Saturday, December 27, 2008

je suis arrivee....and other fun things

Senegal smells like a mixture of burning trash and fish and something else I can't figure out yet.

I have always thought that the introduction you get to a country is one of the most memorable parts of your journey. For instance, when I went to Nicaragua and they threw us in the back of a pickup truck and drove us two hours down the Pan-American Highway in the dark with a guy who didn't speak any English. That was the best introduction I had. Until now. I judge an introduction on its "goodness" by the amount of overwhelming adrenaline that kicks into my system while it's happening, and last night it certainly made its mark.

So we (Casey and Sam - from UVM- and I) arrive at Leopold Senghor airport in Dakar in the balmy, foggy morning. It was already 70 degrees and in my opinion of the country's weather (as far as I know so far) the most disagreeable time of the day. No breeze, stagnant air, and sticky. We were greeted by a young Senegalese man, who directed us onto a shuttle after disembarking the plane. After waiting fifteen minutes for everyone to get on the shuttle the doors finally closed to take us to the arrivals area and customs. An anticlimactic 15 seconds later we arrived at the terminal. The customs line was long and slow moving, I can not say that I was quite surprised. But now is when it gets fun. They told us not to let anyone carry our bags, nor to get a taxi, that a "representative" from Living Routes would pick us up and take us to Yoff where we were staying. Our representative happened to be one young airport security guy who walked us, followed by about 12 other young Senegalese men, to an old broken down Peugot hatchback with one mirror attached. When I imagine what it is like to be a celebrity, with paparazzi and fans swarming, this was certainly the closest experience. The men here are persistent and unnervingly charming. And when I say persistent, I mean they followed us from the arrivals gate, through customs, past baggage claim, and the taxi stand, and another 5 minutes up the road (which we walked in the middle of amidst swerving taxis) until we reached the car.

During all of this, we still had no idea if we were with the right people. No ID cards, no Living Routes sign, just 'come with us', 'over here', 'yes right this way'. There was nothing to distinguish the three guys we met at the rusted out Peugot from the fellas scurrying after us like ants at a picnic. I think we were all a bit worried when we saw the car - it was like a red flag - "warning you are going to be abducted please trust your instincts and return to the sanctity of the english speaking airport officials". I ignored the feeling. My alternative was to turn around and ask one of my overly pushy fan-club members to hail me a taxi, to an undisclosed location where I was supposed to be staying. "Get in" I told the girls, and we squished inside. The three guys climbed into the front seat and off we went, into the night.

Obviously, I have not been abducted. It turns out a rapid car ride took us straight to Fatou Lo's house (she works for GENSEN the NGO I'll be working with) where we were greeted. We have a rooftop garden where we watched the sun rise before getting in bed. I can see the ocean from up there. Down on the dirt streets feral cats and goats are abundant and there was a mosque call somewhere very nearby. Fatou's family, that I have met so far, consist of her three sisters, their parents, and baby Aisha who is 7 months old. We haven't eaten since we get off the plane, although I just finished a cup of hot, sugary Nescafe.

My French is much better than I thought and I have apparently been picked out by the family to communicate with the other girls, as well as feed the baby, and decifer the labels of lotion bottles. My new found responsabilities are apparently quite important. Thankfully, I have yet to change an African diaper.

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