After a 4-hour bus drive from the Ko Chang island to Bangkok, several hours at the Bangkok airport, which I have spiced up with my last green curry (oh, I will miss the delicious Asian food) and a nice relaxing foot massage (spending time like this at the airports – no problem at all 🙂 – why don’t all airports offer foot massage service for passengers?), followed by three different flights, which totals about 40 hours of travelling, we finally landed in Dakar. Finally! That was one hell of a looong trip.
Waiting in a line to be allowed to enter the country, a nice police woman started checking my passport. Hm, Slovenia. What country is that, I see her wondering. Then questions follow. What do I do back in home country? Is this my first time in Senegal? What is the purpose of my visit? After I answer her in English, she asks me to follow her to another office. “Oh no. Not again, don’t tell me that I have missed something when gathering information about the Senegalese visa, don’t tell me that the lady at the Senegalese embassy didn’t give me all the right information regarding a visa to enter Senegal …”, I think to myself. I was kind of sure I didn’t need a visa, but the incident with the Vietnamese visa at the beginning of my trip that delayed the start of my trip for 2 days and cost me additional 150 euro was enough to raise a doubt, to suddenly feel insecure about whether I need a visa or not. So when the lady starts telling me something about some additional papers in her basic English, I got really confused. Suddenly she starts mentioning money. All I understand is dollars. Something like 5 dollars. “Ok..”, I think, “Maybe I should have had whatever paper from the plane, or an invitation letter or whatever… Ok, 5 dollars is fine. Let me just pay this and move on. I am tired and have enough.” But when I give her 5 dollars,she looks at me and asks “What is this, 5 dollars? Not 5, 50 dollars.” “Hm, for 50 dollars I want to see a written proof in English, why should I pay so much”, I say to myself and to her. And in that same moment another lady, that seems like a higher ranked officer walks into the office asking something in French, of which all I understand is “..a problem?” In a second “my” lady officer secretly hides my 5 dollars into her palm, looks at me, stamps my passport without saying another word and lets me go. WELCOME TO AFRICA 🙂
“Nice try!” I think to myself. And a not too expensive lesson about how every person in the next weeks will try to get more money as necessary out of my pocket. Okay, so let’s get ready for a bit more hassle than I was used to while traveling in Asia. With those thoughts on my mind I get my luggage and exit the airport, searching for a white piece of paper with my name on it. An older Senegalese man is waiting for me outside the airport to take me to my host family, who will provide my home for the next weeks.
Fast forward to 10 days since that first incident entering Senegal and I’m still nursing a cold. I guess it was just a matter of time before I ended up getting ill on this trip. That 40-hour long trip, topped up with some too greasy street food on the first evening (I realised that I became very courageous trying out almost any sort of street food I would come across) were enough to cause for my first stomach issues on this trip, resulting in my immunity to drop. Cold nights, sleeping next to an open window when there was 17 degrees outside during the night, covered with only a thin sheet (because of course, I am in Africa and of course it is warm and no-one uses a blanket) and running around in flip-flops during the day when it is super windy and rather chilly, like locals…. all of this doesn’t really help and catching a rather serious cold was inevitable.
As a result, all I managed so far were some introductory French lessons last week and a short “orientation” trip through Dakar on that first Saturday after my arrival. The rest of my activities involved resting, sleeping, eating and finally reading books again! To be honest, after a rather packed schedule in Asia and a long trip to another continent it feels good to rest a bit, not to run around all the time, chasing great moments and constantly feeling overwhelmed with all the things going on around me.
Accordingly, this part of my trip doesn’t really feel like travelling, but more like living in this city, full of many contrasts and this feeling of living here is incredible.
For those who didn’t know … yes, learning some basics of French language is the main purpose of my stay in Dakar and coming to Senegal. “Why the hell Dakar?”, many of you might ask 🙂 – as many have asked me so far. “Why not?”, I usually answer. It is very different from the cultural point of view, not at all similar to culture that I am used to, it is quite far from Belgium, it is quite warm for this time of the year, it is much more affordable than Caribbean, for example, and it is incredibly interesting. And simply, it is “different and anything but boring”. I have also always wanted to take part in an intense foreign language class in a foreign country, when instead of working, I would just go to language lessons full time. And as this sabbatical was basically all about doing and trying out things that I have always wanted to do, but never did, here I am 🙂
I found a language training centre here in Dakar, which offers language and cultural immersion courses – baobabcenter.org. After some initial private lessons, despite fighting my cold, I surprisingly got totally motivated 🙂 So much so, that as of this week I am also following a 3-week long intensive course at L’Institut français, besides continuing with my private lessons. And not only that – I’ve also extended my stay in Dakar for an extra week :). Thus now my mornings are filled up with 3 hours of the course, while in the afternoons I have some few extra private lessons with my teacher, where I try not to break my tongue as I build my first complete sentences in this complex language. Learning a new language like this, full time, when this is the only thing on one’s agenda for a day, when it is not like a twice-a-week-evening-being-exhausted-after-a-long-day-in-the-office course, it is actually a great fun!! Even for a language I somehow don’t really “click with”, that I never thought I would ever learn. And it is rather easy. Ok, maybe “easy” is too strong of a word :), but seriously, if I ever decide to learn a new foreign language, such an intensive immersion course is the way to go. Especially at the beginning, to get the feel for the language. I fully recommend this approach. 🙂
What about the family I live with, the city atmosphere etc…? I will share more soon. I will also share how my morning commute towards downtown goes and some stories with the taxi drivers. It is like that known phrase about life being like a full box of chocolates, one never knowing what one gets. 🙂