Expectations and impressions

I believe that anyone living in a developed country who did not travel to Africa is kind of ignorant about Africa. But no need to worry, I am here to enlighten you 😛 and share what else is to this continent than poverty, famine, underdevelopment, colonies and lack of access to clean water.

Africa is so different and interesting and amazing. I only want to come on vacation here from now. The idea of visiting Eiffel Tours seems so plain and boring in comparison.

First weekend we visited Goree Island which was the center of slave trade for West Africa. We were told that about 20 million slaves passed through this island before they were embarked to be shipped to the Americas. Details about this visit in another post (with photos!). Yet, related to this trip, I realized what is to me the most impressive thing about the people here – the black race does not seem to have any kind of anger, grudge, negative emotions, drive for revenge towards the white race. Just think for a moment how would the feelings be, how would the general public speech would be if things were the other way around…. And I noticed this kind of attitude also outside the slavery topic. People here have a simplicity, a calm, a serenity, a lack of drive for fighting, wining, conquering – they are like the nice people in whose company we always genuinely seek to be.

Another example in the same direction comes from the fact that the population is 95% Muslim. Even with this, not only that they are very tolerant and inclusive with the Christians, but they are actually celebrating all Christian holidays – Easter, Christmas, even the Assumption Day on 15th of August. The approach towards different religions  is simply working differently than where I come from. It is not a question of tolerating or accepting, it simply is not a thing that matters, it is not something that is even asked. This again in line with the impression that people here do not have the urge to prove that one thing is better than another thing, to engage in competition.

For me these two examples just take the concepts of forgiveness and religious tolerance at a whole new level.

And my other big impression is about time – my favorite! My first thoughts about how time is perceived and handled here is that time is infinite, that there is so much of it, that it’s very fluid. Now I actually believe that time simply does not exist, at least not in the way we look at it in Europe. It’s not something important, it is not the major thing to measure, it is not something we work against, it is not something you have or lose. I cannot describe and emphasize well enough the magic of living without time pressure. The experience of slow living also generated inside me many many questions about the developed world habits- about the sense, purpose and cost of all the efficiency, effectiveness, standards, benchmarking, processes, deadlines and other such lovely things… 🙂

All the aspects above have of course also down-sides. But I am sure everyone can draw those conclusions alone… or not, and just stay for a while with this perspective instead.

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This was quite philosophical (which I hope does not translate in not interesting :P), I will bring more facts and story-telling and photos in the next ones.

À bientôt!

 

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First day

I arrived in Dakar on Friday evening. In Madrid I met 2 other colleagues, Arpit (India/UK) and Martina (Slovakia). Despite of all warnings, the pass&immigration control and luggage stuff went super fast. I waited longer in fancier airports – I hope nothing will ever top the 1,5 h in Atlanta 😐 Other colleagues had different experience, they had to wait up to 45 min for the luggage. Point is, one’s singular experience is not a general rule.

First surprising thing were the aprox. 100 people waiting behind a fence in front of the airport building. The driver clarified that they are waiting for their relatives coming home for vacation. And of course everyone in the house is coming – so from now on I will not accept anything else than all family waiting for me at the airport :D. Took a photo, but the quality is too poor to have it as the first photo ever on this blog, so skip.

In the photo below is the oldest mean of public transportation (actually the white vans are newer,the really oldest are the yellow ones). To get in you wave on the street and negotiate the price of your trip with the guys outside. To get out you knock the roof of the van and the guys outside signal the driver to stop. Good luck if you don’t know when you reached your destination… 😀

We are accommodated in a 5-star hotel and this of course makes me feel embarrassed and in a way uncomfortable. I understood this is quite common mainly because no employer would risk to send people to any slightly insecure place and then few people would actually volunteer to go. Nevertheless, when Malco is arriving we’ll for sure try alternatives :))) (we don’t really afford to stay in 5-star hotels :|, since prices are more or less like in Europe. Western Europe).

On Saturday, after breakfast (fully French type, which will be the same for the whole stay :-|, soon I will need to get creative here), we met our assistants/guides – each sub-team was assigned a local person to support us with whatever kind of guidance and help we need. Below a photo with my sub-team, not hard to guess who is the local 😛

From left to right: Khady, Yu-Ching/Eric (Taiwan), Mahmoud (Egypt), me and Pamela (USA).

Afterwards we did a bus tour through the whole Dakar. I found this idea brilliant because it gave us a high-level idea about how Dakar looks like and what is to be visited and explored afterwards. I didn’t take too many photos but below there are rwo to show a bit the contrasts – first one in the center (I believe, it was taken by Eric) and second one in the Medina. Those of you who’ve been in a medina know that it is a particularly hectic and modest looking (on the outside!!!) neighborhood. Looking forward to go inside the buildings to see the reality. I will for sure write again abut this.

One remarkable thing I noticed is the street commerce – I had the feeling everywhere there was somebody selling something.
Then we stopped for lunch at a restaurant in the Medina and had the traditional dish – Ceebu Jën, which translates to “the rice of fish”. The smell was not very appealing but it tasted very very delicious. For the sauce they use tomato paste, tamarind, and habanero pepper (on the side came also a habanero paste – stay away from it, it’s too hot for humans!), which gives a subtle spicy taste. Liked it very much!

The photo below represents the ultimate level of not wasting food (I think Malco will be very inspired and will try to implement it at home). So basically it’s the crust from the bottom of the pan, fried rice and whatever remained stuck to the pan. It’s crunchy and quite tasty, it reminded me of the fondue crust 🙂

We returned to the hotel, I took a long nap (found the day very overwhelming) and had dinner at the hotel’s restaurant (one of them :-|).

 

One thing I love here is the approach on time! It’s very easy and of course no pressure to be punctual. It made me realized how much is stressing me in Switzerland that everything seems so strongly bounded by time rigorousness…

 

Today, on Sunday, nothing major happened – we met some of the IBM Senegal and DOT (the NGO facilitating locally our deployment) people. The meeting was not much different than we have in Europe, maybe just a bit more open towards dialog, than pure monologue and with more questions during the speeches.

 

And to close, some fun facts with Ioana: How big is Africa – big enough to fit the surface of all these countries 😮

And due to my great discovery of advanced technology, I installed the app, so I hope I will be able to note ideas and post (more) often 🙂

À bientôt!

 

What am I trying to do here and why?

There is in IBM a super program, called Corporate Service Corps (CSC), to which I applied in the spring of 2015 and got selected – yeeey!, one of the big achievements of the year :). A group of people is sent in a developing country to work pro bono for different organizations and public institutions. My preferred geography was Africa&Middle East because these are places in which I think it’s the most difficult to get a real insight and immerse into the culture. After a bit more than 1 year from when I pressed submit, here I am going to Dakar, Senegal.

We are a team of 15 people (divided in 4 sub-teams) from all over the world, literally from US to Australia. My customer is FDEA Microfinance (Femme Développement Entreprise en Afrique) who is a micro-funding organization concerned about the financial and economic inclusion of women entrepreneurs. They address this through offering both credits and a set-up for support, collaboration and training. So, be prepared to read a lot about entrepreneurship and women inclusion in Africa 😉

I am doing this because I want to do something really meaningful and try to help people. Obviously, with this many other benefits came. Working into an international team, having many of my beliefs challenged (trust me, even those which I was convinced are common sense; I actually start to believe there is no such thing as common sense), getting to know the African environment – culturally, socially, economically are just some that cross my mind now. Oh, and spending the summer in a place where it’s actually summer 😀 – sorry Zürchers!

 

The blog will be about everything – facts, impressions, feelings and learnings!

À bientôt :*