Pictures from Senegal

Thursday, November 4

Mall Rats

There’s a brand new mall in Dakar. Where organized shopping did not exist once upon a time, it does now. I can’t help but smile when I walk in, and thinking about the old days of window shopping. It’s a marvel not to be harassed in the market; to just relax and take my time. And when I get a bit down about my current surroundings, and start longing for things found only at home, I plan my next trip to Sea Plaza Shopping Center.

The center is located on the coast; most literally it was carved into the side of it, just a few hundred meters down from the beautiful Radisson Blue hotel that boasts one of the best nights stays available in town. To access the center, your car must first pass through the guard post. I’ve personally never taken a car into the center as a taxi will drive you only to the curb near the guard post, so I really couldn’t tell you what kind of credentials need to be presented or if you’re just paying for parking. Parking is a part of the carved structure and doesn’t appear to accommodate the vast potential the interior amenities do. Perhaps the designers assume that most people will take a taxi like I do.

Once inside you’ll find two floors of boutiques lining the walls and an escalator connecting the two in the center. On the bottom floor you’ll find an information booth. It seems a bit odd considering my personal awareness of the Wolof culture… in which information is regarded with enormous value and thus deemed inappropriate for sharing under most circumstances. Hopefully all you really need is a map to find the store of your choice. At present, and about 40% capacity filled, there are a buffet of what appear to be designer European stores (though I wouldn’t know, I’m just assuming based on the price tags), a few electronics stores that remind you of the home theater section of Best Buy with their couches and “come and test” signs, a beauty salon providing the usual hair, nail, and massage amenities, a scented candle store (some things really don’t change, huh?), and even a beauty products boutique with Clinique items in the window.

I’ve spend time at the bowling alley that has all the lights, vinyl, bowling shoes and sounds to trick your mind into thinking you’re back in the States. There’s a restaurant with typical food and seriously over priced drinks, pool tables in the only smoking section in the place, and an arcade where all the games are in English. I almost didn’t even realize that last one until someone pointed it out to me after being there more than a half hour.

Like any normal mall there’s a food court at one end with a variety of dining options. If you choose Mexican, expect the food to appear more organic than Taco Bell, except for that melted single of Craft American across the top of your burrito. If it’s a fruit smoothie you crave, it’s hard to believe (or pay for) but this too can be found in the food court. Its seating area isn't entirely too expansive that the staff at eat food booth can’t deliver your tray to you. Indoor or outdoor seating will give you amazing views of the coast, but the formal restaurant in the far corner will give you all the sports you can handle with their numerous plasma screen TVs.

In case I’ve never told you about the most upscale grocery store chain in all of Senegal, now would be the perfect time since their newest branch resides in this mall. It is curiously named Casino although absolutely no gambling is to be had, whether your mind jumps to negotiating prices or worries about future food contracted illness of the bowels. The store boasts large aisles full of merchandise organized like you’d find at any grocer back home, amazing amounts of florescent lighting found in no other shopping venue in town, and air conditioning as cold as you can stand it. There’s a deli/ butcher counter, a bakery, an occasionally open sushi stand (I know, I almost don’t believe it myself) and a wine and liquor section. Imported products like corn flakes, chocolates, and beauty products can be found here, for a price slightly higher than you’d be charged back home.

It’s no secret that I’ve lost weight whilst I’ve been on this continent, but with it goes my ability to fit comfortably in every article of clothing I’ve brought here. It’s pretty easy to find pants or shirts in the chaos that is the market, or to have something new made up by a trusted tailor. What is difficult is underwear shopping because of the lack of privacy afforded while doing it. I had a family members send me a few items based on a mildly educated guess of my current size, but there’s no way of knowing for sure without walking into a store and its dressing room to perform some simple trial and error experiments. In this new mall, I got lucky. Not only are there multiple lingerie stores, but they have non-lacy everyday sections, a fitting room, and attendants that speak English. Admittedly, that last fun fact isn’t a necessary one to the operation, but certainly made the whole thing a bit more relaxing.

The pride and glory of the structure, in my singular opinion I’m sure, will be the movie theater to come. As someone who would count movie-going among her top favorite activities, I can say that going without the experience of the stadium seating, reclining folding chairs, annoying crying children, and overly priced and buttered popcorn… I cannot wait for this place to open. Unfortunately, information sharing what it is, I can’t tell when that will be. We’re on African time, so it might not even be in the next year. I also can’t tell you what kind of movies will be shown; American, European, or other, or which language they’ll be in or have subtitles in. I can tell you about my certainty that the cost of going will be similar to that found in the US (as evidenced in the bowling/ pool/ arcade experience). And of course that I’ll be one of the first people in line to see whatever show when the time comes.

And now I'm already mentally planning my next trip to Dakar. Oh the simple things.

1 comment:

  1. Humm, the movie theater was supposed to open in September, but well...that being in Senegal, next year is an optimistic guess. You should check the CCF schedules, they tend to have quite good films, though more of the artsy stuff there.

    I went to the mall once, when they had like 5 stores open, and noticed the tinyness of the parking space as well (I went with a car-owner...). I already marvelled the entrance, and particularly the info girls - did not really figure out what kind of information could they give...for sure they won't know about the movie theatre opening schedule ;)

    Most of all, I was wondering who can afford to buy the products in the shopping mall: are there really enough rich Senegalese and ex-pats in Dakar? Time will tell. But the mall sure is one of a kind in West Africa. In Eastern or Southern Africa they're a bit everywhere, I've understood, but haven't seen one like that in any of the other francophone African capitals I've been to...