Bienvenue au Dakar!

Trip Start Sep 14, 2012
Trip End Aug 16, 2013

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Salaam Aleikum!

We're finally here! After a year pretty much to the day of planning, fundraising, worrying, training, packing, shopping, goodbyes, we’re here! And Senegal has not disappointed. What an incredible place!

We flew on Friday morning from London Heathrow to Paris, CDG – an uneventful flight that involved crying babies and a wine-drinking Paralympic Judo Official. Our flight from CDG to Dakar was delayed which meant a five hour wait in an overpriced fast-foody place (CDG Airport is basically Prada, Prada, Prada, Chanel, Prada.) playing Spoons with plastic forks. The woman behind the counter couldn’t quite work out why I kept asking her for lots of plastic cutlery! The flight to Dakar was also uneventful; sleeping, watching Friends in French and playing chess were on the agenda there. We arrived in Dakar to quite overpowering heat despite the time (9.30pm local time) and we were sweating within minutes! The queue for customs was tiresome and because we aren’t getting visas until later it meant that we had to say we were only visiting for 3 months as tourists. Lots of airport porters kept trying to help with our bags but we were vigilant and managed to ward them off with our huge rucksacks! Through customs we met up with Mr T, our rep in Senegal. Currently, I’m sharing an apartment with Amée, my partner, and the two boys, Tom and Ben – Tom has already managed to break a sofa! Zoe and Lena, the volunteers going to Ziguinchor are staying with the Dakar volunteers, Ellie and Emily, for 3 weeks before making the journey down south. We stay here until Monday, when we travel down to Joal after meeting with the British Ambassador at the Embassy.

The roads here are very sandy and uneven; it’s weird to see road signs on something that would be classed as a dirt track in the UK. Many cars wouldn’t be classed as road worthy either; one car we saw was all crumpled in at the back and had masking tape instead of a rear window. Mr T’s car has no seatbelts, the windows don’t wind down, no air con and there’s a hole where the radio is meant to be! The public buses are crammed full of people and a man stands hanging out of the back door taking fares from passengers. They’re more like minibuses and painted bright colours, though its peeling and rusty. Many people travel by horse and rickety old cart (this is hilarious for us, Tom is petrified of horses)!

The apartment is quite close to the sea, which is a beautiful view. On the other side is the brawling city of Dakar. There are 19 'communes’, so we are more in a suburb than the centre. Everything here is sandy with a worn-out feel. The apartment blocks around us are white or cream and quite close together. Lots of electric wires and clothes lines full of brightly coloured garments. There is a sense of pride and dignity here; everybody is immaculately dressed in ‘boubous’ or jeans (how?!?!) with bright tops. The women look beautiful. ‘Boubous’ are the traditional dresses; men wear trousers with a long tunic, mostly white or cream. The women wear long skirts with fitted tops and headscarves, in vibrant colours and stunning designs. I can’t wait to get my own! Because of this sense of pride the poverty of some people is well hidden. From our window we can see a man sleeping on somebody’s roof on a mattress, his clothes line strung up next to him.

On Saturday we were told by Mr T that he would pick us up at 9am. He arrived at 9.50 – many of you will agree the Senegalese timing suits me! ;) We went to his house where there seem to be loads of women and children sitting around, cooking, watching television (dubbed National Geographic or dubbed Bollywood drama with the worst acting and 10 minute long fight scenes!). Breakfast involved sitting on the floor around a mat, drinking instant coffee with instant milk and eating baguettes with butter/dairylea triangles/nutella. The baguettes are fresh and yummy! He taught us some Wolof basics (Naa nga def? Ma ngi fi rekk!) although in Joal we will be speaking Serer. We then took a walk on the beach. It’s so beautiful with clear sea, waves and golden sand. The beach seems to be the gym of Dakar, with men working out, playing football, running, wrestling (the national sport here). No idea how – it’s ‘well hot’ (Tom). With Tabaski, the celebration of Abraham’s sacrifice, coming up, there are goats everywhere being fattened up! Many were being washed in the sea, some being dragged, digging their heels in! We walked along to the fish market which was quite smelly and showed the poverty of Dakar. There’s litter everywhere and old worn out fishing boats that were once brightly painted. Lots of children were running around, goats sat in the shade of boats and salesmen selling sim cards, soap, fish, etc. Mr T told us to sit in the shade and he went to buy some fish for dinner. We sat under a typical shelter made of large branches and materials, where the women seem to spend a lot of time talking and cutting fish for customers. They laughed at our attempts at Wolof. ‘Do you speak Wolof?’ ‘Dedet (No)’ *laughter*. Again the rules we have for driving in the UK go out the window as we crammed 4 of us into the back of a taxi (sweaty!!) At Mr T’s we ate some incredible food, rice with fresh fish, potatoes and onions. I don’t normally like fish but this was AMAZING! (Mum you should be proud!) Again we sat on the floor to eat and all ate out of one big dish. We didn’t have to use our hands though. It’s nice that we get the experience many tourists won’t get visiting Dakar. Constantly thirsty, we’re drinking fizzy drinks (400 CFA for a bottle, that’s 50p!) and purified water. You can buy a sandwich bag of water at the market for 25CFA, 3.5p!

At the minute we feel quite safe, we go everywhere with Mr T who makes sure we aren’t getting ripped off, and having the boys with us means that we aren’t being hassled. The girls told us last night that they were being stared at a lot and they’ve been without a host/local.

Yesterday Mr T promised us a ‘great tour of Dakar’. The great tour was literally visiting ‘Le Monument de la Renaissance Africain’ and the ‘Sea Plaza’, a shopping centre that was overpriced. The monument, described by Amée as ‘African propaganda’ was expensive to go into and the tour guide was a bit of an idiot. It’s the tallest monument in the world at 52metres and weighs 7000 tonnes. Admittedly it was quite impressive; however we felt that the actual statue didn’t represent ‘the freedom of Africa’ as it claimed. An African family, the couple were incredible attractive with pert boobs and six pack on show. Getting back to Mr T’s, we had Senegalese Fish and Chips for dinner – fried Dill with fried potatoes. The role of women became evident when Mr T’s wife was expected to cook, clean up, tidy, fetch anything we wanted. It made us feel a bit uncomfortable so Amée and I helped a bit with carrying trays and tidying. I have also bought a Senegal mobile phone and sim card but will be using my old number too if you need to contact me.

This morning we found that we’d adapted to Senegalese life very quickly – being 30 minutes late for breakfast at Mr T’s! After breakfast we went back to the fish market where we watched the fish being gutted, scaled and jaws removed. It was fascinating. A skinny cat came along and they fed it fish guts – yummy. Lots of children milling around; they’re all keen to smile, wave and ask how we are. Some of them shout ‘bab’, unable to manage ‘toubab’ (foreigner). We haven’t really been hassled though, maybe it’s because we’re with Mr T! He bought 10 fish (5500 francs - £8ish) which will feed the family for one day. Resting for the rest of today as Mr T has to go to work to prepare for school tomorrow. I’ll write again soon.

Over and out.
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