Safe if not entirely sound

Trip Start Aug 17, 2007
Trip End Sep 22, 2007

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Flag of Senegal  ,
Saturday, August 18, 2007

My flight from Denver to Atlanta was late, leaving me to run 15 minutes across a huge airport, wait all 5 train stops to the final terminal, hear the final boarding call and be yelled at to immediately board the plane upon rushing up, breathless, to the counter to get my boarding pass. The simple question, "Do you know if my bags are on the plane?" was met with, "Ma'am, you should be on the plane already. Board immediately." Now, at that point there were twenty minutes until departure time. Nearly an hour later when they announced, "All the bags are on board," and we actually left, the truth would only be known upon arrival in bags were not on the plane. We'll get to that.
Happily, I sat next to an American woman and her daughter who have lived in Dakar for three years as the dad works with the Peace Corps. They filled me in on places to go, things to see and what to generally avoid. They also gave me some francs CFA since I had no way of getting any for my taxi ride to the airport and their phone number "just in case." No movies were shown and the screen was in Spanish instead of French...glitch somewhere in the system, apparently. Maybe something like the "all bags are on board" announcement.
Informational note (I figure these could be of interest to some of you): The currency in a large part of at least West Africa is francs CFA, a remnant of a certain colonial occupation. They are impossible to get anywhere but in Africa and the exchange rate is generally b/t 450-500 francs CFA to the dollar.
Aside from the three nearly perpetually crying babies which I didn't really mind 'cause they were cute and I would have cried if it wouldn't have been a bit shocking to my cabin mates, the fact that they ran out of the choice of food I (and many others) wanted halfway through cabin and the worst turbulence I've ever experienced, the flight went well. I arrived in Dakar at closer to 6 than the 4:39 announced arrival time feeling ready to go.
Almost 90 degree heat at that hour of the morning might slow one down, but the curiosity about my bags propelled me to the conveyor belt where I was met with a blaring lack of two familiar bags. But, since I expected this, I calmly shuffled through the steamy, tile-floored open room into an even steamier cement-floored room filled with piles of unclaimed bags of various descriptions. When I announced that my bags had been lost the friendly man at the door to the office offered, "Let's say they were "delayed"." If you want to. Happily, they were in fact merely delayed as they'd been sent via Paris. They're due tonight after 10 pm. Let's hope they get here, given the nature of the work I will be doing Monday. We'll get to that, too.
First of all, at 6 in the morning, Dakar is a happening place! Several nightclubs were overflowing with revelers all along my drive to the hotel and a French chain bakery's parking lot was full of the after party crowd grabbing snacks before turning in for a very late, virtually nonexistent night.
Where I'm staying is gorgeous. Dakar is beautiful too, with sandy beaches and rocky shores. Traditional Senegalese long boats can always be seen floating along, full of more than 5 passengers. Looking over the city, you see unfinished cement structures among tans, oranges and golds of mud and stucco. The same nearly-shanty, corrugated metal-roofed shop stalls line the narrow, unpaved side streets like they did in Benin and do throughout Africa, and hundreds of old yellow taxis speed left and ride, using traffic laws more as theoretical guidelines than actually requirements for safety. Lazy or heat-soaked guards lean back in white plastic lawn chairs outside the compound walls of nicer gated houses. In the countryside and some in the city, you see nothing but mango trees, lean cows and goats and the occaisional (my very favorite) baobab tree. Of course, I don't want to clean up the image too much; you also see extremely dirty water pooling in the large ruts of the majority unpaved streets, ferile cats and dogs wandering for the rare treasure of scraps and garbage piling and blowing in every possible area where it can collect or escape.
It all seems familiar and extremely foreign at the same time.
This morning after wrestling myself from my rock-like sleep, CÚline, a friend and colleague who graduated a year after me from MIIS, came to my door laden with bottled water, fruit and Kinder chocolates. Suffice it to say, we are both very happy to be working together! After a big hug, she came in and I recounted my missing bags, she filled me in on the personalities of various colleagues and the difficulty of the work ahead and we agreed to meet everyone for lunch by the pool.

All of my colleagues are really great. One of the best things about working as an interpreter is sharing stories with clients and colleagues because people have been everywhere in the world, interpreted the most random subjects or otherwise done things you just never think of doing. Among us, people speak Spanish, Thai, Haitian Creole...I know that's only three but I already lose track! I bet between all of the colleagues here we've nearly been in every country of the world...maybe some have done this on their own!
I guess that's it for my long uneventful first day. The great thing about being in a new place doing a new job is that everything is interesting and fun. It may be hard to adjust, you may have jetleg (which I don't really) and whatever else, but it's an adventure and it's great discovering a new place. The Senegalese pride themselves on hospitality and as far as I can see, they do so with good reason.
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