December 23, 2004

Madagascar here I come!

So I'm leaving for Madagascar tonight! A much needed vacation after having worked non-stop for...5 months.

OK, I'm sure you don't feel very sympathetic to my needs for a vacation but please keep in mind that I'm been dealing with a move to another country, a split up of the family (parents, bro and dog in Madagascar, moi in Senegal, and sis in Canada), a new job, new friends, a new way of life and let's not forget, a full 5 months of the dreaded toursita (otherwise know as chronic stomach troubles).

Thanks for your compassion. Please donate to the Poor Dorothee fund.

December 22, 2004

There are days

There are days when all I want to do is hop in a teletransporting machine and be back in the comfort of good old Washington DC...where I can bike on paths, where I can sit down at a book store and read a book, where there are books, where there are stores, where my work isn't my life.

Then I look at the sunset and the never failing bird-gathering at dusk and I think that maybe, just maybe, I can last a little longer here.

December 16, 2004

The Sounds of a Power Shortage

On/off, that's the lightbulb that suffers from low wattage and hesitates to come on or turn off

In/out, that's the croissant furtively testing the temperature of the morning tea as Dorothee tries to gobble her breakfast in the office kitchen

Clickity click click, clickety click click, that's the computer power box that feeds the hard drive when the power is out

Chak, chak, chak, those are the key from the typewriter when the secretary is filling in a carbon-copied form

Clac, clac, clac, that's high-heels of the secretary in the office

Ring ring ring, that's the impatient, insistent telephone

The power is low this morning and tentatively deciding whether to come on or not. Half the hallway lights are on, giving the office a dim, "the shinning/Stanley Kubrick"-like feel. As I eat my morning croissant, the lights flicker on and off and I play the "now you see it, now you don't!" game with my croissant. In and out, off and on, in and off, out and on.

The secretary has an urgent form to fill in and enters my office when power seems to have come back up. She clac clac clacs into my office, switches the ancient type-writer on and Chak, chak, chaks away until the power turns off. Then she clac clac clacs out again only to come back when the power seems to be on. She does this 5 times until she is finally done.

The only thing working on a regular basis is the phone and it is out for revenge this morning. Ring ring ring.

As I laboriously use pen to paper, I discover what my hand-writing looks like all over again.

Off. Collective staff grumbles. Clickity click click, clickety click click of the power boxes. I cannot see my croissant going in my tea. Ring ring ring.
On. Mad rush to the type-writer. Quick Clac, clac, clac followed by scrambling Chak, chak, chak. I can see my croissant for an instant and take a large bite of it before the power turns off again. Ring ring ring.
Off. Collective grumbles from the staff. All the lights flicker out of sink.

Sigh. Life must have been so quiet in the days before electricity.

December 13, 2004

Oh Christmas Tree!

I never thought I would say this but *shudder* I actually miss Christmas trees and decorations in stores, special holiday discounts and, worst of all, holiday songs! For some reason I have "Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells Rock...Dancing and Prancing... that's the Jingle Bells Rock" stuck in my head. Surely there are prettier songs out there?

I took it upon myself to dig out the plastic tree from the office storage. My colleague and I agreed to go with a gaudy decoration theme and overloaded its poor branches with tinsel, cheesy felt Santas and little dangling disco balls. Ah, now it feels more like Christmas. Now, if only I could find a bad Christmas CD in the street of Dakar. Heck, I'd even settle for the Mariah Carey special.

Bumped into a friend at the supermarket and we lamented over the lack of proper Christmas trees in the city. As we exited the store, much to our surprise, we saw a huge (a HUGE) Christmas tree. It was all decorated and in a nice pot. There was a guard next to it (should we be tempted to steal the decorations I imagine). We looked at it with awe, felt it branches and even bent the bottom branches to smell, just to authenticate it. Folks, it was a real tree. The guard thought we were crazy but our little hearts were warmed.
I went to the beach for the weekend and, again, have a nasty sunburn. Which makes me smile at how ridiculous it is to get a sunburn on the 12 of December. Ha! My heart goes out to those in Montreal and the northern US states.

The Taxi Incident

It's been exactly 9 days since the Taxi Incident happened and I still haven't written about it. Folks, I'm loosing my blogging edge.

I was supposed to attend an office party on the 4th of December at my Big Boss' house. Keen to make a good impression (without looking too stuffy), I put on my best pair of jeans (my only pair too but at least it was clean), a neat little tee-shirt, nice pointy shoes and make-up.

As per usual, I'm apprehensive about taking the taxi, having to negociate without getting conned out of a measly 2 extra dollars. I finally gather my courage, get a fair price and drive to my friend's house to pick her up. She lives in a nice residential neighborhood, which basically means that you see a lot more goats than in the city center, the roads aren't paved and the people are not nagging you to buy their stuff.

The second taxi is a little harder to negotiate since we have to pass by the foire on the way up. This is a huge market that gathers artisans from various countries in Africa (and the ubiquitous bad quality electronics from China) once in a year. We loose about 5 taxis who drive off in a huff, offended by our asking price.

Finally we get a taxi at a not so fair price but what the heck, by now we are late. Of course, the traffic is jammed packed and people are honking, chickens on the roofs of buses are getting impatient and you can cut through the exaust fumes with a knife. Our little taxi guy gets annoyed and decides that he needs to find another astute way of getting us there. Which requires us to drive over the divider to incoming traffic...the divider basically being an mound of sand...

I'm sure you can imagine what happens next. We get hopelessly stuck. The more he revs up his engine, the more we sink in the sand. He gets up to move the sand with his hands and his flip-flops. After watching him struggle for 5 or 10 mins, I take my shoes off, roll my jeans up and help him dig, much to the amusement of those stuck in their cars, watching a prim and proper white girl dig wheels out. Then I try to push the car. Which should be hilarious to anyone who knows how weak my arms are.

Suddenly, a group of 5 strong teenagers appear on the road, chatting and laughing. When they see us stuck, they laugh and point to me, saying I should push the car. I explain, calmly, that I'm a weakling, but hey maybe it would be a great idea if they could all help me push the car. They enthusiastically help me push and the car whizzed off to the other side of the road (I am suddenly glad that I have my shoes in my hand and not in the taxi). Teenaged girls are great. A teenaged boy pretends to help us push at the last minute and asks for money (Which of course I refused). Teenaged boys are icky. I thank them profusely and run to catch the cab.

Back at my boss' house, dusty and hot, I convey my story to a colleague. She looks at me with pity (pity at my stupidity) and says "I would have left the taxi and gotten another one". D'oh! Why didn't I think of that?

December 06, 2004

I'm back!

So I've been gone for a measly little week and all I hear from you people is "How come you didn't update your blog", "where are you, I miss your posts", "I'm near-suicidal from not having any news from you". Sheesh people, get a grip (actually no one noticed I was gone, sob...).

Where have I been you ask? I went to Mbour, a little resort town on the east Coast of Senegal full of tourists, resorts and artificial African dancing. Did I enjoy my time at the beach, by the palm trees, while being served fruit cocktails? Excellent question my friends. I didn't actually go for ENJOYMENT. Noooo. I went to participate in a workshop on the response of the Ministries of Education of 9 West African countries to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. So that must have been exciting huh? Nope, it was actually horrendous. OK so I'm exaggerating a little bit here. Basically, it was a week-long conference populated with professors who are used to being listened to.

Typical comment : "Well, honorable person A, respected person B, honorable person C, Ministry of health of countries 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9, organizers and fellow participants, if I may please humbly impart my opinion of this matter. When one considers the issues about the the teachers, and here I open a parenthesis to say that their job is a particularly hard one especially in the realm of..., are the key to..." on and on for ten minutes.

Translation of typical comment : "teachers have a hard job".

Jeeze! Did you really have to be so verbose to say that? Now imagine that typical comment X 150 participants X 5 days. Now you can begin to understand why I was considering driving nails through my eyes to alleviate the pain. Oh the insanity!

I did get to meet some great people though. The Mauritanians looked so smart and practical in their oxford shirts and overlapping long flowing and embroidered tops like herdsmen in the desert. They told us that scorpion bites were not fatal, just very painful (and they should know, they’ve been bitten 7 times) but that the desert hold spiders that are so deadly that one only has time to say “ouch!…”. They told me that tea should only be made on a traditional stove where the heat starts off high and gradually cools down.

I got a chance to discuss polygamy with women, after months of hearing its benefits from the men. And let me tell you men, women are not as enthused as you are about the notion of sharing their men with other wives. As a matter of fact, when it seems like your 3 wives are getting along, it’s probably because there are laughing and discussing how stoopid you are. Sorry to burst your bubble but women do not like polygamy. End of story.

Halfway through the week, I started feeling like men had joked way too often about the possibility of me becoming their second wife. Whereas I used to laugh at the notion and shrug it off, I now find myself answering, “sorry I can’t marry you, I’d love to but my parents would be upset if I became someone’s second wife”. If they insist, I have to remind them that my religion forbids it. I had to decline an invitation to walk along the beach with a middle-aged man. It's far from the first time.

On Thursday I saw a huge reptile scurrying along the road. And by huge, I mean huge. It was the size a small Alligator in Florida. No joke. I wonder what it eats to become so big. I hope it’s not white health workers.

Just as we left, 4 buses full of tourists (you can recognize them by their shorts, excruciatingly white hairy legs, baseball caps, bad hair dies and oh-so-cool-I-paid-more-for-these-than-your-annual-salary sunglasses). They were welcomed by cheers, drumming, “traditional” African dancing and a warm handshake from the organizers. I was actually jealous of this reception! Where was my “thanks for helping us prevent HIV/AIDS” handshake?

On the way back, I decided to take the communal participant bus back to Dakar. It’s a blessing I didn’t have a headache because the participants were loud, brash and in a joking mood (to tell you the truth, they were probably just relieved to be out of the conference). Our luggage was on top of the swaying bus and I was anxiously glaring at the people congregating around the bus each time it would stop. I had a long time to look at the scenery on the way back. Life here is really lived outside: it’s where people keep their goats, braid each other’s hair, carve wood to make pirogues, mend their fences to keep the goats out of the road, hang huge slabs of fly-covered meat (and then quickly paint the word “Butchers” on the hook next to it), chill out by a palm tree or a baobab, shine other people’s shoes and sell 3-day old newspapers. I also saw unnaturally bright orange termite mounds, white mountains of salt, telecenters (consisting of a chair and a telephone), Alimentation General stores (full of rickety shelves with cans of vegetables next to old batteries next to coca cola bottles, next to sacks of wheat).
I was actually relieved to smell the decomposing fish and open sewer odor that is Dakar.