After flying from Istanbul - sketchy stopover in Tunisia included, I finally landed in Dakar, Senegal at 1 a.m. I was instantly confused by the lack of queuing observed at the Immigration line, but finally managed to work my way through the mobs of people there. Getting around baggage claim and through Customs was like being a running back in football and dodging opponents left and right! And then I was free.
I searched the mass of people outside for my friend...and found her almost instantaneously. We - the only white people around - both stood out like glow sticks in the crowd. Even at our most tan we were not close to blending in. I was so pleased to see Leah, I jumped the fence, ran and hugged! And then found out that her boyfriend was there as well but puking his guts up around the corner. He must’ve eaten something strange. I immediately thought to myself, ‘oh god, so this is how it’s going to be!’
That night at said boyfriend - a.k.a. Nathaniel's apartment I acclimated to the Senegalese weather. I was used to the heat at this point, the idea of air conditioning and a fan had be come an utmost luxury I’d learned to live without, but the humidity of rainy season was entirely new to me. I spent the night lying on my back, arms and legs stretched out because it was too hot to even touch my own skin, melting drop by drop into a puddle on the mattress.
Fortunately Leah is an early riser so the next morning, after a large mug of Starbucks Via Instant Coffee (courtesy of a care package from the U.S.), we left poor Nathaniel (still sick from whatever he ate) in bed and headed out into the city. Leah took me through the markets first. It reminded me a bit of Cairo, but smaller, less populated, and way sandier. Much more colorful though, with vibrant wax fabrics of sunset reds, deep sea blues, canary yellows, and lush tropical greens, being sold in every shop.
The day passed quickly, and by 10 p.m. we were boarding the night bus from Dakar to Kedougou. Kedougou is a town about as far South East as you can go and still be in Senegal. It's is only a short distance from the borders of Guinea and Mali.
For some perspective Senegal is slightly smaller in size than South Dakota, but by bus it still took a full 12 hours to arrive in Kedougou. Fortunately we only had one minor break-down en route. At about 1 a.m. I woke up as I felt the bus shuddering to a stop. I stepped outside along with everyone else and watched as every male passenger proceeded to help the driver fix the flat, at least that’s what I hoped they were doing. Mostly it just looked like a bunch of men standing over a large tire beating it repetitively with a wrench, hammer, and a few sticks as well.
I settled down next to Leah on the side of the road and prepared to wait it out. I was informed that sometimes these break downs could last as long as 5 hours before they were fixed! Fortunately this one was minor and we were on the road within the hour, but not before I managed to catch a glimpse of the sky out there in the ‘Bush.’ I never knew there were so many stars up there. I could even see the milky way! It looked like someone had just thrown white glittery paint on a black canvas, and what had appeared was shining orbs, flecked in an array of sizes and intensity. I was awestruck.
We arrived at Kedougou with no other set-backs, besides are bags having been momentarily ‘misplaced.’ But those too arrived after a few hours of waiting. We made our way to the Peace Corps Regional House (where all 20 or so members placed in nearby villages can come to have the occasional running water, internet access, a full kitchen, books, and other americans around). I also managed to have my last ‘real’ shower of the week there.
That night we went out with a couple of volunteers to have dinner. However, the restaurant we were hoping to eat at was closed due to Ramadan. We had to look elsewhere, so by day two in Senegal, I was already breaking one of two rules Leah had established for me - no street food, and no well water. That night was a delicious meal of chicken and french fries served from a little shack in the market.