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Coping and Hustling

A simple translation of the French term se débrouiller (verb; noun form, débrouillardise) might be "to fend for oneself," or "to cope," but that literal translation would need to be elaborated with the connotations of hustle, know-how, and the ability to get by or to get what you want. It may consist of knowing how to get a ride on one of the rare commercial trucks that still ply the deteriorating roads of the interior and that furnish what is often the only passenger service available. It may involve knowing which official to bribe in order to get one's salary released or knowing which kinship connection to tap in order to get a sought-after secondary school slot opened for one's child or cousin after enrollment is formally closed. Or débrouillardise may be demonstrated by the ability to locate on the black market drugs needed by a hospitalized family member or by paying a hospital or dispensary nurse to "acquire" the needed medications from institutional stocks. The term may also be adapted to refer to the entire unofficial economy.

The popular admonition that "you need to know how to cope/hustle" (il faut savoir comment se débrouiller) implicitly contradicts official party and state slogans such as "servir, oui, se servir, non" (serve yes, serve oneself, no). The popular phrase embodies an ideology of aggressive individualism that contradicts the state-promoted ideology of selfless public service.

Data as of December 1993