L’Autoroute de l’Aéroport – 1

Watch.

Watch again.

Don’t move, you can’t go now. See? Another one whizzes by.

Watch.

And wait.

Now! Nope – too late, here’s anther one coming. Fast.

Can’t win here, can you….?

Ah but now – there’s a small gap. Run!

Yes – you’ve made it…but you’re only half way. Get safe first – between the two walls smack in the middle.

Careful, as you climb the second wall for your next attempt. They’re rushing past you now, at close range. One false move and you’re done.

************

A tale about this part of Dakar must surely begin by its most prominent feature by far: the massive motorway that swings in a majestic curve from one end of the village to the other and cuts the entire area neatly into two. L’Autoroute de l’Aéroport.

I was raised in a village that had been cruelly bisected by just such a motorway in the 1960s. Not so long ago I heard about plans to get rid of the four decades old four-lane eyesore that sits on a massive dyke and runs through the entire breadth of the village. These days, building a motorway right through a quiet residential area is not the best way to make friends with the locals.

Not so in Dakar. And that’s not because you wouldn’t find any NIMBYS here. But there wasn’t a great deal of choice in the matter for two reasons. First, there is the traffic itself. For those who remember, indeed: It Was Hell. Getting from the centre to the airport was a gruelling two-hour trip in a never-ending traffic jam. Leave town on the one road that will take you to next-door Rufisque and beyond and you’ll get an idea of how bad it was. Standing still in the burning heat, moving three meters – and standing still again as the sun beats down and fumes from cars, buses and lorries throw the equivalent of three packets of Camels in your face. They are building a new road here, too, but it’s not yet finished.

The second reason is even more straightforward. It’s the topography of Dakar. A city planner’s nightmare. The centre sits on a piece of rock that juts out into the sea. Few ways in – few ways out. Imagine having to crawl to your work Every Single Day to the most inaccessible part of town where they happen to have built all the offices, the port, the railway station, the government buildings, the entertainment places – everything.  You have to thank the French for that… It was OK half a century ago when Dakar was still a smallish settlement high on that rock (called Le Plateau) and places like Yoff were remote fishing villages but this place has grown so spectacularly fast that even the last generation would not recognise it.

Yoff, my friends, is BOOMING. It is one gigantic building site, has been for some time. All of Dakar expands in all directions – except that there is hardly anywhere it can go. The ocean surrounds the entire peninsula that is home to the rest of the city so there is a limit to where you can build. You can either go inland – or you can go skywards. They’re doing both.

So by the time the idea was born to replace the clogged-up streets by a network of massive multi-lane roads, they had to work with an area that was both seriously limited and seriously built up. Here in Yoff, L’Autoroute de l’Aéroport had to wrench its way through a densely populated neighbourhood. If you travel on any of the other new roads and look carefully, you will see the remains of knocked-down residences, shops. All made way for progress – or at least the current president’s idea of progress. But that’s anther story. Oh and by the way: getting from Le Plateau to the airport today is a pleasant 20-minute ride. And that’s on a bad day.

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One Response to “L’Autoroute de l’Aéroport – 1”

  1. Bianca Says:

    love it! I was in Dakar one time and i remember jumping the wall to cross that highway. I took it as another cool eccentricity of an African city. Love Senegal!

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