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Living Routes Senegal Fall 2009

Living Routes study abroad program in Senegal, Fall 2009 (September-December 2009)

Do You Know Where Your Towel Is?, Yoff Is On Fire, and Other Tidbits

Senegal Dakar, Senegal  |  Oct 16, 2009
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 At 7:20 in the morning I got a text message from one of the other American students saying 'Yoff is on fire. I wouldn't walk to school.' 

I have read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy many times.  (In fact, I happen to be re-reading it right now.  It's one of my favorite books, and I tend to bring it along on extended trips as "comfort reading.")  Even so, until a few years ago, I had assumed that it is not really necessary (at least on Earth) to bring a towel with you when you travel.  However, it turns out that in Paraguay people actually do pack towels when they travel.  Even if you stay in someone's house, they will assume you have your own towel with you and won't necessarily offer you a guest towel.  And here in Yoff I am using my own towel even though I will be here for over three months.  So as it turns out, a towel can indeed be a massively useful thing for a traveler, even if you're not an interstellar hitchhiker...

Although I was prepared in the towel department, unfortunately it did not occur to me to pack extra dental floss.  I did bring a pillow and a top sheet since Living Routes had warned us that not everyone uses those here.  (Although it turns out both my host families in Yoff and in Guédé do use pillows, and I hardly ever sleep under the top sheet since it is so hot.)  I also brought enough contact solution to last me the whole trip, as well as prescription and non-prescription medicines and some other products.  But it didn't occur to me that I might not be able to buy floss here.  In Paraguay I was able to buy it in pharmacies, but I looked at a pharmacy here and had no luck.  I also didn't find it at the stores in Yoff that generally have more Western products (the Shell station and MyShop). 

On Wednesday evening I was out and about with some of the other American students after class.  (I also posted some photos from this outing.)  We went to see the Monument de la Renaissance Africaine, a very expensive and controversial statue under construction in the Dakar area.  It's controversial because the government is spending a lot of money on it that some people would rather see going to improve education, alleviate poverty, etc.  And apparently the president, Abdoulaye Wade, has claimed thirty-something percent of the profits from the monument on the grounds of intellectual property rights (I guess it was his idea to build it).  Anyway, after the monument we walked to the Mosque de la Magdelene and later took cabs to Casino, a large supermarket which is also sort of a small mall.  It's a very large grocery store, bigger than the ones I usually go to in the U.S.  But they didn't have floss!  (Luckily, Ruth said she has a lot of floss, so I will probably be able to get some from her when mine runs out.) 

If you are a toubab (white person) in Dakar, every single taxi that drives by will honk at you to get your attention, just in case you might want a ride.  They know that toubabs have lots of money and will try to charge a higher price.  Every once in a while you will see a nice, new-looking taxi, but 95% of them are old, beat-up cars.  They often have names or phrases painted on the back, and sometimes other decorations as well.  Many of them have some doors and/or windows that don't open and shut properly, and usually there are no seatbelts in the back seats.  I would guess that at least half of the taxis in Dakar have cracked windshields.  In fact, every time that I've been in a cab here and have noticed whether or not the windshield was cracked, it has been.  So maybe I've been in a few taxis with intact windshields and just haven't noticed, but I've definitely been in a lot of them with cracked windshields.

The other options for public transportation in Dakar are buses and cars rapides.  A car rapide is a small bus/large van-type vehicle, like the one we took to Guédé Chantier and back.  They are often decorated with paint.  And they are always pretty old.  Sometimes there are holes in the floor, and they usually look/sound like they are about to fall apart any minute.  But they are a relatively cheap way to get around.  To catch one you just wave it down, and when you want to get off you bang on the roof.

There was some big excitement on Wednesday morning.  At 7:20 in the morning I got a text message from one of the other American students saying "Yoff is on fire.  I wouldn't walk to school."  Needless to say I was rather startled.  But a few minutes later I got another message saying that the fire had stopped.  Apparently a tanker crashed in front of the Shell station near the school, and gas leaked out and caught on fire.  (I believe it was kerosene, not gasoline.)  There were huge, billowing clouds of smoke.  Since it's a ways from my house, I didn't see anything myself.  But I've seen pictures, and they're very impressive.  I can see how one might get the impression that all of Yoff was on fire.  In any case it was all over by the time I got to school, and all I could see were large crowds of people near the Shell station.  (I was never in any danger, so you are all forbidden to worry about me!)

Wednesday was also the day we talked about the mid-term evaluations.  These are evaluations that we (the students) wrote about the program, rather than the other way around.  But anyway it means that the program is already halfway over!  Time flies...

There are two French girls living with my host family now.  They are staying in the upstairs part of the building that Ruthanne and I are in.  They are here to work with an NGO on projects in a village in Casamance (in southern Senegal).  They had been here for a week before moving in with our family (they were staying with a different family but moved here because it is closer to the NGO's office), and they will be leaving next Tuesday for Casamance.  They said that they haven't had much trouble understanding Senegalese French (apparently it is much easier for them to understand than Québecois), but they are still having communication issues since they don't know how to say much in Wolof or other African languages.

I was really looking forward to it being cooler in Guédé Chantier when we go back in November.  But apparently it will only be in the 90s instead of in the 100s.  That's still way too hot in my opinion...  (And apparently it's only in the 80s (usually mid-to-high 80s, I think) here in Yoff.  But it feels plenty hot with the humidity.)

A couple of the American students got mail yesterday.  Letters get delivered directly to the EREV building in Yoff, but for a package you have to go and pick it up at the post office in Dakar.  Nikki went to get a package yesterday, and apparently it was quite stressful and time-consuming.  After a lot of waiting around, they tried to charge her over 50,000 CFA (which is over $100) to claim the package.  (I guess this had to do with the fact that the declared value of the package was over $200.)  Nikki freaked out and eventually got them to accept just 5,000 CFA.  But anyway it sounds like it might not be worth it to have packages sent here unless it's something really important...

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