Dakar


Taking a break from catching up on the past seven months, let’s talk about what’s happening right now. Dakar is all over the media at the moment because of Senegal’s upcoming elections, and because of this I have been getting a steady flow of “WTF IS HAPPENING OVER THERE?! Are you ok? You should get out of there” emails and texts. These texts and emails are the reason that I’ve avoided joining the expat chorus encouraging the dramatic banter by blogging about or posting photos of local riots on Facebook. But in light of some more steady-minded opinions, I shall offer my un-opinionated (see Peace Corps blog disclaimer, check!) observations on what’s happening.

For the past few weeks, headlines about the upcoming (well, tomorrow’s) presidential election in Dakar have read: “Violence Continues in Senegal,” “Is Senegal Falling Into Chaos?” and “Senegal Faces Turmoil.” Couple that with what even casual observers of world events jump to upon hearing about political troubles in Africa given the past year, those headlines lead to some pretty big assumptions about what’s going on here. Especially when they are paired with photos like these:

Yes, big things are happening in politics here in Senegal, especially in a country that has the longest history of peace and democracy in West Africa. In recent riots, protestors, police, and innocent bystanders have been killed. Tear gas has been shot, tires burned. Demonstrations have broken out in regional capitols around the country. What’s important to remember is that no – the entire country is not a rampant fire-pit of chaos. The entire city of Dakar isn’t either. If you stayed in my end of Dakar, you would not know that the images above were occurring 15 kilometers away unless your turned on the TV or the radio. Besides a constant flow of Gendarme trucks entering and leaving the post near our apartment a some shiny new political billboards, life has continued as normal. (Ok, there was one political rally that happened in Ngor Village a few nights ago that we watched from our roof. The rally didn’t venture past loud music, big crowds, cheering, and banging on cars though.)

True, we do not know what’s going to happen during voting tomorrow or when results start to roll in over the next few days, and because of this people are on edge. I’ve not once had any fear for my personal safety based on what I can see and hear happening around me; I have gotten nervous upon receiving four text messages in one evening saying “Do not leave your apartment! There are demonstrations down town! Vigilance!” Downtown is over 15 kilometers away from me. The ancy messages that I’ve heard from the western population in Dakar and outside media have made me more nervous than anything I’ve seen or heard around me, to the point where I actually followed fervent advice to empty my bank account and stock up on food and water. Good to be prepared, sure, but I really don’t think it was 100% necessary. Now we’re just getting fat in our apartment because of the unusual abundance of good food.

Two days ago, I was driving with one of my Senegalese friends who explained that he is nervous for the election results because he thinks Wade will try to take the presidency regardless of whether he wins or not, and if that happens, people will react. This seems to be the general understanding among most Senegalese people I’ve spoken with – that Wade will somehow try claim victory and that people will not respond well. The other resounding sentiment I’ve noticed among  my Senegalese neighbors is that people do not want unrest, they do not want their country to “explode” as some headlines claim they are about to do. They are proud to live in a peaceful country and would like to keep it that way.

If you want a well-written, accurate description of what is going on here, I highly suggest this New York Times article by Adam Nossiter: An Atypical Unrest Troubles Senegal’s Election Season. Otherwise, I’ll leave you with the last paragraph of my friend Rachael’s blog (Rachael and her husband Josh live near me, yay new friends in Dakar!):

We don’t know what’s going to happen on Sunday, but I have no fears about our personal safety. But it’s not really about us, not at all. It’s about Senegal and what the Senegalese want and need – or push back against. I hope for the sake of the country I’ve fallen a little bit in love with that all stays relatively calm and no one gets hurt.

Could not agree more. And yes mom, I promise to Tweet if anything crazy does in fact go down around me.

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Oh hello again. I know, I promised to write. Interesting thing about this 3rd year extension job that has me spending 98% of my time in front of a computer, I never want to look at one outside of work once office time is over. (That was my attempt at an excuse as to why I haven’t blogged since July. Did you buy it? Yea I didn’t think it was that good either.)

I have thought about writing you though, throughout these past seven months. Does that make things better? Ok I’ll stop trying to address the lack of attention to this thing and just muster up some amusing tales from the mass of absent blogging days.

Let’s see. The Abode in Dakar:

My apartment stands as one of two buildings that can claim full structural functionability in a neighborhood of construction projects, unfinished roads, and random piles of trash (yay!). Actually, my first thought at seeing the apartment was that it is wonderfully hilarious: someone decided that it needed to be painted yellow and have a front door that resembles that of a tacky, shiny vault or the silvery, metallic, ribbed mirrors of a carnival fun house (you know, the ones that make you all dis-proportioned when you look in them? Kind of like the different lenses on Mac’s photo booth software? Anyway). Cool, yeah? Yes, the answer is yes.

I live with Renee and Jessie, two girls from my stage (remember, the word we use for the group of people we arrived with to country, pronounced French-like as stahj). We each have our own bedroom and bathroom, and we share a sizable (that looks like it’s spelled wrong but I’m not going to google it) kitchen with a far too large stove and a living room that could sleep 13 backpacking PCVs should we wish to do so (which we have not thus far).

When we first moved in, I had a mattress, a pile of grosssauce village clothes, and a dresser to adorn my room. With irony at its best, our apartment was infested with mosquitoes (huzzah working for a malaria initiative!) but I had no net (nor a drill to be able to attach one to my concrete ceiling) so I slept in my orange tent on top of my mattress that was on the floor. Chris Breezy Brown stayed with us for about 6 weeks after we moved in and said he used my opening the zipper of my tent each morning as his wake-up call. Nice.

In theory, we had running water (like, from a pipe. Where it’ll fall from above you, not from a cup you tip over. !!! I know.) and electricity, but there’s this fun thing in the crux of hot season and rainy season (you know, when you’d really love to rinse off and plug a fan in) where the water and electricity decide to fall victim to the heat and decide to not work. They tease from time to time by working for 20 minutes here and there. All of that business has made the apartment more uncomfortable than being in the village because my room has no breeze (where as in village I slept outside) and without the pipes funneling water we have to buy it or shower at the Peace Corps office because we have no well. Eventually I dragged my tent to the roof of our building, but that didn’t last too long with the wind and the stairs and the hotness of the sun etc etc etc.

Nested!

Now, after a decent chunk of money, some well-timed house raids of departing PC Senegal staff, and lots of creative decorating, our apartment is quite comfortable and my room quite Amanda-style nested.

Yes, we got the place set up in about 6 months, just in time to live in it for 6 more before we all bounce. Ah well, future PCV residents: you’re welcome, you may buy me a beer.

Ok that’s a good part one of catch-up for now. We’ll get to home leave and the job and the side-jobs and la vie dans la grande ville soon soon. Until then, what will YOU do to STOMP OUT MALARIA in 2012? (Explanations on the obsessiveness with stomping and malaria to come.)