this time will be different

pretty in dakar

A list of things I will not be doing in Dakar this time around:

Handwashing my laundry.

I’m working full time now. I will not be spending half my weekend scrubbing clothing, as peaceful and productive as it used to be. I will also not be paying anyone else to do the hand-washing for me, because in the past that has resulted in bell-shaped t-shirts and other stretches and strains. Mamie told me that the ubiquitous blanchisseries do all their wash by hand, so I didn’t even bother trying to find one with a washing machine. Instead I searched Google Maps for laveries automatiques. There were exactly seven results for the entire city of Dakar. Mamie and I got in the car and tried to locate the one marked closest to us on the map – it was nowhere to be found. We found another one instead and it was the saddest looking laundromat I have ever seen. The machines were falling apart, there were laundry bags everywhere, and there was a thin layer of grime covering everything. So I had to think outside the box. Yesterday I showed up at the new bed and breakfast a couple blocks from my house and asked them if they would consider doing my laundry on a weekly basis, since I’m a neighbor and all. We are currently in discussions… Wish me luck.

P.S. I asked Mamie why the family does not buy a washing machine, since they have enough money for one. She said that her mother refused because it would put the little old washer woman, who has been doing their laundry for years, out of work. She would have no idea how to use a washing machine and it would be useless to try to teach her. I found that so touching.

Longing for my jeans.

Last time I packed for Dakar I stuffed one pair of jeans into my bag, but I later took them out when I couldn’t fit other clothing I considered more essential. Even though I wear jeans 50% of the time in New York, I assumed they would probably be inappropriate in Senegal anyway, both because of the heat and because women didn’t wear them. I was very wrong on both counts. It’s cool enough to wear jeans for at least half the year, and most young people do. I ended up getting a pair of my jeans ferried over to me by someone who was visiting Dakar from New York a few months after I got here, so my discomfort didn’t last long. But this time I packed three pairs of jeans into my suitcase and that’s basically all I’ve been wearing.

Wasting baggage space I could have used for jeans on hygiene products.

I brought about fifteen pounds of tampons and contact solution with me when I flew here last time. I had been forewarned by a friend of a friend, who was a diplomat in Dakar, that those items aren’t available here. They most certainly are. (Though I admit that contact solution is now very, very expensive because Citydia, where I used to get my contact solution for $6, has been bought out by Auchan, which doesn’t stock it. Neither does the other big supermarket chain, Casino, so I had to buy imported Renu at a pharmacy for $27 the other day.)

Making every mistake possible when it comes to taxis.

I’ve been in more than one taxi that broke down in the middle of the road. I’ve been in more than one taxi that seemed fine until I sat down and found that the seats were either not actually seats (I instead sat on a blanket that covered the internal metal frame of the car) or had been reinstalled too close to the roof of the car. My butt and head, respectively, were not happy with me those days. I’ve been in more than one taxi wherein the taxi driver did not speak French and I did not speak Wolof and we literally went around in circles. I’ve been in more than one taxi when I realized I did not have the exact fare, and either asked a million people on the roadside for change before finding it, or didn’t bother and gave the driver a tip comparable to the price of the ride. I have done all of this and much, much more. I am sure I will make a few of the same mistakes while here, but I will also be far more discriminating about which taxis I get into in the first place, and I will guard my change religiously. Which brings me to…

Not guarding my change religiously.

It took me awhile last time to realize that life in Dakar gets easier in direct proportion to how much monnaie you have. Not money; monnaie. I don’t believe that money can buy happiness,  but I am 100% sure that monnaie can.

Missing movies.

I had heard rumor of a new movie theatre in Dakar, and when I checked out Agendakar (Dakar’s answer to Time Out), I saw not one but two new cinemas in their event listings. I asked Mamie about them and apparently they are the real deal, unlike the bounce castle outside the Sea Plaza mall masquerading as a movie theatre while construction continues ad infinitum on a real one inside the shopping center. I can’t wait to see my first movie in an honest to goodness Dakar cinema!

Dealing with the slowest wi-fi since 1994. 

The state of the Internet situation Chez Lo was almost quaint and charming. Except when I was on deadline and needed to send videos cuts out for review. Then it made me want to punch a hole through the wall (which, incidentally, I was convinced was the source of the problem – they seem way too thick).

When I told Mamie that I was coming back to Dakar and asked if I could stay with the Lo’s again, it was with one caveat: they would have to assure me decent Internet access. They worked some magic and lo and behold, there is now an unlimited and fairly speedy Internet connection – on every floor but mine. Ah, well… baby steps.

Cooking four times total.

The only times I cooked for myself while living in Dakar were the four times I wanted to introduce the Lo’s to American institutions: Thanksgiving, brunch, fake Mexican food, and spaghetti and meatballs. All other times I ate whatever they cooked, went out to eat, or threw together what came to be known as salade Fertig, a layered assemblage of canned and jarred vegetables that didn’t have to be soaked in bleach water before eating. I don’t know why I was so lazy about cooking considering how much free time I had on my hands. Perhaps I was just spending it all doing my laundry?

P.S. The photo above is not of the house where I live; it’s of another house I passed by one neighborhood over. The bougainvillea is in full and beautiful effect this month.

6 thoughts on “this time will be different

  1. This is fascinating! Answers to all of the questions about Dakar I never knew I had. 🙂
    Thank you for this informative and entertaining post.

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