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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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?