Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"Shortcuts" and Backseat Driving

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

Last night I decided to make a quick and easy day trip into Dakar to take care of a few things. I obviously forgot that "quick" and "easy" are not adjectives that can be used in conjunction with Senegal. There was a 12pm meeting that I wanted to attend so I was at the garage in Thies by 8am. The trip to Dakar usually takes me between 1.5-2 hours so the fours hours I allotted should have been plenty. "Should have," being the operative words.

I absolutely refuse to believe that there are shortcuts in the country of Senegal. The word alone scares me to death because it usually means dirt tracks (read: sand traps) and myriad other terrible possibilities. There was a lot of traffic on the road to Dakar; I will give the driver that. His decision making is what really made the ride excruciating/ long/ unbelievably frustrating. Quite often sept-place drivers will take side roads around Rufisque (a suburb of Dakar often referred to by PCVs as our own personal hell) so as to circumnavigate the traffic on the two lane national highway. I'm not sure that these routes are ever faster, but sometimes they do make you feel good since you're actually moving instead of sitting in a standstill.

We took our first off the national highway excursion well East (toward Thies) of Rufisque. I knew I was in trouble. My sept-place somehow ran over a giant rock and rear-ended another vehicle at the same time. I was actually quite impressed with this feat and that the car was still operational once we restarted it several times and a couple of boys in the road gave us a nice push. At this point I was getting a little irritated especially since I was sitting in the back middle seat (the absolute worst seat in the car) and my derrière was falling asleep. We jump back onto the national highway and I'm placated until we vere off again. I can't stop myself from becoming a backseat driver. After everyone in the car comments on my ability to speak Wolof and that what I'm saying (stay on the freaking national highway) is actually good advice, the other passengers join me in my rant against the driver. Unfortunately he doesn't head our warnings not to drive into a giant sand box so we get stuck.

The tires of the car are literally covered in sand up to the bottom of the car. The driver spins and spins the tires as I text Katherine to tell her there's no way I'm going to make it. The texts may or may not have also been laced with profanities. We all pile out of the car to survey the damage. Fortunately, there are some construction workers nearby who start trying to shovel the car out of the sand. About half and hour later and with the help of 20 little kids playing nearby we are able to push the car out of the sand and onto "firm" ground.

I'm really grouchy by this point and tell the driver that he should take the path directly in-front of us back to the national highway. I probably should have just kept my mouth shut, but I couldn't and he obviously didn't take my advice. Instead, we drove a little ways and then turned down a path where we found our car 20th in line to get back on the national highway. The best part? There was no intersection so we had to drive East back toward Thies until we found a round-about where we could turn back West toward Dakar. A Gendarme (type of police officer) was guiding the traffic (other people who had try to game the system by taking back roads) and let one car go every 5 or so minutes. I was exceedingly frustrated. Fortunately, after we made it back to the national highway we stayed there and eventually made it to Dakar... FOUR hours after I had left Thies.

Arriving at the office calmed my nerves. My meeting had been postponed so I made it and I got to see a bunch of my friends and a couple of PCVs who are leaving too soon. The usual peer pressure to stay in Dakar ensued and I caved. Although I had wanted to return to site before dinner, the lure of friends, buy one get one free pizza, and happy hour was too much. I ended up staying the night to hang out with my friends that are leaving next week and to placate Katherine who was giving me grief!


  1. Alyssa,

    Do you get the honor of paying before you arrive in Dakar? Tips probably don't work either? How come you seem to always get the midle seat? Be more forcefull. I am glad that you ended up having a good time in the big city.


  2. Honestly, Rafisque truly reminded Dad and me of the Mad Max and the Thunderdome movies. Absolutely hell on earth....fires burning everywhere, hodge podge verhicles of every variety with all shapes of humanity hanging from the sides, dust, open sewage....complete chaos. Katherine is a great friend to insist you spend the night1 Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!