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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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.