Table of Contents

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January 31st Protest

It was to be expected: I arrived early, like I usually do. The protest started late, as things in Africa usually do.

I met up with the team from Al Jazeera and let them know that the police were setting up just past the monument. We got some shots of them forming a perimeter around 2:30pm, well before anyone arrived for the demonstration, which was scheduled for 3pm in La Place de L'Obelisque (or, as some old-school Dakar residents will know it as, The Monument).

By around 4 pm a crowd of a few hundred had gathered. It was a mixture of mostly men, groups of young women, children and a few older women milling about in the triangle in front of the Obelisque. I stopped one elderly lady and asked her why she was there.

"Wade needs to leave," she said. "We are tired of him."
"Are you here for your family?" I asked
"I am here for myself, I am here for everyone."

Another young woman said in an interview with Al Jazeera that she didn't understand why Wade had told Gaddafi to leave office, but now was insisting on his right to run for a third term.

As the people grew quiet and bored waiting for the M23 leaders to arrive, Y'en a Marre was assembled behind the monument. They held signs, chanting and singing in preparation to march to the open area in front of L'Obelisque.

Then opposition leader Macky Sall arrived, waving from an SUV as his supporters walked down the street yelling. This was where things got going. By the time they reached the square there were thousands gathered.

As I walked across the sand to the other side of the monument, I stopped to take a picture of three little boys. They were quite fascinated by my audio recorder, and one little boy started talking into it quite loudly in Wolof. One of his friends laughed and told him to speak in French. I managed to piece together that they were Idrissa Seck supporters.

"He's going to help us," they said.

"And what about Wade?" I asked

"We want him to go."

I gave them my orange for their trouble and hoped they would get out of there before things started to heat up.

The Al Jazeera team and I headed to the upper floor of a nearby building to watch from the balcony. Y'en a Marre marched on the square, forming a huge mass of people that filled the space in front of the monument and the surrounding street.

Then Youssou N'Dour arrived. A huge cheer went up from the crowd. There was a definite air of celebration and hope in the air as people sang the national anthem of Senegal. It was quite moving to see so many people (my estimate would be over 10,000) coming together to stand up for their rights as citizens of this country.

When the speeches began I decided it was time to leave and caught a taxi home. Just in time apparently, since people began tweeting that the protesters were burning tires and the police were shooting tear gas soon after I left. Several people have been injured tonight, and reports say that one young person has died after being run over by a police vehicle. After watching a video of the attack, I am shocked more people were not killed. The armored police vehicle drove right into a crowd near the Obelisque, as another truck came behind firing shot after shot of tear gas.

Here is the report by Al Jazeera that I helped with. I'm just a bit tired now, so it might give you the information my muddled brain missed.

Good night everyone. Pray for peace in Senegal.

Monday, January 30, 2012

AJE Interview

My interview with Al Jazeera English about the current situation in Senegal should air on the 9pm news from London, UK tonight.

Update: Senegal

Here is what has happened since my last post:

- Riots on Friday left one police officer dead, and the remnants of burned tires and market tables in the streets
- Senegal's Constitutional Court has said that Youssou N'Dour is not eligible to run, as 4000 of his required signatures were deemed invalid
- The court denied the appeals of N'Dour (to be able to run), the opposition (to disqualify Wade) and Wade (to disqualify certain opposition candidates)
- A youth who was said to be a leader in the M23 protest movement was killed in Podor
- 80% of news websites operating out of Senegal are said to be not functioning properly
- An M23 protest is scheduled for 3pm tomorrow at Place de l'Obelisque
- The opposition and Youssou N'Dour have all been quoted as saying that they will not allow Wade to become president for a third term. Opposition parties say that they will make the country "ungovernable".

In all this, the international media is starting to realize that the story is not that Youssou N'Dour, international superstar, is getting into politics- it's that 80+-year-old Wade isn't getting out of politics.

More updates are posted on my Twitter.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Evac Pack

Was it only yesterday that I wrote the post below?

All of Senegal is now waiting, bracing itself to find out whether President Wade will be allowed to run for a third term or not. Yes or no, there will likely be violence and protests in the streets tonight. Opposition parties got started early today, protesting at the Obelisque, despite a government ban.

The Canadian embassy has advised us to "maintain a high level of vigilance". My family and I made lists tonight of what we would bring in case of evacuation. Instead of my two suitcases and two carry-ons, I may only get one backpack- my Evac Pack. We've been choosy.

I don't think I would be so worried or uncertain, if not for our friends here who evacuated from Cote D'Ivoire in 2002. They came with almost nothing, the sounds of gunshots still ringing in their ears. Tonight, we are praying that our country doesn't come to that- and I'm getting my audio recorder and camera ready in case it does.

Update 9:45 pm, Jan. 27: Wade can run. Here we go.

Great coverage by Rukmini Callimachi of AP here.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Packing for Life Overseas

Whether you are leaving home for a week, a month, a year, or forever, the most common question that visitors and expats ask when traveling is, “What should I bring?” I asked my own “What should I bring?” questions to friends in Tunisia before I packed up my life. I had the added issue of how to pack for an indefinite amount of time. Will I be back to Canada in the next year or two? I’m not sure, but I’m leaning on the side of no, so I had to think hard before filling my suitcases.

Here are some questions to ask yourself before you pack:

1. How much room do I have?
- DON’T go over the airline weight limits and specifications, unless you want to pay a whole lot extra, or have a whole lot more trouble. Some airports allow you to mail things you had to take out of your suitcases, but some don’t. Personally, I try never to risk it.
2. What will I need while I’m there?
- These are the practical needs. Clothes, resources for work, medicine that you might not be able to get at your destination. Asking questions of people on the ground will really help you weed out what you really need and what will just take up space. Less is more, especially when it frees up a place for...
3. What will I not be able to get there that I will really miss?
- These are what you take only if you have room. You might bring favourite food or treats from home, keepsakes, photos of friends and family, pass-times, and things that just make you happy.

So how did I answer the questions?

In this case it was two 50 pound bags, one small backpack (and I mean SMALL if you don’t want to run into trouble. Here is a link the one I carried, with my 13 inch laptop, a small camera, a Zoom audio recorder and my passport inside), and a mini carry-on case.
I also brought another suitcase full of Christmas presents for my family, since I stopped in Dakar to be with them over the holidays. The suitcase was made possible by some kind friends in Canada. It allowed me to fit my Dad’s new laptop in my carry-on and bump some of my necessities to the extra suitcase. We don’t always have that luxury, but it’s always nice to be able bring some Christmas cheer from home.

For me, this was mainly clothes, but also some resources for my job.
The first thing to think about is the plane. I always wear comfy clothes and shoes, then put another outfit, a scarf, hoodie and sandals in my carry-on if a quick change is needed (or in case my luggage is lost). An iPod, magazine, lotion and lip balm for the dry plane, and a travel neck pillow are pretty good companions too. Any important or expensive things also travel with me on the plane.
For clothes, makeup, jewelry and toiletries, I tried to think about how my routine would change, and pack accordingly. I brought some clothes that would be suitable for fall weather, since Tunisia can get pretty cool. Some of my must-haves were my leather bomber jacket, lace-up ankle boots, warm socks and a couple of hoodies. For the warmer weather I brought Birkenstocks, below-the-knee skirts and lots of tee shirts, with some nicer dresses and tops thrown in. And of course, I included a journalist staple- button down cotton shirts. I tried to keep in mind what would be culturally appropriate and modest, while still focusing on comfort and practicality for my work.
In terms of what I need for my job, the electronics in my backpack about summed it up, but I also picked up a copy of the Associated Press Style Guide just before I left. For free-lance work I brought the Canadian Press Caps and Spelling, and for survival purposes a tiny Larousse and my Becherelle.
I also packed some medications that I knew I might not get for a while. Many things will be readily available to me in Tunisia, but there were some (like ibuprofen liquid gel-caps) that I just did not want to risk being without.
The last real necessity that I brought was my small, well-worn ESV version Bible. It’s better than any compass I know. Without it I’d be lost.

I’m a big fan of eating whatever is available on my travels, so the only “food” item I packed was Vanilla Earl Grey and Vanilla Rooibos tea. Those two are as much about stress relief as a taste thing for me!
There were a few magazines (Outside, Relevant and Lula) that I knew I would be missing and made sure to bring. Then I added Le Petit Prince (my all time favourite book). Luckily I received a Kindle for Christmas, so I was glad I hadn’t lugged half my library with me like I’d wanted to.
Before I left I got some photos printed. I picked my favourite people and memories and will have them on display in my new place on a rotating basis.
Finally, I brought some mini scented candles from Bath and Body Works and some mini perfume bottles (Pacifica Malibu Lemon Blossom, DKNY Be Delicious, and Very Irresistible Givenchy, in case you were wondering). I also chose a few colours from my embarrassingly large nail polish collection. Everyone has their little indulgences that help them get through the busy times, and these are some of mine.

Packing for any length of time can be stressful. but I’ve found that when I remember these three questions, it can actually be a lot fun. I like to imagine the adventures the things I pack will have with me. And, frankly, living with less is never a bad lesson to learn for most of us Westerners, so I don’t sweat the small stuff. Because really, you will live, no matter what you forget or don’t have room for (unless it’s life saving medicine- please don’t forget that!).

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Different Senegal

I'm typing from the other side of the ocean now.

I've officially left Canada, with no plans of returning any time soon. A stop-over at home in Senegal for a month or two seemed only natural as I prepare to enter the international journalism scene (more on that another day). I'll be moving to Tunisia soon, but for the time being I am soaking up the sunshine in my second home. And let me tell you, while so much has remained the same, this is not the Senegal I knew growing up.

The Arab spring has had a huge effect on the usually peaceful Senegalese. Peaceful (and not-so-peaceful) protests are popping up on a regular basis as our country gears up for an election in February. Our aging President Wade (his age is contested, but most agree he is in his late 80s to mid 90s) has decided to run again, claiming that the constitutional change limiting a president to two terms doesn't apply to him because it occurred during his first term. While Wade was in opposition he opposed corruption like this from his nemesis Abdou Diouf: Now he has a bevy of his own discrepancies to answer for.

Before I leave, I am adding a conversation with a group called Y'en a marre! to my Senegal bucket list. "Y'en a marre" translates to "had enough," after a song written by Côte D'Ivoirian reggae singer Tiken Jah Fakoly. The was group, led by popular Senegalese rappers, formed in February of last year to protest against Wade's candidacy. The leaders of the group have stirred up young men in the country to political action. They've been imprisoned, but have kept fighting for democracy and change in the country. They are made up of the impoverished working class, a collection of youth who refuse to align themselves with a political party. To me, that sounds like much-needed change, but I'd like to interview them first-hand to be sure.

About a month ago my dad and I watched a video online of a man shooting at a crowd of protesters. He was calm, nonchalant and swaggering as though he were doing nothing more than shooing away a few pesky little boys. What is even more disturbing is that people are walking by in the video as if nothing as happening. They most likely believed his was shooting off fireworks since it was the holiday season. One young man died that day, as the police stood back and watched. The man who shot him is Barthelemy Dias, whose face was all over the paper my old friend Moussa brought me the next day. Dias is the opposition Socialist Party's youth leader, and he has now been arrested on murder charges and possession of an illegal firearm. He was shooting at a group of young men from the ruling party, who he claims attacked his office.

This is not the old Senegal, a place where the only major violence happens down south in the Cassamance. This is not the Senegal that held the first ever peaceful transfer of power in Africa. This is a Senegal of anger and frustration, of protests and riot police. This is a Senegal with embassy emails about contingency evacuation plans, and notices saying to avoid going downtown. But maybe it will be a Senegal of change in the weeks and months to come.