My brush with Death…I guess!

Actually, I almost died just this past Sunday (well, a little dramatic but u know…). I went downtown to deliver some goods I brought for a Canadian whose boss had asked for some things for her son (to be honest, this boy played into my reason to return to Dakar – I couldn’t NOT deliver his goldfish crackers!). This lady lived right by the Place de l’Independence and being that I had previously cancelled a meeting with her earlier in the week due to another security warning (see what I mean by cancelling all your activities in vain?), I couldn’t cancel again. There were quite a bit of people around downtown (for a Sunday afternoon around 3pm), and a few street corners were blocked by burning debris, and except for the one or two pick up trucks filled with police men guarding the Place, there wasn’t anything remarkable going on. Afterwards, I went to visit another friend who lived a few minutes from the Canadian, and even closer to the presidential palace as I had something to deliver to him too.

I ended up staying rather late (just before eleven pm) as I was watching tv (since I don’t have one at home) and trying to get a sense of the events of the day. The main tv channels were showing some pretty rough looking scenes of protesters advancing on like ten policemen and throwing stones, while the policemen kept backing up (who wouldn’t?), shielding themselves, throwing tear gas and firing rubber bullets. Of course this was nowhere near downtown – often the roughest looking areas are the ‘banlieues’, the often over-crowded neighbourhoods just outside of the Dakar, or the ‘quartiers populaires’, the over-crowded neighbourhoods within the city. I did not even know which neighbourhood the clip had been filmed from – it wasn’t written below and the journalists were not speaking French.

Part of my frustration being here right now is that I don’t even know where to get daily, current, up to date information. I’m talking some live feeds or something. I don’t have tv, so that’s out. I have a radio but all the local channels are largely in the regional language, Wolof. I’ve asked local people about this and the only thing they’ve offered was, well, these local stations also have French programs at various points during the day (although no one could tell me when). The French station, RFI, is too French to have local information so they’re a bit useless for me. Thus, my best chances are reading the newspapers the next day (or trying to, at least) and checking out local Senegalese web sites. Anyway, this weekend, I should be camping out at my ex-colleague’s who lives nearby to watch some tv, or go descend to visit my neighbour (a Senegalese professor) who can translate the Wolof programming into French, lol. But it’s not as bad as I paint it – I do get the news, it’s just about a day old. I’m just trying to find some live info, here and I ain’t trying to get it myself, if yall catch my drift.

Ok, so how did I almost die? Well, leaving the second friend’s place, I went in search of a taxi. I found a reasonably priced one and just before I got in, the guy stated, “well, you know the road is possibly barred, right? There were protests earlier?” I nodded yes, but all the while thinking, why does that have to concern me? Even if you go to the Gambia first, you’ll get me home, will you not?

So we proceed onto the road, and the road we would take was the Corniche, the very scenic route I described some blogs ago. This was the same road the driver said would be barred so I imagined he intended to pay attention. I imagined wrong. Just before the major fish market of Dakar, you have to go through an underpass. Going through this underpass, I noticed a giant tree in the middle of the road, on our lane. I screamed for the driver to watch out, but too late! He had already hit it and was swerving uncontrollably to the left wall that split the underpass before he managed to get back onto our lane. He had been driving way too fast, this man! I was actually a little in shock – I was in the backseat so other than being roughly woken up, I was okay, thankfully.

Getting out of the underpass, there was a police pick up truck on the right side of the road – my police homies were just lounging and resting (afterall, they’d been battling crazy Senegalese youth all day and were pooped!). The driver slowed down to tell them that there was a giant tree in the middle of the road just behind us, but when it seemed the police homies had barely acknowledged him (I don’t even know if they heard him), he just moved on. About 20 or so metres afterwards, he slowed down to check the front of his car, lights, hood, etc. At this point, I even started to feel bad for the guy. What’s he gon do if he’s car is mangled? Taxi drivers here aint rich (remember the transport strike I wrote about before?) and I don’t know where he’s gon get a new car. Heck, I don’t know where or under what conditions he got the one he was driving me in.

Morale of the story – times are a bit tense in Dakar right now, although some areas are ‘hotter’ than others. I’d love to do the amateur journalist thing and take some pics or even videos of protest(er)s and things, but that suggests being present at the protests which I’m not overly interested in doing. Luckily for me, my little enclave of the neighbourhood in which I live is quite calm.  What’s more, it’s near a military training field so other than a group of Senegalese boys/men that jog and sing at 6am (an unwelcome wake up call, although I can’t hate at a group of brothers keeping fit AND they kinda be trying to harmonize like the soweto gospel choir…),  and the occasional argument or street fight by a group of kids (the last time I saw two kids fighting, an older Senegalese man was so entertained, he waved me out of the way so he could get a better view of the action), nothing much happens here.

Except for the time when people were burning stuff in the middle of the road to protest the power outages (my neighbourhood was probably the worst in the entire city). But that was (a little) different because it affected EVERYBODY so EVERYBODY was pissed off. Many people still like the president, fortunately for the president and unfortunately for the opposition candidates – another reason (according to some, the real reason) why they’re so against his candidacy.

In fact, most people can’t distinguish one thief from another. So I suppose better a thief that one’s familiar with than a new one whose style one can only anticipate, right?

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