Sunday, February 19, 2006

La Ville

I know that I’ve promised photos, and I’ve taken a few of my apartment and the courtyard and of my landlady, but they were taking forever to upload, and I got annoyed. The internet connections have been pretty good—all DSL, I’m pretty sure—but the pictures weren’t working.

In the meantime, I’ll describe the city a bit. Keep in mind that these are just first impressions, based on a few days of wandering around. And I've been known to be less than 100% observant. In my freshman dorm, I didn't notice that there were trees growing in the atrium until after Christmas break.

Dakar is broken up into small neighborhoods, each with a name. Mine is called SICAP Baobab, which is in an area with a bunch of other SICAPs (SICAP Liberté, SICAP Karak, etc.) in the north of the city. There are a number of wide boulevards that criss-cross the entire city (my house is on one of them), and that seem to form the boundaries of the little neighborhoods. Between the wide boulevards, there are lots of small, windy, narrow lanes with row houses and tiny shops (it’s a bit different downtown, but I haven’t spent a lot of time there). My house is on one side of SICAP Baobab, and the Baobab Center is on the other side. To get there, I could walk on the boulevards around the perimeter of the neighborhood, but it’s faster to go through. But there is no road that goes straight through. All the roads are on diagonals and curves, and lots of them end in dead ends. So that’s why I spent three days in a row, wandering around in circles for half-an-hour before I emerged on the other side.

This part of the city seems very well off. My house is an enclosed compound of sorts, with an elaborately carved wooden door at the entrance. There is a courtyard in the front and one in the back, and there are lots of lush plants (potted ferns, cactuses, leafy trees) and brightly-colored flowers. The house, the (home-)office, and my apartment open into the courtyards. Elsewhere, the houses seem to open directly onto the street. But of course, I haven’t been inside many houses, so I can’t really say for sure.

Most of the buildings are made of concrete (I think, I’m no architect), but these aren’t tin-roofed shanties. At a minimum, they are well-constructed boxes, with flat or peaked roofs. In my part of the city, nothing is much taller than three or so stories (in general). There is also a fair amount of interesting architecture and bigger buildings. There are gas stations every few blocks (Mobil, Shell, and Total, etc.) it seems. And, as you get further downtown, the buildings get taller, and more city-like.

There are paved sidewalks pretty much everywhere. Mostly they are asphalt, but in lots of places, people have tiled really pretty mosaics into the sidewalks. Or else they are cobble stoneed. There are also plenty of stretches that are covered in sand or dust, and again, as you get closer to downtown, they begin to become more full of venders and merchants selling all kinds of things. Mostly fruit and peanuts, but also fabrics, drinks, random household items, large pieces of wooden furniture, and chickens (still alive, sometimes clucking and walking around on the sidewalk, sometimes hanging upside down and perfectly still in the hands of a walking vendor).

There’s no grass or low-lying bushes—the ground is either paved or dirt—but there are lots of trees lining the streets with green leaf-filled branches, and lots of shade. Dakar is on the southern tip of a hook-shaped peninsula that sticks out west into the Atlantic Ocean, so there’s ocean on three sides. I have only been to the western edge of the city, to the western part of a long avenue (La Corniche) that traces the edge of most of the city. This is the part that’s near the University, and is, apparently, where you can find tons of runners in the morning. There’s also a canal that crosses east-west through the city (I’m guessing to try to help catch and drain the flooding when it rains?) that is mostly dry. Most of the city is very clean (dust, sand, and goat droppings, notwithstanding) but you come across pockets that are filled with trash, and, right now, the canal is one of them. Peace Corps guy says there is no trash collection in his city, and I’m not sure if there is any in Dakar.

A brief introduction to the people in my house:

Aby, my landlady, and the director of homestays for the students at the Baobab center. She has three grown children, all of whom live in the United States. One is a kindergarten teacher in Ohio, one is a med student in Ft. Lauderdale, and one is getting his master’s degree in IS/IT in Miami. I haven’t met her husband, but she tells me he is around sometimes. I don’t know what he does when he’s not here.

Awa and Marie-Susan are her two maids. They are both Serrer, but not from villages near each other. Awa is Muslim and Marie-Susan is Catholic. They are both around my age (vaguely, anyway) and are really nice. I hang out with them whenever I can, and they are pretty willing to help me out when I need it (for instance, Awa came out to negotiate a cab for me to the bus station, so I wouldn’t get ripped off).

Aby’s nephew also lives here. I’ve met him, and he seems really nice, too, but I haven’t spent much time with him yet. He came by my door the other night to invite me to watch TV with him, Awa, and Marie-Susan, but I was exhausted and about to go to sleep.

There’s also, I think, a groundskeeper and a nightwatchman, but I don’t think they live here. I don’t really recognize them yet, and I’ve been told, but I don’t remember, their names, but I’m figuring it out.


Blogger Rae said...

It sounds like a beautiful place!!

9:41 AM  
Blogger David said...

Your entries tell me one thing: you are FIRED up! What an experience.

9:25 PM  
Blogger Denise said...

What an amazing experience!!!

7:39 PM  

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