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!

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 😦 ! 

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.

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.