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!

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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?

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.  

Toubab Dialow

Last weekend was a long weekend and a friend of mine invited me to tag along on a group trip to Saly for the weekend. Excited by the prospect of just showing up with my bikini and snacks, I said yes. However, being the planner that I am, as the days rolled by, I asked for updates and the answer was “still waiting to hear back“.  Eventually Thursday rolled by and the group plans fell through. I really wanted go to the beach and it was clear that if I wanted to go, I needed to plan it. With all hotels, motels, guesthouses and rental properties being fully booked, a day trip was the only option.

Toubab Dialow located 50km outside Dakar was chosen. According to local legend, this village on the Petite-Cote used to be visited by spirits who brought with them a fresh water source with mystic powers. Let’s hope that whatever mystic powers are in the water were positive as I swam in it. 

We set up at Espace Sobo Bade, a hotel and cultural centre for artists located on a cliff overlooking the beach. The pictures below visually display what a beautiful and relaxing place it is.

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The Entrance to Sobo Sabe Hotel
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An example of the Decor in the outside space of the hotel
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Group pic before the “chilling” began.

Across the hotel is the “Espace Culturel” which includes several workshops for different forms of art as well as accommodation for travelling artists.

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Fun piece of artwork made from recycled items.
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Drumming Class
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Painter’s Workshop

All in all, this was a perfect Sunday Beach Day. An excellent way escape the city for a few hours and take in some vitamin D. The only thing I would change is the large number of stray cats that seem to live on the hotel grounds. But then again, I can’t really blame them. It is a very relaxing place to be. 

 

 

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… 

 

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.