Senegal – Day 1
After close to 24 hours of travel (most of it spent in Atlanta, admittedly) I got to Dakar around 5am this morning, local time. Now it’s about 9pm local time, we’ve just heard the call to prayer, and I’m waiting for a pizza. It has been an exhausting day.
At the airport I quickly realized how screwed I was not to speak French or Wolof, to have no one meeting me at the airport, and on top of that not to have any local currency (at a time when all the banks are closed, in a place where none of the ATMs work). I asked one of the airport attendants for advice, and he passed me along to his English (well, really a mix of English, French, and Spanish, but we were able to communicate) speaking cousin, who works as a tour guide and was hanging out outside the airport hoping to pick up new clients. The cousin’s name was Bouba, he seemed like a nice guy, and not seeing many other options I hired him as my tour guide. He quickly hooked me up with a black market money changer and a taxi to my hotel, and offered to come back and show me around the city after I had had a chance to sleep.
We had an interesting afternoon together. First we walked around the city together, seeing what he considered the top sights… the president’s residence, the prime minister’s office, a couple of monuments. Then we went to the beach, and Bouba asked if I minded attending his drum lesson with him. A friend of his meets him every day to teach him to drum, and in return he teaches his friend English. I had a pleasant hour hanging out on the beach with them, watching them drum, watching the people on the beach, taking photos. Unfortunately I didn’t wear a hat or sunscreen, and I am quite pink now.
Then we went shopping. Yesterday was my mom’s birthday and I wanted to get her something nice, and I keep hearing about how great the shopping is in Dakar. This is where things got a little scary. First Bouba took me to a clothing factory (owned by a friend of his, but he insisted that because I would be buying from the man who made the clothes everything would be much cheaper than at a regular market.) Talk about hard sell! The owner kept pushing items on me, and it was a very dark and confined shop without much air circulation. I was starting to feel unwell after all that sun and I just wanted to leave, but of course we had to haggle over the price. I’m very pleased with what I bought, and I think I paid a fair (not cheap!) price, but it took much longer than I would have liked.
My real scare and scam came when I left Bouba in the taxi for a moment to stop at an ATM. The ATM itself was no trouble – they keep guards next to them so no one will bother you there – but I stopped at a street vendor on my way back to the taxi to buy a shirt that caught my eye that I thought Matt would like. Buying the shirt itself was fine, but I quickly gathered a crowd of vendors around me. They seemed very friendly, all wanting to shake my hand and welcome me to Senegal. One man put a small package in my hand and said he was celebrating the birth of his daughter and giving away gifts as the birth sacrifice. I peeked in the package and it was a pair of gold earrings! I tried to give them back, but he acted offended and he assured me it was a gift, “just put it in your pocket” he said “it is yours.” I thanked him and tried to leave, but he and several of his friends blocked my way. They explained to me, mostly in French, but with enough English thrown in that I eventually got the picture, that now that I had accepted a birth gift for his daughter I was a god mother and that I must now be in charge of buying the rice for the naming ceremony that would happen tomorrow. Again, I tried to give the earrings back, but he got angry with me, and since I was completely surrounded by men larger than I was who were insisting I pay for a bag of rice, and Bouba and the taxi were out of sight around a corner, I thought my best option was to pay them off. Of course we had to haggle over how much a “bag of rice” costs. (I refused his kind offer to take all my money and remove the amount he thought right!) I ended up paying about $20 for a pair of obviously fake gold earrings in what was clearly a practiced scam. I feel like such a gullible tourist.
Bouba wanted to take me out to hear Senegalese music tonight, but I was so exhausted and shaken after all this that I begged off, and instead I’m sitting in the hotel bar, enjoying the free wi-fi and watching soccer and golf with all the French tourists. In the morning I’m going to museum at GorÃ©e Island.
See all my Dakar photos here.