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Found: One Zebra Bar

Mauritania to Senegal 

When the Mauritania/Senegal border finally opens at 9 the next morning we fork over money to a man called Babayya to do for us what we could have done for ourselves, had we spoken French. As it is, it’s like having a tattoo on our foreheads ‘look, we are completely impotent, take advantage of us’. That being said, we made the decision to travel to non-English speaking lands, so I try to see this as the cost of doing business. But that being said, it really would be a LOT easier if everyone spoke English. But the crossing only takes an hour and we are in our way to St. Louis in the hunt for Zebra Bar.

The first thing I notice about Senegal are the vibrant splashes of noise and color. The women’s dresses are bright and sleeveless and very flattering – not the voluminous layers of the more conservative Mauritanians. There’s music playing. It seems so alive. We stop on the road side. Rick goes to buy a phone card and I wait in the car. A women in deepest red hoists a baby strapped to her back in a sling so it better fits the curve of her hips. A pretty tufted horse with a gold muzzle stares at me. It has no other option, with it’s faded red, brown, and green blinders on. Two carts of people pushing melons trudge by. There’s the jingle jangle of donkey carts and the forever slide of flip flops on gravel, feet too tired to truely release from the ground. Still sand, but much more green growth in it relative to the desert (makes sense). Where is Rick, he’s taking forever. Is he calling Mars?

We continue to St. Louis. I’m weighted down by tiredness but the world continues without me. Boom boxes are playing on the side of the roads, melon stalls, limes, unripe mangos, green bananas, shops selling school bags, sunglasses, phone minutes, a mile of gold rimmed earthenware pots, taxis stuffed with people, boulangeries, patisseries, men carrying furniture, men throwing fishing nets into a dusky grey river. Broken heads of trucks, piled on one another like fish heads. We see parrots, vultures, and turkeys, even monkeys crossing the road. Policemen picking their noses. A boy’s Dad buying him a bright pink snow cone. And always, the incessant whine of “Cadeau! Cadeau!” a fitting epithet for the rest of Senegal, we discover.

A policeman asks for our insurance papers, but we don’t understand. In frustration he glances at our passports instead. Not speaking French has finally played to our advantage as we later discover we don’t have the correct insurance, and the fines and hassles are hefty. Rick gets 2 traffic tickets (“infractions”) in as many hours. The first, for not wearing a seatbelt. Why? This is so unnecessary. Isn’t not wearing a seatbelt a conscious and voluntary decision. And then for tailgating, driving too close. This charge is suspect, although it is true that we were guilty. 18,000 CFAs. What rubbish! Okay 10,000. That’s nonsense too. We’ll give you 5,000 ($10) and even that’s too much. The policeman pockets the money with that disarmingly friendly smile we’ve grown to hate.

We find the Zebra Bar! 20 kilometers south of St. Louis. It is relaxing, run by a Swedish couple. It even has a library, although all the books are in German. For a change we stay a full day, 2 nights.

 

River view from the tower at Zebra BarDSC_4080.jpg

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We spend our free day partially embroiled in bureaucracy buying insurance from a large man in an expensive dark blue suit. His suave appearance slightly marred by the fact that he wrote a number on his hand to indicate the price. We never quite figured out whether we needed the insurance or not, but better to be safe. St. Louis is so lively, the people so friendly, but always, always, wanting something. Buy my art, my masks, my jewelry, my nothing. We start collecting bracelets as mementos of the times we are fooled. I sound unsympathetic, culturally insensitive, but the ceaseless wanting, demanding, entitlement. You are western so you are my meal ticket. The belief that someone is truly friendly only to be deceived, mocked. It’s draining. Hurtful. Depressing. The persona of a nation is sucking the joy from me.

Fishing boats in St Louis

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Restaurant in St Louis – no food but at least they had parrots (and a kitten)

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We wander a market. Even the produce is colorful. We buy tomatoes, capsicums, cucumbers, mint, oranges. I pay $0.80 for a piece of lettuce. We really are awful at this negotiating thing. A luscious orange melon cut open to reveal a hundred black seeds. But wait, the seeds are moving. Not seeds, flies. The melon takes center stage in my nightmares that week. The fruit and vegetable stands morph into fish mongers. Not the metallic glistening fish of my fish-lady talisman. Stinking, rotting fish. We are in mud now, mixed with the putrid odor of the decaying fish, the edges of my new jeans touch the filthy sloosh and absorb the stank, fetid juices.

Tomorrow, Dakar. More bureaucracy. A stamp needed for our Carnet, like a passport for a car to say we won’t sell it in Senegal. Why they can’t just stamp it at the border is beyond me, unless it’s intended to make visiting Senegal as difficult and distasteful as possible. They are succeeding.

 

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