thoughts and things from dakar travel blog


So, I will start with yesterday. Yesterday morning, I went by Caritas and it was really interesting, because a group of Austrian journalists were interviewing the Caritas workers and beneficiaries about their work. I have been learning about Caritas in bits and pieces, but this interview gave me a much better overview of their activities. In brief, the center was created to fill a void of refugee reception in Dakar. The situation of refugees in Dakar is distinct from other places for a few reasons. Firstly, Dakar is often seen as a setting stone to Europe, or even America. It is the most Western point of Africa and often immigrants and refugees see it as a stopover point. Secondly, Senegal is known to be a welcoming country, or at least it claims to be. Although all the Senegalese people that I have spoken with assure me that there is no racism in Senegal, I am skeptical. For example, a digression, the other day, I was sitting in a restaurant working on my homework and drinking Baobab juice and obviously (because it would be rare to not be harassed when I am alone), some dude sitting next to me starts chatting with me. He says, blah blah, where you are from, blah blah. I give him my usual I'm married with kids line and then he says oh well then maybe you can find me one of your friends, because I really like Canadians. He then tells me he has French citizenship, I say ok great. Then he pulls out his passport to prove it. I start laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. And then he explains, that I shouldn't trust anyone in Dakar, so that's why he's showing it to me. Oh the irony. (And that isnt the only type that someoen has pulled out proof uninitiated, university students who try to hit on me also pull out their student ID, as if its the magical key to get into my skirts.) Anyways, so as a test, because why not, I tell this dude that I have some African-Cdn girlfriends who speak english that are pretty cool. And he says from where. I say Ghana, Nigeria...He says oh no, I would rather a Senegalese in that case. But they're Cdn I answer and they speak English, so that isn't enough for you? He laughs, realising that I caught him, exposed him for his exoticisation of the white chic. I then go on to lecture him about how he shouldn't make assumptions and even I am an immigrant originally to Canada, and how not all white chics are the same. But generally, I just ignore these guys. At first, I tried to be polite but firm to all, but that is too tiring now, so I have taken to wearing my earphones or pretending I don't hear them. A little less nice, but gives me peace of mind. Okay back to Caritas. Thirdly, Dakar receives a lot of send-backs from the European countries. For example, if Greece decides that it doesn't want a Sierra Leonian or a Liberian, it might just send that refugee or migrant directly to Dakar because its easier than escorting them inland. This means that the burden of repatriating or providing asylum alternatively, will rest on Senegal. So, Caritas decided to offer some support to these asylum seekers, it does not discriminate between different types of asylum seekers and will also help immigrants without means, as recognition that often the lines blur, and that the needs of migrants can be just as grave as those of refugees. Caritas deals little with the past and much more with the present. It insists on helping others help themselves. This means that they only give housing support for 2 to 3 months and some money to get started. They make the migrants seek affordable housing so that they can be self-sustaining on their own and they make the migrants find their own housing to encourage independence. After that, they ask the migrants, how will you sustain yourself now, since they need to buy food etc. They offer Tres Petit busaries of 35 000 CFA (about 50-60 dollars) to help the migrants start a business. Businesses might be selling phone credit on the street, braiding hair under a tree, selling food or having a small resto, shoe shining, etc. However, Caritas now finds itself in a peculiar predicament. Often senegalese citizens are in the same financial position of migrants, or worse, and how can they be excluded. Also, there is a declining trend of West African conflicts (although there are simmering situations in Maritannia, Sierra Leone,) Moreover, there is a new trend of Senegalese who are being sent back to Dakar by european countries. These senegalese are psychologically traumaticised, they feel that they have failed in establishing themselves abroad, they have undergone difficult journeys etc. The new focus of caritas dakar is to help these people restablish themselves.

After the Caritas volunteers spoke with the journalists, the refugees were brought in. Now that was weird. The austrian journalists had zero good manners. It was totally awkward. Four people were brought in and then a couple of the journalists barked, where are you from, what is your name, how long have you been here...no greetings, which is grave in a country like Senegal where greetings are of utmost importance. I left the room, feeling really uncomfortable. However, afterwards, I had a really interesting conversation with a refugee from Sierra Leone, who had been involved with an opposition party and had to leave when the party lost. He went to Spain and then returned to SL to get the party started again, they lost, so he left again to Dakar. He wants to return to Europe. He says that Dakar is lonely, without family, without an ability to communicate in Wolof (although he doesnt sense any racism, he says that you are treated differently if you cant speak Wolof, which in my experience is true too).What was interesting is that he said that he was less lonely in Spain, because it is less lonely to be lonely in a lonely place (where everyone stays inside their homes).

So back to tutoring Abdou. Senegal is very proud of its tradition of welcoming others, called Tarunga. Generally, I find Tarunga to be a load of crap since it is often accompanied by an expectation of receiving payment etc. or sex. or cdn citizenship. and so forth. But with Aboullah's family, they were generally welcoming. They kept offering me Atayah, the traditional tea, and everyone was very friendly. Adbou was exceeding brilliant, though I can imagine how it would be difficult to study and concentratein a bustling house like that. The area was not very traversed by Toubabs, so I got a lot of stares, more curious than anything.

A challenge that I have found here is how to explain Canada to Senegalese who work here. For example, my lovely domestique who takes very good care of me. She asked me, would I like Canada? And I think to myself, no, youll be even further from your family, youre already 40-50 years old, you will be isolated, as you only speak Wolof, not french, not english, but then as a caregiver there, she could make lots more money. And can I explain that to someone who doesnt speak my language? And I certainly cant make that decision for her....And furthermore, she has no access to internet, so how would she organize something like that? And she's not the only one.

Ok now to Tehran. Yesterday, my prof cancelled my class because he had an emergency dental visit, so I decided to read a book that I chanced upon, Reading Tehran in Lolita, by the beach. It is in ---gasp---- english, so I didnt work very hard on my french, but how delightful. I have also been taking english breaks at the pub, meeting other expats/travellers. Its pretty fun to retreat into the expat/traveller bubble once in a while. And the senegalese give generous shots of gin in their gin et toniques.... I also hung out with Moussa's friends again, but I dont think that I will do that again, because one chic, was kinda evil to me. Shes bad news.

Its hot as fuck, but I'm getting to used it. I've cut down my sweating by about 2/3s. Also, my to-do list in Dakar is getting longer and longer. Today, I will hit up markets again and then the IFAN museum. A la prochaine mes amis. Ba bene (in wolof).



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