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?
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
With the Original Gangster
# Colleagues at work
Colleague: Do you have family or friends in Senegal?
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!