My visit to this intriguing country was because of a work trip. I didn’t see much at all of the capital city Dakar, besides its airport, where I spent almost 2 hours waiting for transport that was supposedly pre-arranged to pick me up. I borrowed the mobile phone of a kind gentleman, after speaking to him in my broken French, and called the emergency work numbers – local contact numbers – I was given. It was a Sunday. No one answered their landlines or personal mobiles. Finally, stranded, in the pouring rain that was flooding the roads surrounding the airport very quickly, I offered to pay 3 times the standard price for a cab to drive me to my hotel, which as it turned out was 2 minutes across the airport road. I couldn’t walk across because of the heavy rains, the flooded roads and no sense about where I was supposed to be headed: I didn’t have access to google maps right then.
After we agreed on the price, the cab driver promptly put my suitcase on his head and started walking away with it. I followed him and was glad I had changed into my rubber beach slippers because very quickly we were on the main road, wading knee deep through floodwaters and I had no idea if there were potholes that would unwield my footing at any time. Suitcase loaded into the back of a random car, with no indication that it was a taxi, I entered, after ensuring there was no automatic lock. I had next to no alternative other than to wait endlessly for someone who it was obvious had forgotten to book me airport to hotel transport and wasn’t picking up their phone! Security in Dakar isn’t as bad as in other countries (thank goodness I’d read the pre-landing security brief), so I was prepared, but over the years working in international development, one becomes street savvy very quickly and learns to assess risks just as swiftly.
I was relieved when the hotel entrance came into full view and gladly paid my cab driver. I wheeled my suitcase in and then ended up being very frustrated when the receptionist told me that I hadn’t been booked a room until the next day. And this, when the Senegal colleagues themselves had booked my flights and knew exactly when I’d be landing in their country. I’d had a very long flight and was dying to lie down and sleep. Thankfully, I spotted my other international colleagues in the café and they ordered me a coffee and called up my local contact immediately. We made plans and my work colleagues decided to put me in the car that was going straight to the field. It was a journey of a few hours to Mbour, but once we got there and checked in, it was relief. A hot shower and deep sleep that allowed me to recharge my batteries before dinner, when I would meet the rest of the team I’d be doing a 6 month project with.
Unfortunately, my first impression of Dakar wasn’t great but, I’ll always remember Senegal for my first ever view of the huge, straight and gorgeous Baobab trees that grew everywhere en route to Mbour from the capital city. Remember the Baobab? From Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince? Yep, those ones. Maybe it’s because they’re so unusual to me, but they’re stunning,
A couple of days into the conference meeting and one night, I woke up to the sound of thunder rattling the little semi-sturdy huts that we lived in. We were staying at Le Saly hotel in Mbour, right on the coast, directly facing the Atlantic Ocean. I glanced out the window and was shocked to find lighting striking the grounds just beyond the garden, and the vast stretch of water, which we were fully exposed to. I lay in fright and panic in my hut, reading the evacuation plan and trying to figure out how safe
The best part about my trip to Senegal was meeting my colleagues and the lively interactions we had. The breakfasts were great, the hotel’s location was perfectly isolated so we could focus on work with no distractions around. We managed to get quite a lot of groundwork laid and then, 5 days later, I was back on a plane again.
Visited July 2015