Tag Archive: Africa

Turkish Toilet: Home Edition

I still remember my trip to Morocco in January of 2004,especially my first instance of plain as day culture shock.  A group study abroad trip, we stopped at a rest stop from Rabat airport.  All of the students piled out, ready for the much needed public restroom.

We had no idea that we, especially the ladies were in for a surprise.  Instead of the Western style commodes that we were used to, the public stalls featured a hole in the ground and two mounds that look like foot rests!   Now it seems so silly, we should have realized that were having our first introduction to the “Turkish toilet.”    But we didn’t, I for one exited the stall right away thinking I must have entered a public shower.  A few minutes later, I found out I was wrong.  That was indeed the toilet!  After a little bit group coaching, the next woman inside the stall managed to use the bathroom and flush successfully:  A job well done.

Naturally, the Turkish toilet is found all over Morocco, host families were no exception, some of them not even as nice as the one pictured in this entry.  They were a little hard to get used to, I won’t lie.  But as long as they are clean (and boy oh boy have I seen some not-so clean versions of this toilet, mainly in public rest rooms, and I must say that a dirty public toilet whether a Western one or not, is just not pleasant…. imagine number 2 smeared all over toilet surface… not pleasant indeed).  Besides, the Turkish toilet is a lot more sanitary (or so many people claim) and I can see how that is.  You do your business and it goes directly to the intended destination.  Plus, it strengthens your thigh muscles.  In light of the fact that this type of toilet is found not just in Morocco, but from what I understand it’s a mainstay in much of Eastern Europe and other Arab countries as well. I wouldn’t want my next travel adventure to be thwarted by something as silly as a “stoop and stop ”  toilet.

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Anonymous- Egypt, Sept-Oct 2011

Ghana: Akomsombo

I spent most of my childhood believing that Nigeria shared a border with Ghana. This should give you a clue on how much Nigerians talk about Ghana, we seem to have a love and hate relationship. It is not uncommon to hear a Nigerian praise and berate Ghana in the same sentence; ‘There’s no power shortages in Ghana but I don’t see what’s so special about the place.’ I realised the importance attached to Ghana might be strongly due to the fact that Nigeria is surrounded by French-speaking countries and Ghana is our closest English-speaking neighbour in West Africa. With Ghana firmly set on the path to development and not having as much wahala as Nigeria is said to have, it has become the perfect holiday spot for Nigerians. Travelling to Ghana is way cheaper than travelling to Europe and packs almost as much fun.

Ghana is the first African country I actually travelled to! Imagine that I’ve been to several corners of the world but the only African country I knew was the one I was born in. This made my trip there even more interesting, I truly wanted to see what Ghana had to offer. I left for Accra on Christmas Eve with my mum and we planned everything through a tour agency which basically means everything was planned. We were really pissed that our first day in Accra, that is the day after we landed, we had to be up by 7 for the long bus ride to the Akosombo dam where we would catch an afternoon cruise on the Dodi Princess.

It probably took us an hour and a half to get to Akosombo from Accra and when we finally got there we had to wait a while before we got our tickets and boarded the ship. And while on the ship we had to wait even longer before things set up, apparently we were waiting for the food. It is a 2 hour cruise to Dodi island which is an island somewhere along the river. There were actually several islands scattered there. The journey to Dodi was pretty uneventful, I sat right in front of the live band on a table filled with Nigerians and hearing them talk politics bored me to tears. I spent a lot of time staring at the sea and enjoying the slight breeze secretly longing for us to reach our destination and for the journey to be over.

We did reach our destination, Dodi Island, but it wasn’t what I expected. The inhabitants of the island must have been expecting us because they came out to dance. The dances were uncoordinated but I guess they worked it because some of the other tourists got excited and started mimicking their dance. I walked a path on the island till I reached its end, there wasn’t much to see. Some braver tourists set out looking for the village, they didn’t know it was on the other side of the island. Apparently they walk days just to dance and entertain us tourists. Not only that, they also come to beg. On my journey into the island, a little boy not older than seven years came to hold my hand and I immediately pulled away. ‘Do you want anything?’ he asked and I shook my head and hurried away. Then I started feeling bad. After I had seen all the island had to offer, I sought out the boy and gave him 10 Ghanaian cedis. Another boy saw my action and followed me all the way to the ship but I didn’t have more to give. When I told my mother what had transpired she said; ‘Isn’t this Africa?’

Now it was the return journey that was really fun. It took 2 hours to get to Dodi island from where we boarded the ship and the journey back there was 2 hours. The fun started when the MC came up to the stage. He gave us a brief history of the ship, pointed out the various rivers that meet at the dam. He informed us that we could make requests to the band and then he said; ‘The Chinese and Indians on board want to sing a song for us.’ So he called on ‘the Chinese’ and a young couple came onto the stage. The wife did most of the talking, apparently her husband couldn’t speak much English, they were in Ghana for their honeymoon. She then proceed to sing a song that she said was about a beautiful jasmine. After her song, the MC joked he had heard ‘Nigeria’ in her song. Because the Indians were not ready to present their song, the MC asked Nigerians to come up. Immediately, three people came up on the stage vying for the microphone. In a few minutes they were organised and after a short speech they started singing. And then Nigerians took over everything, the singing went on for ages and lots of Nigerians got up and started dancing. When the MC signalled to end the singing, they stopped but things didn’t end there. A man took the opportunity to promote Nigeria, ‘Nigerians were voted the happiest people in the world’, and I thought aren’t those stats outdated? ‘Nigeria is the place where God resides’ and I’m like ‘Really?’

Another Nigerian took the opportunity to crack a joke that I’m sure only Nigerians understood in its entirety even though he spoke pidgin English. In this manner, the journey back was made entertaining. At one point a woman asked to dedicate a song to her mother, the band played the quintessential song ‘Sweet Mother’. A few people came out to dance with the old mother and placed money on her forehead as we do. I believe that for the tourists of other nationalities, this was a glimpse of African culture. For most of the return journey, the people who danced on stage were either Ghanaians or Nigerians. Oh but there was this one Indian man who really danced and kept on dragging beautiful dark-skinned young women to dance with him. By the end of the cruise everyone knew him, ‘That Indian man really had fun. His wife too, they didn’t hesitate to enjoy themselves.’

On the entire journey back to Accra, there was a lot of discussion. As I said earlier, we travelled in a bus and our companions were fellow Nigerians. They were very impressed by the cruise and their experience of it so most of the journey was spent on talking about they ways in which Ghana was better than Nigeria. ‘When was the last time you saw this many oyibo in Nigeria?’ one woman asked. ‘Look at us here travelling with a tour guide. If someone wanted to go to a Nigerian airport saying they were a tour guide, they’d grow old and die there.’ another woman replied. ‘There are things to see in Nigeria but the problem is that Nigerians are crazy, Ghanaians have sense.’ And I guess I should cease and desist lest I air Nigeria’s dirty laundry ^^;

Eccentric Yoruba- Ghana, January 2011.

Originally posted at:  http://eccentricyoruba.dreamwidth.org/23422.html

For more information on Eccentric and her journey in Ghana please visit:  http://eccentricyoruba.dreamwidth.org/

The first blog I started during my stay in South Africa was entitled the South African experience. In it I documented the ups and downs of life and work in the country and I thoroughly enjoyed doing so from early 2008 to mid 2009 until my anonymity was in jeopardy and I shut down the blog. However, I still felt the urge to continue writing about my encounters, discoveries, feelings, joys and pains in such a unique and contrasted country so I started another blog entitled An African in South Africa. This too has become defunct, this time because I had left the country and no longer wanted to blog.

But the title of the latter blog was aptly chosen as it reflected the identity I chose to espouse (or was made to acknowledge) while living in the country: a distinct African (read Black) in an African country. At first, it was difficult to realize that I had to ‘feel’ that I was Black and a different Black person at that (because other Africans are considered different) in an African country. My decision to leave the West (The U.S. and U.K.) to feel at home anywhere in my continent felt worthless. Life strangely resembled in many respects life in America as a Black person and that didn’t feel good at all. As a single Black Muslim female from West Africa, I progressively became conscious of how different I was and therefore of how unique my experience would be.

I defied the odds. I was a minority in a majority group, for I am Black but belonged in a high income group, working at the highest level of decision (national government) with insight on economic and international policy. The majority of Black people belong to the lowest quintiles and those who have emerged are usually the notoriously called “Black Diamonds”, i.e. business men and women who through the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) program have used their business acumen to gain access to wealth. Clearly, I wasn’t in that category. My Muslim identity, portrayed by my choice to wear the Islamic headscarf or hijab made my identity and status more complex. Despite these particular characteristics, I feel that I adapted well to my environment. I have met great people, built strong relationships, understood more about race and identity, sharpened my political and intellectual skills, become more tolerant, appreciated the great sceneries, the more than decent infrastructure, and the beautiful agriculture and enjoyed the myriad of entertainment options.

However, as a Black foreigner I faced subtle racism from Whites and occasional disdain from Blacks (sometimes Indians) but I was never a victim of the attacks on foreigners thanks to securing a place in a safe and comfortable White area. Professionally, contrary to popular belief in the rainbow nation, I might have been Black but I didn’t get my job through positive discrimination but through an international competitive and selective process. This made me the success story for Whites who could justify their openness to Black people by hanging out with the likes of me and accept them in their homes; the flip side is that it isolated me from most Blacks who didn’t see me as one of theirs because I didn’t speak their language, didn’t share their culture and hadn’t share their struggle for freedom.
Finally as a practicing Muslim, I am neither a convert nor married to a Muslim man who would have influenced my religion. Yet, I as an educated Black Muslim woman living independently and active in the public space, I didn’t really fill the ‘traditional’ profile for Muslim men and I was just too different (and conservative) for non Muslim ones. Nor did I fulfill the perceptions on Black Muslim women: servants, staff or nannies working with Indians As for other Africans who live in the country, they are either refugees/struggling immigrants or from the diplomatic corps/students/professionals in top public/private sectors positions taking advantage of the great professional opportunities. I have had plenty of occasions to spend time with the different groups and learned a lot about their struggles and successes over time.

Summarizing two years of such diverse exposure would not do justice to depicting life in South Africa. This is why, throughout the next few months, I will present articles where I will share my views on what the following topics represent for South Africans and what it felt like as a Black African:

§  Race, class and status

§  Being Black in the workplace

§  Different lifestyles in South Africa

§  Relationships, sex and its consequences

§  Religion (particularly Islam)

I hope you enjoy these articles and share your views on them. Watch this space!

Siya Tiane- South Africa, 2008-2009

101 on how to take a car rapide

After an afternoon in cramped quarters, during which I am pretty sure one half of my body tanned a different color from the other half, I decided to write this update on how to take a car rapide on the Malika – Yeumbeul stretch. I promise that none of this is exaggerated.

#1 Try to take it from a major bus stop. This way, there is a higher chance that you will have your choice of seats which (depending on the time of the day and thus the position of the sun) should be on either side of the back of the car rapide and not further inside it towards the front. You should choose the back if you want to be able to get on and off without difficulty. The only downside to taking the bus at a major bus stop is that you cannot judge the drivers driving before getting on. But they all drive with ambitious illusions about the abilities of their bus. (Though some are less ambitious than others.)

#2 Have exact change. And this is only helpful if you know how much it costs to take the bus to where you are going. Ask around before you get to the bus stop. But I would advice just having lots of change. If you don’t have change, when you pay the bus assistant, look him in the eye and say exactly where you are going. Then they know that you expect change (if there is change to be gotten). If he doesn’t give you change right away or after he has collected money from everyone else, say “Apprenti! La monnaie”. Ask him long before you get to your destination.

#3 Make sure you are inside the car rapide. If you have no choice but to get on a full car rapide, make sure you are inside it! If you find that you are hanging off the outside (as I once did), bang on the car or ask for it to stop so you can get off. Wait till it has come to a complete stop. Do not risk your life by getting off before it stops. I currently question the state of 3 of my toes after an incident like that. I asked them to stop and was trying to get off cos I realized that otherwise, I would have to hang off the car rapide. They slowed down, but I didn’t wait till they came to a complete stop. Ouch!

#4 Once you get on, hold on to something or sit down. I should say that lots of gentlemen take the car rapide cos they always give up their seats if a woman is standing. In the back of the car rapides, there are benches on either side. There are usually 5 people to these benches even if it’s a tight squeeze. So if you get on, and the bench is covered, but there are only 4 people on one of them, feel free to sit down and wiggle your way onto the bench. Everyone will move. And anyways, they would all do the same in your situation.

With these tips, using the car rapide in Yeumbeul should be a breeze. J Be careful not to give a beggar your money thinking he is the bus assistant. Annika and I almost fell for that one. Oh and one more thing, remember to leave all sense of personal space at home.


Anita- Senegal, October 2010

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