We've secured our small 2 bed apartment in Plateau - the Centre Ville neighborhood in Dakar. (Tracie - you would appreciate this ;+}). Needless to say it was actually a daunting, tiring and agonizing task. We tried our best to use immboliers (real estate agents) and two on-line resources (we're talking nothing like Craigslist) - knowing we had a tight time frame and no prior support to make it happen before we arrived. And trying to ensure at least a week to spare to orient getting ready for the kids school to begin on September 12th.
I mentioned in the last post the Frumpy apartment and the Anglophone/European ones in terms of decor. Since then we had a chance also to see another place that was more in between the others with a reasonable price as well. That apartment was currently being rented by a Senegalese (yet American educated) guy - "Azziz" - who was doing some business development. He was heading off to Guinea looking for someone to take over his place for a period of time. Observations of his place - large living room and bedroom, more modern furniture, sort of functional kitchen - it had a cook top, microwave, fridge but no oven - apparently he spent little time in the kitchen because he had a maid who did all the cooking and cleaning. No washing machine either - as she washed his clothes in the big utility basin. The location of his apartment was about 12 blocks from the school which we had a concern about in terms of seriously getting 2 boys with backpacks - walking to school by 7:50 - needing to dodge people, vendors, homeless, taxis, cars and the such. We've learned that if we stay within a 6-8 block radius - it could actually be a successful experience just to arrive on time. Alot of people here also employ 'drivers' they rely on - on occasion and "Azziz" had one. He was open to including the driver for the 'morning shift' to get us all to their school - which in my use of equivalent situations was the same as me driving in Berkeley - yet as we continue to walk around the city - we notice much of the time it can be one big traffic jam (embouteillage). There are no traffic lights (a challenge with electricity outages) and no apparent stop signs. While we really appreciated his offer (he was motivated to get a renter) - we were having less than confident thoughts about arriving on time. Perhaps for school it's the only time you must arrive on time. All other times - you make an appointment - and receive a text - "I will be late - I'm sorry - in traffic".
We spent the night mulling this all over with little sleep - discussing all the pros/cons of each apartment and the aspects they had (or didn't have). The immbolier of the European/Anglophone apartments provided a slightly reduced rate after presenting the initial price but still out of our budget. We did have one Senegalese contact here who was willing to help with further negotiations. We put that on hold and decided to go back to the Frumpy (lower budget) apartment - it deserved a 2nd look. To clarify a bit more - regarding the goat and my angst a bit of considering this place - this apartment is in a private courtyard and owned by a very interesting Senegalese/Vietnamese man (the reason I share the specifics of the peoples ethnicity is mainly to orient perspectives they bring to the table when we talk to them as Americans - and their awareness of our ability to adjust, adapt, and accept (or not) what we see around us). To get to the apartment you must walk down a pathway - not to far- between a 5 story highrise apartment (on the left) and the wall of a store (magasin) on the right. After the store - you turn to the right into a gated garden area and then the locked gate into his 'compound' with another tall wall, and alot of vines and plants and greenery - it's actually quite inviting coming off the madness of the street. This private space is made up of a courtyard, and 2 houses, the manager in one and the 2nd house divided into 2 apartments. The lower apartment rented already by a French woman working in the American Embassy (of all places) - if we understood that right and the upper unit is the available one. If you did not turn right into the first gate but continued past the first gate you would actually enter into an enclave (definition: any small, distinct area or group enclosed or isolated within a larger one) of Senegalese families. It appears they occupy what is an abandoned/dilapidated concrete house/structure with corrugated roofing to create a protected space from the elements between the various buildings. They've jury rigged their plumbing and electricity as well. Then beyond their house and behind the highrise is an abandoned lot that is fenced in - that is where the herd of goats are. In American terms we might assign the word "squatter" to this circumstance but that may not even be correct/appropriate in this case. Was it troubling to see this - of course it was and yes I cried a bit - this was up close a personal in more ways than I was prepared. I've already seen plenty of people/children sitting on the corner streets block after block - I had no sense of it all given we would be sharing this short path together between buildings. It was clear that they were respectful of keeping all things clean and tidy. Honestly completely harmless actually, but it was necessary for me to ask the owner about "the neighbors" (les voisins). The manager shared with us that life is hard here. He did imply he was not supportive of young girls and woman having more children - making it harder to support - digging deeper into the poverty they already are in. Yet he said alot of people live in the Dakar suburbs and never see what we have seen. He told us it was best to not give them any money- try not to feel bad - and just live side by side. They say 'bonjour' , we say 'bonjour' and everyone goes about their day. Once we discussed this and we saw the apartment again - we realized that truthfully the location could not be beat. And I also realized by the nature of how the Senegalese family house was situated - while we do share the path - all houses and apartments and people on the backside of the block exist with this as well. This apartment is 6 blocks to the school. 3 blocks to the French Institute for language classes. 15 minute walk to the Gym (yes there is one!), a pharmicie on the corner, a patisserie, a cleaners if needed and the computer shop (we may need to buy a printer). At the end of the day - I can make this work - for 2 months - giving us more time to look now if we choose - but I have to say I'm stepping back 18 years into a kitchen that I once had when I first moved into the house my husband owned in Berkeley. Our dear friend Marion who assisted us in our kitchen remodel in 2004 will know! I asked Parker about the choice we made and he said - as long as we have shelter and food and it doesn't leak and Addison added - TV - then I guess for the short run it should be okay. Soon enough we'll have the opportunity to share pictures - this past 10 days have really not provided time or attention for that. And in fact as we continue to blog about this experience - we have to think about how to take the photos that present the things and people and situations we see while still respecting the people and culture - who live in it.