Archive for April, 2010

Max Usufa

April 9, 2010

Reggae man from Senegal. Combines an arresting stage presence with real pleasant charm. Starting to make waves here in Dakar. Working on a clip, a first single, concerts, hopefully an international tour, an album and a bit of promotion.

Which he richly deserves. Have a look at his myspace page and spread the word.

(And this, sadly, is my last entry from Dakar but I will keep the blog going for two reasons. Number one: I’ll be back in Dakar!  (And I honestly can’t wait sitting here at my desk, writing this and looking at the Yoff skyline and thinking this will be far away very very soon….)

Number two: I still have to give you those musings on music. Which I will. And with the festival summer season coming up there will definitely be plenty to talk about.

And number three: there’s enough stuff floating around in my head, on bits of paper, notebooks (including this computer) to keep writing.

Meanwhile, I do hope you have enjoyed it so far. Next entry: from Amsterdam….!)

meanwhile, away from the pomp and the parades…

April 4, 2010

No newspapers today. It’s a holiday, of course. No work for the newspaper vendors. They’re off for the day. So while they enjoy the Independence holiday,  let me tell you how you get your shot of news in Dakar.

Independence special from Walfadjri ("Dawn"), arguably the best paper in town

Method number 1. Walk down any main street and signal to a newspaper vendor who is doing his usual rounds that you want “les journeaux”. Oddly enough, even 50 years into Independence, all newspapers are in French. But they are lively, critical, well-written and not shy – even though they will pussyfoot around issues to do with Islam and upper echelon corruption.

Method number 2. Order “les journeaux” from a taxi or indeed from behind the wheel of your own vehicle, as many Dakarois are wont to do.

Method number 3. Go to a vendor who is always in the same place. On the main corner of L’Autoroute (yes, the one that leads to the airport), there’s one who holds an impossibly large pile under his arm, day in day out. He’s diminutive, wears a cap and a smile and knows exactly what every one of his many clients wants to read. (In my case, that’s everything.)

Incidentally, just try it: take a pile of up to 100 – I’ll make it easy for you: 50 – tabloids and hold them under your arm for one hour. He does this from 8am every morning. Luckily, a lot of people buy their papers with him so by noon the bulk of papers under his arm is noticeably smaller.

Method number 4: that wonderful old (admittedly French) addition to street life and still very much in evidence in Dakar: the kiosk. There is one next to my flat. Ousmane runs it. He’s a young lad, in his twenties. Every morning, he takes his papers in, opens up the wooden shutters revealing a counter. That’s where he puts today’s output, carefully. And then he takes a bunch of pegs and suspends newspapers, magazines and one-off publications off a small iron railing, that has been mounted on the inside of the shutters he’s just opened. If the newspaper you want is finished on the counter, you take the last copy (it’s basically the one for public reading) off the railing. Leave the pegs, please.

morning scene at home

Ousmane is inseparable from one of those small headphone pieces you plug your ear with but I suspect there is very little music coming out of the mobile phone it is connected to. He also has a permanently worried look on his face, which unfailingly lights up when a client passes. Yesterday, he explained his problem.

It is as simple as it is devastatingly unsolvable.

He has been the eldest in the family, ever since his father died. He works here because the family needs the money to feed, clothe and educate itself. His brother is going to school, he is not. ‘Because I must work. But this job only pays me 35,000 CFA Francs (that is 53 euros).’ Per month? Yes, per month.

So Ousmane wants a better job. How does he get one? With better education. But he left school because he had to work and he hasn’t got the money – or indeed time – to finish his school because he must work and the salary is terribly low. Conversation over, he summarizes this catch 22: ‘It will take long…’

Yes it will take long. And a bit of luck. A rich visitor. A benevolent uncle, friend, someone, anyone.

So who does exist for Ousmane and everyone like him, trapped in the Catch 22 the life has cruelly dished out?

I’ll give you a clue. Every Friday, at 2pm, he closes his kiosk for half an hour. , He calls on the powers of someone bigger than himself. It’s not the government he turns to. The government does not exist for people like Ousmane. The government is for big people, the ones that today show up on the VIP tribune today when the parade goes by. The same people who were whisked, sirens wailing, through the traffic yesterday on their way to the inauguration of the Monument for the African Renaissance.

So who does he turn to? What is the last word in almost every conversation you have here? There’s a reason this is perhaps the most deeply religious continent on the face of the earth. Talk to Ousmane.

It’s April 4…

April 4, 2010




Rethink this!

April 2, 2010

After indicating, the large bus swings to the left, right in front of the taxi but the driver’s having none of it. He works his car horn incessantly until we, the passengers, tell him to “take care and slow down”. The mid and tail section of the bus fly past the taxi bonnet with less than an inch to spare. “Plus de peur que du mal”, as they’re fond of saying here but this blog could have just as easily ended halfway the motorway between Patte d’Oie and Dakar Centre. Smashed between an unyielding bus, the crash barrier and the bloody mindedness of a taxi driver.

Here’s the thing. It’s frequently said that a country’s character can be gleaned from the way people drive but this needs a re-think.

Dakar’s roads are murder. Complete and dangerous anarchy. One reason I am not frequently going to Le Plateau is precisely because I don’t want to subject myself to yet another kamikaze driver who thinks nothing of overtaking an overloaded “car rapide” with a lorry ahead, then veers manically to another lane to avoid said lorry while answering a phonecall.

But go into any shop and politeness reigns supreme. You’d get on the wrong side of folks for not greeting them in the morning. However: once a Dakarois gets behind the wheel, he becomes a full-blooded anarchist with one message to the other road users: your job is to get the hell out of my way. And before you start: yes, the women are just as bad.

Monrovia, Liberia. In this massively overcrowded city the most common greeting in a shop is not the delightful “Asalaamu aleikoum”, as is the case in Dakar. You’re either met with compete stony indifference or with a “Whaddayawant?” barked at you. People are, in the main, pretty damn rude in Monrovia. But Tubman Boulevard, the main drag through a large part of the city is as busy as Dakar’s thoroughfares and a masterclass in decent driving. People don’t rush, give way and – something utterly unthinkable in Dakar – stop for crossing pedestrians.

So here it is: driving seems to be the exact opposite of a country’s (or, let’s be fair: a city’s) character. Surely, this cannot possibly be a reflection of residual foreign influence?

[Huge generalization alert!] America – Liberia’s creator – is brash, loud and crass but drives impeccably. France – Senegal’s former colonial power – indulges in the good life and good manners but drives appallingly badly.

But Liberia turns 163 this year and Senegal will be 50 this weekend. Surely these influences fall away at some point?

Well: there you have it. Just a few thoughts after another murderous morning on a Dakar highway.

Oh and by the way: there are decent taxi drivers around. I have his number.


April 1, 2010

Interesting moment for a bit of Dakar orientation – just before leaving for a few months, but there you have it. That big blob sitting in the middle of the map you have clicked above, is the airport. And I live pretty much next door to it. Here’s a little more detail:

Small blob in the bottom right-hand corner: that's my corner

Ouest Foire, that’s the name. It’s an upcoming, hesitantly middle-class part of town. Far away from the expatriate exuberance of Mermoz or the lunatic decadence of Almadies. My place is on the street at the top end of the oval mark. And the best place in my area, is restaurant Figo. It sits near the bottom of the mark, close to the Pont CICES. And it looks like this:

Figo, Route de l'Aéroport, Ouest Foire, Dakar (photo: Martin Waalboer)

You’d swear you’re in Southern Europe, somewhere, with that exterior. And you’re not far off the mark, because the owners and managers of the place have spent quite a bit of time – in Italy. Atoumane Diagne and Fatoumata Bathily got the idea in Italy, were they met seven years ago. They were both working in a restaurant and said to themselves: ‘This should be possible in Senegal.’

‘I did a survey,’ Fatoumata recalls, ‘and found this part of town ideal. It’s new, it’s close to the airport and there are very few restaurants.’

‘It was a house’ adds Atoumane, ‘we re-designed the entire place to make it look like a European restaurant and terrace.’ And Figo (nothing to do with the Portuguese football player, they assure me!) opened its doors on November 15th, 2008.

It's their place: Fatima, Atou - and the fellow in the middle is Aziz (photo: Martin Waalboer)

It’s been good going so far. Fatoumata is pleased. ‘Expatriates, Senegalese, people from Ouest Foire – it’s a good landing spot for a lot of people.’ And it’s also proof of something else: you can make it right here, at home.

So that’s where I will definitely park you if you pass through Dakar. Senegalese and Italy-style food, drinks, music (Saturday night it’s live) and the nicest restaurant managers you can think of. But don’t take my word for it…