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Saly to Tambakunda


sen-i-gawl, -gahl

French Sé·né·gal [sey-ney-gal] .


a republic in W Africa: independent member of the French Community; formerly part of French West Africa. 76,084 sq. mi. (197,057 sq. km). Capital: Dakar.

— adjectives and verbs

Greedy, grasping, grabbing. Money-hungry, conscienceless, corrupt. Take, take, take; want, want, want.

Seven signs you are about to be conned – listen for these phrases

– it costs you nothing

– we show you best hospitality in Africa

– we love English people

– first time in Africa?

– you have kind heart, you are good people

– we only care about the relationship with you, not the money

– you give money for [the rice/the children/the village]

We’ve moved from thinking ‘it’s okay to be ripped off, because we’ll take the chance this person is a genuine person’ to ‘it’s okay to hurt someone’s feelings because chances are highly unlikely this person is genuine’.

It’s very, very difficult. These impersonators, they are so charming and sly you might never realize you’ve been taken. They are not interested in us, beyond the pro forma ‘where do you come from?’ We are simply a meal ticket. Please, just empty my wallet up front, rather than do this dance of conniving pleasantries. I would rather be robbed than having to endure this false kindness one more time. I want to shut down and isolate myself from people. Even the goats look like shysters. There’s a shyster cat, a shyster piglet, a shyster donkey. Rick stops to take a picture of a baobab tree and to my surprise it does not ask for money.


DSC_4207.jpgWe are off to Niokola Koba park to find monkeys. A smiling policeman stops us and tells us he wants a pen. “For me?” he says, “I can have this pen?” Yes Mr Policeman, did you give us a choice? It’s okay, pens are one thing we have plenty of. At least a pen will be useful. Fed up with the grasping pleading hands I forget the Africa of now and bury myself in Paul Theroux’s ‘Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari’. Reading aloud to Rick, as I have done on many road trips throughout the last year, I am heartened by Theroux’s observations that mirror mine, though with much more eloquence and education. His bleak outlook on Africa. I feel not so alone. Not (just) a spoiled, disgruntled traveler unable to accept new cultures, new customs. Eating with my hands, covering my head and shoulders, enduring dirt and bugs and stinking squat toilets, sitting on a mat for eleven hours. I describe these in detail, but in truth these are easy to adapt to. They do not bother me near so much as the greedy, rapacious human element. And maybe, almost certainly, there are truly nice people in Senegal, but these are not the ones we meet so often. No, our paths cross the extroverts, those trained to prey on the weakness, the ignorance, the kindness of others. We meet the men with wide, friendly smiles, protesting too much their love of English people (for gods sake, we aren’t even English), reiterating over and over their hospitality. True hospitality doesn’t need to be spoken to. This is a land of psychologists who can spot at a glance that I fear seeming impolite and that Rick will pay what he is told. They know the exact words to say to appeal to our emotional vulnerabilities. Who are the missing people, the kind, the ones that don’t take advantage of us? Are they taught that such actions are wrong? Is it instinctual? Or are they simply lacking the charisma and energy and persistence of their Machiavellian counterparts. Do our false friends even realize the negative nature of what they are doing or is it just the way it is? The elusive good people, that is someone else’s story. I write of our experience.

It is hard, not having a purpose. My trip to Africa in 2011 I was volunteering as a teacher in Sierra Leone and we were well immersed in everyday living. In India last year our goal was to get from Shillong to Jaslemar in one piece. And then on this trip our burning drive was to reach our wedding on time. But thereafter, since we realized making it to Ghana was unrealistic, and with the engine issue (which of course has been running perfectly since our decision to turn back from deeper desert travel) which circumvented our quest for crocodiles, now, this meandering, the endless roadways, the circular route, one wonders why. What are we doing here? We had hoped to volunteer in Sierra Leone again, but that was dashed by Ebola and border closures. They say it is the journey, not the destination, but for us I think the destination plays a key part in the challenge. As much as I gripe about getting up early in the morning, without deadlines, without an ultimatum, what is our point? I could go on and on about the road to Niokola Koba, but how many more ways can I describe a thousand identical decrepit villages. Sure, the landscape is different from Mauritania, as we get closer to the jungle. The roads in many towns are lined with tall leafy trees now, if you squint heavily or lost an eyeball you might be in Palo Alto, but the pretty trees aren’t enough to hide the mounds of shredded tires, the dirt, the litter, the broken dark quincailleries, hardware stores, their very name a self mockery. The sagging huts, slanted sticks for poles that defy the laws of physics. Falling down fences. How many minutes does it take to prop up a fence. How much more insight, more personal growth, more understanding does seeing hundreds more miles of this junkyard of a country add. None. Read the last chapter, ‘What am I doing here?’ of Theroux’s book to get an understanding of the pointlessness of it all.

“Suffering has no value, but you have to suffer in order to know that”

— Paul Theroux

(P.S. Rick says to say he does think suffering has value, he’s just trying to work out exactly what that value is)



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