Why am I here?

Once again I have been too busy to write anything here. I’ve been getting on and off of planes, unpacking and repacking my suitcase, working evenings and weekends, and suddenly we are approaching the middle of June. But I thought I had better set aside a few minutes this afternoon (a Sunday, and I’m working in my hotel room) just to let everyone know I am still OK out here.

I did manage to catch the final league games of the English Premiership season, in a windowless, airless “video club” down a little alleyway in Monrovia, where both the Chelsea and Man Utd games were projected onto a wall for the several hundred fans packed in there. Then ten days later I was in Accra for the Champions League final, watching in a hotel bar with a number of Ghanaians mostly supporting Chelsea (or, more accurately, Essien) as my team took the double.

I also managed to visit the National Museum in Ouagadougou, which, although not yet finished, was very impressive, with a well set out collection of masks and an interesting display of archaeological findings from the north of the country. Now I am in Cameroon, where I tried to fit in a couple of museum visits yesterday. However the National Museum is currently a building site, and the private Afhemi Museum, which supposedly contains 2,000 items including tribal artefacts up to 900 years old, was frustratingly elusive. I could not find an address, only the name of the district it is in, but no-one in that district seems to have heard of it. Emails to the address given on the internet bounce back, and the phone numbers I have tracked down are out of service. So it was back to work…

One of the things I had to do during this time was to draw up the work schedule for me and my team for the next year. I have a new recruit starting on 1 July, and another on 1 October, and once they are trained I will finally have a full team. Theoretically, this could mean less work for me – well, less work to do, and more work to manage, I suppose. Much of the management will be better done on location rather than by email, as two of my team will be new, but it means my trips will be shorter. This will give me the chance to take some of the leave I have stacked up (which I will lose if it’s not taken soon), as well as to benefit from some of the public holidays. So what do I do with that time?

When I moved out here, and started this blog, I imagined that during my five years here I would really get an understanding of life in Africa, or at least in Senegal. However I soon realised that the only understanding available to me (if I want it) is of life as an ex-pat in Africa. The rest I am just looking in at from the outside, which only gives me part of the story. I am too different from the Africans – not just in skin colour, though that is the biggest factor, but also in not being married with children, not being part of a big extended family, not being religious, and in having an outlook on life that can only arise from growing up in a wealthy, stable country with a decent social security system. The focus on getting money here, and on conspicuous consumption when you succeed, is an attitude I will never share. I was reminded of it again this morning when I went down to breakfast – in comfortable trousers and Tshirt and a pair of flip flops – and was surrounded by Cameroonian women in gorgeous dresses, high heels and heavy make-up.

So my aim has changed, to one of experiencing as much as I can of the region while I am here – seeing the countryside, eating the food, listening to the music, etc – really just being a tourist but with greater access because of my job. Not such a bad thing I suppose. Which means that my schedule for the next year is jam-packed again, but this time through using my days off and weekends to the full in seeing as much of the countries in the region as I possibly can. Which means that when I do get to spend any time in Dakar, I will be as busy as I have been over the past year. But I promise to find time to keep writing this. After all, if I don't write down what I've done I might forget, and then what's the point?

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