Hustling the hustlers on the streets of Dakar

Trip Start Oct 04, 2011
Trip End May 01, 2013

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Flag of Senegal  , Dakar,
Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dakar is a buzzing, colourful and vibrant place of crowded streets where bright and battered car rapides, aging buses, taxis, animals, stall holders, cart drivers, and old women with impossible loads balanced on their heads compete with the hustlers for space and noise. And the hustlers compete with the hustlers, and the hustlers hustle the hustlers and its seems that everyone has hustling in mind in this great ants nest of civilisation.

Prevailing over this all is a sweet fishy smell from the docks which occasionally parts the exhaust fumes and permeates the Downtown on the sea breeze.  The fruit and phone stalls spill into the sandy and pot holed roads, at night seedy bars light up their neon signs and prostitutes ply smoky bars where middle-aged expats drink their beer and return their glances.

The colonial shuttered architecture crumbles elegantly and wonderfully undisturbed as modern life spills out.  The presidential palace faces the sea surrounded by presidential greenery. In the central Place D'Independence men in rags sleep, smoke and idly drink coffee on benches outside the steps of the colonaded Chamber of Commerce.

On a myriad of small beachs around the city's peninsular scores of Seneglese men repeatedly exercise in the strangest ways. Running backwards as slowly as possible, rolling over and over in the sand.  At dusk the beaches are thronged. The rasta men look disgusted by this and puff their joints with scorn. I have never met a more exercise conscious nation. A young man on crutches with one leg doing press ups on his fists. This is a rare sight in London.

In short Dakar is an African city, it's brash, it's glaring; it's noisy, it's often pretty seedy, it's bloody fun. We stayed 5 days. Everyone appears incredibly busy in Dakar; but everyone without exception has a lot to say to you.

It was under a fancy that I'd established a good knowledge of this city's background that I made my decision to dive into the vipers nest and attempt to peddle an old, but respectably flashy mobile phone we no longer had use for. I undertook this not without trepidation. I was taking the plunge with the hustlers with determination, if not obvious naivity.

On a particulary busy nondescript street no different from any other in Dakar  I began one hot morning. I entered a string of small mobile shop after shop flashing my wares, completing my sales pitch in terrible GCSE French, flanked always by good humoured hustlers, escorted from shop to shop, haggled, bantered, left alone and returned to, given phone numbers, taken to freinds, to friends of friends, to brothers, to fathers. Offered all sorts of ludicrously low figures.

By the time hot morning had turned to hot afternoon and fatigued by my efforts I found my way to the Big Daddy. The Big Daddy spoke few words, which was just as well for my dry throat could hardly crack out its stuttering pitch. Big Daddy sat like a king on a throne  consisting of a samsung box in flowing light blue African robes, beneath a fan and surrounded by attendants. He was the sight of second hand phone nobility.

Some good numbers appeared on a calculator in lieu of gesturing, the phone was whisked away by a minion. A lot of tentative waiting ensured. Big Daddy flashed a smile through gold teeth and and flicked channels on TV. I sat hot, getting nervous. The tension mounted in the small airless backshop in Dakar: And finally the cash in my hand and the deal done.

Now this phone may have been flashy but neither me or Sarah could use the bloody thing. It was the mosy counterintuitive and frustrating piece of silicon ever engendered. My travails the cash equivalent of three nights accomodation and dinner.

I couldn't help smiling to myself as this deal represented a significant success: Africans 100, Rob 1. At least I was off the mark. Hustling with the best of them, and what is more enjoying it.

My only hope: I never encounter Big Daddy, or his henchmen, again after they've spent five minutes with that phone.

Rob Spackman, St Louis, 12th November

We stayed Hotel Provencal by Place D'Independence. 14000cfa Dbl PPP. Cheap, worn and not fantastically clean but friendly
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papa john on

Good one Rob--- appreciate it for brightening up a grey Nov day.

carolyn Spackman on

You have missed your vocation son. Exceptionally vivid writing, not sure I wish I was there

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