Delightful West Africa 6 – Walking in Saly, Senegal
Bomb Pattaya high into outer space and let the debris crash-land in West Africa, where steppe meets the ocean. There you have it: Saly, Senegal's best-known beach resort. Just 80 kilometers from Dakar, Senegal's manic overcrowded capital, Saly is Senegal's main beach resort. Europeans and Dakarois spend weekends or whole weeks in Saly. It could be called Pattaya de l'Afrique in more than one respect.
— Default Beach Walk —
Walk down Saly's beach or the sandy back roads, there will always be a black guy lurking. No, actually more are lurking, but only one will attack. You arm yourself. You know what's coming. Once you've passed him, he will coarsely, hoarsely shout: "Eh, Mr. White, how's your holiday?" It might also be "Eh, Playboy" (the English word) or "Eh, Youthful". He opens the conversation in a drastically rude, barracks-like tone devoid of any complaisance.
You have trained yourself not to react. You drag on silently.
Now you have him in a rage. First he'll send you an accusing "Oh, oh!", transmitting that he is not amused about your disobedient behaviour. Mr. White not reacting to order?
Then the shouting in full war volume commences: "This is not your place, this is our place! What does one say here! You have to stop and discuss with me, it's our culture! You don't like my face! You're racist! We don't need your likes here! You'd better go home! And quick!" All that in the roughest, meanest gangster voice.
You can have that easily 20 times a day, there are little variations.
— Car Park Walk —
I walk across Saly's sun drenched main-square, which is a dirty parking lot. I want to make it to the ATM on the other side. A taxi driver in rags follows me and commands in prison-ward style that I am to take his service. Why do I prefer somebody else over him. He is best for me. I am a racist.
The taxi driver touches my arm, gets in full rage.
I need cash, but won't use the open-air ATM with the madman on my heels. I stand in the blasting sun, 20 meters away from the ATM, and let the taxi driver and the sun and the dust abuse me until he finally gives in, with the typical words: "Okay, I let you be" (je te laisse). These words come in the default arrogant, belching tone; indicating that you just breached all rules and that he, the honorable Senegalese, can't be bothered to deal anymore with lowlife you. You're infinitely inferior.
The ATM reports "internal failure".
— Night Walk —
'round midnight, I walk near Saly's main square, a dirty parking lot. I want to make it to the Odyssee live music venue for the Pape Ndiaye concert. Two taxi drivers in rags block my way and say "Hey, I remember you from Quebeck". Silently, with averted eyes, I try to manoeuvre around them. The block me again and shout accusingly: "What, he wants to move on? Now what's that!" I try to move on and have two fingers on my chest: "Look at him", they scream, "he just ignores Quebeck, what a mean white man".
In other cases I have managed to silence aggressors with very loud, controlled and non-stop barking. But my barking capacity for today ran out around noon. I say very, very quietly: "Ecoutez, if you want to sell a taxi trip, just let me know politely and I will consider it. It's your job and I need local taxi numbers in my phone directory. But if you shout at any white man like he's a disobedient mutton en route to the slaughter house, no-one will take your service. Regardez, all the hotels here are almost empty, and it is high season. So many posh beach villas are for sale. Business has been bad for two years, you know that. The tourists in the luxury resorts never even venture beyond the high-security gates. And why: because any walk on the street or on the beach ends in disgusting abuse. There are other countries with nice beaches and lower prices, where people get treated as people, not as livestock."
This has the taxi drivers in full madness. "Quebeck, Quebeck", they shout and hammer their greasy fingers onto my chest. A baby-faced working girl hears the commotion and comes close, chirping trash into my ears. Three locals working on me. It gets so tense that other Senegalese come near. They jump between us and push the taxi drivers a meter away. The middlemen gesture the drivers to walk away. I am now extremely aggravated, which is bad for my French. I stammer something anyway, breathless, and now the middlemen gesture to me to get lost.
I step into the darkness, panting. I hear high-heels following. The baby-faced working girl with a mad smile: "Monsieur, you look good tonight, what's your name, where do you stay, give me your number." I run into the night, she yells abuse at me.
A car blocks my way. As I walk around it, suddenly the car door opens, a female face with a mad smile pops out: "Monsieur, you look good tonight, give me your number." I run into the night, followed by abuse.
I pass the King's music club. I had seen their poster for a Coumba Gawlo concert "this Monday", but I don't know which Monday. Coumba Gawlo is in the top league of Senegalese Mbalax pop. She markets herself as a sex symbol and sings against seeing women as sex symbols at the same time.
At the King's club I ask the doorman if the Coumba Gawlo concert was this Monday. The doorman: "Ah, he likes the Senegalese ladies. And yes, we have beautiful ones. But not just Coumba Gawlo." Shouting to the cashier behind his window: "He likes Senegalese ladies, hoho." And back to me: "You know what, the Coumba Gawlo concert was three weeks ago. But we have a local beauty contest next Tuesday. That'll do for you too. You can go now." I run into the night.
A horse-cart stops in the middle of Saly's main road, so that the driver can shout abuse at an African pedestrian on the other side of the road. The pedestrian shouts back, only to provoke more screams from the horse-cart. By now the horse-cart blocks the way for at least five motor cars. The motor car drivers first honk, then jump out and shout abuse at the horse cart rider. He shouts abuse back at the motor car drivers, but doesn't forget to molest the pedestrian. The whole block of road shouts and swings arms.
— About Aggression —
If I describe scenes like that to laid-back Senegalese, like receptionists, they don't even believe it. They say if it existed, it was bad behaviour. But it is very real. In Saly it's even worse than in downtown Dakar or on Île de Gorée. (See my report from there in part 1; other regions have no hassle at all.)
Cheikh and Mohammed, my hosts at the Cocotier hotel and restaurant, say phrases I hear more often replayed by locals: "Yes, we can be like mosquitoes – but we don't sting, haha." And: "We don't eat the white man, because we talk all the time."
I also talk to rustic Frenchman Jean-Paul, owner of extremely delightful restaurants and hotel rooms just south of Saly. He has no problem with the screaming touts: "The dog barks, the caravan moves on", he shrugs. He has much more buffer than I, not just mentally. Jean-Paul: "If I go to Europe, I feel accosted by all the billboards there, now *that's* serious aggression."
In Jean-Paul's laid-back and wi-fi enabled beach garden restaurant Ferme de Saly, I also meet a Basque farmer whose fields are a few miles in-land. He says: "The villagers in-land are so different from the rascals on the tourist coast: They are formal, hospitable and fiercely proud. They'd rather starve than ask me for a 50-cent loan."
At the slightly upmarket restaurant in the Reserve de Bandia, I mention during a small talk with the waiters that Senegal isn't The Land of No-Problem, as they had described it. Suddenly three of them encircle my table, with a tense look on their face.
Hearing my examples, the waiters concede that I had experienced very bad behaviour. But they insist, and they insist that I have to agree, that I had only met "street people", not the average people. They say I must understand that Senegal indeed is The Land of No-Problem and the Land of Teranga (traditional hospitality), even against my current impression. "Yes, of course", I agree as the three waiters draw their circle closer around me.
— Better Experiences —
Not everybody is terrible, not even on the tourist coast. In auntie stores I have nice conversations. Says one robed lady behind the cash register: "Oh là là, l'Allemagne! I'd love to go there and drink all the milk."
At the live concert in the Odyssee club, just after the "Quebeck"-obsessed taxi men and the insult at the King's club, I join the madly dancing local crowd. I am the only white. Pape Ndiaye and his seven musicians play Senegal's popular, firy, polyrhythmic Mbalax pop. My dance steps are stiff and meagre, but I'm celebrated by all, even the lead singer smiles something into the microphone. At the door, I find a taxi driver who quickly halves the asking price for me. Just when we reach the hotel gate, he says "Oh monsieur, I've seen you dancing, that was great".
Nobody says it, but it is also a question of tribe. Male Wolof or Mandinka are the most preposterous, psycho and socially deformed; they dominate most of northern Senegal and Gambia. Joola (Diola) or Fulaar (Peul) people are often less pushy, more likable, even subtle.
Saly and my Saly bride also feature in the next two submissions. Saly is by far worse than Senegal's other famous beach resort, Cap Skirring in the deep south (but I spent only one afternoon on the Cap Skirring beach). Saly is also decidedly worse than the nearby Gambian tourist coast (even though Gambia has brutal tourist hasslers as well; see later submissions).
— More Senegalese Men —
In my laptop I have the directions for a difficult to find lodge in La Somone near Saly. The taxi has almost reached its destination, only the last sentence of that description is still relevant. Sitting next to the taxi driver, I open the laptop and tell him to read only the last sentence of the displayed information, all earlier sentences are obsolete.
While driving at full speed, he starts reading aloud from the very first sentence. It will take much time till he reaches the last sentence. I interrupt his lecture and tell him to read only the very last sentence. Upon that, he starts to re-read the first sentence aloud. We miss the turn-off that's described in the last sentence.
I have a guide who likes to play with my camera, also when a boatman paddles us along the river. The boat is shaking, so I put the camera strap around the guide's wrist. Now the camera can't fall down accidentally.
The guide removes the camera strap from his wrist.
I put the strap back around his wrist again.
The guide removes the strap from his wrist again and continues to play with my unsecured camera. He has a very satisfied face now.
For intense one-day pothole research, I rent a brand-new luxury jeep cum driver for 90 Euro plus gasoline. On the wide two-lane asphalt road, another driver blocks our lane, as he talks to a fish vendor outside. There are no other vehicles anywhere, so my driver could easily steer around the parked car. My driver stops next to the halted car and interrogates through the open windows why the other one blocks our road side.
The driver sounds the horn when he sees children near the road. "Children are always so careless", he frowns, "I am forced to honk when I see them."
We are on a narrow village sand track at very low speed. A few children play with a balloon. The balloon rolls towards the car. My driver could easily stop or steer around the balloon. Instead, he maintains his direction and the balloon explodes with a bang.
"This is what I told you", frowns the driver, "the children are so careless".
Very nice report, but give me Pattaya over Saly any day!