Travel Stories

Trying Dakar

         I try my hardest to make a go of it in Dakar, imagine myself a traveler stuck in some remote, desert-like setting, in a Bogart movie, Casablanca maybe, philosophically passing time waiting for the weekly mail plane to show up and bring the message I am waiting for, or whisk me away, trying to understand if it’s wise for Sam to join me here, and, regrettably, I think not.  I just don’t like Dakar and don’t think there’s anything really engaging for Sam here.  Plus almost every street encounter seems characterized by a hustle, a lie, a manipulation.  The whole place just seems corrupt, emotionally empty, an anti-French bias of mine maybe, beggars everywhere, kids with their hands out, no cab passing without honking loudly and often and asking if you want a ride, no street you can walk down without someone asking you to buy them some food, or give them some money, entire streets lined with permanent settlements of homeless women and little children sleeping on and in cardboard boxes, many soldiers and police in the streets, every commercial encounter - except with grocers, bakers, and restaurateurs where an item’s cost is preset and usually posted - containing some reference to what a slow day it is, how much the vendor loves you, wants to send you home with something, anything, and even though this sale will be a loss for him he needs some money in his pocket today to feed his family, and his shop will be closed tomorrow because he has to travel, to attend a funeral, to be with his sick mother.  Would that I was exaggerating.  And, yes, of course, perception is reality.  And on top of all that prices are somewhat at an American standard - two or three dollars for a cup of coffee - five dollars for a small sandwich – four dollars for a small bag of peanuts that in Addis cost twenty five cents.
         In the ritzier part of town, Almadi, by the ocean, there are - this too is no exaggeration – at least 10,000 only partially completed housing units falling into disrepair.  The streets are filthy.  Shops are closed.  And the massive newly opened Monument to the African Renaissance is the towering epitome of it all.  The biggest monument in the world, bigger than the Statue of Liberty, the MAR project has been the subject of much criticism, controversy, and opposition, from the fact of its North Korean backers, to the merits of spending millions on monuments in the face of real poverty.  But my favorite issue is that the President of Senegal has set it up so that he personally retains a 35% interest in all revenue generated by all visits to the monument and his son is chairman of the the board of the foundation responsible for managing the monument. Not to mention how totally Stalanist and ridiculously sexist the monument  is.  Ah Senegal.
         I will say this, apropos of nothing, many of the men and women of Senegal are drop dead gorgeous.  And I see the highest percentage of really tall people I have ever seen in any one population off a basketball court, many many of the men, and quite a few of the women, taller than I am at 6’2”.   But no matter how many times I say “do you play basketball,” I never get one yes, and I never see one basketball, or one basketball court … and my sense that Sam might have a good time here fades quickly and presents me with a dilemma concerning the possibility of cancelling his trip and his feeling let down, or worse betrayed, which I just can’t bear.

 African Renaissance Monument - Dakar, Senegal

African Renaissance Monument - Dakar, Senegal