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Living Israeli in Senegal

This is my third year in Dakar. I am the spouse of the Israeli Ambassador in Senegal.

It was the height of malaria season when our family of five settled in the termite-ridden residence of the posh neighborhood of Fann, August 2015.

The malaria-transmitting female mosquito is most active from dusk to dawn.

For three years we slept with nettings over our beds. It was only during the last year that I learned that mosquito nettings work best when treated regularly with insecticide. We had inherited the nettings from the previous family, had dutifully washed them every year, but had never applied any insecticide.

For three years, we witnessed road floods, locust infestations, routine electricity cuts and water shortages.

For three years, we hosted 100 sheep in our garden in honor of Tabaski, the four-day long Muslim Senegalese equivalent to Eid-Al-Adha.

Nobody complained. We had a pool and broccoli cost 14 dollars a piece. Our Israeli flag waved bravely behind the guards' post. Two houses away was the Palestinian residence.

I no longer say: "I am from Israel." It leaves too much room for interpretation and it might lead people to think that my last posting was in Israel. I say: "I am Israeli."

You might ask what's the difference and why I changed the way I introduce myself. Nobody at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem coached me about living in a predominantly Muslim country. The plain truth is that almost nobody likes Israelis, and even less so Israeli diplomats.

This is not to single out Senegal. Whether it's a Muslim or Christian country, lots of countries don't like us. And when the word Israel is mentioned, it's followed by a pause in the conversation.

I don't shy away from saying who I am. In fact, I make a point of saying what country I represent. When I do this, I wait to see how my interlocutor will respond. After all, this is not the expected answer. I don't "look" Jewish or Israeli. I speak fluent French and English. I sound Parisian in French and American in English.

During my first year in Dakar, a group of diplomats objected to my membership of a Diplomatic Association. In my second year, I became the Vice President of that association. Another group of diplomats opposed my nomination to President.

Now in my third year, when I meet new people I always say I am an Israeli. I say it with bravado, with pride and a hint of trepidation. What are they thinking? I am ready for the look on their faces. A look that says: "Oh, one of those." 

 

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Wednesday, 17 July 2024

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