August 05, 2004

Senegal, day one


The flight from Washington DC to Paris is long. In Paris, I have a 4 hours stop-over before heading out on another long flight to Dakar. The waiting room is packed with Asian people. When a flight to Hong Kong is called, they all vacate their seats and smartly dressed Africans-whom I can only assume are Senegalese-take their seats. And boy were they well dressed. They all looked like they were about to be interviewed for a job of a lifetime: starched shirts, suits and belts to match their shoes. I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible which was hard considering I was the only white girl there and I was seated in the middle of all the men. There were a few women with long flowing dresses adorned with various scarves. In general, the dresses matched the head scarves but they add additional scarves to bring out the colors in the dresses. The overall effect is one of grace and these women look almost royal.

Halfway through my stop over, I spot one of these women dramatically flinging one of her many scarves on the ground, taking her sandals off and quickly kissing the ground causing her rather plump derriere to stick out. She closes her eyes and looks like she’s mumbling something. It doesn’t take long to figure out that she is praying. It is fascinating to watch but I somehow feel like it is sacrilegious to stare so pretend to read my magazine while glancing at her over my pages.

I finally get to Senegal on time, only to find a huge line up for customs. I present my passport to the army man in the booth, a little nervous from the stories I’d heard about soldiers, but make it through all right. Picking up my luggage turns out to be a nightmare. The luggage belt receives suitcases from all the flights and people are frantically grabbing carts to move their heavy items around. I finally grab my two humongous suitcases, mountain backpack and computer, pass them through the x-ray machine (the line is long again) and walk back outside. The crowd is intense, I feel like an animal at the circus that people are looking with curiosity and awe: "this is a Dorothy, it’s scientific name is Whitegirlus Richus, and it likes to carry numerous expensive items in its suitcases". I am a prime target for thieves as I can barely wheel myself out of the airport and am immensely relieved to find Frank, the driver for the office, waiting for me patiently. He waited for me for 1.5 hours! I excuse myself profusely and he says “It’s OK, in this country, you have to be patient”.

Driving home to my apartment is instructive, I learn:
-from Frank, that it’s not common to have this much rain for this season
-by observation, that there are no painted roads or lights at the intersection so you have to drive aggressively and pray to God that you don’t get in an accident.

I get to my new apartment. It’s huge! I’m so tired and pleased with the place that I thank Frank, open my suitcases and get prepared for a nice long night of sleep. After about 5 minutes, I feel really parched and grab some water. Hum…I recall being told not to drink the water. I allow myself half a glass and try to go back to sleep. Thirsty again, I grab my water purification tablets, pop one in the water but read the instructions and realize that it will take 4 hours to work! So I cut my losses, suck it up and go to bed thirsty.

Note: Remember Dad when I laugh when you suggested buying water purification tablets? Hehe, thanks for the tip.

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