Welcome to Dakar – "Give me Small Thing"

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The City of Dakar – Senegal
Immeuble Cheick Mbacke
Monument inaugurated by Abdoulaye Wade in the presence of the following Heads of States
“To the youth of Africa and the Diaspora, if one day you come to the foot of this monument. Think of all those who have sacrificed their freedom and their lives for the Renaissance of Africa” – Abdoulaye Wade

I visited Dakar, Senegal in 2006 and four years later it is a completely different city. The highways and overpasses come from every direction, and business is booming, seems the city has benefited from Ivory Coast’s internal political conflict. The first thing you notice when you land at Leopold Sedar Sengor is the monument of African Renaissance newly erected by Abdoulaye Wade to commemorate Senegal’s 50th Independence Anniversary. It was on our list of places to visit but first thing’s first I had to get out of the airport.

At customs desk as expected, I was stopped for not having a yellow card and sent to a small room with a heavyset lady in a white coat from la Ministere de la Sante. She asked if I had ever had a yellow fever vaccine and I nodded affirmative. For a replacement she explained, I had to pay 5000CFA/$10. I gave her $10 while a Lebanese couple grumbled for being told their yellow cards ne sont pas en regles. In less than 5 minutes I had gone through the baggage scanner and exited the airport building. At the exit the usual set of airport hangers on wanting to help you were at large. “We change Euro dollar. u need taxi? Hotel? u need credit?” After reducing their excitement by telling them that I was from Sierra Leone, I walked over to a police officer to ask if we could film my exit of the airport. He said “c’est interdit, il faut monter au bureau pour l’athorisation”, I had expected this and my mother had even suggested that I head to the Ministries of Information and Foreign Affairs to ask for letters of introduction to the corresponding Senegalese and Malian Ministries. But I thought, this is Africa, there is always a way, you just have to talk to people. I told my tall thin American-Port Loko resident cameraman that we couldn’t shoot within the airports premises so we should walk away from the airport to see what could be done.

The taxi drivers had increased their badgering and even though I said we didn’t need a taxi they kept following us. It was Friday, and there was a throng of people walking towards us coming from the mosque. I was wearing a long sleeved button down Chinese copy African print and black washed out distressed jeans. A man walking in a group of three must have noticed the hole exposing the flesh of my thigh, because he said “on ne fait pas ca ici”. He kept on walking and I made sure not to make eye contact but I knew he was talking about me, criticizing my outfit.

We saw a small park where we could film my exit from the airport, as I discussed plans with my cameraman, taxi drivers continued to interrupt trying to get us into their cars. I started a conversation with a guy who said he could take us to Liberte 6 Extension. We talked for 4000CFA. Two other guys joined in on the conversation and when we had agreed to go with the driver. The younger of the two who could speak English quite well and said I should give him “small thing” because he is a hustler. The older of them who had a horrible case of what seemed like herpes on his mouth chimed in. “Yes give us small thing, I am your brother”. I explained that I was from Sierra Leone and to not let the white man fool them. We were poor. The cameraman finally took out some leones and handed it to them as a gesture. They took the money and we continued with the driver carrying my pull on. As soon as we crossed the street a taxi driver said something in wolof to our driver who had still not shown us his car. A wolof argument broke out and a third older man appeared. When I asked what was wrong the older man explained that he was the head of the airport taxi drivers union and that our taxi driver was not authorized to take us. He took our bags from him and put them in another taxi. We entered the taxi and the previous guy stuck his head through the front seat asking me to give him something for his trouble. I told him point blank that I was only going to pay the taxi driver and if he wanted a tip for his troubles he should talk to our new taxi man. The head of the airport taxi driver’s union was still there and surprisingly tried to convince me to give this guy who he had just said was unauthorized to take us “small thing”. When he noticed that I wasn’t going to budge he asked the taxi driver to give the other guy a tip and he did. With everything settled I told the taxi driver our address “Liberte 6 Extention, en face de Camp Leclerc, Immeuble Cheick Mbacke”
He drove us about 15 minutes and as I paid him I realized we been had. Who pays $8 to go 15 minutes?? In a black cab uptown in NY I can take a taxi for $5-6 to go the same distance. In Freetown, 32,000 leones would chatter a taxi for 2 whole hours. Dakar first lesson number one: CFA is no joke…Dakar, c’est trop cher!