One thing i have learnt about French speakers, they cant be anussed to speak English in their own backyard and that sums up my stay in Senegal. Somehow lost in translation.
I have read about how tourists are supposed to start the conversation with a little bit of french, asking “parlez vous anglais s’il vous plait”. As i discovered it rang true for Senegal, a former French colony. Coming from an Anglo Saxon background, i had to quickly learn a few things about French related customs in Senegal.
In my case, i had to switch my softwares 3 times at any given moment to comprehend what was going on. I had to think in Siswati, translate to English and in Senegal, contextualise my new surrounding and try and act French or behave so. Just to make sure i didnt stand out as a sore thumb.
My short stay in Senegal was a result of flight complications as West Africa is quite a complex region to travel. When i realised i was going to be stuck in Senegal, i was somehow excited that i would finally visit Senegal.
Dakar, Senegal had been on my bucket list since i started travelling in 2010. In my bucket list were Dakar (Senegal), Accra (Ghana) and Yaonde (Cameroon), in no specific order. I have visited all 3 and its been an experience.
My impression of Senegalese people was that they loved all things plated gold from cars, necklaces, toilets, dishes, even TVs. I was proven wrong of course after my stay in Senegal. Please dont mind the picture below, its taken from Kenya, a certain governor loves his gold and i had similar impressions of Senegalese people. Senegalese people turned out to be very religious strict Islamic people with a rigid approach to order and way of life.
Mind you, i arrived in Senegal with no hotel booking or reservation. I was going to “WING IT”. This was a result of a very poor internet connection in Gambia and very slow response rate of emails from hotels based in Senegal.
Upon landing at Blaise Diagne airport in Senegal with no hotel reservation, i realised that i was in a very “compromised” position. I would be staying in a Francophone country for 2 days and i had no contacts, no hotel reservation and everyone spoke French. This was an absolute nightmare. I thought that the worst case scenario was me converting the airport terminals into 5 start accomodation. Having dodged paying for a transit VISA by negotiating with Senegalese immigration officials, it was time for me to find myself a hotel. I was determined to sleep in a decent place as i was exhausted and needed to shower due to the scorching heat of West Africa.
Outside the departure terminals at Blasie Diagne International, I approached a Senegalese military soldier carrying a huge gun which resembled an AK 47 and sought his guidance for the best hotels nearby. With a heavy English French accent, he tried to explain that Senegal had a lot of descent hotels. Frankly speaking, i was annoyed. I wasnt looking for a tourism sales pitch but rather a hotel to sleep in. He told that plenty of hotels were nearby, explaining directions the African way. Nearby was like an 1 hour 20 minute away from the airport and that was Dakar. The best nearest hotels were in Saly, a seaside resort area in Thiès Region on the Petite Côte of Senegal, south of Dakar. That was a 40 minute -1 hour drive depending on traffic.
After the tourism sales pitch from the soldier, anyways lets call him “Gracious soldier” finally recommended a hotel called Rhino hotel in Saly. In my head, i was like so im basically going to sleep in a safari sort of hotel with open windows and wooden balcony, wondering if snakes were going to attack me. I agreed to “Gracious soldier” plan.
Below is a picture of the airport terminals in Blaise Diagne International.
The soldier, lets call him “Gracious soldier” further recommended a cab guy who would take me to Rhino hotel. Both cab guy and gracious soldier agreed that Rhino hotel was the best hotel for a tourist of my statue. Let me paraphrase this, a cab guy and a soldier from Senegal whom i had never met, didnt know chose a hotel for me and i had no idea of where it was and if it was safe. A Swazi citizen in a foreign nation with no nearby Embassy, didnt know anyone was being assisted by 2 foreign nationals who chose a hotel for him with no input what so ever.
In my defence though, i had made some modest effort in securing my own accomodation. I had sent 8 emails to 8 different hotels in Senegal a day before requesting a room reservation and had gotten no response. I tried calling and even used Trip advisor but got no assistance. However due to the time factor, i had decided that i would deal with the situation upon arrival in Senegal.
Google translate was not working as i had no acess to WIFI and data. My roaming mobile contract didnt cover Senegal nor the majority of West African countries. The odds were just stacked against me. I remember the drive to Rhino hotel where i panicked the entire journey. It was around 10 pm when we left the airport and there was a flood of lorries on the way to Rhino hotel.
The driver of the cab didnt even speak a word of English. He would have long chats on his phone, and i would assume that he must be trading me off to some Al Shabaab terrorists. In all honesty, i got very scared after every minute. I knew id have myself to blame if anything happened.
The lorries which were driving reckless along the way to Rhino hotel made it worse. They heightened my fears and got me worried about being involved in an accident. It thought itd be weeks before anyone find out what had happened to me if i got kidnapped or had an accident. But at least i had plenty of identification material with me from country of origin and my key details. All my bags were tagged Brussels airlines, so i was pretty sure the airline would also help in locating my family.
I increasingly grew very angry at myself for being so careless with my own life in an Islamic country where i knew noone. I was actually suprised about how scared i was. I had seen terorrists on the web beheading Infidels andi thought, bloody hell i am literal an infidel in this country. I couldnt pretend i was Islamic. Everything about Islam and beheadings sort of became a reality. Islamophobia had become real.
Before leaving Gambia, i had assumed that hotels would have kiosks at the International airport where i could make an improptu reservation but i was wrong. In all honesty, i was very careless about the way everything, from the travel arrangements and most importantly my safety. But in my defence, i had not planned to stay for 2 nights in Senegal. It was supposed to have been a stop over for 6 hours and then we would proceed to Ivory Coast where id sleep over.
After an hour long journey, we made it to Rhino hotel and suprise, suprise: it was a 5 star hotel with all the razzle and dazzle. When i checked in, i felt like a King. Pity i cant pull the moon walk.
Part 2, coming up! Keep following this blog.