First Conference day in Senegal: Indecent offers: two, power-cuts: one, adventure factor: great.
After getting to Dakar Friday night (without my luggage) I mainly stayed home except for a short trip to the supermarket (they have Colmans Mustard! – home sweet Norwich home) and a walk to the beach with my very gracious hostess. The main reason for holding back on exploring Dakar is mainly my yellow fever vaccination, which I should’ve gotten ten days before my departure but since the trip was so spontaneous I got seven days before I left the UK. So the first three days mosquitos are even more of an enemy than usual. Also, I’m trying to get as much work out of the way as possible now so I can actually have a holiday towards the end of my journey.
So far Dakar feels very different from any place I’ve visited before. It hit me as soon as I stepped out of the plane. The air smells completely different, for me mainly of adventure and exotic spices that I cannot define. The smell is very dense but not in an uncomfortable way, more in a way that lets you know that the narrative of this story happens on the street and is thickly woven into the air. Quite a few women combine a western t-shirt with a beautiful colourful long skirt. Some wear the traditional head do, and balance a large basket on their head or hip – I feel like in a dream. There is so much to see.
It is around 30C but there is a wind that makes the weather quite pleasant (at least for a sun lover like me) and covers everything with a fine red dust. Senegal is part of the Sahel countries, which are some of the poorest countries of the world.
To a certain extent this shows in the suburbs of Mamelle where I am staying. There are hardly any tarmac roads and once you drive off the two main roads and the buildings are quite simple. Nevertheless it seems like a nice neighbourhood, people are very friendly and when I’m walking to get a cab in the morning I feel comfortable.
My first impression of Dakar is that everything is denser woven and more intense here – the smell, the colours, even the vegetables. The few vegetables that can be bought all look like miniature versions of their European counterparts. The green peppers we buy are about half the size of my fist but they taste very intense, same for the Aubergines. The Basil that grows in the garden has a very hard texture but tastes delicious and very intense as well.
On the way to the conference I put on my fake wedding band that I have bought in Thailand for my independent travels to countries were being an unmarried woman of my age is often seen as an invitation for good advice on how to get a man, curious questions and a lot of worry on behalf of my future. Even a few years ago in China a cabbie offered to set me up with his younger brother. I thanked him and declined with the explanation that I would be going to Germany in a few days. „Oh, so you can find a man” he sighed with relief. I usually don’t mind these kind of questions and offers but sometimes they turn a bit uncomfortable when men think that they themselves would be a suitable husband for me. So thus I have the fake wedding band.
I sit in the cab and realise I probably shouldn’t have sat in the front but as a decent woman does in the back. Too late. The cabbie chats with me about the usual stuff, where I’m from and how I like Senegal. He asks if I have children and I say no but point to my ring and explain I’m still young. As I say this I remember that Senegal has a very high rate of teenage mums. Accordingly, he doesn’t believe me that I’m still early for kids, ‘if you’re thirty plus you’re old and should have a child’. I say that I’m not thirty (yet). But he is less than convinced. He has one daughter and is under thirty.
It seems that to him, since I only have a (pretend) fiancé and don’t have children I’m still on the market. So he asks me if I would like to ‘faire amour’ with him. I kindly decline this offer, reminding him of my made up fiancé but he still thinks the fiancé, as he is German and not in the cab with me doesn’t matter. I get out of the cab and decide the next time I’m going to say I’m married with at least a child or two.
On the way back the older cabbie is much more straightforward and asks me straight away if for this awesome price I wouldn’t want to give him some extra attention. I decline and say I have a husband and a son so unfortunately I’m unavailable. He still gives it another try but then gives up. In both situations I did not feel threatened at any point, even though I didn’t quite expect such direct offers. I’m curious what I’ll experience next.