Views from my Terrace

Not overly interesting, but…

The monstrous statue is the ‘African Renaissance’ monument (which I have yet to even visit, close as it is) and which I’ve posted pictures of before, I believe. And that’s all she’s gon write about that one. The phrase ‘African Renaissance’ brings back bad memories of this brother who, because I did not reciprocate his love for me, decided to completely verbally demoralize me. Anyway, that’s perhaps to be told another day.

The ball looking structures are ‘ballons’ (literally balloons), which is why my area of the neighbourhood is called ‘cite ballon’. My area is basically a village, comprised of military terrains and apart from the interspersed nice apartments, the few streets around me are relatively underdeveloped, which is what I find so endearing about them. There is even a pseudo banana plantation a few minutes from me! Anyway, I think the ballons were part of the military training grounds but now people basically live in them. Some are used as the living rooms of the compounds within which they’re located, while others are rented out as just another room.

There’s also an airport. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen airplanes fly as low as they do here, and I live minutes from an airport in Canada. Because of this, in my neighbourhood and the ones nearby, buildings can only be built up to a certain height. Anyway, it’s still quite safe and I have not heard about any accidents in recent memory so it’s all good.

How u gon try to swindle a Nigerian?! (2)

Well, basically, the happy ending to the story is that my landlord rep guy came on the weekend and changed the receipt, putting the correct rent term – from the 1st to the 31st of October, as he should have done in the first place! But not without insisting that we (myself, my colleague and her husband) had not understood what he had explained to us (and what I thought we had all agreed upon) prior to my signing the contract. He also had an issue with the presence of my friend’s husband (whom I had asked to come with me) claiming that the contract is only between me and him so my colleague’s husband presence was, essentially, not required. I guess he had never heard of legal counsel.

Anyway, the whole ordeal was tranquil – he was very calm, as were I and my colleague’s husband – so it went thankfully well. And I’m glad it is over! Let’s just hope that this is the end of his charades and we move on issue-free from on here forward.

Brussels…à mon avis

**this is an older post that I thought I had posted!**

I went to Brussels with my work the first week of September. I work (I’m using the word ‘work’ in a very light sense here because the salary is, well, …) for an organization (called AGI, in English) that works on issues of governance on the African continent. Basically, they organize workshops and dialogue sessions to get Africans (decision-makers, politicians, private sector people) themselves people talking about how to solve the governance issues facing the continent. Now the idea of ‘governance’ is just as broad as you imagine it to be but they work on a high-level, in the sense that they try to get people in higher level positions to debate, discuss, dialogue or what have you. That’s the brunt of their work. BUT they also, from time to time, get contracted for projects, evaluations or studies by state institutions or multilateral/bilateral agencies, one of which happens to be the EU. So my organization got a contract to carry out a study (with an EU based consultancy) to determine the impact of an EU governance instrument called the ‘Governance Incentive’ for ACP countries which was launched in 2006 and funded through the 10th European Development Fund. The purpose of the trip was to present the prelim findings of the study (this is the second study carried out on the same issue – I actually learned about this instrument in school) to the European Commission. They present the final report in October or so. The study had been started prior to my arrival at AGI so I came just at the end of it. I wrote a few paragraphs on a part of the study (which were mollified and almost disfigured in the draft report that I saw) and slightly proofread the document but I really did jack.

Anyway, one of my colleagues (there are five in total, including me – a SMALL NGO) couldn’t go due to visa issues so I think I was sent in his place, because otherwise I had no business being there. Also, my org works primarily within Africa so it was a rare chance to travel out of the continent and I arrived just in the nick of time with my privileged Canadian passport that allows me to travel almost anywhere in the world at whim! We were supposed to be there for two days but my project manager offered to extend the ticket by one day (until Friday so I could stay the weekend) so I ended up staying until Sunday morning to see Brussels a bit and visit an ex-clasmate.

The train ride into Brussels was rather disappointing. It was almost as terrible as the train ride into London from London Gatwick. The weather in Brussels was also atrocious. I thought Lund weather was terrible, but the ex-classmate that I crashed with for a few days (a Swede, in fact) also thought it was one of the (if not the) worst weather she had experienced.  All this notwithstanding, the city grew on me just overnight. I think it would be a fantastic place to hang out in one’s youth although I’m not sure how much I qualify for that anymore, lol. It’s a small city (comparatively), the political centre of Europe and essentially, it’s heartbeat. It’s also the destination of young Europeans who want to further their careers in politics, lobbying, development, diplomacy, etc. In fact, you get a lot of ambitious, remarkably talented youth who want to become diplomats – who wouldn’t?! So most come to do internships (a lot of time, unpaid – the horror! European Parliament or European Commission interns do get paid quite well though, I was told), some for entry-level jobs, but many end up staying because Brussels’ ‘internationalism’ (permit me to make up a word, no?) is incomparable and to have to return to their unexciting towns or cities is just, well, unbearable! Unthinkable, even! Many are also economic migrants – linguistically talented Italian or Spanish youths who leave their countries in search of jobs. The majority of them speak at least three ‘coveted’ languages, although mind you, this is easier to do in Europe where you already start off with one such ‘coveted’ language and where borders are such that you are necessitated to speak another. In fact, apart from the older generation, I don’t think I’ve ever met a less than bilingual young European.

I was thinking to myself, could I even compete in this market?! Most of the youth I met had either started or were completing a Masters’ degree, at least trilingual, multiple internship or work experience, and ambitious to the brim. But then I suppose it’s one thing to be ambitious, and it’s another to be a calculated risk-taker. Europe is, well, SMALL so going from Rome or Madrid to Brussels is not a particularly big deal. Even culturally, not a whole lot of changes. I guess my verdict is that these youths ‘dem’ are ambitious but overly risk-averse. With all their skills (and I’m not sure I’m even half as ‘skilled’ as them, If I could use such a word), why venture into an overly saturated market like Brussels, if all you want is experience? Why not go to a ‘developing country’ where you WILL gain the experience, your skills will be more valued and will be worth more when you return? But not everybody can leave their comfort zone. Hell, it’s too hot here for me in Dakar and I would rather be in the Canadian fall but I’m here and I’m toughing out because I know, even if I’m only here for a few months, it will be worth it at some point in time (don’t know when, lol).

Ok, enough with the harangue! The moral of the non-story is: Brussels is a cool place to be for a short while, lots of young people (Italians and Spanish if you’re into that sorta thing), lots to do (every night if you’re inclined), lots of people to meet and connections to make, rather expensive, awful weather, and absolutely competitive (for young people trying to get into ‘that world’).

The following are some pics!

How u gon try to swindle a Nigerian?!

You’ll be lucky if they don’t swindle you first! I mean, really, only a Nigerian can swindle a Nigerian, LOL.

The person I pay my rent to is a Senegalese man, a representative for the owner of the apartment (according to him, the landlord is in Morocco, but who really knows?). He had posted the ad on an expat page (although also frequented by Senegalese people) so I imagine he knew it was highly likely that an expat would respond. But I DID my homework with this brother. I really was interested in the apartment when I saw it because it was decent – price was good, very airy, clean and LOTS of natural light, area seemed calm and so apart from the distance, there was not much to dislike. By saying I did my homework, I mean got four different people to speak with him (partly because my French is terrible but also to have some witness and support) and met him at least three times BEFORE signing the contract. I asked him all important questions and pretty much presented a front that I knew local people that know how things work. I’m honestly not sure what else I could have done. And YET, he still tried to put one over me.

Basically, when I first spoke with him, he wanted TWO month’s rent of damage deposit (I know, right?) and one month advance. He was trying to be clever. The thing is, here, agencies ask for one month damage deposit, one month advance and one month commission. So his second month of damage deposit was really commission in disguise but he didn’t want to call a spade a spade. And besides, he does not work for an agency and he claims he works directly with the landlord (the rent he quotes most likely already has his ‘top up’) so his asking for commission was already a form of high-way robbery. I spoke about this with him and my French co-worker who’s married to a Senegalese who knows the law (this couple are now my intermediaries, so to say and they’ve been my main go-tos with the landlord rep) and he agreed to take one month advance and only one month damage deposit. Otherwise, I would not have signed the contract as I was not willing to pay one month’s rent in commission to an informal agent. So the agreement was thus: the advance is for when I leave that I do not pay the last month’s rent but I leave on the 25th (since I arrived on the 25th of September); the damage deposit would be returned given no damages to the places and all the bills are paid; and the rent would be paid on the 5th of every month, starting October, for that month. BUT I had told this man that he might need to wait two or three extra days for the rent in October because after paying him the two months’ rent (and having just paid the rent at my other place), I really had not much left and would need to wait for the salary which might come a few days late itself. And he agreed.

So this past week was rent week and as I had warned him of before, I told him I could not get the rent until Friday, the 7th of October – I called him Friday but he could not make it and I had to go out. So we agreed to Saturday. Saturday came and the whole phone losing fiasco happened and I could not even call the man. Sunday came and he was the first thing I called in the morning. He came just before noon, took the money first (the man would marry money if it was personified as a woman, or at least he would get in line after all the other money lovers!) and proceeded to write the receipt (I should have asked him to write the receipt first but his love of money would have never let him agree to that so I didn’t bother trying – besides how was I to know what was coming next?). Anyway, he handed me the receipt, I looked at it and noticed that he had written that the rent I gave him was for the duration of the 1st of September to the 30th of September. I proceeded to query him – shit did NOT make sense to me. He started to get mad and said I had not really understood what we talked about the previous times we had met, when we signed the contract. So this man was trying to tell me that if he had told me prior to signing the contract, that the rent I would be paying in October (after paying an advance rent and damage deposit), would be for September, I would have STILL signed the contract?! He was a fool of the highest order for thinking I was so dense. If after having met you at least FOUR times, with four different people, and I STILL did not understand a thing, then that must mean you did not explain it, because all the people I came with had the same understanding as I did. The sight of the man just began to irk me so I told him to leave, and he left MAD – can you imagine?! You’re trying to swindle me and you’re getting mad!

Immediately after he left, I called my colleague and told her what happened and she got her husband to call the man. They came by later in the afternoon to tell me what they had discussed with him and when they did, my colleague checked the receipt and mentioned noticed that he had also dated the receipt Sept 9th. LOL. The man is an ultimate fool. So we have a police sealed contract dated September 23rd (I paid the advance three days before I moved in) and yet you date the rent receipt September 9th? In which universe does that make sense? And he is a PhD student! Anyway, I am actually glad that I did not notice this error. Because this means he indeed has to come back to (at least) change the receipt at which point he will have to re-explain why in the world I am paying for a month during which I never lived in the house. If he fails to do so, he can return my money (actually, in his annoyance at my detail-orientedness, he said something to the effect of ‘if you don’t trust me, I can give you your money back and you can leave!’). I think in his hurry to swindle me and leave, he made the ‘date’ mistake and now he’s probably biting himself! So my colleague (I had another Senegalese friend over that Sunday evening who said I was indeed absolutely right, that they try to do this with expats who they think don’t know the law or local people), and her husband called the landlord rep again and he agreed to meet with ‘us’ on Tuesday evening to figure things out.

Well, Monday night, around 9:20pm, I hear a knock on my door. I didn’t bother opening the door – I hadn’t invited anybody over and nobody had told me they were coming. After thinking the person had left, I opened the door and asked my next door neighbour who had knocked and she confirmed that it was my landlord rep. So this man, knowing I lived alone, knowing he had suggested a meeting for Tuesday and having not called or texted, decided to show up to my house a day before the proposed meeting date. To intimidate me? I don’t know. All our prior meetings had been preceded with some sort of appointment – either he called or I called and we confirmed that he would come at a certain time. But knowing what had transpired on Sunday, he showed up unannounced at 9:20pm and expected me to open the door, fool that he was. I was just annoyed because I was quite sick and had slept early and he just disturbed my sleep. My colleague thought it was not such a big deal, that Senegalese people do this all the time but I imagine they do that with people they KNOW in some capacity or other.

Anyway, Tuesday (yesterday) arrived and I asked my colleague to get her husband to call the man and confirm our meeting. But of course, he was out of town and was unavailable until the weekend. My colleague offered that maybe that was why he showed up unannounced, but it really did not explain why he did not call BEFORE showing up, as he had done every other time he came over. When I got home later in the evening, I wanted to call him myself and ask about the meeting. When I called, after his pleasantries, I asked him about our meeting and his response was, “Meeting for what? To talk about what? What exactly do you want?!” LOL. I reminisced later that I should have said, “I just want you to stop trying to CHEAT me!” But I didn’t – I just reiterated that he had told my colleague we’d meet, etc, and then he said that he was out of town until the weekend and would get back to me when he got back to town. We’ll see if he does, but I’ll call him if he doesn’t. I think he has begun to regret the day he met me, LOL. I am beginning to become a thorn in his side – just proving too difficult!

Actually, my Senegalese friend (who was there Sunday afternoon when my colleague was over) said I shouldn’t even bother asking him to change the receipt and that when next I pay, I should just tell him it’s for November and keep it at that and if he refuses, we can go to the police. But Im not trying to get into that here though. I’m hoping he comes to his senses and realizes that it will be hard for him to cheat me and get away with it. And I think the next time he tries to cheat a Nigerian, he will think twice. Let’s see what happens on the weekend!

More About the New Place

The new place ain’t bad at all. I am especially in love with the air draft I get when I open the balcony doors (perhaps a little too much so as I am currently suffering from a COLD, of all things). And the neighbours seem to be decent people.

A few days after I got there, I asked my next door neighbour if she knew someone who could braid hair at their home (much cheaper than having it done at a salon) and she walked with me for almost an hour and a half asking around. We didn’t find anyone (one girl was not home and another lady not only wanted to charge salon prices for doing it at her house, she also wanted me to perm my hair beforehand). I ended up braiding the hair at the lady near my old place. But her effort was more than appreciated! Anyhow, it turns out she also braids hair, so I might let her have a go at mine next time.

The neighbour below (on the first floor – there are only two floors and four apartments) was also quite nice, although she kinda tried to sell me a table (she’s moving to a smaller place) which I thought it was too expensive. But we’re still on talking terms, lol.

Another neighbour (in the building next to mine) helped me get back my cell phone. I had dropped my cell phone on the way home from some workshop this past Saturday and was just distraught! Anyway, I called the phone in the hopes the person who had picked it up (I was sure someone had picked it up!) would have a conscience and be willing to give it back. The phone would ring and connect then I would talk and talk but the person would say nothing. I then figured it might be because the person spoke Wolof and could not respond to me so the next time I connected, I went to my next door neighbour (another lady, the hair dresser was not home) to see if she could speak with them in Wolof. Unfortunately, she did not understand my French so she had no clue what I was saying. I then thought to go to a colleague who lived nearby to see if her husband could speak with them (she’s French married to a Senegalese) but just as I got out of the apartment building, I saw another neighbour who lived in the compound next door and immediately thought to ask her instead. Long story short, it was this lady who ended up calling my phone (I had told her to help me call it later) numerous times and meeting up with the boy/teenager who had picked up the phone around 9pm and getting it back for about $10 (according to her).

BUT less than half a hour after my neighbour brought over the phone, the boy who had actually picked it up came to my house with his friend to ask if I had the phone. He had seen the pictures of the apartment on the cell phone and had used that to find the house (how scary but SMART is that?) According to them, they had known the phone wasn’t my neighbour’s because the messages they had seen were in English (snoop much? lol) and they hadn’t really trusted my neighbour because of the manner in which she had come to get the phone (she actually hadn’t told me she was meeting with the boys – she just called me afterwards and said she had the phone and for me to come down). Better yet, they (the boys) said they had not asked for a PENNY. This whole conversation occurred downstairs at the little roundabout in front of the apartment building so I asked the boys to go get my neighbour so we could sort it out but she was not home. So I have no idea what really happened and if there was money that was exchanged or what not. Honestly, I didn’t care about having given her money – she did do a lot of work helping me get the phone back, even buying cerdit on her phone to call and I would have given her something – but I also wanted to give the boys something too. I mean, if they had not agreed to give up the phone (which is worth, in the condition that it was in, at least $200), she would never have gotten the phone back. But I did take the boys’ contacts so I hope to do something for them too – perhaps invite them to lunch or something. The most important thing is that I got the phone back! And I’m actually glad the neighbour was not home when the boys came around – it would have ‘uglified’ things. Just the very next day, the same neighbour invited me to come eat lunch with her and her family. I don’t know if it was guilt, but if she keeps inviting me to come eat with them, then I would recuperate the $10 in no time and we’ll be even!

A New place

I moved into a new place two weekends ago.

My first place, nice and well located as it was, was simply too expensive. Sometimes you have to make a choice between absolute convenience and well, a little less of it. But don’t get me wrong, the whole concept of convenience here is just that my old place was closer to the city center, and to a few people that I know. In actuality, the new place is perhaps equidistant to my work as was the old place, but now more pleasantly, the bus stop is closer to my apartment and it drops me off closer to the office. The rent is a little less than half the rent of the old place so the savings should add up. It’s just that the initial outlay will amount to quite a bit – I had to pay two months’ rent in advance (one for a damage deposit of sorts, and the other for the last months’ rent) and will have to furnish the entire place because it came with NOTHING. Basically, I need to buy (in order of importance) a mattress, a cooking apparatus (likely in the form of a gas cylinder – can’t afford a stove nor do I really need one, at my last place I only ever used two burners) and pots, a fridge (this one is also debatable) and some chairs to sit on.

As I’ve said, ‘convenience’ (at least my definition of it) is one thing I will miss about my old place. I will also miss the ‘better than other neighbourhoods’ power cuts. Basically, the neighbourhood I am moving into now is TERRIBLE for power outages. I think my present neighbourhood is better because it is right near the university and right beside the NGO area of Dakar (as alluded to, this doesn’t mean we get no power cuts, it just means we get less than other places, i.e. the one I’m moving into now). Nevertheless, the president has promised that there will be no more power cuts in October – but I’ve also heard that he said the same thing in August about the month of September and the first three weeks in September have probably been the worst month since I have been here, although I must say the weekends have been better. The man is either a serial liar or seriously self-deluded. But I remain hopeful. I will also miss the little mart just beneath the apartment where I buy various random things. There is not little mart beneath the apartment I am moving into, although there are a few about a minute’s walk away. I will miss the fridge and the microwave (a microwave I will not buy, but a fridge I will need but cannot buy immediately as I’ve already spent a lot and simply will not have enough money). I will also miss the sexy dark-skinned brother I saw twice near my apartment (I even think we made eye contact the second time!), although I was reminiscing some time ago that I would not know what to do with him because he was so tall – when I saw him, I just kept looking up… . I’m sure there are a few other things I’ll miss that I can’t remember right now.

What will I not miss about my old place? The exorbitant rent. The potholes that instantaneously form when it rains (there are a good amount where I move to but not directly beneath the apartment as where I am now). The noise (the apartment is not on a very busy street but the street is busy enough and the large noisy buses pass by it) from anything imaginable. Interestingly, the new apartment is situated very close to the airport so this might be a case of jumping from the frying pan into the fire as I replace one type of noise with another. But I think I’m somewhat used to airplane noises though. The ugly smell of the canal when I walk back to the apartment. The nearby market with inedible (unnaturally sun dried) vegetables. The heat in the apartment – there are days where I’ve taken three showers. I try to open the balcony door to get some breeze, but instead, I get unwelcome visitors who never want to leave i.e. flies and mosquitoes who punish me at night with their American Idol auditions in my ears. When I open the front door, I also get unwelcome visitors although these take a more humanly form. The strong suspicion that passersby on the street can see me in my barely-there clothing (as a result of the heat) when I stay indoors – the apartment faces the street and is on the first floor. The rather poor lighting. The rude gateman (he’s been better but still not quite there). And last but not least, FASS Pimp and his surprise visits. I wish the next inhabitant the best of luck.

I think it had also gotten to my time to depart because two things happened in two days that I haven’t experienced in my stay here. First, on Saturday night, the water shut off but came back a few hours later although I was still left scrambling a bit. I was actually warned of a water shortage the previous weekend but it never came – I guess the warning was a weekend too early. Second, on Sunday night, the water was YELLOW/BROWN – for at least five hours! I went to bed and lost count. I coulda left the apartment Sunday night but wanted to sleep there one last night so that I could make some food for the next couple of days. And the farewell I got? PEE water. I was so disgusted. The water was not even good enough for washing the floor. I had to buy water to wash my hands. Anyway, maybe it was the apartment giving me the finger but in any case, I got the sign loud and clear.