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O Fim duma Viagem

First Sights in Dakar

SENEGAL | Tuesday, 24 June 2014 | Views [462]

 One of the first rules of going to a place like Senegal is to keep an open mind. Senegal is a “least developed country,” and constant wishful reminisces to how things are in the United States or Morocco will just lead to disappointment that Senegal isn't all that. Instead, you need to keep a healthy sense of good humor and adventure, regardless of any other frustrations.

I'm not sure quite how to manage that, but I know a great first anti-step. Fly in at 2 in the morning. And by “2 in the morning,” I mean that was the expected time of arrival in Dakar time. Which meant 3:00 in the morning, if everything went well. The plane was over 40 minutes late taking off, and once I did, the length of the trip almost immediately changed from the announced 2 hours 40 minutes to 2 hours 50+ minutes displayed on the TV screens.

We landed at 4:00 our time, 3:00 Dakar time. It was hot.

We got off the airport, on a bus where me managed to not lose anyone, and then off the bus to go stand in a line. We were there for between 10 and 30 minutes. (I was trying not to pay too much attention to the time.) Then all at once a bunch of the counters opened up, and we were all separating and entering Senegal.

I handed the airport official my passport, and he asked me for my visa. Uh... “I'm a tourist,” I tried, hoping that would exempt me from needing a special visa. No such luck. He asked again, and I looked around to see if I could find someone else from the program who could help me. My view was blocked by the counter. I was alone.

“Parlez-vous francais?”

“Un peu.”

“Avez-vous un visa?”

Well, now that you've asked it in French... nope, I'm still out of ideas.

I was told to follow one woman. When I looked back, I saw that much of my group must have been told a similar thing. Reassured by at least not being alone in this, I followed her out of building and into a tent.

The tent was wonderfully cool, and we were told to sit down while Oussama and Nisrine straightened this out. Ironically, with their Moroccan passports, neither Oussama nor Nisrine had any difficulty with visas. A little bit later, they had learned that we needed visas, and we needed to pay 52 Euros for them, but, since it had come as such a shock, IES was covering it. So I enjoyed the air conditioning while someone else paid for me. I have fond memories of that tent.

With receipt of payment in hand, we could go get our biometric visas.

I went into one of the small rooms, and the airport official tried to teach me some Wolof. He taught me how to say “good morning,” which I forgot because it was at that point around 3:30, and also my mind was rebelling against the fact that it was in fact morning. I remember the response, though (magnifique) because that's almost as easy as the Darija word for cheese (fromaj).

He gave up on that, and later French, when I kept making “Hmm? Could you please repeat that?” sounds. Again, it was way too late at night/early in the morning for French to be my ideal language of communication, and it was further complicated by the accent. To my ear, Moroccans have as much of an accent as people from Toronto do. Senegalese French is more like Australian English. It's comprehensible without too much difficulty, but it's not a way of speaking that I'm used to hearing, so that makes it hard to understand.

Eventually, I got through the questions and could move on to the biometric part. Put both thumbs on the sensors in front of me. Now both index fingers. Now look at the camera. Ooh, that didn't work. Take off the glasses and try again. Great. Here's the picture.

“Ca va?”

No, I look positively demonic. And I can't even blame that on the camera, because my eyes are still blue and not red. I forced a smile. “Ca va.” And then watched with horror as he peeled off the back and added it to my passport.

I have never been so glad that my passport expires in under a year. Sure, it contains the stamps of 6 foreign countries and memories attached to some of them. But it also now contains not one, but two of the uglier pictures of me.

Goal for the next ten months: learn how to assume a non-smiling face for pictures that looks mildly non-ugly.

With a possessed image of me permanently attached to my passport, I was free to leave that room, wait around with other people from the program, and get my passport stamped. (Megan: “The stamp looks so clean and crisp.” Oussama: “It had better. You paid 52 Euros for it.”)

Erika came out with a strange smile on her face. “I just got proposed to.”


“The guy who was doing my visa was asking me all those questions, and then he was like 'are you married?' 'No.' 'Why not? Will you marry me?' And he wrote his number on the receipt thing.”

Then as we were leaving, the same guy asked Nisrine to look after Erika and make sure she was fine. He might have chosen a different person if he'd known that Nisrine had collected all of the receipts to give to Fatima, the IES accountant, thereby depriving Erika of her means to call her husband, as we kept referring to him. (Erika: “I never said yes!”)

We picked up our bags, waved a hand at customs (Oussama did, at least. The rest of us just followed him) and then got into a van to drive to a hotel.

Being in a car looking out the window of an unfamiliar city is never going to be comforting around 4 in the morning. For a first glimpse of Dakar, it was downright depressing. The streets were deserted and the buildings were dilapidated. And there were mosquitoes in the car, and I just wanted to get to the hotel and sleep.

We stood around in the lobby while Oussama checked us in and our Dakar tour guide brought in bottles of water. Big (1.5 L) bottles, and packs of 6 of these. We were told to each take 4, then 3, then back to 4. (Four in total, not 11.)

Cynthia had carefully balanced her four bottles on her suitcase, which worked until they weren't balanced. Our tour guide helped her pick them up, but set two of them aside saying “I'll give you two.” Apparently getting four bottles of water was a privilege that could be taken away.

Cynthia: “Is he joking or not? I can't tell.”
I shrugged.

Since they did not have a three-person suite available for that night, Megan ended up getting a room to herself while Cynthia and I shared. We gathered our stuff, but when Cynthia tried to pick up one of the other two bottles (which he'd put right next to her suitcase) the tour guide complained. After a bit of “No, take it.” “No, no, I insist you do,” the tour guide won (or lost?) and Cynthia went up to our room with two bottles of water.

Our room had two beds bolted together and fixed with only one set of sheets that stretched over both of them. Hopefully we were both tired enough we wouldn't roll over or thrash around in our sleep. We got ready for bed, then I set my alarm so it could wake me up in time for us to shower for breakfast.

I've had moments of frustration with that little notification that shows up when you enter an alarm. “Alarm set for * hours and * minutes from now.” None of them compared to the utter despondency when, ready to go to sleep for a good nine hours, my phone helpfully informed me that my alarm was set for 3 hours and 33 minutes from now.

It''s going to be interesting.

Tags: airplane, airport, dakar, water

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