This is the last Dakar blog, I promise.
When we originally planned this trip, we intended to cross the Sahara before the end of March because of the encroaching summer heat. (The fact that was originally March 2014 we can set aside for now!) Chatting with other travellers en route who were coming the other way, we had been told we’d be OK pushing it until the end of April.
When we arrived in Dakar at the end of March 2016 I thought we could be in and out within the month. But then we spent 3 weeks in the garage and it took longer than anticipated to collect enough oil – filtering 600L into the fuel tanks and storing an extra 400L on the roof – to get to Tangier. It was now the third week of May and we were desperately eager to hit the road, but we weren’t quite full yet.
Then Sampson got the flu. He didn’t know whether it was because he snorkeled in dirty water with Nathan, or because he ate with his hands at Ousmane’s baby party having neglected to wash them after being climbed all over by little kids wanting to greet the magician after his show. Either way, he went down hard, and the rest of us followed like dominoes: Zola, Cleo the cat, me. (This is how I found out cats sneezed.)
We were blessed that by now we had our infrastructure sorted. This lovely man delivered fresh bread to us every day, and our lovely fruit lady down the road kept us stocked up on Vitamin C.
So I made my husband chicken hotpot and bought grapes. It was strangely cool, jeans and socks weather. Zola learned valuable lessons about ‘spoons’ and not squandering energy. Normally he’d be hammering up and down on his bike, but now he was exhausted after playing the keyboard for an hour, never mind going outside.
Sadly, we had to cancel our planned weekend trip to Nicole and Mamadou’s farm in Joal. That Saturday night, Mamadou had a terrible accident: he rolled the car three times, with five volunteers in it. Lucky no one was seriously hurt, and he came out with just cuts and bruises. But Nicole was hoping that the shock would make him seriously consider stopping trying to live these crazy parallel lives of theirs – it was time to plump for one or the other.
Ruby was the only one who didn’t go down with flu. Nicole took her off to help with her wardrobe clearout: she gave Ruby three skirts, two blouses, and two awesome dresses, one of which made her look so frighteningly like Marilyn Monroe that it took a while for her to work up the courage to wear it out.
She also enjoyed talking with Mamdou about the plan for training horses at their farm. She said it was the first time she had ever been respected as a speaker with an opinion by an adult other than us, and listened to as a peer. Bless you Mamadou – you may have changed her life with that conversation. Not to mention your own. Ruby’s dream is now to get back to Senegal, go to West Africa’s best Veterinary Science College in Dakar and live with Mamadou at the farm. We’re not far behind.
On Saturday, as I was beginning to sicken, Nathan popped by for a chat and left some moringa powder with us. I was amazed that the spoonful I took before bed, as he recommended, seemed to lift me over the worst day of ‘flu I knew I had coming, and carry me straight into recovery.
On Sunday, Mina volunteered to host a Vegan Feast to enable us to say goodbye to a few friends. We came early to help prepare, but the recipes were all hers:
I’m not sure which was the most mouth-popping taste sensation – the blended juice ‘soup’ with the fresh mint cashew cream or the dessert Mina made just for me: toasted chewy coconut and date bites. I ate an icecreamcartonful.
While Nathan was giving Sampson the lowdown on top 9/11 conspiracy theories, other guests arrived: Nicole and Mamadou, a German-American vegetarian restauranteur couple, a Senegalese filmmaker based in LA, and Youssou N’dour’s manager formerly based in London. Sampson took part in a fascinating conversation debating whether or not the customary peaceful, gentle and tolerant Senegalese personality and warm welcoming traditions pre-dated the arrival of Islam and the ethos of Mouridism.
It was explained that among the different ethnic groups in Senegal there is a playful way of teasing each other in a very friendly way that has built cohesion. For example, the Diola and the Serere are considered cousins, so when a Serere and a Diola meet, even if they don’t know each other, they will always tease one another. It is the same between the Serere and the Toucouleurs. That’s what I call extended family.
I love the people you meet in Dakar.
Nathan insisted Sampson take his new surfboard for Zola, as the lad had outgrown his other one, and pointblank refused to take any money for it. It was genuinely painful for us to leave these dear friends: this supportive community felt so like home already.
Our last Monday, while Sampson finished the oil filtering with Ousmane’s help, I sat alone in Ngor Lounge loading the Pop Goes The Wheel blog, revelling in the peace and the wifi. The story had finally reached Dakar, just as we were about to leave it. Sigh… Bietjie bietjie maak baie…
Ruby was surprisingly ready to leave the wifi behind. She’d been shaken by the vitriol she’d unwittingly unleashed after criticising a yellow T-shirt of Justin Bieber’s on Instagram: two grown women led an attack on her!
We did a final stock-up shop at Casino ready to hit the Sahara. The food cupboard had more tins crammed in it than when we left Cape Town in July 2013. We also bought half a giant sack of onions from the fruit and veg lady for 4000FCA. This was possibly overkill, but I figured that if we broke down and got stuck in the desert waiting weeks for parts, as long as we had onions and tinned tomatoes, beans, rice and pasta, we’d survive.
When we finally left, I’m sure everyone at Ngor Lounge breathed a sigh of relief. The box of chocs I gave Peggi was hardly adequate recompense for the Big Green Truck sitting on their forecourt for over a month. Sis Yandiswa will be glad to know that Mapiko’s placemats made from recycled bottle tops were given a good home in Boris’s art garden. THANK YOU Boris and Peggi Sow, for your patience and big hearts.
Looking on the bright side of being late to leave, it had been good to stay so long in Dakar and acclimatise to the dry heat of the Sahel before pushing north. Plus, the hotter it got, the more likely palm oil would continue to flow through the pipes and not solidify during cold desert nights.
Our delay also meant that we were still going to be here on 2nd June for the big launch party at La Sénégalaise de L’Automobile of the brand new GLE Coupé – a huge event and a great opportunity to meet the Mercedes team who were flying in from Paris.
So, on the last day of having the hire car, I was driving the pick-up behind Big Reg on the way back to LASA when Sampson pulled up in a garage on the wrong side of the pump. I needed to fill up the bakkie, so the attendant told me to back up and go the other side.
I reversed straight into a Peugeot 206, which luckily belonged to the chill-est man in the whole world. When I got out apologising (and sweating) profusely, M. Ndiaye told me “not to worry, it was an accident” and the little dent in his bonnet didn’t matter at all. Bless him.
You gotta love Dakar.
Things you can buy from street hawkers during a traffic jam in Dakar:
boxes of tissues, teatrays, bowls, cups, sunglasses, strawberries, cashew nuts, Koran inscriptions, airtime, prayer mats, wrenches, parakeets, trilbys, cool drinks, coffee-table-sized pictures of marabouts…
Half an hour later, pulled up in a Colobane traffic queue, we found ourselves outside the perfect leather shoe stall and jumped out to buy a long-promised birthday present for my sapeur son. Their pointy Congolese sexiness made his size 8 feet look even bigger…
When we arrived at LASA, the Big Green Truck was stalled by a blockage in a fuel pipe and couldn’t park under the spotlight opposite as planned. This added to the stress of all four of us trying to get our glad rags on at same time but Zola ended up looking awesome in his navy suit and sharpsharp shoes, with Ruby wearing a Senegalese dress of Nicole’s. Sampson was looking more like a Tarantino pimp in his linen suit with sneakers and a ponytail…
I sampled the sublime quality bissap and bouyé juice while the others tucked into melon balls in liqueur with parma ham, cream cheese with olives and chicken mafé kebabs…
The cognoscenti of Dakar milled about the gleaming cars nibbling on the bijou snacks. It felt more like the première of a James Bond film than the launch of the new GLE Coupé, all whirling spotlights, billowing dry ice and huge plasma screens showing Mercedes motivational ads about how to turn clients into fans. LASA’s got it down.
We were taken upstairs to do an in-house TV interview and introduced to Corinna Fiora, an Egyptian/Belgian/Italian who has lived in Dakar for 10 years. With her dark eyes, cheeky curls, bolshy energy and almost tangible sense of fun, Cori emanates an intoxicating aura of Audrey Hepburn meets Amy Winehouse.
All in black, with her wild curls tied back, Cori was successfully masquerading as corporate but I immediately recognised a kindred spirit. We saw the alternative work ethic radiating from each other: we are the people who resist the pressure to conform, to colour inside the lines and live inside the box. We travel, we make cross-cultural alliances in order to create and we don’t settle – for mediocrity, for the easy way or for the status quo. We compromise as little as possible and stretch our money as far as we can, to make the art we want to make, by sharing resources with like-minded friends who become like family. We strive, we shit stir, we challenge. And we sure know how to party.
When she came outside to see the truck, Cori took one look and said “Ah. You are my tribe”.
As well as doing presenter work, Cori sings in a band called I Science with her Senegalese husband Staz a.k.a. Ibaaku – check out their latest work here. He was busy DJing across the other side of the showroom, supporting a circus show of stiltwakers, a scarf artist and a dancer who managed to perform despite a car alarm going off and the audience’s view being blocked by the electronically-raised boot of the new GLE Coupé…
But the best treat of all was to meet the Tractafric Motors Corporation Mercedes team who had been supporting us since Sampson’s serendipitous meeting with Stéphane Vautherin in Libreville, Gabon in October 2013. Time and again, services at partner garages had kept the Big Green Truck on the road, through Cameroun, Ghana and Liberia. Tractafric are the difference between us making it this far and not surviving beyond the Tipping. We are forever grateful.
We were honoured that Parts and Services Director Guy Allard from Tractafric Paris made the effort to come across the city to visit us in Ngor earlier in May – he’s the only person we’ve met apart from Kingsley Holgate who’s been to more African countries than us (27). He asked us to stay for the launch and we thought we’d be long gone… ha!
The big shock was that his colleague Nicolas Augereau, the Mercedes Benz brand manager that Sampson had been communicating with for months and had assumed was also a veteran of the company, turned out to be in his mid twenties!
Nicolas takes his specs off for photos, but we think he should leave them on ‘cos they give him a sexy when-Joe 90-grew-up-and-became-James-Bond look…
We took the team down to meet Big Reg. We were honoured to welcome Éric Mougenot, DG for Tractafric West Africa, and Deputy DG Emmanuel Miette round our little table, while enthusiastic marketing coordinator Imane Benjelloun jumped straight into the driver’s seat!
LASA also had a cool spot set up for Polaroid studio shots:
The prospect of meeting the top team from Paris had been a bit nerve-wracking, but they turned out to be such great fun – we can’t wait to go visit them in Europe!
Erwan had given us invites to ‘Terminus’, the last of the Afrosiders Biennale parties at la Gare. Nathan was already there, Nic and Charles were taking their sharp suits down the old station now, we were so nearby it seemed utterly ridiculous not to go. We were already knackered, we figured it couldn’t be much worse? Ruby was initially reluctant, but then put her Marilyn dress on and got into the idea. After eating I felt better, so at midnight, we all jumped in the car and set off!
La Gare was twice as packed as last time. There was an awesome collection of professional hiphop and contemporary dancers trading choreographed routines with a troupe of roller skaters on glowing neon wheels. It felt very Kids from Fame. Ruby and I asked the roller skaters for permission to join in and, with the help of Kia and her sister pushing the crowd back a bit, we did a fireshow for them at around 1am.
With me on clubs and Ruby on chains, we jammed to music the DJ was playing and at one point improvised with a rollerskater circling in the opposite direction around us. We didn’t take any photos, but there was a guy watching with a camera who turned out to be Antoine Tempé, the photographer exhibiting with Mis Wude at Hotel Sokhamon featured in the Dak’art blog. Please send us some pics Antoine!
Afterwards we all felt so amped, even Sampson was dancing! Nathan watched us fondly but “hasn’t danced since Doudou died”. I hope the urge will return when the tsunami of his grief has finally subsided abated.
In the end, Ruby and Zola were dropping from tiredness and begging us to go home (lightweights). Bizarrely, I felt better for the physical exercise exorcising the stress of the evening from my system, and it felt wonderful to shower and fall into bed at 3am.
Message to the kids reading this in the future:
“Yeah guys, just remember your folks could still kick your asses partying with 50 in sight…”
Bye Dakar. Ba benene yon.