Monday, June 3, 2013

From the Archives: Dakar Bottom Ten

I haven't done one of these "From the Archives" posts in a long while, and I was kind of at a loss for what to post this Monday. (Its almost Tuesday... whoops.) 

I used to have a blog devoted to sharing my travels with friends and family, and sometimes I like to stir up the past. Whelp, a little over a year ago I started brainstorming my top ten best and worst aspects of living in Dakar. I thought I would revive these posts, starting with the worst ;) 

I admit I was surprised by my rant-y tone as I reread this post... and then I remembered how frustrated I was with my apartment at this time last year. I also realized I've gotten quite a bit more PC now that my blog is slightly more public than my immediate family ;) Hope its informative for some!

Dakar Bottom Ten 
First posted May 18, 2012

I don't know why I didn't think of this sooner, as I am constantly getting frustrated over recurring annoyances, and then remembering all the amazing aspects of life here that make of up for the nuisances. The Top 10 lists you make in your head are the key to survival when living abroad outside of your own culture.

Let's start with the bad- Top 10 not so wonderful aspects of life in Senegal:

Yup, you might see a taxi like this on the road, with an arrogant driver to boot.

1. Taximen. Oh, if I could write a ballad to the myriad taximen who infuriate me on a daily basis. The honking as I walk down the street, the lecturing about gas prices (I'm sorry for you, but its not my fault), the haggling over prices, the inquiries to my marital status, the inappropriate leg grazes (luckily I have not experienced this firsthand, only heard the tales), the blasting music (generally Muslim chants that you can only take for so long), radio adjusted to a more deafening volume as I try to talk to a friend, the slowing down as I am trying to cross the street and there is FINALLY a break in traffic. Not to mention they are all falling apart, and just this morning my door swung open while we went through a rotary!

2. Transportation outside of Dakar. Unless you cough up a pretty penny for a private taxi or van, the transportation around the country is exhaustingcramped, falling apart, always behind schedule, always breaking down (example: my friend and I were in a car that was dragged by a flimsy rope for 20 minutes after it broke down at midnight on a two lane road with trucks zooming by us in the opposite direction), terrible traffic, horrible roads. In all, it sucks... but is just a part of the adventure you (sometimes) learn to accept.

3. Men. Well, obviously not ALL of them, but there is an entitled attitude that many Senegalese men have when it comes to hitting on (expat) women that is very frustrating (this probably extends to Senegalese women, but the dating etiquette is more subtle at least). There seems to be an underlying assumption that Western women are, for lack of a more eloquent term, easy (and therefore ADORE male attention). This might be due to the visible sexual revolution that took place in the West, or music videos, movies, and general popculture that are hugely popular in Senegal and Africa.

Whatever the reason, its really amazing the range of men who will hit on a young Western woman: the taximan who speaks no French (with a simple "Are you married? I want an American wife." Direct.), the old man who begs for money on the corner, the married coworker with three young children, your host brother who is 15 (just kidding, except I'm sure its happened), the baker, the butcher, the realtor... and so on. I could really devote an entire blog post to this, but it boils down to....

4) Living in a patriarchal society, where men have a hard time making eye contact with assertive women (me!), where family dynamics ultimately revolve around the patriarch and his final word when it comes to major decisions (taking a second (or third) wife, sending the boys to private school, all financial matters, etc). I could balance this with all the domains in which women do exert agencyand they dobut at the end of the day, women are expected to respect and abide by their husband's, brother's, or father's decisions. 25 year old women still have to ask for permission from (/inform) their uncles when they leave the house, even if it is just a formality. Don't get me started on what's expected of daughter-in-laws who move in to their husband's family home. Basically, I wouldn't survive a day if I had to truly adopt a traditional lifestyle that honors traditional gender roles. There are exceptions and women here are far more free than in many, many other countries. But. But it is a reminder to me to be grateful for the society I grew up in.

5. Electricity and power cuts. Self-explanatory.

6. "Rainy" season, aka disgustingly humid and hot season when it rains maybe once a day for 30 minutes, extremely hard, and then it is even hotter and more disgusting afterwards. This season lasts for around three months: August, September, and October. Do not visit at this time: you will never stop sweating, feeling sticky and gross, or wanting to jump into an ice cold pool (of which there are few). And public transportation at this time of year? Torture.

Work and activity pauses throughout the city when the rain comes.

7. Unfortunate market/haggling incidents. Shockingly, I have gotten to the point where I don't always despise bartering for market goods, taxis, or whatever it may be. Sometimes its actually fun! That being said, things often do go awry and can end in a screaming match or unpleasant confrontation (not uncommon with vendors looking for a fight), so this has to go on my Top 10. This is the worst in tourist locations, which I usually just avoid because more often than not the vendors will find any excuse to harass you and multiply the prices ten-fold. Its times like those when I really miss shopping in peace with fixed prices. There's something about always wondering if you're being ripped off that can take the fun out of shopping.


Market place in Cape Verde. Photo by Megan.

8. Corruption. This is a HUGE one. Oh my goodness, the corruption here is insufferable. Trying to do anything bureaucratic without bribing someone is nearly impossible, and what should take one afternoon ends up taking weeks. Its exhausting me just to write about it. Take the process it was to rent my last apartment. Take the process it was to bring our robbery case to the police (which amounted to nothing, in the end). Take the process it is to pay any bill. If I had a car, I'd probably go insane from being stopped all the time, forced to pay off the corrupt policeman to avoid a long, exhausting trip to the police station.

9. Standing out everywhere you go. Yes, it gets tiring, as you can only imagine. Sometimes you just want to be anonymous, sometimes you don't want to chat with a stranger about where you're from, or what Wolof you know, or if you've ever eaten cee-bujen (the national rice dish). Sometimes you just want to be left alone and the stares can wear on you. But to be honest, I'm normally okay on this front because overall, I love life here and I have enough Western friends that I don't feel so alienated.

10. And the hardest part of living in Dakar? Being far from family and friends, of course. Yes, I can combat frustrating incidents with reminders of the positive, but nothing can replace seeing my family and friends on a regular basis. I'm thankful for Skype and the internet which certainly make the world feel smaller, but I miss them all terribly and I'm always sad to see how much my brothers have grown in the months I'm away. I'm so grateful for the time I do get to see you all... hopefully a visit is in my near future...

If you're an expat, what do you find the most challenging about living abroad? If you live or have lived in Dakar, do you agree with my list? What would you add?

Sundowners at the Radisson Blu take the edge off, every now and then ;)
Top Ten in a future post!

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