together, etc. If I brought some yummy baked goods to work, I would offer him one etc. That was the extent of our friendship. At no point did I indicate to S that we should hang out outside work. I was pretty sure that we had nothing in common.

As the weeks passed, I noticed once in a while S would text to wish me a happy holiday, say he is coming in late or when I was not in the office text to ask if I was ok. (8-|). Nothing creepy just a “concerned” co-worker ( so I thought). Eventually, S and I traveled to a regional office together and ate every meal together. During this trip, he proceeded to share his stories from his youth about hooking up with all these different women including rich women (8-|) before he got married. All unsolicited information but enough to make me feel uncomfortable. Unfortunately, when uncomfortable, I usually smile awkwardly and don’t say much. The trip ended and over the weekend he texted to say he hopes and I was feeling better ( I got sick). To me he was becoming an overly-concerned co-worker but I tried to manage the situation by ignoring non-work related texts and taking my friendliness down by several notches.

S noticed this and I thought he would get the hint. Unfortunately he did not and chose to bring it up when I asked him why he had not done some work that he was supposed to do. S gave me some reason and then proceeded to ask aggressively if we had a problem because he noticed that I did not reply his Happy Easter text and some other text. I proceeded to say that I forgot and in general, I don’t really respond to texts unless they are work related. Also as a reminder we are co-workers and nothing else. Just co-workers so there is no need to be texting for non-work related stuff and asking me why I didn’t reply. I also kinda reminded him that I indirectly manage him so that respect is required. He quickly proceeded to say ” you think I am trying to court you? I am a married man who chose monogamy. If I have offended you, I apologize”. Apology accepted and this was the end or so I thought.

Since this incident, every 2 – 3 months S would decide that there was some sort of problem. He would aggressively try to call me out in a meeting, attempt to embarrass me while I  was giving a presentation or challenge my authority. He even once called a meeting with the Project Director to say that he wanted us to be friends. Which frankly was very odd and the PD and I were both perplexed.  Very annoyed by this, I calmly stated that I choose my friends and unless this is a work-related issue, I do not really care. A grown-ass 57 year old man acting like an insolent 5 year was just weird and I did exactly want you do with little children throwing tantrums, you ignore!

Ignoring worked well and I was convinced it was successful until, the project retreat and about 2 weeks before my departure when a coworker in one of the regional offices tells me that went around the office in Dakar telling anyone that would listen “his side of the story”. What story? I asked. Well, S believed that the reason no one liked him in the office was because I told everybody that he was a dirty old pervert hitting on me when he was just being friendly. He apparently even told his former supervisor in a regional office and was sobbing down the phone. Obviously people were confused by “his side of the story” because I hadn’t said anything, I clearly had moved on and by him putting his dumb ass on display like that, he was telling everybody that he was indeed hitting on me and I called him out on it. I was shocked to hear this and all I could say was WOW. Apparently at first, some people may have believed him but when he decided to write some weird email (on the group email chain) about always considering me to be a sister and asking for my forgiveness rather than wishing me good luck when my resignation was announced, no one believed him. To sum it up, someone’s reaction to his email was to say “mais, il est con (he is an asshole)“. And I agree!

Tailoring in Dakar

For those of you who know me, I like clothes and some people believe I have a good eye for styles that suit me. I like to believe them…

Finding a great tailor in Dakar is difficult. There are tailors everywhere and there is always someone within a 10 minute walk from you that “sews”. I made the mistake of choosing convenience and wasted a lot of time, money and fabric on a seamstress because she was just down the street and I wanted to support her “woman-owed” business. Yes, I know… Long story short, after almost a year of dealing with her, I severed that relationship. She was however a bit better that the guy that made a jumpsuit for me with no way to enter it ◔_◔.

Through my experiences with her and others, I have learnt that all tailors will tell you the following:

  1. “Of course, I understand the design and I can do it.” Translation: I have no idea on what you want but as it looks like a top, I will make whatever top I feel like making and attempt to convince you that it is an exact replica of your picture. TEST: Ask them to describe how it is done, or if they notice a specific pleat or seam. If they start drawing it out for you, then it usually means that they somewhat understand the design.
  2. “I’m going to measure you so that this fits properly.” Translation: These measurements are very loose guidelines. I’m going to sew it accordingly to what I think are your measurements and once you come to pick it up, we will refit.
  3. “Of course this can be ready quickly… It will be ready next week.” Translation: I will sew it whenever I have time. Hopefully this will be sometime around the date I told you but I won’t bet on itTEST: There isn’t one. It is a trial an error situation. I have had the experience of waiting for over 1 month for something that was supposed to be ready within a week. 
  4. “Of course I am going to sew it myself.”  Translation: Sweetie, you can see that I have apprentices in my shop, how else will they learn? Perhaps if they are completely f***ing it up or it is difficult, I’ll do it. TEST: Yea right! There is no way of guaranteeing this…
  5. “No, there is no leftover fabric.  Your midi dress used up all 6 yards of fabric you gave me.” Translation: I did not know what I was doing so a significant part of the fabric is in the bin / I stole it and I am using the leftover piece to sew something for another customer who loved your fabric / I am making a dress for my daughter with your fabric. TEST: If the tailor gives you little pieces or scraps, then it is more than likely that there was no leftover fabric. To avoid this situation, I no longer give 6 yards.

To be honest, finding a good tailor is a trial and error process and just because your friend has a good tailor, does not mean that s/he will be a good tailor for you. Yes, definitely take recommendations, and try different tailors out but remember we all have different requirements, expectations and tolerances…  I personally think I have found a decent tailor. He draws out the design when I start asking a lot of questions, we usually do not need too many adjustments, I think he sews all the clothes, he tells you when he will not meet a deadline, he gives me back leftover fabric, and he is affordable. What else can I ask for?

One Year Later…

October 15, 2016  was the one year anniversary of my Senegalese adventure. While it has not been a crazy wild adventure fueled with alcohol, drugs ( unnecessary), partying,  jumping out of planes and surfing ( yes, this is what some people do here), it has definitely been an adventure.

I look back to where I was personally and professionally a year ago, and I know I have grown. My move here was 70% career-related and probably 30% personal. I believe I am on track career-wise and despite a hiccup on the personal side, I have boarded a train and started a new journey…I am however still waiting for my job offer from the Travel Channel… 

To sum it up,  

  • I have made acquaintances, friends and everything in-between.
  • I have stayed safe and will hopefully remain this way.
  • I have learnt to expect to eat rice for lunch everyday and the Senegalese are the original creators of red rice (thiedounne) however we Nigerians have taken it up a notch with Jollof rice (and it is better).
  • I have learnt a few words in Wolof but nearly not enough. 
  • I have learnt that you have to make the best out of every situation. Yes, it may be a shitty day or week but don’t let it become a shitty month, year, or experience. Shit happens but the difference is how you deal with it. 
  • I have scratched the surface of Senegalese society and I have began to better understand people’s reactions and attitudes.
  • I have learnt that some people just don’t know their level. This is especially true for men. 
  • I have learnt that is someone tells you that they are being pressured to marry someone ( cousin or not cousin), wish them good luck and keep it moving.
  • I have pretty much be asked to be the “side chick” and told that if things worked out, I could become the “main chick” WTF? Apparently with it being legal to have 4 wives in Senegal, this is not such a big deal.
  • I have gone on a 6-hour drive in 40+ degree weather and not put out a bush fire (as the driver described it).  My bladder and doctor were not pleased.
  • I have learnt, that no matter how polite you want to be, when offered food and drink in the field, find an excuse to say no. Your stomach will thank you later.
  • I have learnt, that if you are young (and a woman) people will doubt your skills and may question your authority. Do not react negatively and get upset. Make it clear that ultimately you have a job to do and it should be respected. If they choose not to respect it, that is their problem and not yours. Look past it as long as it does not affect the work.
  • I have learnt, that in Africa sexual harassment towards women in the workplace happens all the time and people just look the other way. If you are not married or pregnant, for some reason some men think they can hit on you. As such, women end up pretending to have a partner or are generally not friendly to avoid these situations or rumors. We also sometimes dress like bums… 

Most of all, I have learned that moving to a different city, state or country is hard. It is even harder when  you are faced with a different culture and different language. There will be highs and lows and you will miss your family and friends, but the most important thing is to keep busy and remain optimistic. It usually improves and right now, there is even a small part of me thinking about staying longer….