This is what you can build….

When you have been the ‘mayor’ of a NEIGHBOURHOOD in Dakar and have enjoyed close ties with the president.

But wait!!!

This is only the home of your third wife and her kids! You’ve built another home for your other two wives and their children! Just so that you can spent two days at each of their homes. And I imagine  you have your OWN home where you spend the 7th day, your Sabbath day – man shall rest on the Sabbath, shall he not?! You’re actually allowed up to four wives in the Koran, but perhaps you’ve thought about the difficulty of dividing 7 (or 6 if you refuse to give up your Sabbath) by 4 and have shelved that idea for now.

This home you have also equipped with a Lexus for this third wife (the car in the pic), and a Mercedes, Cadillac and Toyota can also be seen parked outside the home – one of these for one your drivers to use to run errands, the other (imaginably the lexus) for when you come for your two-day visit and the last…I guess is an extra for when the other three break down!

When you have been the ‘mayor’ of a NEIGHBOURHOOD in Dakar and have enjoyed close ties with the president, you can also be in the process of constructing a swanky, five storied apartment building right beside this third wife’s home, one that you can potentially rent out to expats who can pay the exorbitant monthly rent, starting anywhere from $1000 USD (but perhaps you will build one apartment per floor at which point you can charge whatever suits your fancy and you know SOMEONE will pay it since the neighbourhood is a bit upscale, expat-ridden and well, secure).

When you have been the ‘mayor’ of a NEIGHBOURHOOD in Dakar and have enjoyed close ties with the president, you need not do a thing for that neighbourhood. In fact, you leave the neighbourhood in a worse shape than you found it, so much so that it becomes known as THE most dangerous neighbourhood in the city where one plays with fire trying to traverse it at night.

When you have been the ‘mayor’ of a NEIGHBOURHOOD in Dakar and have enjoyed close ties with the president, you enjoy your wealth in private and are afraid of people’s cognizance of your honestly acquired wealth.

I had to take these pictures in discretion but upon downloading them, I realized I was caught! See the curtains opening in the last picture? That’s someone looking at me taking them…oops! But I barely feel bad, this is what our leaders are doing to us in Africa. Imagine…the mayor of a NEIGHBOURHOOD (why do they even have those?) acquiring so much wealth! Only God knows what the president himself has chopped, if an ordinary mayor can become this endowed. I don’t even want to wrap my head around it…

The name of the neighbourhood is GRAND DAKAR, by the way. And most local people are afraid of even going there. I’ve taken the ‘car rapides’ through there a few times (and once at night with my laptop! Talk about innocence is bliss) and having not known, I never really cared. I would still take the bus through there (actually have to do it later today) but it just means I’m a little more aware about where I am and smarter about what I carry with me and even how I carry myself.

Anyway, this just gives you an idea of what people have access to in these our countries while most struggle to acquire the most basic things. Multiply this a few fold and you have the elite of Dakar/Senegal who have and continue to steal the country dry. And they can drive around town in their mercedes, lexes, bimas, escalades and range rovers, tinted windows up (so as not to let the odour of struggle waft in) and AC on, past people begging on the streets for loose change, past people selling oranges, random trinkets or newspapers, past regular, honest-folk hustling in the burning midday sun just to get lunch and possibly dinner, to their AC’d offices and homes without a care on their consciences.

But perhaps their consciences do gnaw at them, but they have perfected the ancient art of ignorance and can no longer see, hear or smell below their noses.

I see this home everyday, by the way. It is located right beside my office (which is why I was able to discreetly take photos of it from our kitchen window) which is located in a residential neighbourhood called Mermoz. There are various others like it around. And it’s not even the most upscale neighbourhood in Dakar!

Toubab Dialaw

Actually, that’s not really where we went, and this post is long overdue!

Toubab Dialaw is a tourist town about an 1.5hrs from Dakar – where we went was a fishing town called Yen, located just a few minutes before Toubab Dialaw, and not as touristy. The German Institute in Dakar was organizing a two day concert with Senegalese (and one German) acts around Toubab Dialaw and we thought it’d be fun for a mini-trip. It really was a nice weekend away, we stayed at the ‘abandoned’ house of some expat. There are such homes scattered around the area – beach-front homes built by monied expats who to abandon it (actually, they get a caretaker to watch over it in their absence) because they’ve returned home or visit once or twice a year. So those caretakers (like the one we stayed with) ask their friends (people like us) to come over and use the house, lol, otherwise it just stays there and collects dust. The owner of the house we stayed in is apparently not overly interested in returning to Senegal so until he (or she, i dont remember) figures out what to do with the place, it’s just there…

The ‘wow’ house is supposedly owned by some cement guy (not Dangote!), and it really is ‘wow’ indeed!

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!

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?

Senegalese Presidential Palace

Apartment in Saint Centenare

I like architecture. Definitely not an architecture aficionado per se but I like nice-looking buildings. So I thought Id start a category on the nice buildings that I come across here in Dakar. There are enough of them and I hope I have my camera with me when I see them. Here’s one very decent apartment near a friend’s house.

To be honest, a secondary purpose this category is to show people that there are some mighty nice places in Africa, and that a good amount of its population has certainly graduated from living HUTS.

My ‘neighbourhood’

I really do think I live in the ghetto. Howbeit, my studio is situated at the very end of the ghetto right before Point E, one of Dakar’s nicest neighbourhoods, where exist a number of organizations and of course, the residences for the expats that work in them. My ‘ghetto’ is called “Fass.”

Apparently, I was given a discount because the studio usually costs double what they’re charging me, and partly also because they usually rent it out nightly, sort of like a hotel. And I think the gateman loathes me, perhaps because he thinks I’m getting too much of a discount. Perhaps he wishes I were either a white person or a wealthier African. Everytime I try to ask for his help (I’ve really only approached him twice in the three weeks I’ve been there), he proceeds to scream at me, in a mixture of French and Wolof. Or perhaps his anger is that I don’t speak any of his languages. The other day I went to go ask for a hammer to fix a loose part in the net on door that led to the balcony (I was concerned about mosquitoes). I didn’t ask him to fix it as I realized that would have been too much to ask – I only asked him for the tools to do it myself. Unfortunately, he was in the midst of watching a wrestling match, and of course his response was “No!” There had been a friend in the room who at least tried to ask me what I needed it for, but my friend the gateman looked in my direction with annoyance for what must have been a second before turning his gaze back to the TV and responding in the negative. As I left, I noticed a bag of tools by the entrance so I searched in it and found a flathead screwdriver and a sledge tool and promptly employed those. I had also fixed the blocked sink in my bathroom sink with a knife a few days prior. The gateman’s brother, however, is nicer, although when I approach him with a query or concern (which have really also been few and far between), his response is that he will inform his brother and get back to me.

There is a soccer ‘field’ just south of my apartment, and I ventured there once to watch the boys play. I was certainly entertained, but also stared at a bit (African or not, I still look a little different, especially my mode of dressing). Perhaps it was because I was the only woman watching them. I would go back to watch them play, except the sandy ‘field’ is bordered by automobile tires which are filled with garbage and anything imaginable. Meaning, it stinks! When i went, I think I was only there for half an hour, but it was a struggle-filled half an hour for my poor nose! Anyway, since I live at the end of Fass, I am rather lucky. The rest of Fass is innundated with ‘less than’ homes and some of the streets overflow with sewage, streets through which my bus passes through sometimes – my nose is definitely having the time of its life here.

But apart from those, it’s quite fine. It takes me about three minutes to walk to the market where I take the mini-bus (although sometimes this feels like eternity because of the heat), the market has most of the things I need (but not fresh vegetables and I had a recent ‘falling-out’ with the market egg-monger) and there is even mini-mart (although almost everything is from Ivory-Coast!). The only thing I’m missing really (apart from fresh vegetables) is a bakery. Mini-shops abound that sell baguettes, but I’m not a big fan of those so it’s been a bit of a challenge to find a proper bakery within walking distance. I buy one around the public library I frequent almost daily but it’d be nice to find one nearer – the search continues!

The building across mine.

The studio apartment.