Friday, July 20, 2012

View from the Inside

When we first arrived in Dakar I could not believe my eyes. I was overwhelmed by the yellow and black  taxis and their incessant honking  to get your attention for a fare.  Since I've already covered  that mode of transport it's time to focus on the more affordable and common  alternative  - the "Car Rapide" - these vibrant colored  buses snake, and swerve and weave around Dakar and the outlying regions of the city. From what I can tell  the Car Rapides have been hand-painted all with unique designs and messages, like 1960's psychedelic poster art from San Francisco but on wheels. 
For a number of months  I was content to admire them from afar and continue to take taxi's around but I also knew that the Car Rapide was a better price performer at 100 CFA  (20 cents) one way compared to a taxi going the same distance for 1,500 CFA ($3 USD) or more.  Deep down inside I also knew that in order to appreciate and feel apart of the reason why we came to Dakar - to be a part of the culture -  I had to get on board.
As I observed the way they work - they stop but not at any designated spot with a bench or sign that says "Car Rapide Stop - ici". In the chaotic appearance of them on the road - there is a system - one that is not intended to be truly figured out - which is why it probably actually works in getting you from point A to point B. There is always a young man who hangs outside of the swinging back door that is always open with his little satchel of fare money he has collected

What I've also concluded is that there are never women or what would appear to be retirees in this 'job' - at least up to now I have never seen any. The guy on the back yells out a number of times the destination which I could never understand. When the people who want to get on - get on and he's ready to go - he taps on the bus several times as the indicator to the driver - "allons-y".  As they go - they belch out a lot of dirty smoke that at times could be cut by a knife. 
Up to now I had already graduated from the taxis to the Dem Dikk  (mass transit type city bus one would see in the states - and has a formal route and designated bus stops) in order to get to Le Foyer to teach English every Friday. Multiple routes leave my neighborhood so I had a handful of lines I could catch going out.  But what put me over the edge was my wait time after I finished at Le Foyer to get home - the number of Dem Dikk lines dwindled to one.  While I waited for the Dem Dikk - but no guaranteed time schedule - time would tick on while I waited and waited and waited. So while I waited I would entertain myself by engaging in a French conversation with a Senegalese person waiting too. It helped pass the time and ensured my continued effort to practice my French.  As I waited I would observe more than mulitple Car Rapides stopping at another spot before the designated bus stop and passing me by. After weeks of this it was time to take some action and get this wait time down to 5 minutes instead of 30 minutes to an hour. 

Time for me to attack my fears and get on this colorful  beast. From what I eventually realized at this spot the Car Rapides were all going in the same direction as the Dem Dikk so what did I have to loose, except get on the wrong  one and notice it veering off to a neighborhood I was unfamiliar with. So I figured I'd wait for a Car Rapide that did not look so full - they usually hold about 20 people. And just ask the guy - "Sandaga?" - since I know they don't go any farther than that market - I can easily walk home from there. If he shakes his head yes - then I'm good to go!  So the day had come, I ask and I hop on!
So let me take you through the streets of Dakar....with myself, my family and friends that have visited!

 Senegalese love showing their support by posting up their favorite Lutte Wrestlers inside

Many of the phrases on the Car Rapides come from the Q'uran. You can just make out the words on the Car Rapide behind us - from wikipedia - Alhamdoulillah or (الحمد لله) is an Arabic phrase meaning "Praise to God". It is used by Arabic-speakers of all religions, but more frequently by Muslims due to the centrality of this specific phrase within the texts of the Qu'ran and the words of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. It is similar to the Hebrew word Hallelujah הַלְלוּיָהּ ('God be praised').

My Car Rapide!

The Dakar Grand Mosque

From Wikipedia - The Dakar Grand Mosque is one of the most important religious buildings in the capital of Senegal. It is situated on Allée Pape Gueye Fall. Designed by French and Moroccan architects, The Grand Mosque was opened in 1964 by Hassan II, King of Morocco and Senegalese President Léopold Sédar Senghor. Richly decorated on the interior and exterior, it is stylistically similar to the Mosquée Mohammed V in Casablanca. It's minaret rises to 67 meters.

Parker and Addsion get their fill of the Car Rapide. What they like about the ride is that it ends in Sandaga just before you get to their favorite N'Ice Cream parlor.  

And here's a clandestine shot of my friend Corina taking in the sights, sounds and even smells of Dakar - because there are no glass in the windows on the bus so yes, there are times when you go through a neighborhood and you get a good whiff of  'eau de broken sewers'. It's the real deal here and life as people experience it on the Car Rapide. Taking pictures can be touchy on the inside and I managed to get this in a way that no one was noticing. But at the end you can see the money collector was not happy. OUCH!

My friend Andrea had a memorable experience. The Car Rapide was full yet there was this sliver of a space next to her and the next person that came on board was determined to sit there. And no space is ever wasted in this contraption to sit down. So this somewhat largesse woman shimmeyed her way in the space. So, what do you do when you have a Senegalese woman's bum on your lap? Nothing according to Andrea. You just enjoy the ride!  And when it's time to get off - and your friends hop off and you are a little behind the pace - don't worry - because we know we can keep up until the next supposed stop - they don't call it a Car Rapide for nothing!

If you have any hesitation about riding the bus - think Nike (Just Do It) and start singing....

The wheels on the bus go round and round,
round and round, round and round
The wheels on the bus go round and round,
And round and round and round
All through the town!



  1. N'ga def!!! Your blog is wonderful, the real & simplistic life of Dakar, no moaning about the things you don't have but you all just get on with it! Your attitude to the Islamic religion as Jews is wonderful, even explaining the equivalent sayings. Your boys must have gained a lot of life experience there and will benefit it in later life. Personally Dakar has grown on me, I found it tough to deal with at first despite being bi-lingual in French ... I hope you have resettled in the US & explained that Africa is a continent, not a country & people are wonderful in general! Bravo!!!

  2. Kira-I'm sorry I never replied to your post. I stopped checking this blog but from time to time hop back on and just saw it. Sadly there are still some stories to tell. And I hope to finish. When we returned to the states it was so hard to complete. But my husband is back there now and working on projects that may take us back. Ba Beenen Yon!