Pictures from Senegal

Sunday, May 23

Sept Place Satire

Asalam Malekum. I am your prophet, Mohammad. Bismillah (welcome) to the garage; the only place in town where you can catch a ride out of this place to somewhere you think will be cooler and less trash filled. You will be wrong, but we’ll send you there anyway. To start, my fellow garage companions and I will spend no less than 1 minute shouting the names of destinations in your ear inquisitively, even though you already know where you want to go, probably won’t change your mind, and the chances of us guess correctly are slim to none. Saint Louis? Tamba? Ziguinchor? Why don’t you consider these places for next time…?

Well, now that you’ve proclaimed your destination, I will try to take your bags to your car (which you probably already know the location of) and then ask you for money for having done so. And while we’re on the subject, my other friend here will try to overcharge you for your bags. Senegalese people generally don’t have to pay for one or two small bags. They’ll pay a small fee for the goat or chickens tied down in back, but that’s more for the trouble of seeking out the rope needed to do so. You however, with your pretty white skin that curiously makes me see green dollar bills, shall be asked to pay large sums for your bags. You’re good with that, right?

Moving on, I will now show to your seat. See, what we have here may look like a beat up station wagon, but we prefer to call it a sept place- French for seven places- which represents how many passengers will be accompanying our 12 year old driver (let’s call him Boy Wonder) to aforementioned destination. Though this vehicle was built over three decades ago, doors are puppeteered open and closed with strings, rust has consumed every ounce of metal, and the seats are devoid of both cushion and cover we are confident that with copious amounts of prier, a jug of water, and as little gas as possible you will make it to your destination. Safety will cost you extra, and isn’t actually available.

At this time I will offer you the very back seat, which comfortably fits no one but a small child, and we will be putting two very large assed women back there with you. How else do you expect to fit seven people in this car? You may ask yourself, “why the very back seat? It looks like all the other seats are open. There’s no one else here.” Well, we think it’s hilarious to put foreigners in the most uncomfortable situations possible and trust that you don’t have the language skills to argue with it. And since you’re a woman, don’t even think about asking for shotgun. It’s off limits. Those five old men sitting on the bench over there will spend the next hour screaming and yelling if a woman, a lesser being, took the best seat in the car. Especially if there is a deserving man who could possibly be more comfortable there.

Now that you’re settled uncomfortably in the back, you’ll have to wait for your other six passengers to arrive. This could take 5 minutes or 2 hours, it’s a crap shoot. In the mean time, why don’t you enjoy all the amenities the garage has to offer? From where you sit you can buy any of the following items from one of the passing vendors:
• Plastic bag of cold water
• Bananas
• Oranges or Clementines
• Tissues
• Razors
• Wallets
• Plastic toys for kids: gun, piano, etc
• Pillow
• Cookies
• Sunglasses
• Phone credit
• CD or DVD of local artist
• Peanuts or Cashews
• Hot cup of coffee
• Mini flavored ice cream packets

If you think you don’t want any of these items, please don’t make eye contact with either the person selling them or the goods themselves. Doing so will cause great confusion, and the seller will likely spend the rest of your wait outside your window knocking the goods into it to get your attention. If this doesn’t work, perhaps they will reach through the open trunk and tap you on the shoulder. However, if for whatever reason no one is around to sell you the goods you seek, small children can be sent to bring the sellers to you.

And for entertainment, we have little boys and decrepit old men to sing unrecognizable songs or priers. They will not be in tune. If you put on headphones the singers will perform louder and more off key. Tips are expected, though rarely given. If you ignore the small boys they will likely touch you or press their faces against the window- staring into your ear for an uncomfortable period of time. On a similarly amusing subject, my friend has decided he is in love with you. He believes your dream come true is to be his third wife. Even if you have a husband or boyfriend, even if he supposedly lives here in Senegal, its fine; you can still marry.

Hurray, your fellow passengers have arrived, loaded themselves and their baggage into the vehicle, and purchased their merchandise. This man you have never seen before has climbed backward into the driver’s seat and demands you pay the toll. He looks exactly like the other 30 people who’ve asked you for money in the last half hour. But, if you don’t have exact change, you better be the first to hand over your money so that he can make change from other passengers. Because otherwise some other person you’ve yet seen will take your bill and go running off across the garage. You will never see this guy again. The toll man will exit the vehicle, Boy Wonder will get in and start the engine, maybe even start to roll forward, and in whatever language you can muster you’ll ask for your change. This is futile; Boy Wonder will not respond. If you start to get agitated, loud, restless… your car-mates will laugh, but Boy Wonder will not respond.

What you don’t know, couldn’t possibly have figured, is that although the car is in motion, and it seems as though you’re about to embark on the journey, your happy family of 7- plus Boy Wonder- is far from ready for departure. Next stop is the gas station just on the edge of the garage. People will be running alongside the car all the way there, discussing things you won’t understand. It’s certainly not your change they speak of, but there will be coins and little slips of paper passed back and forth. When the hand off is done, and a minimum amount of gas procured, your change will magically appear. At this point you’ll be pissed you didn’t go for the cool plastic bag of water as you’ve exhausted your voice demanding said change- but you’ll learn.

The time has come; you’re off. This is the point when I leave you with just a few more interesting points for your trip. Before actually leaving town the car will stop at the market because someone else has purchased something small, like a sandwich, that couldn’t have possibly been carried to the garage. It’s completely necessary to stop and retrieve it. Also, Boy Wonder will park outside of the pharmacy for ten minutes, disappear inside without explanation, and leave you all in the car. The windows don’t roll down without a screw driver (which isn’t kept in the car) so if you didn’t do so before leaving the garage this is only the beginning of the sauna you’ll be experiencing on the trip. Pull the weakly installed thin black curtain over your portion of the window; it will help with direct sunlight. Don’t complain. Boy Wonder will not care when he gets back to the car.

Once finally on the open road, one finds a preference to taking the sand alongside the road. It’s more of a complete surface; potholes are only half that of the paved portion located next door. There is no speed limit, luckily, giving Boy Wonder a chance to drive way too fast in order to constantly test the breaks by slamming on them- thus avoiding the animals or small children crossing the path. Someone with a touch of genius did think to put unmarked speed bumps down. Boy Wonder will know where they are if he’s a frequent traveler of this road… which he isn’t. What’s unfortunate is that he will be too afraid to pass any vehicle twice his size, but this won’t stop anyone else on the road from passing the both your car and the larger one, if not more, at the same time.

In addition, we built our roads for maximum hassle. The lines painted on there are for artisanal purposes; they have no other meaning to Boy Wonder or anyone else on the road. The lanes are too wide for just one car anyway. And we’ve randomly increased and decreased the number of lanes all along the major roadways… in an effort to confuse Boy Wonder. Good news about the horrendous traffic jams this creates is that more vendors will be available to sell you things. They’ll run alongside the car, jump in front of busses, and generally slow things down further than necessary. And they don’t have change.

And sometime after you’re dehydrated from sweating out every ounce of water, decided an hour ago that you must have shat your pants because the driver won’t stop for a break, and know about every known male in the car, or related to someone in the car, who might be interested in marrying you…, you will arrive at your destination. Fellow passengers will start to get out of the car along the route to the garage, but you won’t know where you are. Boy Wonder doesn’t know either, he won’t explain.

So now that’s really it. You should give me money for explaining all this, but your mp3 player would work too. I am hungry and need to feed my family. Do you want to be my wife? Because I love you. No? Well, good luck then and see you next time, my friend.


  1. Hi Alys. I enjoyed reading your blog entry about a typical 'adventure' on a West African taxi ride. I guess some things never change :) Your story brought back a lot of memories for me. Take care!

    RPCV Mauritania, 1999-2001

  2. Yeah, Alys! Love this.
    My hobby while a PCV in Senegal was NOT paying for my bags on PT (I had to pay once, when I was just back from the States with 2 large suitcases). I should do a blog post about it. It was hilarious.
    Thanks for the bounce down a potholed laterite memory lane.