Monday, March 12, 2018

Dakar Redux

"Lonely Planet" asserted that street stalls selling rice and sauce were "ubiquitous" in Dakar, one of thirteen times that it's team of ten writers covering the eighteen countries, including the Cape Verde Islands, that comprise West Africa, found something "ubiquitous."  Shockingly, litter was not one of those thirteen.  Rather, it was largely obvious and mundane items such as ATMs and power cuts in Nigeria, mobile cell phones and chop bars in Ghana, tea in Mauritania, salads in Morocco, and corn and beans in Cape Verde.  

Only once in 514 pages was litter alluded to.  It came in a blue-highlighted paragraph encouraging travelers to purify water rather than buying it, acknowledging that "plastic water bottles and plastic bags are one of the most visible scourges across the West African landscape."   It didn't specify any other scourges, though adjectives beginning with the letter "s" ran rampant through the book, led by "stunning" with 45 and "spectacular" with 35.  Among the other s's were splendid, superb, stately, sublime, sleek, swanky, sweeping, suave, succulent, serene, sensational, swishy, shabby, shoddy, scruffy, spooky, sopoforic.  One writer twice described bathrooms as salubrious.

The f's were strongly represented as well with 42 items deemed fascinating, 32 fantastic and 22 fabulous.  The f-parade continued with fancy, friendly, famous, frenetic, frosty, formal , funky, finicky, frumpy, fabled, fine, flourishing and frenzied.  It's fact-checkers certainly have their work cut out for them determining whether something is indeed stunning or just fantastic.  It's no easy task quantifying a beach or a view or some basilica. 

I was ready to call into question its fact-checkers for allowing the rice and sauce joints in Dakar to be called ubiquitous as I was having a hard time finding any.  There was virtually no street or bargain food to be found in the downtown area other than the occasional stand offering omelet a baguette.  Although it looks like a hunk of food, the baguettes are so light and fluffy they do little to appease my hunger.  Besides eggs some stands fill the baguette with a bean paste or even spaghetti.  Some sandwich-makers are unwilling to put the spaghetti into my bowl as they have just enough to make sandwiches and don't want to have leftover baguettes.  And they're not very nice in their refusal.    It wasn't until I started wandering the side streets around the football stadium did I find those tiny stalls that I knew so well from the countryside with their pots advertising their fare

In the city they weren't so obvious, recessed among rows of tiny, shabby shops with their pots and seating inside.  They may have been in an urban setting, but there could still be goats tethered nearby dining right along with everyone else.

I made not my first food faux pas when I was presented with the above large bowl of rice with hunks of chicken and vegetables when I added a couple of spoonfuls of sauce from a bowl sitting on the table, not knowing it was a hot sauce of inferno proportions that one only needed a dab of.  My mouth was immediately scalded.  If I had immediately spat it out, no one would have been offended, not with two little girls unabashedly taking a pee right out front.

It was such a huge bowl of rice I was able to eat enough uncontaminated rice around the edges to reduce its volume so that it would fit into my Tupperware bowl.  I had some spaghetti back in my hotel room that I could mix in to lower the heat index.

My hotel room was as rustic as the street.  I had my own toilet, but it was badly fractured. The faucets in the sink weren't dispensing water and the shower head only gave a trickle. The door to the bathroom was off its hinges, paint was peeling everywhere and the windows didn't look as if they'd been washed this millennium.  It had once been a stately accommodation in the city center.  But it hadn't been maintained, as is the way here.  All it had going for itself was its location.

My return to Dakar on a Sunday with the traffic greatly reduced, made it not such an unpleasant ride.  My introduction to it seven weeks ago biking in from the airport and two rides out, the second after arriving by ferry a week ago, were veritable nightmares in bumper-to-bumper traffic for miles and miles on roads with little room for bicycles.  I had been reduced to a crawl, but this time I could zip right in, happy to stop at places of familiarity where I could get banana flour balls and spaghetti.  When I head out to the airport tomorrow, I'll stock up on more of those banana flour balls for my seven-hour layover in Istanbul and hopefully save a couple for Janina and be able to share some with her daughter Annia, who will actually be joining me on the second leg of my flight, connecting from Beirut.  She's coming home for her mother's birthday and also a writing project. 

It was a pleasure to meander around Dakar Sunday afternoon with little traffic to contend with able to gaze about at the shops and the sites.  The many mosques with their high towers dominate the skyline.  With my increased fabric consciousness I noticed an abundance of fabric stores, some clustered together and others on their own.

They offer an even wider array of patterns than I realized existed.

The women in their brightly colored every-day garb are a startling contrast to the otherwise run-down and drab surroundings with litter and dirt everywhere.

Their garb can be stunning, if not spectacular.

They may dress as if they're on the way to pay the queen a visit, but they're clearly not.

Though they could have been bearing gifts.

I could stand on any street corner and imagine I was watching a beauty, or at least clothes, pageant.

As I bike along here in Dakar and everywhere in these travels, my eye has been constantly arrested by a dress I'd like to stop and photograph.

During my Sunday exploration of Dakar I happened upon a side street lined with the ware of peddlers of bike parts spread on the sidewalk. There were the tires I was looking for, but not new enough.  Someone was willing to sell me a washer for my pump, but for the price of the pump that he removed it from.  I will simply rely on my backup pump as I have for the past few weeks.  I had to wait until Momday for the well-stocked bike shop, as it was closed. I was hoping it would have Schwalbe or Continental tires, but all it had were not so impressive Indian-branded tires, so I'll stick with what I have for my remaining few miles.  

It was back to being a nightmare biking around grid-locked Dakar, and more of a nightmare than I could want, as I was rear-ended by a cabbie in the bumper-to-bumper traffic.  We were just inching along, so all he did was give me a nudge and mangle my fender, but still I wasn't happy about being hit.  The driver got out and offered his hand, but of course no apology or compensation.  I stuck out my hand open-palmed and demanded a thousand francs ($2) caught up in the fury of the moment.  He just smiled and pointed at his bumper claiming I had damaged his dilapidated car.  "You hit me, you hit me," I shouted and then began calling, "Gendarme, gendarme."  

Traffic was blocked and a crowd was gathering.  A couple of guys started pulling on my bike to get me out of the way.  They were mean and surly.  It didn't look like anyone was coming to my defense.  There appeared to be no hope for me, so I tugged the bike away from them and quickly caught up with the backed-up traffic ahead and inched past them to the side, happy that the bike was rideable and to escape what was turning ugly.  Whatever luster there was biking around Dakar was now gone as well as my cloak of invincibility. I headed to the much-neglected Independence Park a couple blocks from my hotel and found a shady spot to eat an omelet sandwich and gaze upon the empty and fractured fountain that at one time had been the city's glory and was now a symbol of a different sort--minimal initiative and a tattered Africa.

I didn't mind at all this trip is coming to an end.  The hardships of Africa are many and its rewards few.  The few whites I've seen in Dakar all look like beleaguered aid workers, not tourists enjoying themselves. Despite their reputation for hospitality, the majority of Sengeleae I've encountered have been a somber, barely tolerant lot, not very welcoming at all. They seem to regard me as one of those people who have come to help them when they think they don't need any help.  Rather than being happy to see me, they pretend I'm not there.   I'm generally ignored when I enter a shop.  Those who respond to me are generally the hustlers, hoping to get something from me.  When I pulled up to the hotel I'd stayed at in Dakar before, two guys on the sidewalk latched on to me and led me to the entry, hoping to get credit for bringing me to the hotel.  When the guy I knew from my first visit greeted me with a hand shake, the two hangers-on immediately evaporated.  

When I was in China, I regularly heard the refrain, "We need to try to meet Western standards in certain matters," such as reducing their smoking and not spitting or littering.  It was a big deal to put garbage cans around cities in China.  The Africans don't seem to care to acknowledge Western standards, or only wish to defy them.  Their cities and towns are a mess.   Civic pride seems non-existent.  At least Senegal's roads were largely first rate, a major step in making a place habitable.

Unfortunately, the road out to the airport, other than the toll road, is narrow and thick with traffic. It will be an ordeal, but at least I know it well, having biked in on it twice and out twice.   I will be at it at daybreak hopefully before the traffic is too intense.  After seven miles it widens from two lanes to four with a bit of a shoulder.

1 comment:

dworker said...

Yes, some places in the world are not pleasant. The trash in Paraguay and the burn piles in Vietnam, the incredible, unrelenting street hustle in Morocco, the absolute poverty in Bangladesh, the filth and disease in India, the real danger at night in some cities in Honduras, and Brasil. Report it all, and speak the truth.
Five years ago, Thailand decided to clean up their streets. The king ordered it, and they did it, and the difference is incredible.