Braids…Second time around

So I did my braids again. Unfortunately, they only lasted two weeks the last time because I have terrible flakes! This time around, I went to my Senegalese friend’s hairdresser who charged me nearly forty percent less than I did last time (paid $3 compared with the $5 before). She does it out of her home which takes out the rental premium that those who do it at the salon charge. There wasn’t much difference from what the previous girl did, except that this new lady did it smaller and tighter (couldn’t lay my head down the first night). It was also less convenient as I had to walk there, but it was less than a ten-minute walk which is nothing. I just need to advise her next time to do it a bit bigger (makes it easier to take out) and looser (so I can sleep at night)! Here are a couple of pics. I really can’t tell the difference :(.

Dakar at Night

Scene from my friend's apartment at night.

Apartment in Saint Centenare

I like architecture. Definitely not an architecture aficionado per se but I like nice-looking buildings. So I thought Id start a category on the nice buildings that I come across here in Dakar. There are enough of them and I hope I have my camera with me when I see them. Here’s one very decent apartment near a friend’s house.

To be honest, a secondary purpose this category is to show people that there are some mighty nice places in Africa, and that a good amount of its population has certainly graduated from living HUTS.

Saturday July 23 – Anniversary of the day of Discontent, June 23

A very large, peaceful (impressively so) ‘mobilization’ was organized by the opposition to Abdoulaye Wade’s ambition for re-election on July 23. This date was chosen to commemorate June 23, the day of revolt in Senegal when people took to the streets to protest the Presidency’s attempt to pass a bill that would reduce the amount of electoral percentage required to win an election. It was like an open-mike protest. Whoever had anything to say went up to the mike and had their turn. Probably, the most memorable part for me was when a man (I’m not sure if he was a member of the opposition or some other politician) came up to the mike with a red card and said, “a red card for Abdoulaye Wade!” It was both comical and serious at the same time. But it was a peaceful gathering like none I had ever heard of. I actually was not there (too tired from all that dancing the previous night), but watched the proceedings live on television (it was organized from 9am until 2pm). I eventually did step out later in the evening to visit my Senegalese friend that lived nearby around 7pm, and when I got to the mobilization scene there was NO sign that there had been a massive gathering earlier. The only thing happening were the usual evening soccer matches. The only sign that anything out of the ordinary had occurred in the area was an army tank parked in front of my Senegalese friend’s apartment, which was a few blocks from the mobilization scene.

The Dakar obelisk or Place du Nation, the scene of the mobilization - just hours afterwards!

Not to be outperformed, supporters of the president also staged their own ‘mobilization’, although this was planned for between 4 and 8pm in another area of town. It was also broadcast live and attended by the president himself, along with his wife and son. The daughter, as usual, was in absentia. I’ve been told that the daughter is rarely seen in public (fortunately for her, Senegal does not yet have TMZ) and does not appear to be interested in politics, unlike the son/minister who controls an uncanny amount of largely unrelated portfolios. She’s just enjoying their money in private, somewhere in Dakar if I remember correctly. Anyway, the president’s gathering was also broadcasted live, but it was a bit rowdier than the opposition, which to reiterate was perhaps the most peaceful demonstration (for the amount of people present) I have ever seen or heard of. The president’s invited speakers kept saying there were 2.5 million people present, a questionable stat at best. I’m not sure who was really keeping count. From the looks of the crowd, it certainly seemed the opposition had more numbers.

The other interesting thing was the type of people present at the mobilizations. The opposition’s people looked very organized, with lots of young men (and men in general) and people representing all sorts of groups and organizations (as evidenced by placards and printed tshirts), and the odd mom-and-pop group with sloganned t-shirts. The president’s had a greater number of women (perhaps because all their sons were at the opposition’s) and did not seem as unified as the opposition’s. They lacked the passion and fervency that characterized the opposition’s people. My Senegalese friend commented that a lot were probably paid in some way. It may also be that the president did not have time to really mobilize the ‘proper’ people (whoever those are) and he was forced to put together whomever at the last moment. But his crowd was certainly ‘curious’, to say the least.

TV image of the president at his mobilization.

Le Must

I also went out on Saturday night (when in Dakar, do as the Dakarois?). Another late night affair although this time, it was to meet with a Couchsurfer whom I had said I would meet up with. One of his goals for the trip was to see Orchestra Baobab perform and he had been tipped that they were performing at this joint on Saturday. The group actually did not begin performing until after midnight, actually close to 1am and they finished just shy of 4pm, almost three hours of performing. The entrance was a STEEP 10 000 FCFA ($20 dollars and a bit), but the group was wonderful and the men worked hard so it was a worthy investment. I just hope they earned more than a pittance. Drinks and food (it’s a bar and restaurant) were also quite expensive here but at least the cheapest thing on the menu was 1500 FCFA ($3). That cheapest thing turned out to be a beer (they had no juice!) so I ordered it so they would not pester me, or worse yet, embarrass me and tell me I could not remain seated.

I know very little about Orchestra Baobab. I may have heard a few songs of theirs but I wouldn’t say I’m familiar with their music, definitely not as much as my counterpart. This music turned out to be some mix of salsa and mbalax, Sahel blues (Malian type crooning) among others – I even thought I heard some Sunny Ade Fuji in one of the songs. So it was a very pleasant morning, and the saxophonist blew my heart away. The band’s average age was probably in the late forties, and median probably in the fifties and this was similarly reflected in the age of the audience. There were a handful of young people, but the rest were some older, monied gentlemen. Interestingly, I had read an academic article just a few days prior about Salsa in Dakar (I would also love to do research on Salsa in Dakar – why didn’t I think of this for my paper?!) where the author, among other things, noted that Afro-Cuban music in Dakar had greatly diminished (having been replaced by the newer generation Mbalax) and that those who now listened to it were the older generations or members of the elite who sought to hold to their ‘traditions’ and uphold the gentility that Afro-Cuban-Senegalese Salsa was supposed to represent. The article resonated in my mind the entire night not only because the average age of the audience must have been in the late thirties, but also because they seemed like members of a higher societal stratum who all seemed to know one another and the music well. There was one particular older gentleman who just had to get up when they threw it back to the older, more classic Salsa tunes. He was swaying and feeling the beat and having a good time.

My counterpart commented to me that you wouldn’t get this kind of vibe in Sweden – people actually chatting, dancing and seeming to have a good time. Now Sweden is a country I have a decent amount of a experience with and he was more than right. But I suppose that’s why he’s also here, that is, to experience what he wouldn’t in Sweden.

Anyway, after this weekend of sampling Dakar nightlife and restaurants, I must say I’m even more broke than I usually am. I certainly have to get a sugar Daddy, go out less or find cheaper things to do.

But I don’t eat sugar so I guess I’m let with the other two options.

Le Must Bar and Restaurant

Le Patio

Le Patio is a bar, restaurant and nightclub in Almadies, a well-to-do neighbourhood filled with monied expats and Dakarois alike. I was supposed to go to this club with a girl I met at a concert at the French Cultural Institute some three weekends ago, but laziness and apathy overcame me and I cancelled on her both the Friday and Saturday. So this past weekend, I decided to do something with my life. I wondered if my accomplice chose this place because she was interested in the monied expats, but she told me she liked it because she liked the music. I wasn’t particularly convinced about this but when upon arrival (after midnight), the music was actually quite decent, lots of danceable music (even the techno!) including the compulsory convict music, the required Rihanna, the predictable P-Square, the mandatory Mbalax and the crazy coupe decale. A few songs were repeated but this was forgivable, especially since the dj was schooled enough to know NOT to play a song in its entirety.

Patio is an unbelievably expensive place. We didn’t pay cover but seating required drinks purchase, and the cheapest things on the menu (watery juice, pop, 50ml water) were each the equivalent of $6 (3000 FCFA)! Except that we didn’t really sit, although my accomplice’s friend was not much the dancing type so she sat probably 85% of the time. She seemed a lovely girl but I was rather confused as to why she came. But I was glad I shelled out the money to buy one of the watery juices because I danced and perspired so much – I must have danced for some three hours – that it came in handy.

There were definitely a lot of beautiful women there, many of whom could have grazed the covers of some magazine. Not the least because they were beautiful but also because they had some amazing shapes! But I was unimpressed with the calibre of the women themselves, beautiful or not. For one thing, they were vain! They all wanted to dance in front of the mirror and stare at themselves dance. I couldn’t understand this – I tried to do it myself but was distracted by some facial or bodily imperfection and kept loosing my rhythm. My accomplice was adept at this mirror-dancing exercise, however, as were many others there.

Also, there were two women whose cleavages assaulted me the whole night. Initially, I was overwhelmed, but this turned into absolute fright by the sheer size and sight of them. But then, this is not a uniquely Dakarois thing and I suppose if I had them I would also flaunt them (not really) but I thought this bore mentioning for some reasoning. Generally, the women here are well-endowed so I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised.

A lot of the women seemed to be there for the expat men, a lot of whom were old enough to be their fathers. When we first arrived and sat down, we sat beside a girl that perhaps was in her early twenties and a man that was at least in his sixties, and he kept kissing and groping her. My heart just fell! Now I’m not one to judge and I don’t know what situation these women are in, but to be frank, Le Patio is not a place that someone with meagre means would go to. You have to look a certain way (to say I was underdressed is an understatement) and many of the girls definitely did not look poor. But looks do deceive and having some means could perhaps still not compare to whatever lives the girls imagine awaits them in Europe or North America or wherever they hope these men will take them. Some may not necessarily want to leave Dakar, but are just looking to live a certain way while here.

A Dakarois man told me earlier this week that he was loathe to date Senegalese women because they’re only after money and do not really care about love. But I imagine it’s not that simple. Who doesn’t want a so-called “better life”? But for some who find these expat men, it does work out, at least for some time, and that is absolutely worth it for some of these women. On the flight to Dakar, I met a Senegalese woman with a mixed child who was returning to visit her family. She said she lived in Spain, and had been for a few years with her child’s father whom she met in Dakar – we actually communicated in Spanish and her kid was too cute! She definitely looked fine, so I guess for her it worked out, and I hope it continues to…

My ‘neighbourhood’

I really do think I live in the ghetto. Howbeit, my studio is situated at the very end of the ghetto right before Point E, one of Dakar’s nicest neighbourhoods, where exist a number of organizations and of course, the residences for the expats that work in them. My ‘ghetto’ is called “Fass.”

Apparently, I was given a discount because the studio usually costs double what they’re charging me, and partly also because they usually rent it out nightly, sort of like a hotel. And I think the gateman loathes me, perhaps because he thinks I’m getting too much of a discount. Perhaps he wishes I were either a white person or a wealthier African. Everytime I try to ask for his help (I’ve really only approached him twice in the three weeks I’ve been there), he proceeds to scream at me, in a mixture of French and Wolof. Or perhaps his anger is that I don’t speak any of his languages. The other day I went to go ask for a hammer to fix a loose part in the net on door that led to the balcony (I was concerned about mosquitoes). I didn’t ask him to fix it as I realized that would have been too much to ask – I only asked him for the tools to do it myself. Unfortunately, he was in the midst of watching a wrestling match, and of course his response was “No!” There had been a friend in the room who at least tried to ask me what I needed it for, but my friend the gateman looked in my direction with annoyance for what must have been a second before turning his gaze back to the TV and responding in the negative. As I left, I noticed a bag of tools by the entrance so I searched in it and found a flathead screwdriver and a sledge tool and promptly employed those. I had also fixed the blocked sink in my bathroom sink with a knife a few days prior. The gateman’s brother, however, is nicer, although when I approach him with a query or concern (which have really also been few and far between), his response is that he will inform his brother and get back to me.

There is a soccer ‘field’ just south of my apartment, and I ventured there once to watch the boys play. I was certainly entertained, but also stared at a bit (African or not, I still look a little different, especially my mode of dressing). Perhaps it was because I was the only woman watching them. I would go back to watch them play, except the sandy ‘field’ is bordered by automobile tires which are filled with garbage and anything imaginable. Meaning, it stinks! When i went, I think I was only there for half an hour, but it was a struggle-filled half an hour for my poor nose! Anyway, since I live at the end of Fass, I am rather lucky. The rest of Fass is innundated with ‘less than’ homes and some of the streets overflow with sewage, streets through which my bus passes through sometimes – my nose is definitely having the time of its life here.

But apart from those, it’s quite fine. It takes me about three minutes to walk to the market where I take the mini-bus (although sometimes this feels like eternity because of the heat), the market has most of the things I need (but not fresh vegetables and I had a recent ‘falling-out’ with the market egg-monger) and there is even mini-mart (although almost everything is from Ivory-Coast!). The only thing I’m missing really (apart from fresh vegetables) is a bakery. Mini-shops abound that sell baguettes, but I’m not a big fan of those so it’s been a bit of a challenge to find a proper bakery within walking distance. I buy one around the public library I frequent almost daily but it’d be nice to find one nearer – the search continues!

The building across mine.

The studio apartment.

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