The Africa Museum

I don’t even know where to begin with this one. And I imagine much smarter people have written about the ridiculousness that is this museum in the past so I won’t waste much of my time.  I won’t say I’m much of a museums person but I’m definitely more of a museums person than an ‘art gallery’ person. Besides, anything that has the word Africa in it automatically piques my interest so it is no surprise that I chose to go to the Africa (or Central Africa) Museum  in Brussels.

Basically, the museum is full of animals (models bugs, insects, reptiles and other animals) and stolen artefacts from the Congo, with an added exhibition on the Congo River (and of course of the animals, NEVERMIND the people, that live along the river are of special interest). Belgium’s Colonial tryst in Congo is left until nearly the very end of the museum and there is little mention of King Leopold and the atrocities he ordered from his throne in Brussels except for some sentences about the hardships experienced by the natives during the forced rubber cultivating period. This was what interested me the most (essentially why I went to the museum in the first place) and I had to wait almost until the very end to see it. Even then, what I saw was PALTRY compared with what we KNOW happened. And there was very little anthropological venturing into the diverse cultures and peoples of the Congo (Congo is bigger than Western Europe) – with the amount of time these people spent pillaging the country, they couldn’t even try to understand the people. I guess they just didn’t give a ****. Also, given that the museum was built as a propaganda machine for the King’s exploitation of the place, I really should have lowered my expectations.

I’ve read on a few occasions that Belgians are averse to talking about what happened in the Congo, as if the blood of Congolese people did not BUILD Belgium. Let’s not talk about the fact that most of Europe is racist towards Africans (not going there now, not at all). The most ridiculous statement I saw on a map was something to the effect of “We do not really agree with what Leopold did in the Congo, but he did make Belgium a more beautiful place!” That’s some shit, aint it?

Anyway, the museum itself is architecturally very beautiful and the grounds it is built on are just spectacular – so much so that when I was there, I saw two brides taking pictures (one of whom was black – raised eyebrow here)! But the inside of the museum is just nonsense. I barely saw black people in the museum, and as a result, was sorely disappointed! Perhaps it is the content of the museum that puts them off, although I think this is such a poor excuse – it is always useful to understand other people’s or ignorance so that you can decide how you want to counter it. I mean, if we don’t know how these people are depicting us, how can we say anything about those depictions?

HOW I MET A PIMP 2

BASICALLY, my man works with a travel agency which calls him every time they have a travelling business man or tourist who is coming to Dakar for a few days and would rather NOT be alone for those few days. So my man finds them entertainment, or lets be blunt, he finds them women who can meet for a few hours, for what he calls a ‘RENDEZ-VOUS’ at some club, restaurant or what have you and who get paid for their time. Payments start from a little over 10 000 FCFA (depending, I suppose, on the business man and on the services rendered), which is a little over $20 CAD. My man also quoted me some fees in the range of 40 to 50 000 FCFA, I guess that would probably be for sexual services, and depending on how often one worked during the week, one could make in the range of 100 to 150 000 FCFA ($200 to $300 CAD) but I would imagine these amounts would be if one worked EVERYNIGHT.

His commission is 20%.

Asked what kinds of women he uses, he mentions Nigerian (I trust my people), Moroccan, Ivorian, Cape Verdian and a couple others, all of which number (as far as he could recall) about eleven women. They range from 18 to about 25/26 years. I comment that I’m a little old for this business but he remarks that he thinks 26 is a good age, a mature age. Asked why such a paucity of Senegalese women, he offers that Senegalese women talk too much, that his business is of the ‘discreet sort’ and it requires women who can keep mum about their affairs – Senegalese women, he adds, will ruin his business by talking too much. One of his girls is even married (or has a boyfriend or something to that effect), and her partner is fine with her profession. Most of the girls have day jobs – the work is at night anyway, so they go after work and return home around 11pm, usually. It’s a good job, he reckons. You just make your money, and save it for the future – you can buy a house, or whatever you want.

But an 18 year old?! I digress…

Asked what kinds of services are rendered by the women, he notes that the men just want to have company: go to dinner, go dancing, talk, anything but be alone. Sometimes there is sex involved, he adds after I coax him – sometimes, but not all the time. The business men are of all sorts (Moroccan, American, French), and are interested in multi-lingual women like myself so I would be really great for this job. Never mind that my French is atrocious. Sometimes the men, the frequent flyer sorts, get used to a certain woman and ONLY want her. If the woman is not available, the men don’t bother.

“So would you like to work with me?”

I think he had been so confident that I would accept his offer that he didn’t think about the possibility of my refusal before revealing so much about his business to me. And despite the tendency of my face to betray me, I didn’t flinch when my man first told me about his business. I just gently nodded and asked him questions, exactly as someone who is genuinely interested in the job would. To be honest, I was thinking this would have been so interesting a thesis topic. I mean, I probably would have had to go on a rendez-vous in order to get the girls’ contacts and use them, but it would have been soo cool. Ahhhh…I don’t know why I keep finding thesis topics after I have written the damn thing. Anyway, this was also the reason for my response to his question:

“I will think about it.”

I finally made it to the salon. I won’t digress too much with this episode (did you think my Pimp story was over?! Not a chance!) but it turned out the promotion was only for one day (not until Sept. 4th as one of the employees had told me when I first went there) and that the cost was another $4 CAD. I had the exact promotion price in my pouch thingy so that’s what I gave them although I had more money in my boobs. There was NO WAY I would have gone there if indeed I had to pay as much as they were asking. But I felt a bit bad because the girl did do a good job on the hair – despite the hurting of my eardrums as a result of her conversation with her colleague (she was just too loud) and the fact that she started and finished another lady’s hair (a wash and set) in the process of doing mine – she spent some three hours on the hair and I was in the salon for at least four hours (she also had to eat in the process, which was fair enough). The price I paid is the normal ‘street’ price but salons charge at least 50% percent more I guess because they have to pay rent – or something.

So my man (shall we call him Fass Pimp? My neighbourhood is called FASS and he’s a Pimp so…) called me some four times in the salon, because he was waiting for me so that we could go see the house. As I think about this now (as I write this), I think he was waiting for me so that he could ‘show me’ to his clients, current or prospective, because of what would happen during our walk and because he was so persistent in calling. I was not only going to view a house, I myself was going to be viewed!

I arrived at the salon at around half past and left just before eight o’clock. I had also made plans to see a couple of friends who lived nearby at 8:15pm so I barely had time to leave the salon, go to my house, go again to see the house (a fifteen minute walk) and then meet the friends. But Fass Pimp took one of those out of the equation. As I left the salon on my way to the apartment (the salon is literally two minutes from the apartment), I saw him walking toward the direction of the salon (he had ‘dropped’ me off there earlier so he knew exactly where it was) so I decided, because of the lack of time, to just go with him to see the house then. On our way to the house we stopped at a jazz bar – now, the house is in the NGO offices area of Dakar so naturally there a number of bars, restaurants and the like. I was not sure why this guy was taking me on this detour – I had also told him I NEEDED to meet my friends (at this point, I had already messaged them to meet later at 8:30pm because 8:15pm was looking dubious) – but this goes to my earlier comment about him wanting to ‘show me’ to some clients. For when we arrived at the bar, he was looking around like he was looking for someone! I’m having a EUREKA! moment right now, peeps. What slowness! I kept wondering why this guy was looking for someone at that time of the night, on a Sunday night – the bar was absolutely empty – and given that I had TOLD the man I was in a haste and needed to meet my friends (at this point, it was already after eight pm and we had yet to arrive at the house). Needless to say, I was very much annoyed! And it was this annoyance that would save me later.

Aside: I’m just thinking if I were in Romania or one of those Eastern European nations with a ridiculously high rate of female trafficking, I would be SO SOLD right now. I would be…in friggin Moldova waiting to be put into a container heading for London! Shit……… I’m purging my own stupidity as I write this damn story. But I am CERTAIN God was with me that night. It is the only way I can explain why NOTHING happened to me even though I spent literally hours with this man, walking through the night with him to see a house while I myself was potentially on display!

But back to the story –

So we found no one at the bar and proceeded to the house. Of course, there was no one there! (I found out Monday when I went back to the house on my own, that no one had lived in that house for months, and possibly more than a year, and that the ENTIRE house was for rent, not just a room. I’m still reluctant to believe that he lied but I CANNOT believe how NOTHING was clicking for me that night, I mean, the lady didn’t braid the hair tightly or anything so I can’t really use that excuse for why my faculties seemed to have eroded and my brain cells seemed to have fried up). We waited for a few minutes, with my annoyance growing ever more. I had friends to meet, and at this point, I just wanted some food, or at least water. So I said I wanted to go. Told him we’ll try again another time, perhaps the next day before I left for the airport. And we proceeded to return.

On our way back, I asked him more questions about his profession, and some of the revelations I’ve noted above. He then asked me again, “Do you want to work with me?”

By this time, I had had some time to reflect upon the question in the salon and there was no way I could spin it to myself. It was prostitution – plain and simple. I mean, I could make myself a high class prostitute, but a prostitute nonetheless I would be. I then tried to justify it to myself, there are some women who have a way with men, and this would be such a good opportunity to learn the ways of men and to learn how to deal them, what they like, etc. Especially in my profession where, as you get to a certain level, almost all you see are men (I even see it in the conferences and seminars organized by my organization). I had also always been interested in ‘prostitution as a profession’ and this would be a way to understand it, learn about it, and even write about it! I mean, I hate academics but I like writing about academic things in a non-academic way. My interest is fuelled by the recognition that there are SOO many Nigerian prostitues (in and out of Nigeria) that it has led me to think that my country has a culture of prostitution, at least in the South (I will have to do this justice some other time but recent discussion with travellers about the insane amounts of Nigerian prostitutes in major European cities and a recent Al Jazeera article immediately come to mind). I would love to write about this someday and this would certainly contribute to that.

But then I thought, what would then be the point of all my education? And my parents? And friends? How to justify to my people? I would not be able to. I think this may be one of those things where perhaps you start with the best intentions and then, well, you end otherwise. And was it not Shakespeare that wrote in Hamlet, “Foul deeds will rise/Though all the earth o’erhelm them, to men’s eyes?” I only remember that quote because of one of my high school English teachers (of course he was a Brit!) who repeated it whenever possible. Everything comes to light, unfortunately.  I mean, imagine If I were to become someone important in the future (why not?), and this comes out, how would I even get myself out of it? Or even closer to the present, Imagine having a ‘rendez-vous’ and someone I know waltzs in? Like my boss, or one of my colleagues?!

So my answer this time to his question this time was, “No. It is not my job.” And I was so proud of myself! It was an exemplary  test of values and principles, I must admit, and though I almost failed, I ultimately passed.

But then Fass Pimp got some bad news. One of his girls who had a ‘rendez-vous’ that very night could not make it and the meeting was slated to occur in less than an hour. He started frantically making calls to look for girls. He called one girl and said she told him she was with someone already (having a ‘rendez-vous’). After a few minutes of brainstorming, he turned to me:

“Do you want to make 10 000 FCFA tonight?”

I guess this guy had not read my mind about wanting to be a high-class prostitute. $20 CAD for three hours does not a high-class prostitute make! I gently turned him down (Imagine! He asks me this even after he knew I had to meet my friends in a few minutes – I mean, they girls I was planning meeting are absolutely lovely girls so there was no way I was standing them up for $20. In fact, there was no way I was standing them for any amount less than a million dollars). He then continues to brainstorm which of his girls he could call, even making a few calls in the process. We walk on.

A few minutes after, we arrive at yet another restaurant/bar. He goes inside and tells me to wait outside, by the door. At this point, my annoyance was so palpable, I could have bottled it up and sold it. And it was already 8:25pm and I had very little intention of being late. I proceeded to walk up a bit. I actually wanted to keep going but I got to the next corner and got a little disoriented and did not know which road to take (we had taken the same road earlier but it was now dark and I was loathe to take the wrong road and have to walk all the way back again and be even more late) so I decided to wait for him at the corner. He came out of the bar and went across the street to the hotel we had gone to earlier in the day for another few minutes. At this point, I was just LIVID.

*Can anyone believe the audacity of this man to continue to waste so much of my time?! Reflecting on this now, he was ALREADY acting as if he owned me and my time, taking detour upon detour and refusing to yield to my impatience and calls for haste.*

Few minutes later, he came out and started to walk towards me. He got to where I was and I waited for him to lead (seeing as how I was lost, although the road he took was my first instinct). We walked on for another few minutes in a silence which he finally broke by asking in a slightly agitated tone, “Why didn’t you wait for me?! When I went into the restaurant, there was man in there and I told him about you and I told him to look at the door and when I went to the door, you weren’t there!”

You know, some people say there is no God. And then some say, he/she might exist but is rather apathetic. But I was just so HAPPY at that moment. So HAPPY because my GOD had SAVED my small-for-an-African-woman ass! So HAPPY because I had been blessed enough to have an instinct, blessed enough to get annoyed at foolishness, and blessed enough to walk down the street and not wait for this man at the door.

I didn’t even know how to respond to him at this point. I just walked on with him and a few minutes later, around 8:40pm, we reached my friends’ home. I parted with him then (thankfully, he didn’t linger long enough to meet my friends when they came to let me in) and just bewailed my own foolishness. This guy had absolutely manipulated my time and stolen my entire day! But I only had myself to blame. I went to my friends’ place, had some really good pseudo-suya (akin to bbq meat), and took the shortest cab ride of my entire life back (at my friends’ insistence and payment – I did say they were lovely girls!) lasting perhaps for thirty seconds – they live really close to me.

And then I slept my stupidity away.

But alas! Not all of it.

I would contact Fass Pimp the very next day to try to see about a studio apartment we had spoken about which was located a few buildings from mine. He would not show up for an hour (I left fifteen minutes after the appointed time – I had a flight to catch!), and would call incessantly when he did. He also found his way to my apartment door (I stupidly – told you I didn’t sleep it off! – told him which apartment building my apartment was in front of, he walked into my apartment building and found my apartment – he must have asked which one was the studio) just as I was rushing and trying to leave for the airport. He knocked and rang the bell incessantly – no where in our earlier convo had I told him to COME LOOK for me – but I feigned ignorance and didn’t open until the very moment I had to leave to take the taxi to the airport. But thankfully he had already left.

It was not until when I went back to the first house on my own (one week later on a Monday) and when I was told a different story than Fass Pimp that I effectively connected the dots.

Writing this has been cathartic for me and I hope it has been entertaining for you. I did end up writing a novella but it was in an attempt to do the story justice. I’ve only told one other person about it – a colleague – and she was in as much disbelief as I was.

It is also not my purpose here to judge or denounce prostitution. I know some women have to do it or at least think they do, for lack of other options, or perhaps lack of creativity in thinking of other options? But I do find it very interesting that some women do choose to do it, i.e. Fass Pimp’s women. I honestly outlined some reasons above as to why I fleetingly considered this profession. Anybody else have any other ideas? I might yet write about this someday, but hopefully under different circumstances.

**Unfortunately, there is yet another update to this story, but that will have to be left unwritten, at least, for now!**

HOW I MET A PIMP

I REALLY did meet a pimp.

I thought having met a porn star was enough experience in one’s lifetime (re: How I met a Porn star – El Alto, La Paz, Bolivia – to remind those familiar with the story). But I was wrong! It seems like I will need to meet all the actors in this ‘sector’, as it were. I have yet to meet prostitutes but I have encountered them, to say the least (see previous post on “Le Relais, Chez Mendy, Cadjafoul, Vertigo”). I guess I’m left with gigolos.

On this fateful day on Sunday, September 03, 2011, when I went to go braid my hair, I should have walked on the street as I normally would. But I decided to walk beneath the apartments, partly to be in the shade and partly in the hopes of running into someone. Someone like a security guard or an older gentleman who seemed like he knew the area somewhat, about how about whom I could ask about available apartments in the area. You see, I am still on the search for a cheaper place than the one in which I currently live and the search has been fairly fruitless so far. Actually, I have found some things, but the choices have been going through an agency and paying three months rent in advance (one of which was commission), sharing a room in a house of three (or more, depending on who’s visiting) with expats who have no concept of cleanliness (ok, to be fair, expats who do not share my concept of cleanliness) or paying the same as I’m paying now for a less quality and longer distance. So basically, I haven’t found a compelling enough place to move from where I am. I’m also a bit antsy to move because the landlords (whom I still have yet to meet – I’m a bit wary of this kind of back room dealing for this long) have people who are willing to pay the hotel rate for the apartment. The apartment is really a hotel but I’ve been given a discount (I’m essentially paying half the daily hotel rate of $65 per day), BUT at $325 or so a month (plus utilities), it is STILL not cheap, and everyone I’ve mentioned this rent to (except for one) has raised an eyebrow at me and KEPT it raised for what seemed like forever. Anyway, it is my belief that I can find something – it is just a matter of when, where, etc. But search activity does cost money as well, and it involves going through such things as MEETING pimps. But now back to the main story.

My pseudo-excursion beneath the apartments (I was actually just at the next apartment) led me to pass by this older man sitting at the entrance of the apartment. Thinking about this now, he was damn good at his job! He was able to sniff me out and to make an educated guess that I fit the characteristics of what he was looking for. Anyway, we got to chatting (I told him the basics about myself, that I was Nigerian, Anglophone, learning French, working at an NGO, looking for a cheaper apartment or room) and he happened to know a few places, one of which was in the area. He even had a place he was trying to rent but I quickly shut that down because it was not in my area of interest. I was really only interested in my present vicinity so when he told me of the nearby room in an expat house, I was not overly keen but since it was nearby, I told him we could go see it right then and there.

He also became a bit obsessed with wanting to help me find a salon to do my hair. I had TOLD the man that I was on my way to a salon (where I knew there was a promotion going on – I even told him the price I’d be paying for the hair) but he took me to a salon across my apartment to try to talk to the ladies to do it for the same price because he knew they would do it well there. I should have SNIFFED him out at this point (what was his business trying to help me find a salon that would do my hair for the same price as the place I was already on my way to?) but how was I supposed to know this guy was a PIMP, of all things? All I knew about pimps was that they looked like they were coming out of a hip hop video – I ain’t ever seen no low-key pimp! Actually, it’s more like I ain’t ever seen an African Pimp but I guess there’s a first time for everything. Aite, I gotta speed this story up before I write myself a mini-novel or before y’all fall asleep reading, whichever comes first.

When we went to the first salon, the girls wouldn’t do my hair for the price I was willing to pay (same price as the salon I was on my way to, about $6) couldn’t do it because they would get in trouble when the owner returned. So I suggested we move on to see the apartments as I was a little time crunched for time – I only had Sunday to do my hair as I was travelling to Brussels the next day (more on this later) and already had errands to run for Monday. We then went towards the house he had mentioned but stopped minutes after at a salon where he also asked about doing my hair for my price – of course, the lady said no (my natural hair is a bit of a challenge for these people but sometimes I feel like they act like it’s not the same hair on their head!) despite his coaxing. The salon was beneath a house/compound and my man asked if there was a vacancy in the house. Alas! There was, and we went to go see the room for rent, but not before the matriarch informed me (nicely) that I had to live there alone and not bring home men everyday as it was a family house. The rent was a bit less than half what I would be paying, furnished (I guess I could say that), and with its own washroom, but unfortunately (and despite the very nice compound structure of the house), it was not up to my standard (in spite of the current occupant’s assurance that they would paint and fix the room before I moved in but who knows if they’ll actually do it?) and the pre-move in instructions of abstinence were a bit too pre-mature and stringent for my liking.

We then moved on to the house, which, when we got to, there was no one home. His earlier intelligence was that the house was currently occupied by a Belgian expat couple and possibly another expat, but that there was certainly a vacant room in the house. It would cost about $100 less than what I currently pay but the kitchen and washroom are shared, inclusive of utilities and there was a with a cleaner who came daily to clean the whole house (this was really why I started to warm up to the idea). Anyway, we rang and rang the doorbell, and he even looked for the gateman (who was supposed to always be there but happened not to be at this time) to no avail. Of course, my man did not have a contact phone number for the house – only God knows how current his intelligence even was (I found out Monday that all he told me about the house was not true but I refuse to believe that he misled me on purpose, but maybe refuse is a strong word). After more than fifteen minutes waiting, I wanted to leave (I STILL had not made it to the salon, the reason for which I left the house) so we got going but I told him we could return later in the evening, after I had done my hair – I really wanted to see the place and I knew I couldn’t during the week as I would not be in the country.

Where is the pimp story, you ask? Patience is a virtue, people.

And then there was another detour. This time, it was to a restaurant/hall/tennis club house which he wanted to show me, and where we stopped to drink some water (It was early afternoon on a HOT and SUNNY day and I hadn’t even put on sunscreen– I KNOW – because for all I knew, I was just walking the three minutes to the salon to braid my hair! Instead I walked and walked like a cattle herder). The restaurant/hall/club had been closed for Ramadan and they were just starting to prepare it for the post-Ramadan season so there was no one around. Inside, it was more like a hall with seats in a rectangle around a big-enough dance hall. In the heat of the day, my man told me to sit inside while he got some water – I sat inside for a few minutes and then bolted outside. It was too hot inside! I thought, “Is this man mad? Why would he ask me to sit in here knowing how hot it is? At least outside, there is the possibility of some breeze!” Anyway, I went to sit outside, and he joined me in a few minutes after he circumspected the place a little. He ordered some water, of which I drank a little bit (I had refused all his offers of water or whatever up to that point but unfortunately, I was getting a little dehydrated so I need some fluids) and then we sat there in the shade for what (to me) seemed like eternity. Eventually, I made a move, rose up and said I needed to go to do my hair – it was Sunday, and most places, if open, would not stay open for long and it was not like I had an appointment at this hair place. I was just going to drop in, so if there were already people ahead of me, I was looking at a rather long waiting time.

We left, walked for perhaps ten or so minutes, and then another detour, although we were quite near the salon at this point. This detour was to a hotel, where he wanted to know their rates and such things. When we got inside, he explained that he worked as various things: a gateman, rental agency officer, and in tourism. So he was always on the lookout for good hotels or short term rentals. This hotel was priced at 30 000 FCA (some $60 CAD per night) and for the area and content (queen size bed, ensuite, cable tv and a small kitchen), it was actually a discount. My man seemed quite content at his find.

It was on this journey back (before and after the hotel) that the truth finally came out, although I’m just seeing the light a little bit. The restaurant we had just gone into, he told me, he was looking at using for his business. It wasn’t such a bad place in his estimation – it could work, he thought out loud. The hotel also could work for the tourism part of the business, he reflected. And then he proceeded to explain to me this business which I really only got the full grasp of after I met him later that evening (after I had finished the hair).

This is getting way too long so I’m gonna have to see you on the next post!

CAN 2012 Qualifying: Senegal 2 DRC 0

Pics from a football match I went to on Saturday, Sept.3. Entertaining enough match – there were actually three goals scored by the Senegalese team but one was discounted. The DRC team, I thought, were actually a slightly better team but at the end of the day, its the scoreboard that matters! Too bad I can’t actually go to the tournament in February 2012 – it’s being cohosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. I have neither money nor time :(.

Plaige Hans Bernard and the other beside it…

Senegalese Presidential Palace

Let Sleeping Dogs lie…

If I were a dog, on that blessed day, I would have joined these homies.