Pictures from Senegal

Wednesday, July 28

Charles' View

I’ve made a new friend. His name is Charles. He’s Senegalese born, grew up in Paris, studied and worked in the US, and now lives in Canada. Or should I say lived? He’s currently working for the Canadian government on a project I don’t fully understand, but somehow equates to the Canadian version of USAID. He’s been assigned to Mboro for the next 5 months.

I met Charles by chance. I had originally tried to work with the women’s groups of Mboro… but was blown off because of my initially oh-so-poor language skills. The top women in the cooperative of groups don’t speak French and I can barely pass introductory Wolof. As it happens, a few weeks back I saw one of the women sitting in the street and was invited to pass by their offices to say hello. A week or two later, I did so on my way to something else. They told me about their operations, their biggest problem being sales, and an open house they were thinking about hosting. I mentioned that I was organizing Marketing classes and we agreed I should find a way to teach the women as well. In the mean time, with the pending open house, I would show them some examples of basic marketing they could use during the event. I made a draft promotional flyer and went back the next week to show them. They introduced me to Charles.

He too was trying to demonstrate all the potential the pending event could bring to the women’s sales. We spend the rest of the day talking, exchanging marketing ideas, etc. I told him I would gladly join in on this quest to revamp the women’s products in order to capture sales both in Mboro and new markets. In his 5 months, we wants to teach to teach the women about quality control, redo packaging and labeling, and install a marketing and sales plan. This is not his only project in town. Maybe I’ve been here too long, but it seems like he’s got a lot on his plate and a short amount of time to accomplish it. On the other hand, maybe I’ve become too complacent with the Senegalese pace of life and have therefore resigned myself to a lack luster dance card of possibilities. Hmm.

In the later part of our initial, yet day long, encounter, Charles started to voice his opinions about the way the Senegalese handle their affairs. This made me smile. Here I was with a Senegalese man who had more complaints than I about his own country. He’d only been in Mboro a short time, but was already frustrated with meetings that didn’t start on time and weren’t even productive when they did start. He’s annoyed by the politics and the lack of initiative to get things done.

Another day I explained to Charles that Mboro was a pretty lucky place to be assigned. I described the typical village-life Peace Corps service and he absolutely could not believe it. He couldn’t do it. He’d worked so hard to get where he has, he can’t imagine going back. As he spent the whole of his Senegalese life in Dakar, I suppose he’s saying he has no idea how he would adjust to village life. It is quite different from the world of Dakar. As it stands, however, Charles is like any other Westerner. He takes anti-malarial prophylaxis and can’t drink the tap water without getting sick. I told him I expected this life, had asked for it.

In the short time I’ve known him, Charles has amused me. He is contradictory to all I know about Senegal… perhaps I need to think of him as child of the world instead of just one place. He has gotten me to rethink that with which I’ve become complacent, and I find a bit of my American self coming back around. Today, I made a ‘to do’ list and assigned everything a deadline. These are things I can do by a specific day. I’ve forgotten I have that capability; to commit to myself. Or maybe I needed someone else alongside me, maybe I made a ‘to do’ list of things I’m doing for “our” project. I suppose the best thing about Charles is that he is my new colleague; my coworker.

And so in honor of Charles, I leave you to join him at the boutique for an after work beer. Look, happy hour is back too!

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