Friday, August 17, 2007

Senegalese Infrastructure

I've been meaning to do this post for a while, but I had to prepare all the elements! Anyways, here is a look at how things work here.

1 - The Cab.

When you take a cab here, you have to be ready to negotiate. Of course, the prices are dirt cheap, but there is no meter, you just decide with the driver. So when you hail a cab, you stick your head in the window, tell him where you're going, and then suggest a price. He counters, and you keep going until you reach agreement. Often pretending to walk away helps. They'll say, 'ok, ok, i'll take it'... because there's way more supply than demand when it comes to cabs here. When I was in St. Louis, the system was even more relaxed. You just get in, go to your destination, and then basically give the cabbie whatever you think it's worth - or give him a bill and wait and see what he gives you back. I guess there's just a level of trust that doesn't exist in Dakar.

Check out this taxi repair/washing stand ...

One thing I found incredible, is that the price of gas is nowhere near as cheap as I expected. It's more than a dollar a litre. Yet a cab ride that would easily cost $20 in Canada, would cost $3 here.
The driving is of course, uncontrolled. But amazingly, I have yet to witness a traffic accident here. It's not just that there are no lanes and very few traffic lights, its that everyone thinks they have the right of way, and often, it's only at the very last minute that one of two drivers heading into an intersection from opposite directions will decide to slow down.

2 - The Bus.
Here is the luxurious bus stop I wait at on my way home.

I've talked about the busses before - the fact that the system is quite effective. But there are of course, some things you should do to master the system. First of all, there are two bus lines - the white busses and the blue busses... In many cases, they pass along similar routes, but they have different bus stops. So when I go to work I can take the blue #9 or the white #31. But the stops are abou 100 m apart. And if I wait at the blue stop, and the white one comes, I have to run to catch it in time. So now, I stand in between both stops, and when I see one coming, I get to the appropriate stop on time!

The other thing about the bus, especially when it's crowded, is that you should always aim for a spot near the door. The ideal spot, is right on the step with the door open, that way you get all the wind that passes by. Otherwise, sometimes it can be HOT...with so many people crammed beside each other.

3. The Coffeeshop.

Coffee is big in Senegal, and specifically Nestcafe. It has a monopoly on this country - seriously. Little vendors walk around with hot water, nescafe packets, and cups, and sell you hot coffee for 50 cents...

4. The Hairdresser.
Of course, there are the salons, but there are also stands on the street where men can go to get their heads shaved. It's basically a chair, a mirror, and a little countertop. You sit down in the middle of the street, get your head shaved, and keep on walking. Wish I had a pic.

5. The Fly Killer.

Seriously, I have never in my life seen flies so big. They are everywhere and they are huge. So in the office, we have this weapon to try to kill them. (p.s. I killed my first fly today, it was so exciting!) It's a gun wound on a spring with a flat end. So when you see the fly, you line up the gun and fire... it's quite entertaining actually.

6. The Heat.

When the electricity is out, it is almost impossible to sleep because it becomes so hot. The thing is that outside, it's not hot. It's nice and breezy. But as soon as you get into an enclosed space (bedroom, bathroom, etc) you start sweating almost instantaneously. So, one night, I told myself I just couldn't lie on my bed in distress as the heat overcame me. So I took a straw mat, lay it on the roof, hung my mosquito net fromthe clothesline, stuck my earplugs in, and swept peacefully.

7. The Garbage

I suppose some of the folks here haven't had exposure to environmental education. So some of them get rid of their garbage by stacking into piles on the side of the road, and burning it. Often on my way home, I walk by three or four piles of garbage with smoke coming out of them. They have no idea how harmful it is, I imagine!

8. The Recycling.

There is no formal recycling program in Senegal, but there is an unofficial network of people who make money by going through garbage at the dump, collecting all the recyclable metal and selling it. Can you imagine? Some of them even have little shacks at the dump where they sleep.

9. The Cemetery

This hole in the wall - literally - is the door to a cemetary in Dakar's Medina neighbourhood. The cemetery is falling apart, covered in garbage, etc. It's quite sad. When I was in St. Louis, Lamine and I went to visit his mother's grave. It was really hard to watch. The grave was marked by a piece of wood with her name written by hand, just resting on the sand. She is in a plot with others from the family, and each body is identified just by a lump of sand. Lamine spent a good 20 minutes digging up the sand with his hands to try to maintain each body's shape. In the next plot over, another young guy was sweeping leaves and dirt off his family's grave. Then Lamine prayed for her and ran his hands through the sand a little. It was really... difficult. I can't imagine having to do that. (I love you Mom!)

10. The Little Extras

So guess what they have even all the way in Senegal? RED BULL! Can you believe it... and it's chepaer than in Canada. And I even see the Red Bull car driving around. And... this is the sad news, they now have pop in plastic bottles! I think they will slowly phase out the glass bottles, which is so depressing, because there is nothing I love more than a cold Fanta Orange out of the glass bottle....


Still.Searching said...

Heba I was hoping to keep you wondering who Still Searching is, just a while longer, but it seems your investigative skills are too preoccupied with work :-)

I gave up because I also wanted to write back after reading this posting to say "I love you too ya habibtee" but did not want to have to create yet another gmail account.. So, I hope by now the mystery is solved :-)

Just a final note, a grave as simple as that sounds very appropriate and highly dignified, pretty islamic too.. that's all I would want anyway..
Love ..
Your Mom who is Still Searching!

Natasha said...

hey heba.
thanks for the updates. i'm glad i don't live in senegal. no offense to it, i'm sure it's a wonderful experience but must be getting rough to be so far from home (not just physically) for so long.
anyways i sent you something so let's see how efficient the korea-senegal route is hey? (i'm guessing a month minimum)