Earlier this week, Emily, Sierra, and I went to the fabric market in Dakar called HLM. After our experience using Kaar Rappit with Mamaa to visit the boutique in Medina, we decided against taking a taxi. To give you an idea, going in a given direction on kaar rappit is 100CFA, taking a taxi is anwhere from 1000 – 3000 CFA depending on where you’re going.
After Wolof class in the morning, we asked Pape Samba, the cultural liaison, if he would go with us to the market because navigating the city via kaar rappit as a novice is difficult; HLM is three neighborhoods over from the Baobab Center. He agreed to go with us between 2:30 and 3pm.
Taking kaar rappit in Dakar is challenging for a number of reasons, but it is also incredibly fun. A few facts:
Kaar rappit are not an inehrently formalized system. There is no schedule for when they will arrive, there are no posted routes. Kaar rappit do not have numbers that let you know which bus is which, and many of them look exactly the same.
Kaar rappit can be quite crowded. They are basically buses with a few benches lining the inside. There is also a rod down the center of the bus for standing passengers to grasp so they do not fall over or out the back of the open door on the bus.
I repeat: there is no such thing as personal space on a kaar rappit. And people will stare at your if you’re a foreigner.
I have also received several warnings from locals about pickpockets on kaar rappit. Be diligent about your belongings.
To ride a kaar rappit, you must wave one down off the street, call out to the person on the back the neighborhood you need, and if it’s the right kaar rappit, hop in.
Be careful about hopping into a kaar rappit. Some people hang off the back when they’re full, and if you don’t board quickly, you run the risk of being left behind.
As we all clambered on our first kaar rappit for the day, Samba explained that he did not like riding kaar rappit, and asked if we were sure we didn’t want a taxi. As Emily told him why we wanted to ride the kaar rappit, the person collecting money on the back of the bus asked me a similar question. I told him that I was learning Wolof and wanted to experience the city like a resident.
Luckily, we did not have to transfer kaar rappit to arrive in HLM, which is just as well because of the traffic and general hullaballoo of getting around Dakar. When we got off the kaar rappit and started walking to HLM, Samba stopped a woman across the street and asked her to walk with us to the fabric market. At the time, none of us could tell if they were friends or not.
HLM is paradies for finding fabric in many different prints, styles, colors, and textures. The most popular fabric type in Senegal for traditional clothes is a wax fabric, which is what I was there to buy. All three of us wanted to purchase fabric to have traditional Senegalese dresses made for a celebration called Korite that happens at the end of Ramadan. Many people refer to the celebration as Eid, but it’s called Korite in Senegal.
Being in HLM is similar to the first time Harry Potter sees Diagon Alley: you wish you had about eight more eyes.
To give you an idea, here are a few pictures and a video of the market:
Negotiating is pretty important in markets in Senegal, but not as critical in HLM. The woman walking around with us helped negotiate on our behalf a few times, and made sure the fabric we were buying was good quality. It was also fun to practice my Wolof with new people.
I ended up purchasing a few different fabrics: one for myself, and a few others for gifts for friends back home.
At the end of our time at HLM, we gave a small sum to the lady who walked around and negotiated for us to thank her for her time. We had to do the same for Samba because he helped us with the kaar rappit. But I will say, it would be nice if these were not “suprise” expenses at the end of our trips. I am more than happy to pay people for their time, but I wish we could talk about that upfront instead of at the end of our interaction or outing. It’s basically a cultural thing, and there is not really a way around it except to keep those things in mind when people offer to help you in some way in Dakar.
My next post will be some random tidbits about navigating living in a homestay in Senegal for an extended period of time.