As I am now in the UK for ten days of courses and meetings, I will not have much cause to write about my life in Senegal. However it does give me time for reflection. Time to think about life there and how it compares to life in the UK.
One difference I have been thinking about is the practice of employing maids. I was offered recommendations for maids from the first day I arrived, and finally gave in earlier this month and took over the services of a maid (Gloria) from a colleague who was departing Senegal. It didn’t come easily for me, something I could never have imagined myself doing and something I feel quite embarrassed about. No criticisms meant of friends who have maids, cleaners, etc, but it just isn’t me. It doesn’t fit in with my beliefs – those connotations of superiority and upper or upper middle class attitudes that I’d prefer to avoid (too posh to clean up my own mess?).
But here the attitudes are completely different. Everyone who can afford to have a maid does so, and indeed would be seen very negatively if they didn’t, the presumption being that they were too mean to pay for one. It is seen as an important way of sharing wealth – the ability to provide a job for another person (and probably supporting an extended family network on the wages). The other day I noticed the office guard, who cannot be at all well paid, sitting there whilst someone even less well-paid cleaned his shoes. There is just a different attitude here.
&, I must admit, I have appreciated the cleaning she has done. At this time of the year the harmattan wind blows in from the Sahara depositing a fine dust over everything. Not only does it almost blot out the Sun on bad days, and get in your eyes and nose, but it gets into the house under the doors and through the mosquito netting and very quickly everything is covered with it. You can sweep and dust one day and within 24 hours the place is dustier than my London flat would have been if left for months. Goodness knows how bad the place could get if I went off on a business trip for three weeks.
I also have concerns over my ability to be a good environmental citizen now I am in Dakar – for various reasons, but Gloria is one of them. She came on Saturday, as she was busy with her previous employer on Friday, so I got to see some of her work. I was surprised to see her scrubbing vigorously not only at the lounge floor (which I know she last cleaned only three days ago) but also at the flagstones in my yard. I don’t know for sure that the water she was using was hot, nor do I know which cleaning product caused the bubbles on its surface, but I know for sure that damage was being done to the environment.
Even if my French were up to explaining why I would like her to minimise her use of electricity, water and chemicals, I don’t know that the explanation would cross the cultural barrier. Gloria thinks that her job is to provide me with a sparkling clean house, and she is clearly proud of her work, which I must admit she does well. How can I tell her that I would rather have a few smears on the floor if that would reduce my contribution to global warming?
& if she did understand what I meant, how would she reconcile that to the number of flights I need to take to do my job??
I think I have convinced myself that I can live with the flying. On the one hand (unlike going on holiday), if I weren’t doing this job someone else would be, so I’m not adding to the total miles being flown. & on the other hand, I may, over time, be in a position to influence the amount of consideration given to the environmental impact of the development projects undertaken in my region (and maybe even globally?) – something which probably would not be done by someone else in my job. Or at least I will try, although I have to show that I can do the job in hand before I start extending it into new areas.