In spring 2016, I booked a plane from Zurich to Dakar. My goal was to explore the country as a solo backpacker for only a hundred dollars in two weeks.
I arrived in Senegal at 08:00 PM. Outside it was already dark. I walked through the passport checkpoint, where the customs control stopped me. I told them that I would look for a taxi and hotel outside of the airport arrival area. One police officer asked me how I am going to travel. I presented my visa and a return flight confirmation. They told me it would be dangerous at night, but eventually, they let me go.
I went outside and walked through a passage where many locals were waiting for tourists. At the end of it, a group of taxi drivers spoke to me about a ride to the next hotel. The pricing for accommodation started at fifty euros. Many of them were young like me and explained; there are no other options late in the evening. They did not persuade me either to accept my bargaining about a night for ten euros, so I walked away without a specific direction.
After probably one-hundred meters, I heard quite whistling from behind. A man was waving at me and invited me to join him at his home to stay for one night. I agreed and entered his taxi. The taxis at Dakar are yellow and in terrible condition, but for Africa standards, a car that runs is used. On the way, he introduced himself as Kadim. I asked him about his age, but he wanted me to take a guess. I said twenty-six, and he started smiling. He was thirty-two years old and already had two wives! He explained that men could have up to four women. After a couple of minutes driving through the streets, I could meet his first wife. She was out with her friends, and they all were busy with their smartphones. A little bit later, his second wife joined the ride. She explained to me that African men like weddings a lot. They are everywhere and at any time.
Meanwhile, she was talking in her broken French. I noticed that also Kadim had a new smartphone and was wearing beautiful clothes. He got a lot of money from his taxi business for a good life with many girls if he kept doing it successfully.
At the destination, he bought six bananas, some apples, and a 250ml bag of water for me at a small store that is (24/7 open) African people work all night long, mentioned Kadim. Anyway, after that, we went straight to the building next to the store where he lived. His apartment was on the second floor. It had no windows. It was just one square room with a mattress in one corner. There was already a young man who introduced himself as Moussacisse. He was a student from Dakar who also lived with Kadim, currently in the same area. I tried to speak with him in French, but he was probably shy and surprised when seeing a white man exploring the simple life in Africa. Moussacisse had an old Sony Ericsson phone from 2005, but he was proud to show me some photos of him and some girls he liked. The African music he downloaded was also entertaining and funny. Because he did not talk a lot, I took my “UNO” out of my backpack and taught him how to play it. He was perplexed in the beginning, but after a while, he played almost better as I did. The only card which he never understood is the one in which you can change the color. He just threw it randomly into the middle. Before, we eventually went to bed, and he showed me two smaller rooms. They have the “in-ground toilet” with a basin next to it and the bathroom where I could take an ice-cold shower. At midnight we went both to bed.
On Monday, I woke up at 09:30 AM. This morning I used the toilet for the first time, and because of the different climate and the food I ate yesterday, my stomach had some issues to digest. Therefore, I squat for almost thirty minutes on the toilet. Moussacisse already left, and Kadim probably came back from work around 05:00 AM. He was sleeping, but before I left, we had a small conversation. He told me about the taxi business it was necessary to work at night to make the best profit from all the tourists.
Today I left the apartment with no plan, and I did not know in which part of Dakar I was, so I took it as a challenge to search for food and a new home in town. My phone I turned off for the whole trip. It was only for an emergency and not for navigating through the country. First, I bought something for breakfast and walked to the next bus station. On one side of the street, I spotted five teens with beautiful clothes were also for them an essential factor. They were wearing Jeans, hats, wristwatches, shining shoes and T-shirts. I asked them how I can reach “the Plateau,” a place I had chosen to visit first from my travel book of Senegal. “Bus number 6 would lead me in the right direction,” said one of them. I crossed the street to take the bus in the right direction. I waited with a young woman for the bus. She told me this bus runs every thirty minutes.
At 01:00 PM, the bus arrived, and almost ninety minutes later, I was at my first destination. When I left the bus, I felt the sun for the first time and I realized I must get up very early in Senegal to start my daily journeys, it was not just a little bit hot. Before I looked for new accommodation, I needed to exchange more dollars to Senegalese currency. At the airport the day before, I exchanged only about $40. I was convinced that I can get a little more money in town.
I was walking around five minutes and asked a local where I can find the next Western Union Exchange office or something similar. He told me that today was Independence Day! All stores with fixed business hours were closed. He invited me to his shop where they produce clothes. I explained to him. I wanted to discover the Senegalese life and not sightseeing or shopping every day. He offered me to stay for free at his home and that he was on the way home, but we still could go to the shop just to show me how local business work in Africa. I agreed, and he introduced himself as Omar Nguyen.
At the shop, which was more a cloth factory, he showed me how people create with sewing machines, trousers, shirts, towels and many other things. I liked the patterns and how colorful all those clothes were. Probably on my last day, I could come here again to buy one or two pieces. In the late afternoon, we took a different bus to his home.
His home was only twenty minutes away but still close to downtown. He introduced me to his wife, grand-parents, one-year-old son and five-year-old daughter Jasmin. Omar’s brother lived with them, too, but he did not work, he had issues with his legs. His wife prepared dinner for us. Rice with chicken, potatoes and a lot of vegetables, this dish is the famous “Plateau Senegal” it is traditional food served in a big bowl. We ate together out of it with our hands. They provided cutlery for me, but I denied politely and remembered Omar that I needed to explore the “real Africa,” eating like locals was a part of it. After the delicious meal, I gave a pencil and my notebook to Jasmin, and she began to draw. Most of it was just random circles. I began to write down numbers and letters, and she could already add a lot by herself. Late in the evening grand-mother brought us a little snack and we watched official Senegalese TV. Omar’s brother prepared some famous “Café Tuba” for us. It is a hot beverage out of Robusta coffee beans and flavored with grains of Selim or Guinea pepper. At 10:15 PM, we switched the TV off, and I slept on the sofa in the living room….
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