From the edge of old continent!

Bonjour à tous,

I always find it difficult to write about things that require a touch of literature, melodrama and character in it. I am good at writing reports and answering questions. The best way I could think of writing such a blog was to use a question answer format. I also believe that anyone traveling to a new destination is bound to come across these questions. I have been here for almost a month and I have had the privilege to answer questions asked by people coming from various backgrounds. Here it goes:

# The landlady

Landlady: Do you speak French?

M: No, I don’t but I am learning one sentence/ word a day.

Landlady: You know everyone here either speaks French or Wolof?

M: Yes

Landlady: How will you get the work done? How will you communicate with people? How will you give directions to the taxi driver?

 M: Bonjour –>  je m’appelle Mustafa  –>  #&*!(((####  –>  $$$  –> ^&^#@!!**((   –>   Merci   –>    Jarra Jeff. It’s basically Introductions, lots of sign language/ phrases, agreeing on the price because there are no meters in the taxi and thank you in Wolof.

Landlady: I love Bollywood movies!

M: Which Bollywood movies do you like?

Landlady: I like all the movies that star Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh khan. I grew up watching Amitabh Bachchan movies. Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham is my favorite.

# Colleague at work

M: Can you suggest me a place for haircut?

Colleague: I recommend you go to a professional stylist.

M: Why?

Colleague: Don’t you see! All the men here have pretty much the same hairstyle. That’s the only hairstyle most barbers know (keeping it round and short).

# Start-up 1

Start-up 1: What are you doing here? How long are you here? What will you be doing?

M: I am an MBA student from ESMT doing a fellowship at CTIC, Dakar. I am here for 5 months. Most of time is used in talking to the start-ups, figuring out their business model and working with them on specific problem areas such as company valuation and financial modeling. Other responsibilities include helping the incubator (CTIC) with hands on approach in daily operations.

Start-up 1:  Oh you got an ESMT t-shirt. You must know all about mobile technologies?

M: No, not really.

Start-up 1: What did you study at ESMT?

M: I completed my MBA degree from ESMT.

Start-up 1: When did ESMT start the MBA program?

M: It’s been 10 years now. I was in the 10th batch.

Start-up 1: Oh man, the world knows about the ESMT MBA except for the Senegalese people!

M: It’s very well known and reputed institution in Germany.

(The air was cleared after I learnt that Senegal has its own ESMT – Ecole Supérieure Multinationale des Télécommunications. A well-known institute in West Africa for mobile technologies).

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Tea session with start-up founders

Start-up 1: What are your plans for the weekend?

M: Not much. I will most probably head to one of the beaches near Dakar and then go running in the evening. I will go the famous Charly’s bar later in the evening. If you are free then we can go to the Disco (The word discotheque is seen outside every club in Dakar and is very famous amongst taxi drivers).

Start-up 1: What do you think of the crowd here? You did go out partying?

M: I am not big fan of hip-hop/ pop music that is played at most of the places. American hip-hop artist are really well known here. Well-known joints have an interesting mix of people with a lot of Mauritanians and Lebanese.

(Some 30000 Mauritanian refugees live in Senegal and equal number of Lebanese people who settled here in the 1860’s)

Start-up 1: What else do you do in free time?

M: I generally watch a football game at a friend’s place or pub/ restaurant. Sometimes I just walk around the city with my camera clicking pcitures. Its fun watching a big game “Senegalese style” (Kids and adults stand outside restaurants/ bars watching the game, cheering and hooting, as the world goes around them).

# Start-up 2

Start-up 2: What do you think of Dakar?

M: I like the weather. It’s warm and sunny. I also like Corniche (the seafront). So far the people have been nice, helpful and courteous. I had no difficulty finding an apartment and I never felt unsafe in the city.

Start-up 2: Did you choose to come to Dakar?

M: I chose to come to Dakar.

Start-up 2: Why?

M: I like going to places that are not so much on the tourist map. It’s like going into the unexplored. I also did some research and found out that Senegal is one of the politically stable countries in the region with a deep-rooted culture for music, arts and food. I’m also doing something I like and believe in.

Start-up 2: Did you visit the real Dakar/ other side?

M: Oh yes, I did visit the other side. It resembles any other developing country. It’s like a dark underbelly under the fair and beautiful Corniche (Corniche, the seafront, houses businessmen and politicians surrounded by embassies from other countries and a French military base). The other side is the grim reality that showcases a developing country with haphazard streets, unplanned infrastructure and poor living conditions.

Start-up 2: Why did you go there?

M: I attended an open lecture for the underprivileged. I was accompanied by two colleagues who gave lectures on importance of entrepreneurship and financial planning in one’s life. (CTIC is also active in promoting entrepreneurship amongst the poorest masses in West Africa).

Start-up 2: How do you see it going forward (growth and development in Senegal)?

M: I expect it to grow because of demographic advantages, political stability and industrialization. But I also see problems in availability of natural resources and other areas such as energy. Senegal is not rich in national resources like fresh water and most of the energy resources are imported. Its not known for a big industry such as mineral ore, chemicals, or other natural commodities except for fishing. So it really needs to have a sound strategy to cope with industrialization, growing population and increasing energy needs.

M: What do you think of the economy?

Start-up 2: It’s slowly changing now. We have discovered oil off the Atlantic coast but lack of equipment, experience and oil drilling techniques resulted in Senegal settling for 10% of the total value generated. Majority of economic value should go to Senegal but international politics and lack of resources has led to Senegal settling for a small share.

M: Is it just you who feels like this because people don’t seem to be talking about it so much?

Start-up 2: No it’s the millennials of Senegal who think like this. The previous generation did not care so much about the economic resources of the country but this generation understands economics and it has access to information.

Start-up 2: Where have you been till now? Did you visit Goree islands, Saly and other beaches around Dakar?

M: I have been to Saly and the white sand beaches there. We rented out a beach house for the weekend for some team building exercise. I also visited Saint Louis (the erstwhile capital of Senegal). I plan to visit Goree islands and pink lake because it looks spectacular in the pictures.

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Lessons on entrepreneurship and personal finance

# Sachiko on the Beach

Sachiko: (Playing tourist and taking pictures of kids playing on the beach).

Kids: Don’t take our picture. You are not supposed to take our picture and then show it to the world.

Sachiko: But, but …(I was trying to capture the essence of Africa). Here, I deleted it.

Kids: Let us check. We need to make sure you deleted the pictures.

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Sunset at Plage du Virage, Dakar

# The morning coffee guy

M: Please don’t put so much sugar in my tea. It is too sweet for my taste.

Original Gangster: Man you are not an OG!

M: What’s an OG?

Original Gangster: You are from India and you don’t like sugar in your tea. Everybody in Senegal likes his or her tea/ coffee sweet. You are not an original gangster.

IMG-20160222-WA0009With the Original Gangster

# Colleagues at work

Colleague: Do you have family or friends in Senegal?

M: No

Colleague: So why did you choose to come to CTIC?

M: I believe that CTIC’s efforts are sustainable in the long run and the outcome of these efforts will have a higher net impact in term of economic development when compared to other non-profit models. The idea of creating a culture that enables entrepreneurs to build businesses will have a far-reaching impact in the long run. I felt that I could actually contribute to the society by doing something here.

Colleague: Do you like the food? Can you cook?

M: Yes the food is good. I usually eat croissants for breakfast and Yassa for lunch to satisfy my Indian taste buds. Evenings I usually cook something. I am slowly learning about the African spices.

Colleague: Do you like our country?

M: Yes, it’s been interesting and amazing so far. I look forward to explore it further.

To sum it up Senegal is at an interesting junction where the current policies and factors will heavily influence the future. Like most developing countries it has its share of problem. Concurrently it has the spirit to achieve something great. The current situation and state of affairs in Senegal are well summarized by the following African proverb –

“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”

I hope you enjoyed my blog and experience in Dakar so far. I plan to have a follow up on this once I have more question & answers to share.

Till next time, Jarra Jeff!

Time with the Champions

Beautiful Nairobi. Lots of greenery, lovely weather, friendly people, great beer…what’s not to like!

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As in many developing countries, income inequality, high unemployment, rural-urban migration and other issues combine to create a large population living in poverty, dwelling in informal settlements ( read: slums) like Mathare. (view from my office)

Views from my office 1Views from my office 2

Unemployment is pretty common, with a correspondingly high crime rate. The HIV prevalence exceeds the national average. Tuberculosis, malnutrition, hypertension and diabetes are also rampant.

Run by German Doctors Nairobi, BARAKA HEALTH CENTER provides quality, accessible and sustainable health services to the vulnerable population in this community of around half a million people.Picture Baraka health center

Rose has worked in Baraka since 2007, and leads the ‘community team’.  I believe it’s more apt to call them the ‘Community Champions’With the community team

The community team delivers one of the core services of this centre. Their job is to go into the dangerous streets, narrow alleys, unmarked houses and unventilated shacks with ‘flying toilets’. They follow up on patients, identify people too sick to come to the clinic, pick out malnourished children and adults, monitor drug adherence, and refer these people to the feeding centre,the health clinic, the HIV/TB care centre or to other appropriate services.

I spent one day with them on the field to help me understand the center’s work, I couldn’t take pictures to avoid undue attention. Only Rose was bold enough to make phone calls on the street, and she told me: “they see me as their mother, and no matter how ‘bad’ these boys become, they’ll still find it hard to attack their mother; but you make sure you keep your phone well”. (I kept my phone very very well!)

In my time here as an ESMT Responsible Leaders’ Fellow, I hope to contribute to keeping the centre open and running sustainably. If I ever run out of motivation….I’ll just spend another day with Rose and her courageous team-  field trip for me, daily work for her.

With Rose

A journey to the end of a River

Rivers are most majestic when they are about to meet the ocean. And that couldn’t be less true for the mighty Zambezi River, which touches nine African countries before it flows into the Indian Ocean on the east of Mozambique.

Zambezi River in some of its mightiness

Zambezi River in some of its mightiness

However this region is also a highly disaster prone and extremely vulnerable to natural calamities such as floods and cyclone.  Welthungerhilfe, the organization I am volunteering with under RLF, is running a project in some of the districts in Zambezia and Nampula provinces of Mozambique to increase the disaster resilience as part of Disaster preparedness program of European Commission (DIPECHO).

Few day back I got to visit one of the districts called Chinde (pronounced Shin-Day), which lies right at the mouth of the Zambezi river. First of all this district is so remote that it is only reachable by boat. A quick look at the google map might give an idea.

Chinde's location on map

Chinde’s location on map

One has to take a long and tiring three hours boat ride (on a fast motor boat) to this place. Bigger boats or a big vessel can take more than ten hours. BTW the winds were so strong the that I lost my cap twice (the boatman was kind enough to do a turn to pick it up)

District has a remarkable small town, also called Chinde, where the district administration has its office. The population of town is just over 16,000 although the total population of the district is around 150,000 people. The town has only about 5 cars (there was only 1 till few years back). Even electricity is also a fairly new addition to the district, introduced just 2 or 3 years back. There are some colonial buildings in the town housing government officials. Plus a couple of houses were used earlier by sugar trading company called Sena, now dysfunctional. Unsurprisingly, the largest building in the town was a Church.

Some of the administrative buildings in Chinde

Some of the administrative buildings in Chinde

Main avenue in Chinde

Main avenue in Chinde

The Church

The Church

I saw some peculiar looking (though aesthetically pleasing) houses. These houses had wooden frames filled with rubbles from old rundown buildings. On enquiring I got to know that the building material is scares and expensive so people reuse material from the old buildings destroyed at the time of civil war.

A frugal architecture?

A frugal architecture?

Town also had an FM Radio Station of its own. I couldn’t resist visiting it. I was very thrilled (for some strange reason) at the sheer pleasure of listening to the lone channel on my mobile right outside the station with earphone in one ear and other ear tuned into the voice of RJ / music from inside the station.

Chinde FM

100.6 Chinde FM

I also got to be part of one of the rituals in the town. Every morning there is a flag hosting and the guard whistles. I was on my way to beach at 6 in the morning when I happen to cross the place. I saw everyone stop. Out of confusion and respect for local tradition I did too. After the hosting was complete guard whistled again and everyone moved on. Now it feels like time did stop for those 10 seconds or so.

The project sites are spread across many islands that are only reachable by boat. Those were some of the most beautiful places I ever visited. At one of these places the scenery around the backwaters was nothing less than breathtaking.

Backwaters at one of the Islands

Backwaters at one of the Islands

On one of these islands I observed that all women on the island had these little marks spanning across their arms and chest. We asked some of the women and no one knew why they had them. Looked like it was a custom. They were etched when women reached puberty. It’s possibly a way to show that they are ready for marriage. I didn’t want to be judgemental about their practices.

In the name of tradition!

A woman with marks around her chest line

Oh yes and on another island the village leaders were slickly dressed. Although they didn’t belong to any military establishment, they wore uniforms.  This was tradition from the time of Portuguese and still prevalent though more than four decades have passed since independence. Quite interesting how power dynamics could change but traditions can stay.

In the name of tradition!

In the name of tradition!

There was also a fort like structure at one such place. Turned out it was a prison at the time of Portuguese. New administration couldn’t find a use for the place thus it has been abandoned now. Looked like they were lucky enough not to need a prison.

The abondoned prison

The abandoned prison

I can’t sign-off without talking about food. Whereas all my colleagues relished fishes, I fall in love with Matapa and peri-peri. Matapa is a local Mozambican speciality made from Cassava leaves and coconut (with few other things added sometimes). I was eating Matapa day and night. So much so that the people who ran the eatery remembered me as “The Matapa Guy”, when someone asked them to call me from the guesthouse once. Our Project director joked about naming a cassava plantation against me at a conservation agriculture farm.  Peri-peri is a hot sauce (pickled sometimes) that is a must have with food in Mozambique (and many other African countries). I generously ate it, sometimes just peri-peri and rice or ncima (local dish made from Maize). My love for peri-peri was so conspicuous that the owner of the hotel we ate at decided to gift me a jar filled with peri-peri.

Matapa on left and Cassava plant on right

Matapa and Cassava plant

The Peri Peri :)

The Peri Peri 🙂

The whole experience was nothing less than astonishing. I was soon back to utilitarian life of cities. But my three days at Zambezi river estuary were a crash course in culture, food, people and a life so different. A journey to the end of a river and a memory till the end of a life.

Lessons in Happiness

As a Responsible Leaders Fellow I am volunteering in some of the poorest countries in the world. For my work, I frequently travel to some of the remotest regions of these countries where people lack basic infrastructure and facilities. But it doesn’t mean people I meet are complaining or carrying a sad face all the time. On the contrary they are some of the happiest and most content people I have ever met. They sing and dance to everything they can and they share whatever little they have. They need help, aid and education but they need no lessons in happiness from west or east.

And happiest of them all are the children. I make a point to talk to them whenever I go for a project visit (they don’t understand me most of the time but sign and smile languages always work). They have no gadgets or fancy sports equipment. But they are happy with their friends around them.

Seven-years-old Henry and his friends love to play soccer and aspire to be local heroes. They can’t afford to buy a football. But they can make one. Yes they can MAKE one. Carefully wrapping plastic bags one over another around a piece of cloth, they have created their own nice football. So what if it doesn’t bounce enough or go as far as it should when you kick it. It’s no less fun.

Henry and his team

Henry and his team

The Handmade football

The Handmade football

Camera has been my best friend wherever I went. And it helped me make friends. During one of my site visits, little Gloria and Ester followed me wherever I moved, asking for one more picture. They are indeed the most photogenic girls I ever came across. I always show kids the pictures I took of them. Looking themselves in the 2 inch LCD screen increases their happiness many folds. They don’t need a camera to be happy. They are just happy being in it. Soon enough Gloria and Ester brought their friends to share their happiness.

Gloria and Ester

Gloria and Ester

And their friends

And their friends

and more Friends

and more Friends

As one of the projects, my organization Welthungerhilfe  is imparting health trainings in villages in Malawi and Zimbabwe. People graduate and receive certificates if they fulfill all 20 criterion on various health precautions during three months of training. There was a small event hosted in one of the districts for graduating community members. After the event I saw some kids collecting discarded soft drink caps. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity of participating. Every cap found was adding more smiles to each face (including my). When I asked what they are going to do with these caps, they said they can play a Strike and Pocket game. Who said only Billiards and Carrom could be fun.

The caps collection

The caps collection

Little Oscar is scared of Murungus (Shona word for Foreigners). Probably his mother uses stories of Murungus to make him finish his food. But hiding and looking from the back of the wooden door makes him happy that he is out of my sight. After some pursuing I managed to tame him for a picture. He is still camera shy. Too young may be. But looking at his own pictures did make him smile finally. And then he was happy teasing me around for the next one hour I was there (well his t-shirt said “T is for Trouble” 🙂 ).

Little Oscar

Little Oscar

I got my lessons in economics and money last year and it made me informed. Now I get my lessons in happiness every day and it makes me humble. I live a privileged life not because I have lived in cities or had a great job. I have a privileged life because so many people are sharing their happiness and smiles everyday with me. I am happy as I have learned to find happiness in anything around me just like these little kids.

* Pictures have been taken at various Welthungerhilfe’s project sites in Zimbabwe and Malawi. Please visit: http://www.welthungerhilfe.de/  and http://www.welthungerhilfe.de/blog/  to know more about Welthungerhilfe’s projects around the world