Walking through Dakar on a regular day, the architecture fascinates, the people smile and the french bread elates the senses. The first week here saw little in the way of frustrations. Yes, the first guesthouse’s room leaked in the rain. Yes, the diving NGO ignored any request for diving. Yes, Children beg for ‘donations’. But at least the food service is better than Nairobi, at least the mosques are less blaring (and more smooth) than Zanzibar, and at least asking for directions doesn’t result in ‘requests’ for ‘tea money’ (baksheesh) like in Egypt. While each country has it’s relative downsides, Senegal does a good job at being hospitable, fun, and clean.
However today it rained.
Not a spring shower, may flower type of rain but a monsoon season style deluge. Such has been common over the past week which means pools of standing water, grumpy people and sewage bubbling to the surface throughout residential neighborhoods. Ahh, hence the Yellow Fever, Malaria, and Typhoid Fever warnings…. So, today:
Collecting footage of the Stalinistic African Renaissance Monument in the rain means taxis, taxis, and more taxis. In Dakar, taxis are plentiful and with two people, it’s only four times more expensive than the bus on a clear day.
As the pouring wouldn’t subside, a taxi was needed to take the camera equipment home. Standing under an overpass, I took a little time to film some rain at 240fps. It was beautiful and a moment I was happy to see. Then the taxi came. It backed up to us, out of the rain. This hopeful sign made me happy after having watched many other taxis wait a slight jog away from the overpass. I assumed their reasoning had at least a slight twinge of malcontent. Possible passengers would be less willing to haggle while standing in the rain.
The taxi backed up and my companion (having a much higher fluency in French than myself), leaned into the front passenger window and inquired about the price. She looked to me and expressed the $10 fee required by this taxi for what should be a $3 taxi ride and a $0.75 bus ride. We said no thank you and stood back to let any of the other overpass sheltered people take the overpriced ride. He motioned for us to come back and we offered a price of $6. He agreed, so we jumped in the back. The taxi’s roof had tears along the edges, the air conditioning was broken, and the windshield wipers didn’t work. Not abnormal in a Senegalese taxi, being that they range in quality from brand-new to duct-taped-together.
Dodging traffic we were on our way. Keeping the bag of equipment out of the rain proved to be a little difficult, but not impossible. Plus, I’m happy I had brought along a dry bag just in case. I did, however, forgot the bug spray this morning, so my array of mosquito bites did begin to worry me (a mistake I will never make again). Through a translucent and ever-fogging windshield, our driver decided to take the scenic route instead of directly driving us home. Why? I don’t know. Usually the roads are just fine, but quite possibly the pools of water and muck were too deep.
30 minutes later in a ride that should have taken 15, we found ourselves on the beach. The rain let up enough for our driver to stop the car without a word, walk out and pee into the wind in full view of his passengers. Uncommon as such an event may seem, this was the second time we’ve witnessed this midway stop-and-piss.
Waiting in a leaking, overpriced taxi bore a little on our tired nerves. However it was hard to be upset after a laborious day of filming and other errands. He silently sat back down, and we were off once again. The long ride, less than 2 kilometers from home, was nearing completion. Arriving at an intersection, he asked which way to turn. We instructed ‘right’ and he yelled in a mixture of Wolof and French (I think?). Why? Well, I would assume because we were now going back in the direction of the monument. After meandering through the back alleys and avoiding the puddles, we arrived at another intersection. We instructed to turn left, but quickly corrected ourselves and said ‘right’ once again. Apparently that was the wrong thing to say as his fury grew.
We decided to stop there being less than 2km away with a break in the rain. I gave him the equivalent of $8 and we waited for our change. He stepped out of his taxi, still parked at the intersection and cleaned off a piece of the windshield. I had opened my passenger door in preparation to depart only to find we were in the middle of a semi-clear sandy pool (but thankfully without any tell-tale signs of sewage). He stepped back in the car and we asked for the change. An extra $2, the equivalent of a small fast-food dinner in Dakar, may go by without a blink.
However, today it rained.
You see, there is an expectation placed on anyone lacking of melanin in Africa. Taxi drivers, touting shop owners, and unsavory well-wishers see white skin as an ATM to withdrawal from. Many businesses, taxi drivers, and restaurants do not follow this principle, but it happens enough to become a fly in the ointment.
Having dealt with many such incidents in the last few months, we went to our toolbox of discussion. These tools deserve a blog post in their own right. There is the “That is our food money!” tool, the “Is it because I’m white?” tool, and the emergency, last resort, “Is this very Christian/Islamic of you?” For us, these tools have been used on only a handful of occasions. This being one of them.
The flurry of argument, speeding through alleyways with the passenger door wide open to follow was frustrating. Yes… While arguing over principle, our driver decided to fly down residential streets, splashing convenience kiosks in the opposite direction of where we needed to go. After a few minutes of this unsavory affair we decided the walk wasn’t worth it (plus with so many cautions from the US embassy and without any knowledge of where he was taking us, it seemed in our best interest to drop it). We stepped out and slammed the door.
Fifteen minutes later we found ourselves in the fast food restaurant near home. Exhausted, and annoyed at the taxi driver, we ordered a ‘three cheese pizza’. The waitress went back to the kitchen and returned shortly with a shake of the head. Scratching that order, we decided on ‘chawarma’, a type of Lebanese kebab burrito. With only the equivalent of $20 in my pocket, I gave it to her. She sneered and walked back to the kitchen. A few minutes later she came back, explaining there wasn’t enough change ($16) at this cash-only fast food restaurant for us. No apology, just a quick explanation. Used to the treatment by now from locally owned businesses, we gathered our things to go home without dinner.
I’ve had a wonderful time in Africa so far, and I almost always shy away from writing about subjects like this. Simply put, my discomfort is mild in comparison to what people who live in Africa must deal with on a daily basis. I don’t deserve to be upset. However today, after dodging sewage, marveling at mosquito bites and standing in the shadows of an $27 million dollar ‘African Renaissance Monument’; I guess I shouldn’t pass judgement.
However, today it rained.