Dakar Part One

As Tuesday was coming to an end, I get a call with further instructions from Heart to Heart International (I think I’m just going to call them HHI for ease of typing). They also let me know I was designated one of two team leads while we were in Dakar. I was responsible for getting the team to Dakar and from Dakar to Liberia. when we get to Liberia I’d be done.

I didn’t expect that, but I could do it. Why couldn’t I do it?

The flight from Chicago wasn’t very eventful, I remember having an isle seat and falling asleep immediately. It was a very boring flight. I got on board, fell asleep -woke in Washington DC two hours later. It was time travel.

I get off the plane in DC, and grabbed my luggage.

In the international terminal I found my group

HHI Ebola Team (I’m on the far right)

I was the third from last to get there and the other two trickled in and we started to frantically go through our bags to drop weight. We were told that the UN flight from Dakar to Monrovia could only have 44lbs (20 kilos) of weight in both carry on and checked bag.

This was a big deal, we had a scale we were using. Several people left things with the HHI representative to get sent home. I was just at the edge with around 48 lbs. I planned on wearing my heavy boots, and a few layers of clothing to make up for it.  I sent home my camera charger (I forgot my camera) and a power converter I didn’t need.  We started trading items to try to get it just perfect before we left.

We had some trouble right off the bat. One of our team members name on the ticket didn’t match the name on the passport. A simple misspelling that could potentially keep her from coming back to the United States. I called HHI, trying to see if there was something we could do to fix it. They were right on top of it getting everything done. We waited around awhile; the clock was slowly ticking closer to when we should start heading through security. Finally, it comes through.

The ticket is fixed!

But, the name on some of her printed paperwork isn’t. You know how hard it is to find a place to print in an airport?  The currency exchange shack managed to do it. It cost us $3.50 to print two pages off, but we got it done.

We make it through security, enjoy a few snacks and the last bit of 4g service we’ll see for six weeks.

The plane ride itself was 8 and a half hours long. I sat next to this girl from South Africa, she was friendly. We talked about Africa and my limited knowledge of south African history (Boar War, Apartheid being bad, and the movie Zulu)  She told me about her time as an exchange student in America and how she’s going to miss our food and excess.

South African Airways is really top notch when it comes to their food (Which I ate with METAL silverware on a plane) and entertainment. Each seat has a video monitor where you can watch movies. I finally got a chance to see tom cruises edge of tomorrow – it was killing space aliens on groundhog day, awesome.

I managed maybe an hour of sleep before we finally landed in Dakar. Too many thoughts were running through my head. Was I doing the right thing? Was this a big mistake? No, it’s not, calm down, relax. This is the right thing to do, this is what you need to do. You got this, you got this by the ass, man.

We landed at the beautiful airport of Dakar with it’s many staff and amenities.

Lets just say the place has seen better days, the walls and floors are dirtied, some of the windows are patched with plastic. Our plane didn’t dock with a terminal like it would in the states. stairs were wheeled over to the plane and the door opened.  A bus took us from the tarmac to the terminal.  As we walked in, we had our forehead temperatures taken by a mask wearing woman. There had been one previous case of Ebola in Senegal.

Just having that made it seem somehow more real. This is really happening. Here I am, 26 years old, going to Africa – the continent I had at one time sworn never to visit – to fight a disease that I had feared since I was a child. What was/am I thinking?

I keep going forward now, and at the Dakar Airport. The door led to two roped off corridors, one with a sign in English, and one in French. I took the one in English. I walked up to the small plexiglass counter and handed the uniformed customs officer my passport.  He asks in heavily accented English, “What do you do?”
“Nurse.” I reply. He shrugs his shoulders and takes my finger prints.

I’m then directed into a tiny room. Another Senegalese military officer sits behind a desk. He yawns as I walk in and hand him my passport and my stack of papers. The room smells terrible. I really don’t want to be in it longer than I have to.

Fate obliges and he puts a Visa in my passport and sends me on my way. The rest of the group is making their way through customs. Davis is trying to figure out how to say paramedic in French, some of the others are already getting a stamp.

All of the signs are in French. Some of them have English under them, some don’t.  One catches my eye near the baggage claim.

Ebola poster in Dakar Airport

I don’t speak french, but I recognize the word Ebola, and it seems to be a warning of how to avoid the disease.  Well shit, reality shooting another shot across the bow.

Lucille was having some problems with her passport. Her paperwork said she would be staying for a year and the customs official was telling her he couldn’t give her a printed visa. She would have to go downtown to get it.
I stuck my head in there and asked, “Is it okay if we do it on Friday? We just got off an 8 hour flight and were exhausted.”
He shrugged, “Yeah that’s fine.” and stamped her visa.
We left for Monrovia on Friday. Crisis averted.

Leaving the Airport.

We were told before we left that we could speak to someone at the airport about getting the Hotel to send a shuttle  to pick us up. In reality there was no one to talk to. A currency exchange stand and two bored security personnel who scanned our bags with the attentiveness of a drugged Labrador retriever.

It went Visa processing -Bag check out-Xray-Street, in the space of 100 feet.

As soon as we walked outside a tall African in a dirty white t-shirt  started walking over to us. He tried to pick one of our bags up to carry it, we shooed him away before he could do that.
“My friends,” He started in accented English, ” What do you need? I am a hustler. I will help you get what you need done.”
“We need to find out of the shuttle is coming or call it.”  We tell him, he walks us to an area where empty buses and vans are sitting.
Another man came over, another self proclaimed hustler.  Now they were fighting over our business trying to help us out.

We needed the number for the hotel. I had that number on a sheet I printed off in the states. I pulled it out and started to find the number. Just when I did this they both started trying to grab the paper, one at each shoulder.
“Give it to me!” One shouted grabbing the paper,
“No give it to me, I was helping you first!” He shouted trying to grab the paper.
“No me!”
“Me!” Each of them had a hand on the paper and were starting to rip it, shouting in my ear about letting them do it.
“I’m not giving either one of you the paper!” I said and walked away. That had been a tense situation. One of them provided a cell phone, and let us use it to call the hotel. Carrol is the french speaker in our group and saved the day in getting the shuttle sent to us as fast as she could. While we probably could have had it sent, it would have been much more difficult.

We waited for about 15 minutes, the hustlers still trying to get money from us. We offered one a dollar for letting us use his phone, he wanted 5. So he got none.

The Shuttle showed up and we piled into the back. The hustler still shouting for us to pay him.

Dakar itself is full of half constructed buildings, half empty buildings. and overcrowded buses. A few taller buildings dotted the landscape, but the most prevalent thing was the giant statue that sat on a hill in the city.
It was built by the North Koreans

(I didn’t even know this thing existed. It’s massive)

Then we made it to the hotel.
Which will come in Part two, but the power is about ready to get shut off for the night so I’m stopping here.

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