To be honest, what I really want is a cold beer. Most likely I can get said cold beer, but I don’t have any Senagalese money, I am in a Muslim country, and I am not sure if they allow alcohol in the home where I am staying. So I haven’t asked for it yet.
I am finishing up Day 2 in Dakar. I got here around 10PM on Saturday night. My friend Ahmadou picked me up at the airport. Thank goodness. Whatever French I had has been completely paved over with Spanish. And most of what is around me is Woloff. Unless Ahmadou is talking to shopkeepers, many of whom are from Guinea, and they speak Fulani. So I am basically catching hello, good-bye, and a few numbers here and there. Every interaction - as in every interaction - requires negotiation. Every taxi ride, every snack bought. We sat in a restaurant today, and it is the only exchange so far that didn’t include a lot of back and forth.
Why don’t I have money? My ATM card doesn’t work here. We went to two of the largest banks in Africa, and my Fidelity VISA debit card (with Interlink, Star, and PLUS networks) doesn’t work. We took a taxi to an ATM, waited in a long line, then taxied to another ATM, waited in a line…you get the picture. We went inside a bank to change dollars into CFA, and were going to be in a line with 25 people in front of us. So we bailed, and Ahmadou continues to 100% bankroll me. (We also haven’t found a place that takes credit cards - even to buy a $385 airline ticket from Dakar to Conakry, Guinea.) Ahmadou keeps saying to me: Welcome Home! I keep thinking the Senagalese are crazy not to make it possible for me to spend my money here.
I am sitting on a small balcony on the second floor of the house I am staying in. There is a mosque up the street, and a call to prayer just started. A loud, crackly AP system. People are wandering into the mosque, though are not hurried. I think the only people who hurry here are cab drivers when they are behind the wheel. Though I think that might be sport more than it is about speed.
Dakar is home to a million people. There are no street names. I haven’t seen a stoplight or stop sign yet. Lots of roundabouts. The traffic is insane. I keep asking Ahmadou why people aren’t on bicycles, and he tells me he thinks it’s cultural. I think it is my latest piece of evidence that life is crazy and people are insane (hat tip to Langhorne Slim for that line). Seriously: why is so much of the planet wasting so much time stuck in traffic? It is mind boggling.
The people here are very handsome. Mostly tall and on the lean side; beautiful features. Many of the women wear long dresses in bright patterns with matching wraps around their heads. Many are almost mermaid shaped; fitted down to the knee, then flair out. The women are gorgeous - and in these long dresses, just hanging out. She might have a briefcase. Or a baby strapped to her back. Or both.
We are in a neighborhood that Ahmadou characterizes as low income. It’s pretty quiet (except at prayer time); there is very little car traffic down our little street. The street seems to be sand; there has to be something harder underneath, but all I can see is sand. Yesterday, I saw young men walking down the street, carrying sewing machines on their shoulders. Don’t know if they work in the street, or show up at a shop with their sewing machine. Some kind of portable tailor.
I met a woman named Coumba who sells clothing and jewelry on Goree Island, a place for tourists as well as beachgoers on Sundays. She had her young son, Bachir, with her. How did we strike up a chat? Because she spoke Spanish. (And Italian, German, English, French, and Woloff…and maybe more.) She told me her father has four wives and 30 children. Her mother is the 3rd wife, and has 8 children. No wonder there is so much traffic. I asked Ahmadou if that is current for his generation (he is not quite 30), and he said no. But when we talked more, I realized he was talking about the number of children, not the number of wives. Men still have multiple wives, but each wife has only 2-3 kids.
Today we visited the Monument to the African Renaissance, erected by the former president of Senegal in 2010. It is magnificent. It is right on the coast, and 150 meters high. It affords amazing views of the city and the sea, and is a truly striking sculpture of a dad, mom, and young child. It is pointed to the Statue of Liberty.
A national feast day is this Sunday, and it is a tradition to sacrifice a goat on this day (and eat it). There are goats *everywhere.* Honestly, I am sure I saw thousands of goats today all across the city - many in the center of those roundabouts I mentioned. LOTS of goats. I keep trying to imagine where this killing will happen and how. And then where do all the goat parts go? This place is dense! We won’t be here on the feast day, so I am free to let my imagination run wild and be unencumbered with the truth.
Senegal and Guinea are the last stops in the Tour de Sarah (at least the summer 2019 version). I came here to continue working with Ahmadou to support the school he and his dad started in Labe, Guinea. My job was to collect and organize a bunch of teacher training materials. He and I will use these materials to lead a four-day training for teachers next week. We will be in Dakar until we can get a flight to Conakry. We were aiming for Wednesday or Thursday, but the flights are unexpectedly booked, so we might have to wait until Friday. Or leave tomorrow. The plan is super tight.
Bonne chance a moi parce que I need to dramatically increase my French by then! Mon dieu.
Will add photos when I figure out how to get my phone to connect to the network my computer is having no problem with.
Light and love,