I landed in Senegal with a guidebook and a phone number of a doctor (a distant relation of a new friend). I had called ahead and arranged airport transfer in a rare bout of forward planning. The confidence I had in my French vanished with my first conversation, I think the passport controls officer ended up kindly offering a place to stay… Falou picked me up, he worked at Poulagou hostel. The crowd of people and eager taxi drivers drove me immediately back into the arrivals hall of the airport. I found my ride by asking a tour operator to call my hostel (I had no Senegalese phone at this point) and from there he got Falou’s mobile – a sign of how unnecessarily helpful I found so many people in Senegal. Everyone in Senegal has a mobile and they all have special ringtones, loud, attention-grabbing, hip-swinging ringtones. I gladly got in the 1976 estate with Falou, the back doors and windows didn’t work, this was pretty dam good – there were no fractures in the windscreen and we didn’t breakdown once.
Falou and Khalil were hospitable, gregarious, music-loving hosts at Poulagou hostel. If it weren’t for the being on a flight path I would have happily made it my Dakar home-away-from-home. Khalil loves Rasta and Bob Marley (Bob has to be the world’s most popular musician?). A good message for a rusty traveler – we’re all the same and deserve a bit of respect.
I am not going to lie, I was scared when I arrived in Senegal. My stubbornness had led me to looking for a non-touristy, local part of Dakar, not realizing how completely different Senegal would be from most places I have traveled. Maybe not completely different, just ‘more’. More alive, more loud, more anarchic, more improvised. When I left the comforting walls of my hostel I was immediately smack dab in the middle of a busy market street with sand roads, kiosks selling anything and everything and I had no idea where to go, how to look and if I was safe. The fact that no-one looked at me twice gave me courage. The telephone kiosk sold sim cards and could do anything with a soldering iron and a very steady hand. Straight from London-town I was overwhelmed.
I ordered a beer and as I contemplated where I had landed myself, the lights and fans cut. I found out that Dakar suffers from irregular but daily power cuts. There is a lot of speculation around them and some believe it is government-controlled. I think it was then that I smiled, we got out some candles and talked, and I trundled off to bed when I could no longer keep my eyes open. The water was cold, the planes flew over head and the fans did not work, but I slept and was excited to be in Senegal.