M

For a hot second, I thought I found love abroad. I honestly don’t know if it was a potential love, lust, just having someone or maybe a combination of all three but I do believe it was a friendship that progressed into more. So here is the gist, M and I dated for about 2 months and although it was not long for some reason it felt serious. Or at least to me it was.  The first time I hung out with M, it was completely platonic and we could have spent all night chatting but the restaurant kicked us out as we had been there for more than 3 hours and they needed the table. We were so comfortable with each other. I thought Hey, I have found a potential new best friend. Woohoo for me!

Given that we were both single, attracted to each other and with the help of liquid courage, we decided to turn the friendship in a relationship. He did however tell me that his family (extended family) was pressuring him to getting married to a third cousin who he used to date but ultimately it did not work out as they had lifestyle differences. He reiterated that he had absolutely no interest in marrying her or marrying someone from “the family”. In need of reassurance, I  repeatedly asked him to clarify the likelihood of this happening and his response varied from I do not know, I don’t think so, probably not, if the khalif makes a decision for me, I will have to comply, to and an eventual no. Once I heard the “no”, my mind was at peace and I stopped asking. Clearly looking back, the real answer was not “no”. I should have used common sense and walked away or at minimum been prepared that one day he would tell me that he was getting married.

That day came and it ended our relationship. I was speechless. I could not understand why he said yes considering that he promised me hours before going to see his family that he would say no. Since the first day we met he said that was not the life he wanted for himself. He assured me in times of doubt during our relationship that the life he wanted was a future with me despite any challenges we may face: I am not a traditional, Muslim Senegalese Woman. He reassured me that while he is a Muslim Senegalese Man, his religion and nationality do not define him or his future. A future with me aligns with what he wants regardless of what his family wants. Ultimately he claimed  that he wanted to stand on his own and he wanted me.

So as you can imagine, my emotions were shock, anger and sadness (filled with self-doubt) when M came back from visiting the family and told me he agreed to marry his third cousin. He kept saying that I just don’t understand. So to help me better understand the situation, I spoke to a few people more accustomed to Senegalese culture and  a Senegalese coworker and it became clear that my story is all too common in Senegal. People can date for years and meet the parents, but when it comes to marriage (at least the first) family approval is required. If the family says no, their decision is final unless you are one of the rare few that will stand up to them. So if the family presents you with someone you know it is easier to just say yes and hope for the best. Even if you still have lifestyle differences and the marriage would mean her sacrificing something she was not ready to sacrifice for you less than a year ago. Worst case scenario you get divorced or cheat on each other. After all, divorce in Senegal is not uncommon so if it does not work out the first time, you can get divorced and marry the one you want the second time around. Or, just take a second, third or fourth wife.

As my brother said, even if M did not cave under family pressure this time he may have in a month, a year or after we got engaged and then no matter what I did (convert, speak the language, learn the customs and traditions), I would not have been accepted by the family. I am not a traditional, Muslim, Senegalese Woman. I am not from the family. I probably would have ended up in the same position but with the sadness and bruised ego amplified.

To M, I am quoting Beyonce ” you seem to be the best thing I never had” and since I am not Adele I don’t wish the best for you and your future wife/cousin because you hurt me. I do however want to thank you from saving me from what may have been a very painful experience.

 

Tindering Abroad

When I moved to Senegal in October 2015, and although I was moving for work, I  hoped to meet someone as well. Yes, I was also looking for love to enhance to my experience and perhaps convince myself that I made the right decision. As such, I decided to put myself out there. I made an effort to go out, go to parties, meet people and make new friends. I channeled my Gemini-side and started making friends quickly and realized that many young and single people were like me. We all shared the similar aspiration with a few exceptions that were DTF . We became friends and  after speaking to a few of these people, I found out that a number of them were on Tinder and I thought why not?  Yes, Tinder may be a hook-up site but we always hear about those couples that met on Tinder and are now married with 2.5 kids, a dog and a white picket fence. Wait, since I am in Senegal let me change it to 4 children, a cat and a house by the beach ;).

slider-heartSo, mid-November/ early-December I downloaded the app and matched with a few people. Not realising that there was a limited pool of people, I was quick to swipe left on many and eventually ran out of “new profiles”. Nonetheless, I had a few matches that resulted in some conversations on the app, exchanging numbers, whatsapping / texting, a few calls and eventual first dates.

This is what I learned:

  1. People will omit being single-parents until you meet in person. I have nothing against single-parents but I was not looking for that.
  2. Tinder does not include height and as such I ended up on a date with a nice-guy who was probably 5″3. I am 5″8.5 so the height difference was quite noticeable.
  3. You should not develop a strong rapport until you meet in person. I spent about a month chatting with a guy I had matched with before the holidays. We continued chatting while we were abroad just to keep contact and when we eventually met, there was so much anticipation for the meeting that it did not live up to it and frankly we both left disappointed.
  4. Online pictures are not always 100% accurate (duh!). If all the pictures you see of a guy do not include close-ups or all close-up pictures have his mouth slightly covered (by a scarf),  you best believe he has a weird mouth or F’ed up teeth.
  5. You know how some people don’t really look like their picture IRL and that can be disappointing? Well, if you look better than your picture IRL, that can also be disappointing. I got a “wow you are gorgeous” look when I met my Tinder date who then processed to ask me if I like “classy” stuff and then look disgusted when my response was “sure, why not?“. I’m sorry that I don’t look like I want to hang out in the hood with you.. 8-| 

So after these experiences from two dates and being faint at heart, I needed a break. I deleted my profile, removed the app from my phone and decided to live vicariously through my friends. Little, did I know that I would be downloading the app again in a few months… 

 

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.

Day Trip – Lac Rose

One of the most exciting things that can happen when living abroad is having visitors. I was more that thrilled when my good friend from DC announced that she had just bought a ticket and was coming over. Being the planner I am, I developed a kick-ass itinerary and my friend’s response was ” I am not planner so I just go with the flow”. Nonetheless, I thought we will still need a plan and at least a day trip much needed.

So, I took the day off, rented a taxi and went to Lac Rose. Lac Rose is officially known as Lake Retba. It is about an hour’s drive from Dakar and is named for its pink water caused by an algae (Dunaliella Salina) and it’s high salt content.

Lac Rose
Workers go out on these boats on a daily basis to collect the salt that is sold throughout West Africa.

 

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Posing with the pink lake behind us and apparently the Senegalese flag 🙂

One of the best ways of seeing the lake is to take a tour. Options include a camel ride, horseback riding, a four wheel drive or going around on an ATV. My friend aka “Ms. Adventurous” convinced me to go with the ATV option which included a ride through sand dunes. At the cost of 25,000 FCFA individually or 30,000 FCFA to share.

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An attempt at looking bad-ass

 

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Friend Selfie!

                             

 

 

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The salt that I managed to break off from one of the mounds below.
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Salt drying. The granules vary in size and quality. 

 

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A quick visit to le village des tortues.

 

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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.

New Beginnings

Mid October 2015, I packed my bags ( well more like two-thirds of my apartment in DC) and moved a couple thousand of miles across the Atlantic Ocean to Senegal.  I wish there was some awesome story attached to my move, for example moving to be an international superstar ( but I probably would have moved to New York, LA or perhaps even Lagos ), start my own fabulous food business or to be with my lover/boyfriend/husband and backpack across Africa with no money but relying on the generosity of strangers for food and shelter, however NOPE, I moved to continue working for an NGO but now in a Senegal-based position. Tres dry but I guess nonetheless exciting ( at least career-wise).

In moving here, I had a lot of fears and concerns ( to be discussed later) and a few hopes and dreams. For example, I had a wonderful idea of creating an amazing social media presence to the extent that I would become so popular, I would be offered a job with the Travel Channel to travel around the world to learn about different cultures, try local eats and learn how to cook them while wearing modern versions of the traditional outfit. Unfortunately, 6 months in, I am nowhere near that and I have just gotten around to starting my blog. I guess that means, I have 6 months worth of material to write?