dakar blues

Only just! I arrived at De Gaulle airport at 9.36am for a 9.35 swisschocolate flight to Zurich and then on to Africa. A cosmic swing in my direction with the swiss running ten minutes late and I get my connection. Grazing over dusty fields and into Dakar I smell the sweet heavy air as we pile into the arrivals lounge and fight for baggage. Pretending to be totally in control and NOT, I fend off all the offers of taxis, friendship, and other services and get a hotel shuttle. My school french doesn't help.

Dakar freaked me out. Little did I know that I'd arrived in the few days before Tabasci -- La Fete De La Moutons. Supposedly a religious sacrifice of sheep on sunday, it was in fact a deft social custom at working out publicly who had cash to buy one. Cash poor after two currency devaluations, the street hustlers were now in rare form. I was clearly to be sacrificed as well.

I've wandered through Hillbrow in downtown Joburg, lived 14 years in Manhattan and wandered Rio at night. But Dakar was different. That first evening I lost 200 francs to a fellow buying me drinks at Bar de la Poste, and the following day was threatened as another demanded 150 quid for his mouton. It's the first time I've ever truly been scared. The isolation of Dakar's fancy sofitel hotel which I had rejected after the first night, now made much more sense to me. Alone, very blanc, and sputtering non-sensical french made me quite the target.

Dakar is a choking hot sprawl of concrete without much of the fantasy bright colonial-era architecture I had hoped for. You can discover some embassy neighborhoods that are serene, but it can also be an unrelenting cacophony of tooting horns, incessant begging, aggressive selling, and dust.