In Dakar the Hardware Store Comes to You

I think to dodge the touts as much as anything we took a cab to the Medina (where we did some of our haggling), the Grand Mosque, which has minarets that look either like radomes or giant golf balls on tees and drover along the coast.  The corniche has some wonderful public art (Youssou N’Dour is Senegal’s culture minister.)  One of the great things about riding in a taxi in Dakar is that when you’re stopped at intersection the entire hypermarket comes to you.  At one long stop (the traffic cop made sure the vendors had a lot of time to work each street, I wonder if he took a commission) we were offered plastic coat hangers, a French Press coffee set, a coffee percolator, Nescafe (in case we didn’t buy the French press or percolator), lotto tickets, sim cards, pre-paid phone cards, “Mt Blanc” pens, hats of all kinds, watches (“Rolex, no problem”), kids ABC books, cashew nuts, rat poison, bike tires, fan belts, manicure sets, shovels, spades, “Iron Body Total Upper Workout” sets, combs, brushes, fire starter, jump ropes, cloths line, French scrabble sets, ceramic Koranic verses, framed Koranic verses, and a framed watercolor print (probably half a meter long, two identical ones from two different, guys) of a clapboard Cape Cod cottage.  Why?

When the ship’s shuttle bus pulled up to independence square the driver had to push the sales people out of the bus but they banged on the windows offering hats, cashews, t shirts, manicure sets and, strangely, pairs of socks, to the startled cruisers and ship’s staff.  Some cruise mates and staff actually stayed on the shuttle and rode back to the ship.  That’s too bad because they missed an exciting and vibrant city on street level.

One of the cruisers was shocked that one of the people approaching the bus with things to sell had a baby strapped to her back.  Suzi’s reaction was it’s cheaper than day care.  But people’s experience with touts was not all bad.  I saw one of the touts run after the bus as it was leaving to point to some cruisers stranded across the street.  Once the bus stopped he stopped traffic so they could cross and helped the visitors back on the bus.

In the 1980s Senegal and Gambia formed a loose confederation, Senegambia, with the aim to merging the two countries.  They have the same tribes, Mandika and Wolof and their people speak those languages.  But on the surface it’s hard for a short term visitor to see the similarity.  The Gambia and its capital Bajnul operate in English.  It is very easy for us to talk with them.  Senegal is very French with little English except for the touts.  Gambia feels like “Africa” while Dakar feels like “North Africa.”  The civic architecture, and the architecture of mosques in Dakar is very much in the style of Morocco.  Dakar has a certain passing resemblance to Casablanca.  The dress, well, both Banjul and Dakar are a swirl of color dresses, turbans, abayas, jalabas, hajibs, even the neckties of guys in business suits, although I saw many more suits in Dakar than in Banjul.

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