Reading time: ~ 5 minutes
Standing in front of the mirror, Josephine buttoned up her shirt as she prepared for another day of work. She contemplated putting on makeup just so she wouldn’t stand out. She always seemed to attract attention whether she wanted to or not. If it wasn’t the doorman, it was a janitor. And if it wasn’t him, it was her own boss. Harassment seemed to be part of the job! She followed her usual routine – put on some makeup and grabbed her purse before stepping out for her morning shift. “Maybe today will be better” she thought to herself.
Doorman: Ms. Sane, welcome! Ravissante as always.
Josephine: [flatly] Good morning.
Doorman: Ooohh the cold shoulder again? Lighten up sweetheart!
Josephine quickly walked past him and went into the back office to grab a water before assuming her post. The hotel wasn’t the most well-known in Dakar but it wasn’t small either. They had quite the group of tourists come through on occasion and “premium guest service” was her boss’s slogan. Josephine picked up the “English for Everyone: Practice Book” her aunt living in the U.S. brought her as a gift the previous summer.
Tata Claudine: Keep your head down and work hard, Josephine. You have a bright future ahead of you. Don’t lose sight of that.
Josephine: Okay, Tata. I will do my best.
Tata Claudine: Now here, I brought you this book so you can keep practicing your English!
Josephine: Thank you! These days, that’s my biggest goal – to perfect my English. We have so many English speakers coming through the hotel and it’s frustrating when I can’t help them.
Tata Claudine: Well, the good news is English isn’t as hard as French to learn. It just takes a little practice to get the pronunciation right.
Josephine: Tell me about it! Sometimes I will say something and the guest will just giggle. It’s so embarrassing.
Tata Claudine: Just keep practicing.
Josephine flipped through her book as she waited for the first rush of guests to come down for breakfast or check-in. Suddenly, she felt someone leaning over here.
Mohamed: What do you have there?
Josephine: Just an English practice book.
Josephine answered her boss while sliding away from him. He always leaned in a bit too close.
Mohamed: Ah, you’ll have to let me borrow that sometime.
Josephine ignored him. He had seen her with the book a million times and still had to make small talk.
Mohamed: When will you accept my invitation to dinner, Josephine? How many times do I have to ask you?
Josephine: And how many times do I have to say “no”?
Mohamed: You act as if I am disgusting. I’m a handsome man.
Josephine: I’d like to maintain a professional relationship, Mohamed. Please don’t make me repeat myself.
Mohamed put his hands up, laughing as he stepped back.
Mohamed: Calm down, I am just doing what I know we both want. You’re frontin’ and I know it. You’ll come around.
Josephine rolled her eyes and went back to her reading.
Mohamed: Oh and can you actually do your job and get off that book?
“Retaliation” Josephine thought to herself. Every time she rejected him, he found a way to restrict her in some way. There was nobody around at the hotel and he found a problem with her reading.
Mohamed walked past Djibril and Mounasse, Josephine’s colleagues, on his way back to the main office.
Mohamed: Same old, same old. She won’t cave.
Djibril: She’s hard-headed. That girl has serious issues.
Mounasse: Mo, she’s playing hard to get. She acts like she doesn’t like the attention.
Mohamed: It’s just a matter of time but I will get her.
They laughed about the situation. This was a daily thing for them.
Bana: You should really do something about him.
Bana sat next to Josephine and witnessed the harassment every day.
Josephine: What can I do? I feel like a broken record telling him no and it still doesn’t work. He’s gonna do it again tomorrow.
Bana: I just feel like there has to be someone above him you can tell.
Josephine: Do you know his boss?
Bana: I mean, no.
Bana: Tell him off. Something!
Josephine: And lose my job? Wakhal lenen [Tell me something else (sarcastically)].
Josephine felt stuck between a rock and a hard place. She needed a job to help her family out but she was getting increasingly frustrated with Mohamed’s advances. And all the other men around the hotel who didn’t know their place for that matter. She shrugged it off as a guest walked up to her.
Josephine: Bonjour, Monsieur. Bienvenue a La Terrasse. Comment puis-je vous aider?
Guest: Uh, I would like to check in. Do you speak English?
Josephine: Eh yes, Monsieur, I can help you. What is your name?
Josephine timidly helped the guest with her less-than-perfect English. She was getting better but there was still a long way to go. After helping him, she was relieved her next guest was a Wolof/French speaker.
Josephine: D’accord monsieur, votre chambre est la # 508. Tournez à droite dans ce couloir et prenez les ascenseurs. Utilisez la clé de votre chambre pour activer l’ascenseur. Si vous avez besoin de quelque chose, n’hésitez pas à composer le 0 sur le téléphone de votre chambre pour rejoindre la réception. Bon séjour et merci d’avoir choisi La Terrasse. [Okay Mister, your room is #508. Just take a right at this hallway and take the elevators. Use your room key to activate the elevator please. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to dial 0 on your room phone to reach reception. Have a nice stay and thank you for choosing La Terrasse.]
Josephine handed the guest his room key and nearly jumped when he grabbed her hand instead.
Guest: Quel numéro dois-je composer pour vous joindre? [What number do I dial to reach you?]
Josephine was in shock. She noticed his wedding band when he was filling out his guest intake form.
Josephine: Tegguil sa lokho (sternly) [Take your hand off of me].
Guest: Weuu yaw nii nguay wakhei ak clients yi? [Woah, is that how you treat your guests here]?
Josephine: Prochain client s’il vous plaît. Monsieur, excusez-moi. [Next guest please. Sir, excuse me].
The guest walked off, smiling and shaking his head. This wasn’t his first rodeo.
Josphine: Did you hear that, Bana?
Bana: I heard. I am just as shocked as you are.
Josephine was fed up. The rest of her shift left her infuriated as she thought about what she could do about the situation. She left the hotel that day feeling defeated. What was she going to do?
To be continued…
Articles/Resources about sexual harassment/violence against women in Senegal
Is Senegal Ready To Listen to Adolescent Girls? – https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/10/25/senegal-ready-listen-adolescent-girls#
The Me Too movement was silent in Senegal. These women are trying to change that – https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/19/africa/senegal-as-equals-intl/index.html
UN WOmen’s Global Database on Violence Against Women (Senegal report) – https://evaw-global-database.unwomen.org/fr/countries/africa/senegal