Living In and Getting Around Dakar

Over the past *almost* month, I have thought of several things I want to share about my time here in Dakar, but couldn’t figure out when to write about them. So, I decided today’s post would be a catch-all about different things I have noticed since arriving here.

Living:

– I am currently staying in a flat that has a propane stove and oven. The oven does not work, as it does not have a knob like the other burners. Make sure to have matches on hand, turn the propane off when you’re finished cooking, and recognize that some stoves have two temperatures:

“Off” and “on”

– You will want a pair of flip flops or house shoes if your flat has any type of open air component. My apartment is all tile, and one section of it is completely open. Dust and sand blow into the kitchen all the time, and also into the sitting area when the windows are open. Wear a pair of house shoes to keep your feet from getting filthy and needing to be washed or brushed off every time you get into bed.

– Be sure to open the windows as much as you can. There is good airflow in my flat, and the air conditioner is a wall unit mounted near the ceiling in the bedroom. Keeping the windows open will also help air out the bathroom, which can smell like mildew due to the age of some of the buildings and the fact that the plumbing goes through concrete construction.

I think I’ve only needed the air conditioner a couple of times since arriving, and that’s because it has been unnaturally hot this year in Senegal. Even the locals have been complaining about climate change and the weather disparity from just two years ago.

– Buy water whenever you can, because you cannot drink the tap water. Some even recommend not using it to brush your teeth. I have kept a large water bottle next to the sink this whole month, and I still haven’t used all of it.

You *can* use the tap water to boil pasta and such, but use your best judgement when it comes to how sensitive your body is traveler’s illness and the like.

– The food sellers on the street will be cheaper to purchase from than grocery stores. While the produce might not be the same quality, it’s still delicious and will save you quite a bit of $$$.

And… in case you missed it, you can watch the video walk-through of my flat in this post from a couple of weeks ago.

Getting Around:

There are a couple of ways to get around Dakar: taxi, Car Rapide, white buses, and walking (there’s also mopeds and bikes, but I do not have either of those options).

To illustrate what it’s like to travel across the city, I offer the following story:

On Wednesday, I had an interview with an organization. After completing the interview, I returned to WARC for lunch. While completing some other work, I received an email that had been sent the night before but was *just now* delivered to my inbox. It was a request for a meeting with someone at the same organization I just left. I hurried through lunch, knowing that I would not be able to walk or take a bus to make this appointment in time – I would have to take a taxi.

I walked outside WARC and hailed a taxi. I explained where I was going in French, and he did not understand. Some taxi drivers in Dakar only speak Wolof and very little or no French. He asked another person walking by to translate what I had said in French into Wolof. Once he understood, he told me it would be 3000 CFA to take me where I was going.

Nope.

When hiring a taxi in Dakar, know that there are no meters. It is a negotiation. Especially if they think you are a foreigner, they will try to overcharge you no matter where you’re going. You should not pay more than 2000 CFA to go across the city, much less anywhere closer than that. 3000 CFA was WAYYYYY too much for where I was going, and I explained I would only pay 1500 CFA, because that’s the standard fare for that distance and time. As he tried to tell me he would only accept 3000 CFA, another man walked up and said in English, “Where are you going?”

I explained the situation, and he started arguing with the taxi driver in Wolof. After about a minute, the taxi drove away. The man looked at me and said, “He was overcharging you. Do not pay more than 1500 CFA for where you are going right now. You know… I will get you a taxi.”

As we were waiting for one to drive by (taxis are EVERYWHERE in Dakar), he told me he is the maintenance person for WARC, and has been working there for 15 years.

Another taxi came by and he started to negotiate with him. Luckily, this driver agreed and I hopped in. When we got to the main road, traffic was gridlocked in every direction. The taxi got through the intersection and onto the highway, only to meet bumper-to-bumper traffic. At this point, he was visibly frustrated…

So he started driving on the sidewalk.

Now, sidewalks in Dakar are street markets, parking lots, and in some cases, connected to sandy areas next to roads where people drive when there is too much traffic.

As we are “baha-ing” down this sidewalk area and passing horses and carts taking an afternoon rest and people selling fruit, we get to the front of the traffic problem. There’s a man hand directing traffic from the highway down a side street. We crossed over and then back onto the highway. Everything seemed fine until…

He dropped me off on the highway across from where I was supposed to be.

The driver said the fare was due, and a woman walking past heard him. She opened the door and said to just cross the highway on foot. So I paid and walked after her down the sidewalk….

And walked/trotted across four lanes of highway traffic to reach my destination.

Phew.

After the meeting, I decided that riding in another taxi was too expensive and not something I wanted to do in order to get back to my flat. I was going to ride a Car Rapide.

They are buses with no windows and sparse seating on the inside, with a rail running down the middle so people can duck and hold on when there are no more seats. So I walk down to where one is parked on the side of the highway to try my luck.

In order to ride a Car Rapide, you must walk up to the person standing outside and say where you are going, typically a neighborhood. In my case, I said, “Sicap Karak” because that’s my current neighborhood. He didn’t understand, so I said the nearest landmark, which was L’ecole Police, the Police Academy. He nodded, and I climbed in.

If the Car Rapide is going in your direction, they will tell you to hop in. Most of them only go from one end of a street to another and back, there are no complicated bus routes or anything like that.

Once inside, I sat in between a few people near the back, the kid climbed on the back and tapped the door with the change in his hand, and we were off! After a few blocks, he stepped inside and collected change from the passengers by jingling the change already in his hand.

Car Rapides in Dakar should cost between 50 and 100 CFA, depending on where you are going and whether you are a foreigner. I paid 100 CFA, but many people around me paid less (the coins are different, which is why I could tell). Though there were several people staring at me, it was a fine experience. Oh, and remember that there’s no personal space. There were 5 adults sitting on my bench, at one point.

I have heard from other people in Dakar that sometimes 3 Car Rapides will go by before you can get on because they are so full people are hanging off the back and out the door!

Eventually, we arrived at a landmark on the outskirts of my neighborhood and I hopped out onto the sidewalk. After crossing another 4 lanes of highway traffic, I walked back through my neighborhood to my flat.

So there you have it, some tidbits of information I have collected since I have been here. I’m sure there will be a few more before I leave on Monday!

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