Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Concert Baaba Maal and my office at the Netherlands Embassy!

After my last blog post Friday afternoon, I went to a café for a big cappuccino with whipped cream to celebrate my first interview!! ;-) Coincidently, I met four Dutch girls in this café and I invited them for the concert of Baaba Maal at the Institut Français du Sénégal that night. We went with the five of us and we really had a good time!

The concert of Baaba Maal:

Saturday morning I started transcribing my first interview. I was very excited and I just couldn’t wait! ;-) 

When I was a student, I was a research assistant of Merlijn van Hulst and Laurens de Graaf (TSPB, Tilburg University). I transcribed many interviews for several research projects for them, which I really enjoyed. For me it was a perfect student job. I had to think about them a lot the past days when I was transcribing - this time for my own PhD research! The upcoming months, three very nice ladies (Alina, Sofia and Maria) who are enrolled in INTERVICT’s Master programme Victimology and Criminal Justice in Tilburg will assist me with my transcriptions as part of their internship. Ladies, I will be sending the first interviews to you this week! ;-)

Saturday afternoon I had my second interview, with someone who worked for more than 20 years at the Family Ministry. She had so much knowledge about the developments at government level regarding FGM/C since the 1990s. She comes herself from a tradition where FGM/C is practiced and also told me some personal stories. Very sad to hear, but at the same time so interesting. This is what I really wanted, this is why I am here, trying to understand the practice FGM/C. Hearing the stories and experiences from these women is so valuable for my research…

Usually I want my interviews not to take more than 1 hour, but this time I decided that it was no problem that it lasted 1h and 45 mins. Everything she said was interesting and after the interview I had so much energy!! There were 1.000 more questions I wanted to ask, but I am sure we’ll see each other more often during the upcoming months. 

Sunday morning something magical happened… Every day I opened the tap in my kitchen, while I make myself a cup of coffee, to see whether there was running water. It became kind of a routine every morning and I did not expect anything to happen. But: I opened the tap, there was some weird noise, and then....... there was water!!!! I just couldn't believe it!! I ran to my bathroom to take a look whether my shower was also working, and… yeeeaaaaahhhh!!!!!!!!!! I was extremely happy and I made a little dance of joy in my apartment! The next hour I was cleaning my apartment, I washed my clothes and for the first time in two weeks I took a shower!

I was extremely happy with this water.
With all the dust and sand here in Dakar, my clothes became really dirty. But when there is such a shortage on water (and you need to carry every liter of water you use), you realize how much water it actually cost to wash your clothes. Therefore I was so happy that I could finally wash my clothes again after two weeks in Dakar! I think one of the things I will appreciate when I am back home is our washing machine. But at the same time, it has its charm to put a pan with water on the fire, then wash your clothes, rinse it and hang up. And the advantage of the African weather is that your clothes are dry within one hour! ;-)

Hmmm... clean clothes! ;-)
Last weekend I also went out for lunch with a Dutch girl who works for an NGO in Dakar. I am a member of this NGO on facebook and that is how I found out that she was working there. We met in a nice Crêperie where we spoke about her work, my research and her life in Dakar. She is an anthropologist and living here now for more than 3 years. She also knows a lot about FGM/C, so it was so nice to talk to her and she had some nice tips for me. In the past years, she also did a lot of fieldwork and she shared her experiences with me. I became so excited! A few hours later we took the taxi back home, and I am sure we’ll see each other again any time soon.

Sunday night I watched the movie Desert Flower. It have seen the movie many times, but I must say that it is different now I am here. Especially the last three minutes of the movie are so touching. You can find it here:

Monday morning I received a phone call from the Embassy. During my lunch last week with one of the diplomats (see also the facebook page of the Embassy), I explained that I do not have an affiliation with any organization or the university in Dakar and that I am here just by myself. I told her that I work mostly in my own apartment or a café in the city centre of Dakar. When she called me on Monday, she offered me a workplace at the Embassy, where I can work two days a week (Tuesdays and Wednesdays)!  I can use the facilities of the Embassy and they will also facilitate a mini-conference at the end of January to present my preliminary research results!! I know that this is very uncommon, since I did an internship at the Netherlands Embassy in Israel myself a few years ago, so I am very delighted that they give me this opportunity. 

Today was my first day at the Embassy. In the morning I was introduced to the staff, including the Ambassador. He is a very nice man and told me that he was more than happy to receive me! It was really great to work in an office today (with airco!). I am so thankful to have the opportunity to be in a 'work-environment' a couple of days a week. My apartment is nice, but during the day very hot and noisy. In addition, it is nice to have colleagues. Today we had lunch together and I really enjoyed it!

My office at the Embassy!
The past days I e-mailed and called many people (mainly Ministries, international organizations and NGO's), inviting them to participate in my research. Unfortunately, approximately 10% replies to my first mail or phone call and around 20% replies after my second mail or phone call. And once we have set a date for the interview, in 50% of the cases the appointment is cancelled. Sometimes quite frustrating, but it is part of the job and I do not feel discouraged at all. As a researcher I am dependent on other people, and especially in Africa making appointments is not so easy. ;-) I knew beforehand that I had to be very flexible and I am happy that both pilot interviews went very well. The interviewees provided me with a lot of information and I am eager to learn more. I am glad I decided to stay here four months (and not three), so I don't have to rush or stress and I will have enough time to interview all people on my list! ;-) 

Further more, I collected more documents, reports and policies, in order to make sure I have a complete picture of all actions taken in Senegal against FGM/C. I will use the information following from these reports and policies, as well as the data that will follow from my interviews to write my chapter about Senegal for my PhD dissertation. 

Some of the reports and policies I collected!
Apart from these documents, I also read the book However Long the Night of Aimee Molloy. This book tells the inspiring story of Molly Melching, an American woman who founded the Senegalese NGO Tostan, to help millions of African girls and women. I red this book like a scientific article in a journal, because the human rights-based approach this NGO uses in their educations programmes to abandon FGM/C, are extremely relevant for my PhD research. Aimee Molloy describes for example the following:

“I have learned my lessons during the decades I’ve been doing this work,” Molly says, “but none as important as this: if you want to help empower people to positively transform their communities and their lives, human rights education is key. For many years, our education program did not include discussions on basic human rights. We were successful, but it was only after introducing human rights learning that an amazing thing happened. I can’t explain it. It felt like magic.”

One woman in a village testifies in the book:
“Where we once had fear we now have courage, because we have given knowledge. We know our rights and the rights of all women. We have the right to dignity and the confidence to change customs if they do not bring us that dignity. We have left the darkness, and we now live in light.”

If what she says above is really true (I am still very sceptical and I can hardly believe it – but suppose it is true), I am a happy researcher, and I think my PhD dissertation might be groundbreaking!! ;-)

The book. 
I studied the book like an article in a scientific journal.
In addition, I hope to get access to the field for my interviews at community level via this NGO. Upcoming Friday I have an appointment with the Director of Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning in Dakar, so I keep my fingers crossed! I hope they are able and willing to help me. 

Tomorrow I have a day off, because it is Tabaski, an important holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide to honour the willingness of the prophet Abraham to sacrifice his young first-born son as an act of submission to Allah's command, I learned a few days ago from a taxi driver. Allah intervened to provide Abraham with a lamb to sacrifice instead. Dakar is filled with goats, goats are literally everywhere. It is a little bit crazy to realize that all of them will be slaughtered tomorrow...

Too many goats in Dakar:

I am invited at the family of Bocar (the husband of Bijou) to celebrate Tabaski with them. I am expected to be at 9am at the house of Bocar's parents to slaughter the goat. It will not be the first time that I see a goat slaughtered (that was in Kenya in 2010), but I will make sure that I do not have an empty stomach when that happens at 9 o'clock in the morning. ;-) I am looking forward to be part of this tradition with a Senegalese family.

The movie in the last blog did not work, below I'll try again. I made this movie in the bus last week, to give you an idea on how daily life looks like here. ;-)

In my next blog post you'll read about my Tabaski adventure! ;-) 

Warm regards from Dakar,


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