Tuesday, May 18, 2010

TWTW: Getting There

I'm home, but I'm not going to stop posting. My lack of posts for the last month will be redeemed. And I still have interesting things to share! And there is fruitful reflection to be had on the blogosphere after returning from a trip.

So today, I thought I'd grace you with one of my favorite things about Senegal- the transportation. This is less of a how-to guide and more of a effort at interpreting car paraphernalia. Because in Senegal, your car speaks for you. It might even have a face.

To start, you've got to get your stickers. Most taxi drivers will display the leader (current or past) of their Muslim brotherhood (Confrérie). Others go for their favorite wrestler.

My favorite taxi feature is the gri-gris, or amulets, that taxis drivers attach to their back bumper. They're supposed to protect you from accidents, which may be necessary considering the state of the taxis which are largely late 80s Toyotas. The most common gri-gri you'll see is a cow's tail. I asked in my first month if no cows in Senegal had tails, but evidently they cut them off the butchered cows.

You also may see some sort of painted rubber tail (lots of times with some reference to the American flag) or childrens' shoes.

The most colorful public transportation is the car-rapide, which are brightly painted and adorned and date back several decades. Below is an old-school car rapide from Saint Louis and a modern day Dakar style descendent. Car rapides are reconstructed from used oil barrels. Makes you feel safe, I guess.

The car rapides cost about 20 cents, depending on where you're going, and are managed by young "apprentis" who yell cryptic repetitive messages about where they're heading and gather the coins from passengers. The network of car-rapides is impressive and I've seen drivers or apprentis changing cars seemingly randomly. I've also seen random old men in the street who somehow have control over where the car rapides go. Some connect the car-rapide system to the largest brotherhood in Senegal, the Mourides. This may be true in part.

The other thing that unites the car rapides is the ubiquitous Madonna stickers. We're not sure whether the drivers understand the irony of pairing the biggest sex symbol in the world with "Talibe Cheikh" (Follower of a religious order) or "Sante Yalla" (God's will) is grasped by the Senegalese.

The next step up is the Ndiaga Ndiaye (pronounced ~jangen jaye), which boasts 8 rows of 5 and necessitates a complex exit strategy. Below is the window of a Ndiaga Ndiaye in Dakar with both religious leaders and lutteurs (wrestlers). These are on par with the real public transport- Dakar Dem Dikk (Dakar Go and Return) blue buses and mini-buses that have more established and reliable routes.

Out in the country you see more camions- or big trucks. Senegal is famous for trucks that pile their goods a few layers too high.

The trucks are also decorated in the same style, if not with as many colors, as the car-rapides. Alhamdoulilahi means "Thanks be to God".

Also, they sometimes sport random English commands.

My favorite form of transportation that I never tried remains the motorbike. Next time I plan to get one like that below, that you start by pedaling like a bicycle. Sporty. There's also plenty of big bikes that make lots of noise. And small, broken bikes that make even more.

All in all, driving is Senegal is slower and I've been rather scared by American speeds since I got back. Everyone drives slow enough that if someone makes a bad decision they won't die. And there are plenty of "dos d'âns" (donkey backs or speed bumps) to slow you down on even the nicest roads. Everyone also must be brave and butt their head into traffic to get a space in the many roundabouts in the city. (Did I mention there are no traffic lights? Well there are, but they're all broken.) Pedestrians are responsible for their own lives. It's a fun place to ride around, especially with mbalax on the radio and a talkative taxi driver who will eventually ask you if you're married.

This is us in the biggest market in Dakar, Sandaga, leaving after a day of good bargaining.

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