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Battle Over TV Programs in Senegal's Homes

by Rathi Manohar on July 6, 2010 at 1:09 PM
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Battle Over TV Programs in Senegal's Homes

The football World Cup has created another battle in Senegal households where men and women clash over whether to watch football or soap operas.

The zeal of mothers and daughters for their daily dose of Latin American "telenovelas" has seen the shows' intrigue, conflict and family feuds spill right into living rooms across the country as soccer takes over.


And in an unsurprising twist ... the men are on a winning streak.

"Oooooh it gets hot!" says Fatou Konate, 49, with her two daughters, aged 26 and 18, nodding in agreement.

"Every time there is soccer on the television there is a fight here. The boys want to change channels to watch the football and we want to watch the series. There is always an argument."

At midday, life bustles in this hot, dusty suburb of Dakar where goats bleat outside modest crumbling houses, lopsided corner stores sell anything from sweets to spices and the beating sun slows down the pace of passers-by.

Inside, many women are already bent over stoves preparing dinner.

For them, following the wildly popular soap operas is a guilty pleasure, depicting a fanciful world far from theirs in this country which is secular, but 90 percent Muslim.

Konate says the shows, dubbed in French over their original Spanish, are so addictive that "when the series starts you can't carry on with domestic work."

"Especially if a woman is cooking in the kitchen, she can't concentrate on that because of the series," she says.

A telenovela differs from a typical soap opera in that it runs for a finite number of episodes.

The current favourite in this household is the Venezuelan "Tourbillons de Passion" (Whirlwinds of Passion), about a woman unable to have a child whose best friend offers to carry it for her.

After losing her memory in a plane crash in the Amazon jungle and a long struggle to make her way back home, she finds her husband has married her best friend and is raising her child.

"The popularity of telenovelas among Senegalese and African viewers in general is partly due to the simplicity of the story: power, love, betrayal, poverty and revenge - themes found in everyday life," Jean-Louis Kahoury, head of programming at the private Senegalese television station 2STV, told AFP.

He says the country was "inundated" with Brazilian telenovelas at a time when productions of African series were "almost non-existent".

"I remember the first telenovela I saw when I was a teenager in the mid 80s, the Brazilian 'Isaura'... the story of a white slave who fought tooth and nail to free himself."

The shows are watched by tens of millions of fans in French-speaking West Africa, with plots both foreign and familiar as stories unfold against a backdrop of politics, social inequalities, corruption and drug use.

"There is always a social issue that comes back and grabs attention," says Kahoury.

For mother Fatou Konate the shows contain good life lessons.

"Me, I take the good things, the good side. As a mother...there are things you must learn to teach the children."

However, the effects aren't always seen as positive.

French teacher Mohamed Kounta Danfakha, 43, despairs of women who "try and live exactly as they see on the television and that causes a lot of trouble" in relationships.

"The woman wants to behave just like her idol in the series ... they want a life of luxury which is not within reach. It creates delusions of grandeur."

In neighbouring Guinea-Bissau, Jacinta Seidl's addiction to telenovelas landed her with a broken leg, says her husband Sidy.

Claiming his wife "would rather not eat than miss her film", Seidl told AFP he decided to sell their television.

Not to be dissuaded she would pay one dollar a day to follow her favourite shows at a video club, where one day the wall collapsed on top of her.

Back in Senegal, the women have no choice when soccer comes around.

At another home in the suburb, fisherman Ismaila Diedhou, 25, says "it is the match which rules," barely looking up from the game taking place in host country South Africa.

Upstairs 18-year-old Aicha Sy is indignant: "It really bothers me. When I see them watching the match I want to change it to watch my film. Then I fight with my brother and he doesn't let me change it."

Source: AFP


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