On Being Com-posh-ionate, and other 1st world problems

Com-posh-ionate. That’s how my youngest brother describes me. He’s not lying. I’m into philanthropy and community service and human rights and that whole thing, but I have always had an instinctive taste for fine, expensive things. I have a champagne appetite on a moscato d’asti budget. I know how to suffer, and I know that people suffer, but I do enjoy creature comforts. That’s me.

So how on earth did I get to a point, after living in Manhattan (where $100 spent on a dinner for two is simply no big deal, and could easily be a BigLaw summer associate’s lunch bill) for several years, that I feel some kind of way about wasting $1.90 on a taxi cab to a fancy, schmancy $10 lunch, when I could just hop on a car rapide for $0.10 and get lunch roadside for $0.60? Why does my weekly gelato splurge ($2.25 for one flavor, $3.90 for two) feel so deliciously sinful when even on my government salary I could occasionally make room for $7 Pinkberry without thinking twice about whether what I was doing was wrong according to some unshaven freegan’s ethical standards?

I know why, and the reason frustrates me: It’s not because I feel guilty about spending so much money on luxuries–I realize intellectually that treating myself to a $10 lunch and a $2, or $4 dollar cab ride is not a big deal, even if I can’t do it on a regular basis. Even le fiance, with whom I’ve traded places, confirm the same. When he lived here, which until not so long ago was the only place he’d really ever known, he had no problem paying $70 for a button-down, even though his mom’s housekeeper only makes $40 a year. And he was no one’s rich kid, ever.

The problem with me is that I give a damn about people’s opinions. And people here, unfortunately, can be no good. For the last 48 hours a bunch of them have been pressuring me to indulge in the Catholic tradition of making chocolate peanut butter sauce and sharing it with Muslim neighbors. They know I’m not Catholic. They know I’m not Senegalese. They know it’s expensive to do, and that I’m here on an unpaid fellowship. But they don’t care! It’s my problem, not theirs. I’m American, and therefore, I am, by default, a bank. None of them has ever even offered me a cup of tea, and the chances that they ever will are slim.

I feel iffy about buying $0.45 water instead of drinking tap water that would make me sick because they are always watching. Since I’ve been here, I can’t even bring myself to buy myself necessities because I am consumed by fear that one of them will see me at the supermarket, or with a bag of anything in my hand, and that they will use it against me in some way. If I take a cab there, I instruct the cab driver to let me off a couple blocks way, hopefully out of sigh. If I am trapped there late at night (another story for another angry blog rant), I hail a cab a few blocks away, too, even though it’s probably a dangerous idea. My fears have already been substantiated.

So yea, it’s true that I’m com-posh-ionate, but that modifier has little import apropos my life here in Dakar. Here, I’m just tired, pressured, often-cornered, always apprehensive, and increasingly pissed off at not being able to eat the $0.60 eggs in peace because someone will mention that they only had one egg and that must mean I’m rich so give me money to pay for the really expensive wig that I want to buy instead of paying my bills. Or just give me the cookies you just bought. All of them. Just because we think that you can probably afford to buy some more. And then give me your shirt.

<too rude to put into print>

Rant off.


So excited to be doing this work!

Originally posted on 4th World Initiative:

Welcome, Spring, and Greetings from Dakar! Two months in Dakar, Senegal have taught us quite a bit. Senegal’s Gender Parity Act was enacted two years ago, and while the legislation–guaranteeing 50/50 representation of women and men on ballots and in Parliament–is revolutionary, Senegalese culture remains conservative and largely wary of women’s rights initiatives. Progressive religious leaders, academics, activists and lawyers have urged that human rights literacy must be vulgarized if the gap between law and society in Senegal is to be closed.

Enter 4WI. We are all about interdisciplinary, community-based approaches to the effectuation of human rights culture and development. We are particularly excited by the power of social movements to impact law and government, and the media and arts are important tools in any social movement. This is particularly true in young, developing nations such as Senegal, where the vulgarization of human rights norms can empower the citizenry, enhancing…

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Season of Sadness

In short retrospect, I should have known better. Of course there was another shoe to drop.

Another loved one to bury.

Another huge, sad expense I can’t afford.

Another season, the second spring in a row when everything that can goes desperately, horribly, life-alteringly wrong.

Of course.

It began with the unwanted mouse who somehow got into my brand-new apartment last night and boldly terrorized me as if sent directly by the Devil. They don’t understand phobias here. I am gravely afraid of rodents, and hate myself for it, but what can I do? If the trauma was not enough, the mocking is certainly sufficient to remind me that I am alone here.

When I finally drifted off to sleep in the wee hours of the morning, still shaking with fear, still not breathing well, I slept well enough until I got the call. Marley. sick again. but they have had to wait to take him to the hospital because we are just ordinary people, educated and intellectual and progressive but still not immune from the consequences of our limited financial means, even though in a situation like this, waiting is fatal.

The initial quote, far out of my reach, has now become three times as high. I cannot pay. They have already done some treatments I can’t afford, but if they don’t do the big one, he will die. I will be indebted and he will still die.

And I will cry alone for Marley, who I could not, did not save.



Those closest to me know me to be a bit of a seer. That is, I dream things and hear things that later come to pass. It’s not something I talk about. After all, that’s crazy, right? Especially since I’m an intellectual, a super rational lawyer and what not. The fact that I’m religious frustrates many people precisely because they think I’m too intelligent to be holding onto dogma, but they don’t hear what I hear, see what I see, feel what I feel, or know what I sometimes know.

Unfortunately, this gift of mine tends to feel so much more like a burden. Who really wants to know the future? Especially if, like me, you are constantly being warned, with varying degrees of precision according to the scale of the would-be occurrence, of disaster, usually involving death? But this is the reality I with which I live, always knowing that something is going to happen, someone is going to pass away (fortunately, never knowing exactly who…imagine what this would have been like in the days before my dad’s sudden passing).

Since my father’s death a year and a month and 16 days ago, I’ve paid a little less attention to this gift. The worst has already happened; there is little need for warning. However, the feeling, the dreams came back several days ago, causing me to be a bit on edge and a lot more careful. Last night, the premonitions came on particularly strong. I thought I was just freaking out because I’d just finished reading Jose Saramago’s Blindness and was convinced that any minute now, I would lose my eyesight. The creepy, queasiness stayed with me through my cab ride from chez moi to the ritzy (read: expensivo, more so than fancy) cafe where I escape on some Fridays because they have great wi-fi, up until I powered up my laptop and read that indeed, someone had died. But not just anyone, rather, Chinua Achebe, the father of African literature, someone who affirmed within me my own unique command of Englishes and told me that my stories also deserve to be told. He, too, had a great gift, and luckily for him it was noticed, acclaimed and appreciated. Still, I wonder if he also felt encumbered by his great gift, burdened by the responsibilities and sufferings associated with it.

I’ll never know if my dreams and omens were for him–in fact, someone closer to me may later be lost, God forbid, but if they were, Professor Achebe was certainly worth last night’s loss of sleep. He never knew who I was, but he’s been a great friend.




Sexion D’Assaut, “Africain”

“Nombreux n’ont pas de l’eau.
Ils manquent tellement des choses.
Ils te dironts ‘l’Afrique, c’est dangereux’,
mais tout ca, c’est des mots.” ~Maitre Gims

Today I was homesick for the first time since I’ve been in Dakar. I tried to comfort myself by listening to John Mayer, Jennifer Paige and Les Nubians, all which remind me of warm spring and summer days in various spots north of 59th street in Manhattan.

But then there was this, this song I stumbled upon when I was searching for just a little angry French rap. It reminded me of zouk and dancehall and reggaeton and zouglou and all of the music that runs hereditarily through my veins. It also reminded me of 116th Street and Frederick Douglas, and Eastern Parkway on Labor Day, and some of my favorite memories in Chicago, of the Camerounian restaurant that one time in Paris, dusty, windy West African streets, hustle, hospitality, and hope. And just like that, I managed to remember that I’m currently located in the best place on earth.

(It must also be said that I would not mind taking Black Mesrimes–the cute one wearing the “Guinee” teeshirt –as a second husband. There, I said it.)


Brilliant, and necessary ( if depressingly so)

Originally posted on The Belle Jar:

I don’t have to tell you that Steubenville is all over the news.

I don’t have to tell you that it’s a fucking joke that Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, the two teenagers convicted of raping a sixteen year old girl, were only sentenced to a combined three years in juvenile prison. Each will serve a year for the rape itself; Mays will serve an additional year for “illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.”

I probably don’t even have to tell you that the media treatment of this trial has been a perfect, if utterly sickening, example of rape culture, with its focus on how difficult and painful this event has been for the rapists who raped a sixteen year old girl then bragged about it on social media.

And I almost certainly don’t have to tell you that the world is full of seemingly nice, normal…

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Being cuddled by an infant…what could be better? I was so moved by Ndeye Fama’s decision to accept me into her inner circle of mothers that I forgave her for grabbing one of my ladylumps and trying to breastfeed (RUDE and CRAY), some 30 seconds after this photo was taken. (Photo Credit: Marissa Jackson. 2013. All Rights Reserved.)

Cats of Dakar

Kitten resting in the fish section of Dakar's Marche Tilene. (Photo Credit: Marissa Jackson. 2013. All Rights Reserved.)

Kitten resting in the fish section of Dakar’s Marche Tilene. (Photo Credit: Marissa Jackson. 2013. All Rights Reserved.)

Chez Yaye, there are these super…well, let’s say prolific cats who are constantly mating and pregnant. Within three days or so of my arrival, one of them gave birth to four kittens. The mother is aesthetically unfortunate, but I held out hope for her kids. Too bad. They are an adorable 2 month size now, but yikes. Mame Ndeye Ngom and Badiene offered me one, or two, or all of them, but I have standards, man.

However, two new kittens have recently appeared in the compound in recent days. They appeared to be about 4 weeks old, and one of them, gorgeous. There is no way I could keep them in my apartment, and even if I could, I’d grow attached and then have to give them up—likely to the streets–when it is time for me to return to the U.S. No good. I let it go. I didn’t even notice that I hadn’t heard their constant meowing today because I was just so tired, but a certain 7 year old informed me that one of the kittens died (I bet I know which one…I kept telling people that one looked sick. Response: blank stares and awe that someone could actually seriously care about a cat.) and that the others were put in a bag and thrown into the streets. Just like all the others. I struggled to keep my food, and tears, down, and told my little friend to kindly shut up.

No one has time for cats here, and there are cats everywhere in Dakar–so much so that my dreams of capturing a photo-essay’s worth of cat pictures have nearly been shattered. There are simply too many kitties to photograph, and the abundance is discouraging. As I type this, there is a massive catfight happening outside of my window, and the equally horrifying sounds of feline mating–only rivaled in volume by the incessant, daily Muslim chants hosted by Baye Fall groups on my street–will probably commence shortly. Cats run these streets.

Furthermore, I’ve found people are hot and cold about their cats. For example, while no one wants to take care of the cats in their compound, as in, take responsibility, they are often content to tolerate their presence (though, apparently, not today, not chez Yaye). Among some people, I have noticed a certain distant attachment to their semi-neglected creatures. Accordingly, attempts to take pictures of tiny cat babies in the street have, at times, been met with possessive cries of outrage. Plus, in the streets, it’s never good to be THAT AMERICAN (read: Toubab Noire) taking photos with her iPhone–it’s a little (a lot) like asking to be swindled, harassed or otherwise disturbed.

Therefore, I have had to settle for random photos of feline loves, and random stories, such as the following:

The other day (Monday, or maybe Tuesday, perhaps Wednesday–can’t remember), Yaye accompanied me home via taxi. I was a little on edge because the BIGGESTRATEVER had crawled into the compound courtyard with 200% swagger and was throwing his dog-sized weight around in order to terrorize, and hopefully, feast upon the compound’s new (now homeless/dead) kittens. Upon our descent in front of my apartment building, I immediately noticed a small group of people staring at a mostly white cat in the street. The cat, it turns out, was engaged in a brutal dispute with a hair weave over a bag of chips entangled therein. The bag of chips was scarcely noticeable under the dense, long, and apparently high-quality hair extensions, and the cat was NOT HAPPY about it. “Ah! T’as vu!?” I exclaimed to Yaye. “C’est un chat qui joue avec une griffage!!!!” The only word that had any impact upon Yaye was “griffage.” She turned her head and with disapproving clucking, replied: “Ah! C’etait une bonne griffage, deh.”

But good weave or not, yo, a cat’s gotta live.

The bag of chips wasn’t opening itself, so the cat gave up, and ran down the street with the hair extensions in its mouth. Quand on n’a pas ce qu’on veut, on se content avec ce qu’on a. Even wet-and-wavy hair weave in 1B.