M23 vs PDS

So the drama continues (or should i say ‘continued’?) in Dakar/Senegal.

On December 23, the President organized a large gathering on one of the major roads in the city to thank his supporters and his party (PDS) for choosing him, once again, as their candidate for the upcoming elections in 2012.

The opposition movement, M23 (named after the day of protest on June 23 where people took to the streets to challenge the President’s proposed constitutional amendments, his will to create the post of Vice-president which most feared will be handed to his son, power cuts, unemployement and diverse other issues), also organized their own session at another part of town, to tell the President to give up his ambitions.

Unfortunately, it’s becoming apparent that the guy will be allowed to run (I actually think he is legally able to run, not that I’m a lawyer). The consent on the street is that he has no real challenger. A lot of the leaders of the ‘major’ opposition parties are former members of his party who have gotten out of favour with the President or who have their own agendas and ambitions and people are not buying whatever they purport to be selling. So people are becoming resigned to having the President for another term (I know I am), at least to ward off anyviolence in this until-now, peace-loving country.In fact, many people actually favour the guy (there’s a guy at my very office who does) – I suppose he’s managed to enrich a few other people while enriching himself.

We were issued many warnings to stay indoors on the 23 of December, but I had a few errands to run and chose not to heed the warnings, to my own peril. It was not until I was on my way back home, in the evening, when the bus passed by the area where the President was having his gathering, and we saw some of his people streaming back and forth, that I remembered there were two huge ‘manifestations’ ongoing. So things have remained, thankfully peaceful. Except on December 21st or 22nd, when a member of the President’s armed militia was shot by the bodyguard of an opposition member during a confrontation (the militia, or whatever u want to call them, had gone to the office of an opposition party to ???).Apparently, the same two groups had had a confrontation some few months back and I guess it was time to finally let some blood. Either way, it was not a good omen.

Basically no one knows what’s going to happen in this country- we all hope for the best, but we fear the worst, unfortunately. The constitutional council is due to make its decision on the President’s eligibility to run for office at the end of January (apparently, the president of the council just got a big fat raise, i.e. a 100% salary increase to 10 000 USD/mth app.) while the elections are slated for the end of February. The President, apparently, knows he has no real challenger in the opposition, and I guess he’d rather not have his enemies’ hands on his property (those better than I have analysed that he has personalized the Presidency, considers himself above the law and considers the state his ‘own’, to be done with as he wishes – there are lots of evidence to support these claims in any case).

I guess I’m living through my first, real, African political crisis. And I hope it remains a non-violent one.



You got Pecs like…a Senegalese Brother

This is one post I’ve been meaning to write. Senegalese people (largely men) are what I would call ‘obsessed with’ working out, although I think they would call it ‘disciplined’ or ‘accustomed to’. In any case, they work out a lot (I don’t want to say ‘too much’ because seeing the results, I just can’t complain). The most obese Senegalese man I know is a comedian on tv and safe to say, he’s an anomaly. Granted, there are many men with bellies (think upper middle class, drives or is driven everywhere) but the vast majority are just FIT. To be honest, I don’t know why these people aren’t global leaders in long distance running like the Kenyas and Ethiopes – perhaps it may be because Senegal is so flat so the level of endurance can’t really compare. But it seems to me you can’t have a 10minute conversation with a Senegalese man without touching on the subject of working out, mainly ‘him’ telling you how often he does it, where he does it, how good it is for the body and how you, if you don’t already do it, should start. I’m STILL talking about working out here…

Anyhoo, to partly explain the ‘working out’ phenomenon, a lot of young (I would say, largely of the lower, less educated class) men ‘train’ for the Senegalese national sport – wrestling – in the hopes of becoming one day like their idols. Except the really successful wrestlers are all obese (in my gentle estimation), but I imagine they start out being really fit, gaining muscle and I guess they pack on the fat afterwards so they are too heavy for their opponents to lift and throw down. The higher classes, though they’re not training to be wrestlers, still have the same mentality of getting fit and being active. I don’t know – I guess it’s just a Senegalese thing. I mean, I thought Swedes were mad, but I think Senegalese people put them to shame.

Now all of this largely refers to the men. The women also work out, but in significantly smaller numbers. And the ones I do see ‘sporting’, the rare times I go for a walk, are more the middle to upperclass women, many of whom are actually trying to lose weight. One obvious reason is that many of the ‘lower class’ women (I HATE class classifications!) work at the markets or as housemaids leaving significantly less time for ‘sport’ because of their more ‘rigid’ working hours. But that doesn’t mean they are not fit (their jobs themselves are workouts) – at least until they pop out a few kids, or get to their mid-thirties, early forties, or start living the middle to upper class life, for those that ‘get there’. In their youth though, they have really good shapes. I don’t mean to stare, but sometimes I do, because I find myself being impressed – tall, skinny, thighs, asses, breasts. Part of it is also jealousy since I don’t have an ass, and they ALL do. How fair is life? Senegalese (young) women can give a girl low self-esteem, I swear. But I’m not in such a bad shape myself so I’m not overly affected. It reminds me of an article online I saw once where they carved out the shape of ‘Barbie’ on a seemingly ‘normal’ woman’s body, to demonstrate how difficult it is to attain such a shape. I cannot help but think I see my share of a few Barbies here. And I walk around thinking in my head, ‘you could be a model, so could u, and u, and u…’ Tyra Banks would have a field day here!

I guess the moral of the story is: it’s largely about lifestyle. The poorer people, with ‘less modern’ (and at times, simpler, but not necessarily simplistic) ways of doing things tend to be in better shape because they live less luxurious lives that require them to be constantly on the move or in the sun, in the case of Senegal at least. It’s hard to see a poor, obese, Senegalese child. I’ve definitely seen a few obese children around, but the neighbourhood I see them in or the manner in which I see them does not signal poverty. But this relationship falls apart in modern’ societies i.e. in the U.S. where richer people are usually skinnier…but that’s for a host of reasons and another debate altogether.

Walking Along the Corniche

The Corniche is the nicest stretch of road in the city. It’s some sort of expressway that runs north-south and it is revered not only because it is so well maintained, but also because it is etched right along the sea, thus earning it some scenic miles. Driving along the Corniche (during non-peak, low or no traffic times) is a joy – you get the beautiful sea breeze, the view of the sea and the sight of some of the nicest properties in Dakar – which is why it’s a shame that I had never taken a walk along the stretch closest to my neighbourhood, Ouakam. The Ouakam stretch begins at the ‘mosque of the divinity’ (pic below) and ends at some roundabout where the next neighbourhood begins. Last Tuesday was a holiday and I decided to do something with myself. After fantasizing about going on various excursions, the one that finally materialized was the simple walk along the Ouakam Corniche. An ex-colleague had asked me to go along with her and her husband to take photos of them both which she wanted to send to her parents. It was a chance to make myself useful in various senses of the word.

All in all, it was a pleasant walk (I had also brought along a friend and we continued after my colleague and her husband had turned back as her pregnancy rendered her unable to overdo the walk) – I had hoped to walk to the fish market (also along the Corniche) but it proved too far and it had begun to get dark and I wanted to be able to see the fish I was buying. A sage had one told me that to tell if a fish is fresh, one has to look at the clarity of its eyes. It’s a bit difficult to use this advice at night so I avoid buying fish at night, If I can. To be fair, all the fishes at the fish market are fresh, in the sense that you can safely assume they haven’t been packaged, frozen and shipped from China (the Chinese actually ship fish from Senegal to China and other parts of the world for resale) and in the sense that they would be at most a couple of days old although most are literally ‘fresh off the boat’ (I think that’s the most sensible use I’ve ever made of that phrase). The issue is that they don’t freeze them so even a fish only a day old appears, obviously, much older later in the day. My experience buying fish has been ok though; some have been fresher than others but all certainly been fresher than anything I would buy in Canada, especially at this time of the year.

We did get to buy some ‘fresh enough’ fish (realized the eyes weren’t as clear as I’d imagined when I got home and could actually see them) but they were still good!

Pictures of the Corniche below…

All Good things must come to an end!

Some before they ever even really began to be enjoyed. I am talking about my cool sand-painting in a bottle. It all happened when I went to pick up my phone as it rang while it was being charged. I had left the sand-painting on the floor beside the balcony doors (this, I thought, being the safest place). As I walked over to pick up the phone, ‘pop!’ Needless to say, I was depressed. So much so that I haven’t summoned up the courage to clean it up – this is also partly because I think it actually looks cool with the bottle half broken, the sand half spewed out, and the painting still intact in the non-broken part of the bottle.

I’m still depressed about the whole affair but I guess bottles are meant to be broken. Also, apparently, it was a good sign because it meant that someone somewhere was devising something evil against me, and the broken bottle broke the bad blood. I guess. Although I would rather it wasn’t my special bottle that was broken. But life goes on…

Goree Island

Finally found my way to Goree Island a couple of weekends ago. I won’t go into details since those can be easily found using your favorite web search engine but it is basically the island where they shipped our people from, complete with a ‘House of Slaves’ in which one finds ‘The Door of No Return’. The island is rather nice and I guess one could suggest the traders were being ‘kind’ by letting our last sight of the motherland be a memorable  one. But I suppose it was the least they could have done.

Anyway, here a few pics. I’m not sure if it’s my browser or wordpress, but uploading pics has become a chore and a half as I discovered the hard way on the last post. I also discovered that I have a (rather small) limit for pictures! I guess we’ll see what will happen as I approach that limit which I hope will not be anytime soon!