Dettol. That’s what’s distinguishing Senegal from Ghana. Otherwise, I might as well be in Accra. Well, Adenta, Accra to be specific. I’ve pretty much just moved from the Adenta of Accra to the Adenta of Dakar. From outskirts of the capital to outskirts of the capital, or rather suburb to suburb, dare I say village to village?
Anyway. This is my first Tikulma post since returning to the continent!!! And yes, ti pa kuna! (We have finally come home!) Home? By that you mean Ghana don’t you? Nope. Senegal feels right at home to me. I’m fascinated with this country. The combination of culture, religion and modernity is interesting to me and I can’t wait to experience it all. One major thing I’m looking forward to is Ramadan (fasting) since Senegal is majority Muslim and I’ve only observed Ramadan in majority Christian countries. Why the familiarity? Maybe its because I’ve been here before (Summer 2008), or the warmth of the people, or maybe its because of that West African vibe – the national flags even look similar – or maybe, in a previous life, I was born and bred right here. Whatever the case, once I stepped off the plane and the warm sun greeted me, I felt right at home. I knew exactly what to do at the customs checkpoint — although I had an imprompto injection for meningitis (apparently they give shots once every five years and I was due) — and from then on I felt like a local.
Except that I’m yet to drink the regular water, and as it turns out, I might not even be able to bathe with it without skin complications. Hence the dettol. I have been here about a week and a half and I have searched high and low for Dettol. Nobody seems to recognize the name. So I proceed to explain in my soon-to-be-fully-reignited-French (inshallah): “C’est un liquide qu’on met dans l’eau pour se laver. C’est pour desinfecter l’eau.” Then, its either a blank look in response, or an attempt to sell me some tablets which apparently make water drinkable, which I decline.The only place in my area (Zac Mbao) that actually had some was the Touba Oil – kind of the Senegalese equivalent of Goil or Shell or whatever your national petrol (gas haha) company is – only thing is, it was expired. Which again, points to the fact that probably few people use Dettol here. In Ghana, I think every household has used it at some point or another.
What am I doing here? I’ve asked myself that soo many times since I got here. And others have asked me that too. Apparently, even the Senegalese or rather the Dakar peeps rarely trip to Mbao. It’s so out there, they say. So what exactly am I doing all the way here? Well, for one thing, I have been given an amazing career opportunity here with an amazing organization called the African Women’s Millennium Initiative on Poverty and Human Rights. I’m seriously biased. But that’s only because I believe in their mandate – empowering women and youth in Africa. They, or rather we, give out grants to women’s groups across the continent and also equip these women and youth with the skills and tools to hold their governments accountable. There’s also the Young Women’s Knowledge and Leadership Institute (YOWLI) – which is how I got invovled with them in the first place. The third edition will be held this December, so we’re busy preparing for that. Hopefully, by the end of my one year contract, I’d have learned a great deal about working in an African NGO, empowering women and youth, writing proposals, managing grants, supervising a team, organizing and so on. And just maybe, we might be able to resurrect my French and learn a bit of Wolof (the main local language).
On a more personal note, I think I chose Senegal over Ghana or the U.S. because I needed a challenge. I constantly feel the need to be engaged with different things, to thrust myself into new experiences, to be restless. I dread the thought of routines. Wake up, go to work, come home, watch tv, go to bed, wake up. It gives me headaches. Literally. So, to save myself from the constant headaches and migraines I get from boredom, and to have a bit of fun, and hopefully learn something new about myself, others and the world, I chose Senegal. And so far, so good. While it would have been great to live in downtown Dakar, I tell myself I’m in this quaint little town for a reason. I need the quiet. Not necessarily for work, but for making some decisions about life. And for figuring myself out. I constantly elude myself. Just when I thought I got me all figured out. Anyway. I owe you guys a detailed recap of my time in Ghana and also my departure for Senegal (hectic!) But for now, this is just to reopen the lines of communication! Much love et a plus!
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.