Last Saturday, or: the honeymoon may be over


Having studied my map diligently, I set out on foot at about 1pm in the direction of downtown. It was supposed to take about an hour and fifteen minutes. I saw a lot of familiar sights and a lot of new ones; it was a nice walk. After about an hour I decided to stop in at a supermarket for a drink and to check where I was. I had not busted out my map before then because being seen with one would make me susceptible to all sorts of propositioning I didn’t want.

As I was about to step into the market I noticed the restaurant next door. There was another one just like it two blocks from my house, but I hadn’t thought it was a chain. Then I realized it was the restaurant two blocks from my house, and that I had walked in a perfect circle.

At that point I decided to take a taxi downtown. The driver dropped me off at L’Institut Français, where I made a beeline for the restaurant. I nearly had a stroke when I heard someone shout, “Ruth!” I know not a person in Senegal, so who was calling my name? Well, I had forgotten that if you spend two weeks in a place, you do know people there. It was three of the women from the study abroad program at the language center. They invited me to join them for lunch, and I did.


I ate fresh vegetables for only the second time in two weeks. I was so excited that I forgot to take a picture when it was still a full plate. Good thing you all could not care less about a picture of vegetables.


After lunch I checked out the exhibit, Women in Resistance, a collection of photos of women activists around the world.


Then, despite my previous incompetence, I decided to wander around downtown without looking at a map. I figured I’d just see whatever I’d see and take a taxi back whenever I felt like it.

One thing I saw was this awesome signage.


And I also saw people gathered around outside a restaurant where the soccer match was playing on the TV inside.


Actually I saw this twice. Soccer is serious business here.


Then I accidentally found myself outside the presidential palace. This photo is terrible because when I was standing closer to it the guard told me that I could not only not take photos, but not loiter either. So I walked a block away and took a surreptitious shot, hoping he wouldn’t notice.


Here’s a pretty church I passed by.


I’ve seen a ton of mosques here (Senegal is 95% Muslim), and a ton of barbershops with awesome hand-painted shops…


but this was the first and I’d guess the last joint mosque-barbershop I’ve seen.


Somewhere between the church and the mosque, I lost my shit after two men in a row followed me around trying to get me to go places with them. The first one was dressed all pious-like and started a friendly conversation with me and because I didn’t know the drill yet (IGNORE IGNORE IGNORE is the drill) and also because I have too big an ego to not respond to French with French, I took the bait. It’s like all my years of living in New York and all my years of traveling as a woman and, in fact, all my years of living in a woman’s body were tossed out of the window in a different cultural context, and I had to learn all over again: don’t worry about being impolite, just ignore them or tell them to leave you alone.

Eventually that’s what I did, but the whole thing wore me out. And I didn’t take any pictures of the really interesting things I saw smack in the middle of downtown because the accosting would have been ten times worse if I had taken out my camera.

Anyway, onward…

Mid-century amazingness in Dakar!


I thought this line of vendors and the crumbly old warehouse-looking thing were amazing.


Then I got to the other side and gasped at the beauty of the gutted French colonial-era train station that the warehouse actually was. (It’s hard to see but the molding is in pastel shades and the writing is Art Nouveau style.)


By this point I was tired so I took a cab back to my neighborhood instead of to the film festival movie I thought I might see.

[Spotted from the cab window: random unleashed goats in the middle of the city!]


It’s a good thing I saved my energy, because nightlife in Dakar starts ridiculously late. It puts Spain to shame.

I didn’t end up eating til 11:15. (But that’s more a function of the waiter ignoring us for two hours than a function of the hours people keep.) My hunger combined fairly toxically with my frustration at all the cultural obstacles I had tripped over that day. Most recent of which had been the argument I got into with the taxi driver who took me to the restaurant. He faked his way through French when I got into the cab, and it turned out he only spoke Wolof and had no idea where I wanted to go or how to get there. His car would not go faster than 20 miles per hour. He slowed down outside every hotel in the hopes that’s where I was going. When it came time to pay it was like a “Who’s on First” routine. He started letting it all hang out in Wolof, and all of a sudden my rage-inspired French spewed out in perfectly composed sentences like never before. So at least there’s that.

The WTF moments kept on coming when we got to the club where the Pape et Cheikh show was supposed to be, only to find it empty. It was midnight. The show was slated to start at 11pm. The place remained empty until 1 am, when like clockwork people started streaming in, including the band, who started playing at 1:15. 1:15!! I LOVED LOVED LOVED the music but I was literally nodding off every five seconds because we were all seated and it was 2:30 in the morning. We left probably halfway through the set because we didn’t want our Sundays to be spent sleeping in.

Here is a lovely moment from the show: 

I would say I want to quit my job and devote my life to playing that little shoulder drum thingy the guy on stage right is playing, but I already quit my job to do something else equally far-fetched. Ahh well.

PS The honeymoon is not over. I’ve just gotten my eyes opened a bit, which means the honeymoon can now get even better.

One thought on “Last Saturday, or: the honeymoon may be over

  1. Good! Stay safe. I enjoyed the post, especially when I came to the part where it seemed like something bad was about to happen to you in the street and then realised with relief that you got through it okay, and the next difficult bit too. Gotta get tough.

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