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!

One Year Later…

October 15, 2016  was the one year anniversary of my Senegalese adventure. While it has not been a crazy wild adventure fueled with alcohol, drugs ( unnecessary), partying,  jumping out of planes and surfing ( yes, this is what some people do here), it has definitely been an adventure.

I look back to where I was personally and professionally a year ago, and I know I have grown. My move here was 70% career-related and probably 30% personal. I believe I am on track career-wise and despite a hiccup on the personal side, I have boarded a train and started a new journey…I am however still waiting for my job offer from the Travel Channel… 

To sum it up,  

  • I have made acquaintances, friends and everything in-between.
  • I have stayed safe and will hopefully remain this way.
  • I have learnt to expect to eat rice for lunch everyday and the Senegalese are the original creators of red rice (thiedounne) however we Nigerians have taken it up a notch with Jollof rice (and it is better).
  • I have learnt a few words in Wolof but nearly not enough. 
  • I have learnt that you have to make the best out of every situation. Yes, it may be a shitty day or week but don’t let it become a shitty month, year, or experience. Shit happens but the difference is how you deal with it. 
  • I have scratched the surface of Senegalese society and I have began to better understand people’s reactions and attitudes.
  • I have learnt that some people just don’t know their level. This is especially true for men. 
  • I have learnt that is someone tells you that they are being pressured to marry someone ( cousin or not cousin), wish them good luck and keep it moving.
  • I have pretty much be asked to be the “side chick” and told that if things worked out, I could become the “main chick” WTF? Apparently with it being legal to have 4 wives in Senegal, this is not such a big deal.
  • I have gone on a 6-hour drive in 40+ degree weather and not put out a bush fire (as the driver described it).  My bladder and doctor were not pleased.
  • I have learnt, that no matter how polite you want to be, when offered food and drink in the field, find an excuse to say no. Your stomach will thank you later.
  • I have learnt, that if you are young (and a woman) people will doubt your skills and may question your authority. Do not react negatively and get upset. Make it clear that ultimately you have a job to do and it should be respected. If they choose not to respect it, that is their problem and not yours. Look past it as long as it does not affect the work.
  • I have learnt, that in Africa sexual harassment towards women in the workplace happens all the time and people just look the other way. If you are not married or pregnant, for some reason some men think they can hit on you. As such, women end up pretending to have a partner or are generally not friendly to avoid these situations or rumors. We also sometimes dress like bums… 

Most of all, I have learned that moving to a different city, state or country is hard. It is even harder when  you are faced with a different culture and different language. There will be highs and lows and you will miss your family and friends, but the most important thing is to keep busy and remain optimistic. It usually improves and right now, there is even a small part of me thinking about staying longer….

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 😦 ! 

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. 

 

 

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.