Dakar – Dalaba (Sunday morning)

Damn! I’m good….

And there it is! (i.e. the cockerel)

It’s not yet light but the first passengers come trickling in. And with them the shopkeepers. Water on pavement, the swish swish swish of broom across stone. Amazing that even the most worn down pavement will still be kept meticulously clean by the owner of the adjacent shop.

Enter also: a contingent of begging children. It’s an industry in Senegal and a national shame. It is also condoned, if not maintained by all manner of authorities in the land, first of all religious but also by the state. It merits much more attention but it does take a lot of time and effort to really get your head around. There will be more on this in 2012.

These children are among the more visible legacies of ten years of nominally liberal government: closed down core economic activity like commercial agriculture and industry and a once proud nation turned into a collection of  beggars.

As we walk around the – by now thoroughly depressing – bus station a couple of Sept Places rattle into place. Could ours be one of them? Time to ask around.

We end up in a small corner of the Gare routière next to a carcass on wheels. The taxi – to Manda? Yes, someone casually answers. The door is open. Good! Get the luggage! We get in; Moussa does the sensible thing and goes to sleep. There’s no floor to speak of. The upholstery left the chairs ages ago and luggage is planted on top of some unidentifiable clunky metal objects.

Ten minutes later, we’re ordered out by an exceedingly grumpy piece of work wearing a woolly hat.

‘But this is the taxi to Manda, right?’

‘You need a ticket.’

‘I understand that. Who’s selling tickets?’

‘He’s not here.’

‘Is he coming? Do you know?’

He scampers away. We sit on a dirty concrete ledge, in view of the carcass.

Around 7.30 in the morning a fellow drags an old small wooden table across the terminus floor and posts himself behind it. Ticket seller? No reply. Nice bunch around here….

Meanwhile, we have been spotted by a bevy of begging boys and immediately surrounded. It’s been a while since I’ve been more eager to get the flippin’ heck out of a place…

It’s an atmosphere that becomes more unpleasant by the minute but we are finally sold our tickets. Mr Woolly Hat, who runs the carcass passengers and luggage system and Mr Say Nothing behind the ticket table have clearly decided that they will make our life as uncomfortable as possible. So yes, we have our tickets but no, you cannot enter the car.

Bloody hell.

But then, the carcass starts filling up remarkably quickly and contains, besides us, a nice little mixed crowd, including a stylish young guy who is in possession of an iPod. From Dakar? Absolutely, student at Uni there and he insists on speaking English.

The driver is a genial old man from the rural areas. This is his daily run; as we’ll soon find out he knows absolutely everyone en route – the policemen waving him through the roadblocks, the store owners saying hello on one of his numerous stops, his fellow taxi drivers…

It’s still early when he rattles from his resting place at the station on to the petrol station across for fuel and a tyre check. In many parts of Africa, drivers prefer to do these important checks with the passenger inside the bus/van/car/Sept Places. Doesn’t matter. I experience a surge of pure joy – we’re leaving!

Oh – where’s Manda?

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