Roughing it in Dakar

The Hotel was nothing like any of us had imagined. We had pictured a run down place, with beds, maybe spotty cell service an wifi. None of us expected to be put up in the Radison Blue.

The Radison Blue

While we waited for our rooms to be cleared and ready, we headed down to breakfast at the hotel restaurant. It didn’t feel like breakfast, which felt more like two or three PM, but we were all starving.  The food was just like the hotel; much better than we expected. Omelets made to order, fresh bread, juice.  It felt very strange – an oasis of western civility in otherwise developing nation.
When we looked to the left we seen this pool and the ocean. Maliciously kept with the bluest water I’ve ever seen.

To the right The beach and Dakar

Simply beautiful.

Something rather strange did occur during breakfast. An American came and introduced himself to us, asked us who we were with. He said he was professor of something or another, and he taught around the world. He kept asking questions about each of us and had a very strange air to him. He did recommend that we later go to a highly acclaimed fish place by the ocean by the name of Lagon 1.

I walked away with John the other team leader and went to go get the room keys. We all later agreed he had to be CIA/ ex CIA or some kind of intelligence. We would late take his recommendation for dinner. Spooks gotta eat too.

The rooms themselves were very nice – very western. We were very spoiled for our one day in Dakar. I started coming up with this crazy idea that it was a slow and gradual process to get us ready to live in tents. First were in a fancy hotel, then a guest house with high walls and wifi, and finally into living in tents.

At this point in life I’m exhausted, had four hours of sleep the night before, maybe an hour and a half on the plane. I get ready to lay down and Carrol calls, she wants someone to go with her to help find a smaller bag to help with the weight restriction. I guess there is a “mall” attached to the hotel.

Yeah, Sure. Why not? I get another burst of energy that comes right before you reach total exhaustion. I’m sure it’s just a few small shots on the ground level of the hotel. No, this thing was massive. A full size mall attached to the hotel. Western mall with shops and banks and fountains and a full supermarket as well.  We managed to find a good sized gym bag for her that fit all of her clothes.  I’m exhausted at the end of this, and we all agreed to meet up to discuss the hotel at Three. So a quick glorious two hour nap for me.

We talked about the restaurant and decided we would go at 6:00. This gave me some time to finally check out that glorious pool.

Moving the clock a few hours ahead and we’re at 6PM. Five of us are waiting for the concierge to bring in two taxi’s for us to go. The agreed upon price was around 10,000 Francs (20 dollars) to take us there and to pick us up at 8pm. Remember this – it’s important.

On the way there I got a couple photo’s of Sengal.

We took a cab ride to a restaurant on the beach in downtown Dakar. Stopped along the side of the road to get a shot of the fishing boats that head out every morning to sea. They leave at 6am and return in the afternoon.

Other side of the small bay; trash was rampant along the beach and on the sides of the road. In the early morning, women would come out with brooms to sweep it into piles and throw it away.
 And Senegalese Infrastructure.

Buildings like that dot the streets left and right. Money from aid or foreign investors would come in and the building would go half way up, then either through corruption or the money just stopping – so would construction.  The general feeling I get from the Senegalese people is that they want to try hard, they want their country to be great like western nations, and after speaking with some foreign nationals Dakar is a great west African city. It’s very modernized and sheik in comparison to Monrovia or Freetown.

Our cab driver was friendly enough at the moment. He mentioned how Senegal is primarily muslim nation but with a large christian population. The largest minority group were the Lebanese.  I guess you could still find some good falafal in Dakar if you tried hard enough.

As we arrived, our driver wanted to… renegotiate our deal. The original was 3500 francs to take us there, and 3500 francs to pick us up for each driver. He wanted 10,000 Francs himself to drop us off and wait there. Intense negotiations followed. Carrol who was with it, wasn’t having any of it.
“9,000 francs, I am doing you a favor! That’s the lowest I can go or I’ll leave.” He demanded.
Carrol’s eyes narrowed and her voice came out stern, “Then leave, we’ll find another way.”
He stammered for a minute, and we paid him and the other driver the 3500 francs we agreed upon.

The restaurant went out onto the water, it had an inside portion, but why sit inside?

The food was excellent, as was the conversation.  We spoke about how we would handle patients, what situations we could expect, what we would do in certain circumstances. It was very speculative and quite fun. The sun set beautifully to our right, the moon rose to our left and the sounds of waves crashing against the shore accompanied our conversations.

As we were sitting, the cab driver came through the restaurant door and spoke to us,
“I will wait out there for you, and it will be 7,500 francs like we talked about at the hotel.” He shook his finger towards Carrol, “You are good negotiator, you are true Senegalese.” and laughed.

The rest of the night was uneventful, we took the taxi’s back to the hotel and headed for bed. I decided to have a quick gin and tonic before bed at the hotel bar and overheard someone speaking in German.  Two girls, I tilted my head and listened a little more.

German!? In Senegal? Finally I could sort of understand what they were saying, but it was weird. It was mixed with French and had a strange accent. So I asked them where they are from, Switzerland.

Back in German IV in high school, we had a chapter dedicated to a city in Switzerland called Basal. We had to recognize the accent and how it was different from high German.  One of the girls was from Basal, so deep in the long term memory part of my brain. Buried underneath the Konami code and reruns of Roseanne lay that memory- The memory of Chapter 6 “Basal Deutsch.”  it stirred, awoken by the ugly accent- it shrugged and emitted a “Finally” before collapsing again into being irrelevant.

The girls were nice, one was on vacation visiting the other, who worked for a Non Government Organization out of Geneva to help children (Save the Children). They gave me some info to contact a couple of their doctors in Sierra Leon for new information on how to treat pediatric patients.

The two Gin and tonics I had were 13,000 Francs, or 24 dollars.

Yeah, I didn’t have another.

Because of the weight restrictions we had on our bag, all of us were trying to “wear” our weight. I had on gym shorts, an extra t shirt, my heavy boots, an extra pair of socks and my olive drab jacket.  It was going to be close for some of us, and we knew we might have to leave some things behind.  Our flight was at 9am, but it was suggested we get there about an hour earlier, so we planned to make it even earlier. We were going to take the 6am shuttle to get there by no later then 7.

After a quick breakfast of Coffee and half an apple, I was on my way with the rest of them towards the UN airport. Our directions to the driver first led him to the wrong military base, then to the right military base but not the right terminal. We were starting to worry we wouldn’t find the place, or that we were lost.

The Senegalese guard at the gate looked at our HHI id cards, our paperwork and disappeared for ten minutes, leaving us all sitting at the gate wondering if we would get in.

(This is us waiting on some word from the gate guard on what to do)

After a few more minutes of waiting, handing up our ID badges, handing them back to everyone, handing them back again we were directed towards the UN terminal, which was half a mile to the right.

We were greeted with two more gate guards, who quickly waved us through after looking at our paperwork.  It was still early, so early that no one else had been there.  We walked down the path right onto the tarmac. We laid our bags next to the UN plane and started looking around.

(Two MI-4 helicopters that sat next to our plane)

We didn’t see anyone around, no one as far as the eye can see. To the left we see a closed gate and a generator. So three of us head over to investigate. To our great surprise were greeted by…

THE UNITED STATES AIR FORCE.

Woah. They grab their commander who comes and talks to us, directs us back to the gate where we started and proceeds  gives us a few bottles of water. It was nice to see the air force, and I don’t say that a lot. They looked like they were living in tents too, I honestly didn’t know the air force could do that.

So we grabbed our bags and headed back up to the “Terminal” and waited for the UN to arrive (I feel like waiting for the UN to arrive is a common theme in Africa).

After awhile a nice French man showed up and handed us some paperwork to fill out while we waited.

See that first tent to the right? We went in there to have our temperature taken and some questions answered. Two UN workers both in full scrubs, hat, and masked asked us questions before sending us to the next tent.

The Luggage check, famed and hated weight check. To our surpirse/joy/confussion/disgust they only weighed our checked bags. Our carry on bags were not subject to being weighed. All those hours spent getting just the amount of weight right, and buying new bags was for naught.  There I was, In Africa wearing two shirts, a jacket, gym shorts under my jeans  giant boots, an extra socks. I felt like I looked like the biggest chump there. But we couldn’t have known, we didn’t know, and in the end it didn’t really hurt much of anything.

Lucille was in front of me at the passport section and the customs official was confused as to why she didn’t have a visa.
“You need a Visa to be here, you only have a stamp. Where is your visa?” She asked her.

I stepped in quickly.

“The Visa official at the airport said it would be okay if we were only here for one day.”  Here we go, with the bluffing. If she accepted it then we would be fine, otherwise it could throw a whole wrench into the plan. She would miss the flight, we would have to take her to the downtown office for a stamp.

“Okay.” She stamped the book and handed it back to her.  It worked.

Two security guards waved over us with magnetic batons before we got on the plane.  We made it,  we managed to make it through Dakar alive and onto the UN plane.

Next stop.

Liberia.

One thought on “Roughing it in Dakar

  1. Hey , Son This is great , i finally got off of my phone and find you on facebook , you may have the makings of a movie here , keep it up your one hell of a writer ….. and you are now living history , and its great that someone is documenting it , in terms that everyone can read and understand , i”m sure it will get technical , but knowing you you can break it down , so everone can not only understand it , but may get some to really care about this deadly virus.

    Liked by 1 person

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