Thursday, July 5, 2012

Concrete Jungle

First days back from the “land of the free, home of the brave” felt amorphous, surreal even, like leaving one world and stepping into another one somewhere in between, Dakar. The first day back I ate nothing and slept most of the day; the next day back, I slept less but still couldn’t eat much. Nothing seemed appetizing after spoiling myself for two weeks… And this is Dakar, normally the land of plenty where eating is half the joy of being there!

Another topic of interest for every Peace Corps volunteer traveling to Dakar is transportation. Relative to a PCV’s living allowance, taxi are very expensive. Yet, Dakar is too sprawling to walk across and not particularly bike friendly (assuming you have your bike with you). Therefore, it behooves the volunteer to learn the bus system and minibus routes. Still these are time consuming, over-crowded, and often lead to a (mis)adventure, more so than public transport in the US. Taxis can be a great solution for group travel, but that’s no guarantee it will be a simple trip from point A to point B.

 Take for instance the extraordinary taxi experience I had with my Dakar visitors Nas and Dan. The ride was initially sketchy because the taximan had some trouble getting started, but enough taxi rides in this city and that is no longer so much an omen as a norm. Once we were off, the keys kept slipping out of the ignition. The first couple times this happened, no problem, we kept rolling. But then the car approached an incline and started to stall every time the keys fell out. We were enduring, but the situation soon became ridiculous: the keys wouldn’t stay and the car would jerk forward two feet and stop again, jerk, stop, jerk, stop, etc. Finally, patience (and the humor in the situation) left us and we let ourselves out of the jerking car. The taximan was very upset and insisted that we get back in the car.

Unfortunately, we were on a stretch of road not frequented by empty taxis, and even if they were empty it was dangerous for them to stop because of the curve in the road. So we walked forward to the next block. But the pace of walking was the same as the pace of the jerking taxi, so we had this irate taximan leaning across the passenger’s seat and screaming at as to get back in the taxi. Awkward, until we arrived at the top of a hill and gravity began to work in taxi’s favor, leaving us behind and alleviating us for the taximan’s muddled Wolof-French rant.

Luck, however, was still not on our side. It was another couple blocks until we found a minibus and decided to give it a go. Although the fare collector claimed the bus was going our way, he had stretched the truth a lot (no one lies in Senegal).  We got off just two blocks later to hustle another taxi. By the time we finally got to where we were going the whole ordeal was making us giggle again. Always an adventure in the concrete jungle.

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