Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Senegalese Press Conference

For those of you not in the media world, let me give you some context about an average Canadian press conference. You walk in; one, two, maybe three people read short statements; they take some questions; and it's all over in 30 minutes.

My first Senegalese press conference lasted 6 hours. I kid you not. It was supposed to be a "briefing" about an event coming up this weekend. (Commemoration of the day 10 years ago when 35 village women declared they were abandonning female genital mutilation - Today, about half of Senegal's 5000 villages have abandoned the practice.) Instead, it was like a day-long conference - with tons of local journalists, about 10 different people speaking, powerpoint presentations, microphones at each seat, the whole works. Each person in the room introduced themselves (including all the journalists)... it was like a nice family reunion. The organizers even gave us money for our transportation costs - straight cash in my hand. (In Canada, media organizations bear any costs they incurr themselves). This weekend, I'm travelling to a village about 2 hours from Dakar to go to this event, and UNICEF is organizing a bus for all the journalists to go together... and giving you money for your hotel... it's crazy !

Anyways, half the press conference was in French. The other half in Wolof, and I had someone sitting beside me whispering in my ear what was going on. Afterwards, I did an interview through a translator with a woman who used to remove the genitalia of young girls (the most severe form of FGM is when you remove all the clitoris and the labia and then sow the vagina up, leaving only a small hole the size of a matchstick for urine to come out - sorry for the graphic details, but just so you get the idea) This woman said she probably did 500 procedures - but has now given it up because she's learned about the health risks involved (can lead to hemorrhage, HIV/AIDS, problems during child birth, even death sometimes, not to mention psychological problems, sexual dysfunction, etc). Should be an interesting weekend in any event.

So by the end of this day, I was pretty exhausted and hungry. Went home looking for something to snack on until dinner (which isn't til 9:30pm) ... A bag of chips would have been amazing. Went to two or three corner shops who had no idea what "croustilles" were... Finally, somebody handed me what looked like a bag of corn pops, but I only had a bill of 2000 CFA (about $4), and it costs 50 CFA (10 cents)... Since nobody in Senegal has change, needless to say, I didn't get the "chips". So instead I bought a hamburger, and the guy who sold it to me asked me if I was married... and I wanted to swear at him. ... That's when I knew I needed some downtime.

Sometimes, nothing bothers you. Then other times, everything does. And not being able to find a bag of chips will push you over the edge. So it's just a matter of noticing when you're near your breaking point, and retiring to a quiet place to regroup. That's my strategy anyway.

3 comments:

Still.Searching said...

Could it be that unless the reporters there are paid for their expenses, they won't go because their papers cannot afford to send them? The cash part is likely a reflection of the increased level of trust between people in eastern societies in general but it obviously opens a wide open door to abuse.

All this shows that it is not a one-size-fits-all world. It is intriguing to hear your description of a different world but it would be even more intriguing to hear your perspective as to why it is different and if indeed it seems to work despite being not what you expect.

Still.Searching said...

Could it be that unless the reporters there are paid for their expenses, they won't go because their papers cannot afford to send them? The cash part is likely a reflection of the increased level of trust between people in eastern societies in general but it obviously opens a wide open door to abuse.

All this shows that it is not a one-size-fits-all world. It is intriguing to hear your description of a different world but it would be even more intriguing to hear your perspective as to why it is different and if indeed it seems to work despite being not what you expect.

Natasha said...

hi heba.
i know how you're feeling with the whole sometimes things are great and sometimes every thing bothers you. there's def advantages and disadvantages of living someplace so foreign. i like being able to speak engligh and not be understood, but it gets frustrating when you want something from home but you just can't get it.
anyways the point of all this is call me or email, cause i find talking to people from home is the best remedy.