More from Dakar

22 Mar

This morning I met with Ali Cisse, a bespectacled former professor of economics who works at the ILO office here, and talked a little bit about the community-run health insurance schemes I’ve come to learn more about. Only about 10 per cent of the EAP (ecnomically active population) here works in the formal economy and have government-mandated health insurance. The rest must fend for themselves (although apparently there is a big problem with the fraudulent use of the state system, as employees or their spouses claim to be ill when in fact it is actually a member of their extended family who gets the health care.) But there are in Senegal about 150 community-based mutuelles now, with, roughly calculated, some half a million members (far more than I had supposed.) And so I’m looking forward to learning a lot more about them and how they work over the upcoming weeks.

Meanwhile I am slowly establishing for myself a sort of personal map of the city. Since I am staying near Place de l’Independance, that’s a logical place out of which to start walking, a large square with a border of broken sidewalk, an enormous, blue-tiled but — alas, waterless — fountain, and dusty patches around extensions of short-clipped grass and neatly trimmed shrubs, but tall shady baobab trees in some places as well. It is mostly surrounded by tall, modern buildings displaying quite unremarkable architecture — housing insurance and airline companies, banks and government offices, and the markedly down-at-heel Hotel de l’Independance. Then there are a few neo-classical buildings such as the Chambre de Commerce and the Ministere des Affaires Etrangeres for some visual variety. The Place and the various streets around it are busy with wandering vendors, who sell everything from phone cards to ladies’ shoes – spread out from their hands in fans of black and gold-coloured leather, and from peanuts to bunches of cheap watches like fat clusters of flat, disc-shaped flowers. Across from the hotel, someone has a long row of mens’ suits for sale, on hangers along the wall.

About half of the people I see are in Western dress, the other half in traditional; long white or light-colored robes, brightly printed kaftans and pants, long skirts and form-fitted blouses with matching turbans, and often in this sort of shiny, almost plasticized cotton that seems quite popular. (I eventually find out that this fabric is indeed ‘waxed.’) This morning at a North- of-France-style cafe, complete with mirrored and panelled walls, hanging copper pots, called the Palmeraie, a man came in while I was having breakfast. Dressed in voluminous, pale-blue robes embroidered in white around the neck and shoulders, a white turban winding around his head and neck, I couldn’t help but think (in a definite cliche) that he almost looked as if he’d just descended from the back of a camel after crossing some desert — except for the cellphone and pair of Raybans he put onto the table, and how he proceeded to work on a Sudoku puzzle in his newspaper as soon as he sat down.

However I can see that one problem I’m going to be encountering here a lot, walking around by myself as I do, is men – importuning men, who just start talking to you in the street, falling in step as you walk along minding your own business, asking lengthy series of mundane questions before suggesting you come to some shop they own, or to the market, or – twice I’ve heard this now — telling you their wife has just had a new baby. A couple of them have pretended that we have already met — the total so far in two days is five of these guys. This morning I managed to shake one off by stepping into what I hoped was a bank but turned out to an insurance company, both the man in charge and the security guard highly sympathetic to my situation. “We’re not flies, you know,” said one of these guys to me today, but in fact, that is beginning to seem like a pretty good metaphor.

On a School Wall

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One Response to “More from Dakar”

  1. Sallie Hughes March 29, 2008 at 2:27 am #

    Hey. Be safe. This will be a great book.

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