Thursday, September 3, 2009

A day in Dakar

Steve and Brendan headed off to find a pirogue to take them out to the little island visible from our hotel room window while I went in search of the fabric market. I hired a nice (for a change) taxi driver for a couple of hours and explored the biggest fabric market I've ever seen. Anything you could possibly want for any sort of sewing project could be found here. There was also a large area filled with tailors, sewing machines squashed in so tightly that I guessed the tailor must have to clamber over the top of them all to get to his machine in the back corner somewhere. And they were all men. The sellers were about half and half, men and women. I tended to choose women vendors to actually buy from as they were a littel less pushy, seemed to be more honest and loved to hold Tadhg while I felt all the fabrics and tried to decide what to buy. I wondered around the sewing area with a plastic bag and waving a scrap of fabric to show that I was scrounging for scraps for free and I managed to fill a bag. I think I came home with about 40m of fabric with no concrete plans on what to make with it all. It was all just so yummy and very West African. One of my favourite parts of the trip was looking at all the clothing, especially on the women. One reason why I bought so much is that it is generally sold in 6 metre lengths- which is the amount required for making a complete outfit- bottom, top or dress and headscarf. In Mali, you don't buy by the metre but by "pagne". It's a french word used all over West Africa for a single piece of cloth about 1 metre by two metres. One pagne was roughly equal to the vendor's outstretched arm span- so buying from a tall gangly man might be a good idea if you want value for money I guess. Anyway, that size is good for almost anything- a skirt, sarong, table cloth, sheet, baby carrier, towel... whatever.

Anyway, enough about fabric. Suffice to say that I have plenty of fabric and now just need the ideas, time and energy to make stuff.

So continuing on with that day. In the afternoon after a nap, we decided to head for the Pointe des Almadies, the westernmost point of the African continent. On a map it appeared to be fairly close so we set off on foot along the beach. Outside our hotel the beach was surprisingly clean but it quickly became clear that only a small section of beach is cleaned and soon we were stepping over fish heads, plastic of all descriptions, dead mice and even one enormous bloated rat lying belly up on the sand. It was utterly disgusting but we carried on anyway. It started to rain as we continued walking through a very run down and dirty neighbourhood and I regretted wearing my flip flops. I was trying to resist thoughts of disgust at how filthy the place was because I hate to be negative or judge people or agree with stereotypes or let my own cultural baggage get in the way but this was unbelievable and I was completely baffled. Steve and I were both in utter disbelief already and then we suddenly emerged from the littered alleyways onto a little coastal bay and we stopped dead in our tracks. It was basically a landfill site right where a little beach should have been. As we stood there looking at all the rubbish and the piles and piles of plastic bottles on top of it all someone opened a back gate of a property that opened onto the bay and just threw a bucket full of watery rubbish out onto the ground. I was flabbergasted. I am still confused. You can say all you want about poverty, lack of education, no other options, poor governance etc etc, but even all of those problems together couldn't explain to me the lack of any attempt whatsoever to keep this place clean. Perhaps the local people were profiting in someway from allowing this place to be a dump, but even that doesn't explain the state of the streets. This is a seriously unhealthy place to live. At that time I was thinking that all that development work going on by Senegalese and foreign NGOs and whoever else, the education reform attempts, trying to end the daaras with their begging children... that none of that was even half as important as just cleaning some of the rubbish up and working out a way to keep it cleaner. And it wasn't just in this neighbourhood. Half of Dakar is the same, the fishing village was the same, Bamako is just as bad, maybe even worse. There is a neighbourhood in Dakar that is actually built ON rubbish. The locals are paid a bit to take it and they actually use it like you would use fill when building a subdivision in Canada. And during the rainy season people die when they fall through all the rubbish floating on top of the filthy water.

Anyway, to carry on with the day. We escaped from the filthy neighbourhood and reluctantly got into an ancient taxi driven by a very dim witted driver who was not all there. We tried to find a geocache but after the driver said about 10 times that it wasn't possible to drive up to the lighthouse, and about 10 times that is WAS possible, we decided to give it a miss and head for the point. When Steve's door opened of its own accord for the third time, while we sped along the road, the driver turned to tell him how to slam it shut properly and as a result of his wild gesticulating and total lack of focus on the road we drifted over onto the other side of the road and narrowly missed on oncoming truck. Steve luckily missed all that as he was focusing on the door. Actually it was a pretty good adrenaline rush. But not a fun one though, especially as the kids were in the car, not strapped in as usual.

The actual point was devoid of people due to the rain so we headed into the Meridian- the poshest hotel in Dakar for a look around and an astronomically priced drink at the bar. Little did we know that the next day we'd be staying at the hotel and living it up with an unlimited allowance for meals, swanky toiletries, a beautiful swimming pool, all compliments of Delta Airlines. They had cancelled our flight months previously but had failed to tell us.

That evening, our last in Dakar (before the plane delay anyway) Steve was again the target of a wannabe scam artist who was actually just a plain thief. When Steve had his wallet open to get a little money out to pay for the guy's scam (basically to get rid of him) the guy actually reached in a grabbed some money and then legged it. Steve chased him down and got most of the money back- I'll need to let him tell the details. But the upshot of it all was that we had had enough of Dakar with its money-grabbing con artists and seriously unhealthy rubbish problem. I almost cry when I think about the state of the ocean off that coast. Don't get me wrong, we loved almost every minute of our trip and met some great people but we were ready to leave Dakar.

1 comment:

Donna said...

I've been loving your blog and stories of this great adventure. Can't wait to hear more tales when book club meets again. Lovely pictures too.