Making a house into a home

I was very excited to receive a phone call on Monday to tell me my stuff from the UK was ready to be delivered to me the next day. Tuesday morning I wandered around my little house, impatiently waiting for the lorry to arrive although also half resigned to the likelihood that it wouldn’t come at all. But it did come, and there were all my boxes, with a treasure trove of long-awaited contents.

Well, apart from the things I really shouldn’t have brought. Thick winter duvet? A guidebook of walks around London?? But also amongst it were my mini-hifi and my CDs, my photo albums, my books, a change of clothes at last, an easy-to-use corkscrew and my hammock. Bliss!

& later in the week the carpenter delivered a set of bookshelves and some kitchen cupboards, so there were even places to put some of the stuff, although most of the CDs and books still remain in their boxes. The hammock has had plenty of use already, as its delivery has coincided with a welcome clearing of the cloud cover and consequent rise in the daytime temperature from 23°C to 32°C. The corkscrew has also had some use…

In fact this afternoon I sat with a dainty little plate of spicy salami and a glass of shiraz as I watched the Tottenham v Bolton game on TV, feeling very civilised! I’ve started to feel a little more like my house is also my home, and therefore somewhere I should have some pride in. I finally found some material I like which they are to use to recover the horrible old sofa set I was given – a sunny yellow colour with little tortoise motifs in black, cream and rust. It looks very African and hopefully the bright colour will lift the room a little. I have vague ideas of large tribal wood-carvings and traditional cloths hanging on the walls, but all that will take some time as I have to wait until I visit the appropriate countries. I know you can buy Malian Bogolan cloth in Dakar but at several times the Malian price and anyway, I’d rather buy it in Mali. Must be careful not to get too acquisitive/materialistic about this though!

The channel showing the football is part of a free trial period I have been given for the local digital cable package. But we are one month into the two month trial and so far only two of the forty-odd channels actually work. The others come and go, with a few minutes of something watchable before the screen freezes or the picture deteriorates into dozens of little coloured squares. We have bought a longer aerial, and the technician has been three times so far to try to sort things out, but with no success. During the week I tried to wire up my video player that arrived with my shipment, but found that the digital cable company technician had used the video socket for one of his cables. I tried to trace the cable into the nest of wires that now sits behind the TV, only to find that it disappeared into a roll of sticky tape with two other cables, and that the single cable that came out the other side then went into a little box with lots of loose wires protruding from one side… At that point I gave up for fear of electrocuting myself.

Unfortunately though that is fairly typical of the way things (don’t) work here. Quality of workmanship is very low. A lovely man called Toumani is making much of my furniture (cheaper than buying it ready-made), having come recommended by several colleagues for the quality of his work. Yet now I have put a few things into the kitchen cabinets the door catches don’t work, as the weight of a few mugs and jars has pulled the hinges out of alignment. & one of the drawers in my dressing table won’t open. & one of the wardrobe doors has started to stick (sorry Mum – I know you don’t like me starting sentences with ‘and’).

The $20 chopping board I bought when I first moved into my house has already split in two. Most of the doors in the house don’t quite fit – in fact the back door ends so far above the floor that a mouse came in through the gap under it last week.

Even when you do find something nice and of reasonable quality, the service levels can disappoint. Last week I found three lamps I liked, and asked the shop to set them aside (and watched them do so) whilst I went into work to get approval for the purchase from my employer, who has to pay for them. The lamps were delivered Saturday morning, but one had the wrong base and another the wrong lampshade, so I had to spend time and money taking a taxi back to the shop with the lamps to exchange them for the ones I had ordered. & sure enough when I got to the shop there were the proper parts sat by the service desk. Apparently they had sent different ones because they thought I’d prefer them!!

I also have to get used to the digital clock on my mini-hifi constantly flashing “SU 00:00” at me, as the electricity cuts out for a few minutes at least a couple of times every day and I’ve given up re-setting it. Just as well I didn’t bother packing my electronic clock-radio!

It was election day in Senegal today and we were strongly advised by the head of our office to stay indoors in case of trouble. We have also been given the day off tomorrow, again in case of trouble. Certainly passions are running high, and I can hear lots of noise on the streets. It is hard to imagine Senegal suffering the sort of problems so many other African countries have, but I am aware that the current president’s private residence is only around the corner so I have taken heed of the warning, even though I would love to be out there investigating what is going in.

Generally the run-up to the election has had a bit of a party atmosphere, with the various groups of supporters wearing their candidates’ colours and making lots of noise – rather like groups of football supporters. There was a big fight between rival supporters earlier in the week, with several serious injuries, but in a country where alcohol is not much in evidence things don’t usually blow up into anything serious.

From what I can gather the incumbent, Abdoulaye Wade, has a good chance of staying in power. His supporters point to all the improvements he has made such as the new roads, street lights and improved health facilities. But many people seem to blame the government for rises in the prices of a lot of basic goods such as rice, bread and gas, and some of Wade’s opponents claim they will lower such prices if they gain power. Many also feel that Wade, somewhere in his eighties, is too old to govern. Strangely it does not seem that the 60% unemployment rate is a factor in this election.

It is nice to see that the Senegalese take their right to vote so seriously. The voting process is very slow, but the TV news has shown voters patiently queuing for hours. Gloria told me the voting stations have a long table with fifteen piles of card, one pile for each candidate (all men...). Each card shows the photo and name of one candidate. The voter walks alongside the table and picks up one card from all fifteen piles, and then takes those cards into a private room. There they put the card for the candidate of their choice into an envelope, and throw the other fourteen cards into a bin. Such a waste of trees and ink, but I suppose it makes the process more accessible for the illiterate. The envelope is then taken back into the main room and deposited into a transparent sealed ballot box. The voter signs a register (if they are able to) and places their thumb onto a pad of dye, to prevent them from trying to vote a second time. But I have little doubt that whoever comes second will still complain of electoral fraud, that seems to be de rigueur these days.

The results will be announced on Friday, but with fifteen candidates I would have thought it unlikely that any one will get the 50%+ they need to win, so we will probably have to have another round of voting between the two who get the most votes this time. I wonder if the office manager will give us another day off?

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