Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Dakar: The Manhattan of Africa

We haven't had internet in a few days, so here are a couple posts.
     Crazing driving, crowded streets, people selling stuff on every corner,  garbage, many languages: things Dakar and Manhattan have in common.  Dakar is a place of stark contrast, nice houses and BMWs juxtaposed with shacks built off outer walls of compounds and barefoot children begging for money.  Downtown Dakar has buildings many stories tall.  There are embassies, hospitals, banks and restaurants nestled in the skyline.  Smog hangs in the air and trash is littered in the streets.  Merchants stand with their carts flanking every inch of the street eager to sell whatever they have.  Taxis are everywhere, honking.  And the flurry of languages invade your ears, I recognize a few words here and there but never enough to make sense of what is being said.
      And the driving, oh the driving! As we make our way from Yoff (an area about 15 minutes from downtown) in a taxi, many prayers are said and my eyes close frequently as we swerve around another vehicle.  The drivers seem to know how to navigate the horse drawn carts, motorbikes, cows and goats, but not without a near heart attack.  Two lanes quickly become three as cars squeeze between fast moving objects.  It is quite the experience to say the least.
     Dakar spreads out across a peninsula, it would take months to see the whole thing and years to really figure it all out. We were able to make our way through downtown, well some of it at least, where the streets wind and meander.  The Presidential Palace is a sight to see.  Gates a mile high surround the perfectly manicured lawns.  Police stand like beefeaters with M-16s outside the gate and dozens of cars are parked inside.  I understand why he wants to ensure he stays in power forever, who would want to trade a lavish life like that to go back to some rural village.  The ocean is spotted with pirogues carrying fisherman out to open water.
      I am transported into a world that seems eons away from my home yet at the same time, Dakar is a place I seem to know quite well.  A place where everyone walks down the street speaking loudly on their phones.  Mothers chase their children and try their best to keep them occupied.  The twenty somethings hit the local restaurants to have a bite to eat and chat about what they might do that night (very reminicent of my nights at home).  And children are simply children.  A reminder that we all occupy one world regardless of how different the parts may seem.  That even 5000 miles across an ocean I am really not that far from home. 

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