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….

Tabaski

For over a month starting in August, I kept seeing sheep all around Dakar, hanging around market places, on the roof of cars and tied up in backyards. At first, I was confused until I was told that Tabaski was coming up. 

Tabawhat? Yep, it was Tabaski in Senegal also know as Eid al-Adha, “Festival of the Sacrifice” a Muslim holiday celebrated around the world that honors the willingness of Ibrahim ( Abraham to Bible or Torah readers) to sacrifice his son for God before God told him to pump his brakes. If you are Christian or Jewish, you most likely know an interpretation of this story. If you are neither of those religions, then I just provided you with the story according to ThirdKultureJiri.

Based on my understanding, on an annual basis and on a date determined by the Hijri Calendar), Eid al-Adha is celebrated. To celebrate this day, in addition to specific prayers being said, each individual with the financial means, buys a “sheep” to be sacrificed (in a household you can have 3 or 4). These sheep are not exactly cheap and people lose sleep over not being able to afford one as not only is it a religious obligation, it’s a matter of reputation. During the season, the cost of a sheep goes up significantly. The cheapest is usually 40,000 FCFA ($70) and the price steadily rises to 1,000,000 FCFA ($1,715) or even more. In a country were lowly-skilled workers can earn 40,000 FCFA per month, this can  get expensive.

Ultimately, once the animal is sacrificed, it is divided into three parts. The family keeps a part to eat, gives a part to relatives, friends and neighbors and then the last part is given to the poor and needy. Not a bad idea provided you don’t work for PETA or are a vegetarian.

As, I am not Muslim, I did not sacrifice a mutton but however got invited to a Tabaski celebration to enjoy the spoils. I arrived in time to miss the “sacrifice” but unfortunately in time to help with the cooking. Nonetheless, it was a fun and tasty afternoon.  

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Lunch is served!
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I couldn’t resist, I had to slather on some of my homemade BBQ sauce!  BBQ’d Mutton. 
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My cleaning lady shocked me by dropping off this plate of food. 

The entire experience brought back fun memories of growing up in Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire were during Christmas, my dad would buy a “ram” for the holidays and I would eat both to my belly’s content and discontent. 

Definitely not Uber

A few weeks ago I read a post on Facebook from a woman venting her frustrations about taxi drivers in Dakar and wondering if there was a regulatory authority she could report her incident to. If my memory serves me correctly, her incident  occurred at night and involved her taxi driver suddenly changing the agreed upon fare after she got into the taxi while being verbally aggressive towards her. Her post got several replies in which many other women said they had similar experiences and unfortunately there is no regulatory authority to file a complaint with.  Although I did not respond to her post, I can definitely commensurate with her and all the other women. I have had similar incidents and here they are.

The first incident occurred within two months of my arrival. The taxi driver refused to listen to the directions provided myself, my friends who were at the restaurant and the restaurant staff but insisted on asking random people on the street for directions. Ultimately this led to us driving around in circles and him threatening to drop me off in the middle of nowhere. Eventually we arrived at our destination because after an hour of him not listening to me, the asshole finally listened. On the way back ( only reason I got back in the taxi was because we had agreed on a round-trip fare) he started yelling that he had wasted his fuel and doubled the price. By the time we got to my building, I was tired of arguing him, a bit scared, gave him his additional $8, cursed him out and cursed him and his future  generations (obviously in English).

The second experience which occurred recently is the result of a friend and I deciding to share a taxi home. We negotiated a price which he initially rejected but agreed to when we began walking away. He drops off my friend with only a few mumblings and then he proceeds to drive to my neighborhood. As he is driving he buys 3 cigarettes and then lights one up in the cab. I consider saying something but decide that the windows are opened, he probably wouldn’t understand what I am saying and honestly, I am almost home. Literally the second he finishes his cigarette he begins yelling at me ( in Wolof which I do not speak) about 2500 FCFA and 3000 FCFA, saying something I can only assume was random bullshit and that this is an Islamic country (not sure how that was relevant). Not really understanding his rant apart from the fact that he wanted more money, I do not say anything and watch the road to be sure that he is taking me to my neighborhood (I was a bit nervous). He eventually  gets to my building and rather than turning around for the money, he decides to turn off the engine and starts opening his door. At this point he sees my outstretched hand with money in it, which he takes and realizes that it is 3000. I included the additional 500 FCFA ($0.85)  he was yelling about as I could care less and I was not going to fight over $0.85. I am not quite sure what his original intention was when he turned off his engine and proceeded to get out but within a split second I was heading up the stairs of my building as he fumbled to restart his engine and continue his pointless rant in Wolof.

With these experiences that are not exclusive to women and expats, we are all not sure what to do. Having a car would make a big difference but for someone like me who has about a year left in Senegal, walks to work, and only takes taxis when going out (I do not want to drive after drinking), a car is not the solution. These taxi drivers need to have some sort of code of conduct or should start using meters to avoid fare disputes. Perhaps what we really need is to rally together and convince Uber or Lyft to join the Dakar market. Technically both companies conduct checks on the drivers, the price is fixed and at minimum have an email address you can lodge a complaint with. But I guess until that happens, I will be vigilant, safe and always remember that the money is not worth it.  

Friendships

As you get older, you realize that your pool of friends slowly diminishes. Sure you may have 1,495 friends on Facebook but how many of those people are true friends? How many of those friends can you call up anytime of the day and say I need to talk and pour your heart out about something shite that just happened or pretty much scream down the phone some super exciting news? If you have more than 5 people you can do this with, well done! If you have more than 10, please email me and let me know how you did this.

When I moved to Senegal, I was worried about making friends. My sister told me not to worry and to remember that I have moved several times in the 3 decades of my life and each time I manage to make a great bunch of friends. My friends reminded me how loveable ( apparently), friendly and open I can be. They reassured me that I would make friends in no time. So I embarked on my journey  hopeful and with a positive attitude.

As I write this, perhaps I have not found my new best friend ( because my best friend still exists and we talk all the time)  but I can definitely say I have made some good friends and several acquaintances. And this is how I managed to do it. 

  1. When you first move to a new country, go to every single party you are invited to. Make that effort to go out. Seriously, if you are a home-body you are going to need to leave your house to meet other people.
  2. Go to events and interest groups around your city. Internations is usually a good start. You will soon realize that everybody is looking for friends.
  3. Exchange numbers with people you meet and plan a “friend date”shortly afterwards.
  4. Keep in touch with people you get along with and invite them to various events.
  5. Try and make friends with people that are in the country long term or are nationals. Eventually your expat friends will leave and you will be all alone. To be honest, this is something that I have not been very successful at doing however I am currently making an effort to do this. My goal by the end of the year, is to have at least one Senegalese friend. And no, the guy that I dated does not count!
  6. Most importantly, be flexible and open to new people and experiences. 

I wrote this post because two of my friends will be leaving Dakar in September and to be honest, I am quite bummed out. While I am happy for them, it is clear that I need to go back to out there and make more friends. Clearly this illustrates that, one should always be meeting new people and making friends as you never know when you current friends might leave 😦 ! 

Why do you Insist on Harassing Me?

Let me start with a few statements to set the tone for this post.

  • I am a feminist.
  • I believe in gender equality.
  • I am tired of being harassed and having my friends share their experiences with me #stopstreetharassment.

Since I moved to Dakar, I have encountered a number of men who have insisted on participating in the act of harassment. This harassment is not specific to Africa as unfortunately it has happened to me on other continents however I do believe that it is more blatant here. Perhaps I just feel more vulnerable being foreigner… My harassers while in Senegal fall into 3 categories: the street idiot, the service provider and the co-worker.

Category I: The Random aka Street Idiot ( this category ranges from the jobless loiterer to the guy driving by in his car).

I love walking. God gave me legs with very strong calf muscles and my way of appreciating them is by using them. As such, I walk everywhere. If I can walk it, I will. Unfortunately with this, I tend to walk by a lot of street idiots who decide to yell something at me. I have had times when I am running and a random idiot will make a comment or offer to join me. There has been the man that follows me around the market either silently or offering to sell me something. There has been the man who grabs my hand while I am walking to comment on my physical appearance. There has been the man that yells at me from his car insisting on giving me ride. Then there has been the man that waits until I walk by and says something very creepy sounding.

I am usually able to successfully ignore them as they often make their comments in Wolof and given that I don’t speak Wolof, I just carry on. Each time this happens, I tell myself I need a witty comeback… I really want to stop and ask: Why do you insist on harassing me? What have you achieved? How would you feel if you were walking down the street and some street idiot did this to you? Would you be comfortable? The truth however, is that I am a bit afraid.  Afraid that any response will encourage them to continue and they will be more aggressive; afraid that it would turn violent; afraid of being cursed out; and afraid that if anything negative happened, I would be blamed for it. Sadly, this fear is not new but by being out of my comfort-zone, I am more afraid.

How do I cope? I have (successfully) tried to look less attractive in my everyday life. I no longer wear makeup (with the exception of my much-needed eyebrow pencil) however I now look about 23. I wear loose-fitting clothes. I walk fast especially when approaching a group of men and in general I either walk with my head down or looking straight ahead. The look on my face is now what I call pissed off RBF.

Unfortunately I cannot say that this has been 100% effective but at least it is my coping mechanism.

Cultural Differences

I pride myself in being aware and respectful of different cultures. So when I moved to Senegal, I thought I would be fine about 90% of the time. After all, I have worked, lived, studied and traveled in a number of different countries. So far, here are a few things I have learned about Senegal for the 10% of the time.

Greetings

In Senegal upon arrival at any location, the arrivee should always say hello first. I have been so used to arriving at places in other countries where the guard/concierge/ shopkeeper says hello as soon as they see me ( i.e. a form of welcoming you ) that I found it so strange that each time I came to work and sometimes to my apartment building, the guard would usually just stare and scowl at me. At times I would say hello and rush in and other times just carried on walking assuming that maybe he didn’t speak French. After a while, I found it somewhat annoying and spoke to a colleague (who is now my reference for all things Senegalese)  about the staring, silence and scowling. I explained that some people would say hello and others would just stare at you. He explained that they are waiting for me to say hello. Apparently per Senegalese culture by me not saying hello to them first, I am indirectly saying they are beneath me and not worth my hello :-|. Go figure! There I was thinking that they were being rude or didn’t appreciate my presence… Now, I am constantly yelling “Salamalekum” as soon as I enter any building.

Timeliness

We have all heard of CPT. That is people with more melanin in their skin never being punctual. Basically, this is arriving at social events at least 30 minutes after the advertised start. I’m in Africa and I expected this would be the case when attending social events but NEVER a meeting. One thing I have learned is that Senegal may be the exception to the rule. Apparently unless your meeting is hosted by a donor, CPT time does extend to meetings. This is to say that while no one would dream of turning up 2 hours late to a meeting, being about 30 minutes late is acceptable provided you confirmed your attendance in advance. For those who arrived on time ( well apparently early), we just chitchat about “stuff”. Therefore, do not fret if you are running about 30 minutes, just be sure that you confirmed your attendance in advance and casually breeze. If there is someone scowling at you due to your tardiness, it is probably me : (.

The Lunch Hour

Lunch is from 1pm -3pm. It is a solid 2-hour break if you work in an office. Most people will get in their car and drive home for lunch. There is no rushed 30 minutes wolfing down a sandwich at your desk. This is a solid 2 hour break to eat a home cooked meal (usually thiep) and let your food digest before going back to work. Although I live very close to my office, I am still not able to enjoy the 2 hour lunch break… Perhaps I am just a workaholic who enjoys wolfing down my lunch while responding to emails… 😦

Casual Friday

In the US, Casual Friday is a day when people tend to dress down to work. However in Senegal, this is the day when everybody dresses up. The men look sharp in boubous and the women gorgeous in lovely ensembles made from African fabric. Pretty much, everybody wears their Sunday’s Best but I guess this makes sense in this predominately Muslim country, after all Friday is Mosque Day.