Back at the Gare Routiere

16 Apr

This is it.

Previous visitors to this blog will recall my reaction to the sinister aspect of Dakar’s main bus station, (which is, as I have said earlier, a euphemism) known to most as Les Pompiers because of its proximity to the HQ of the Sapeurs Pompiers.

However even behind the vision of hellish chaos offered by this dark field of hundreds of Mad Max-like vehicles and thousands of avidly busy poor people, there is organization, indeed a complicated and surprisingly generous solidarity network, that has, as Mr. Daouda Wade put it, “been here as long as the Gare has been here.”

Mr. Wade, a tall, lanky man with a wall eye, who sports a pair of aviator-frame eyeglasses, is the secretary of the Regroupement des Transporteurs, an organization of 426 members, including drivers, mechanics and electricians. I found him sitting on a bench with a bunch of other men in front of the Regroupement’s ‘office’ — an extremely grimy stucco room, painted dark blue, featuring a pair of ancient desks, a few spare tires, a rolled up mattress and another bench.
According to Mr. Wade, it costs 2000 francs to join the Regroupment, and another 100 is paid in for every departure a driver makes, but that money is used — somewhat informally — for a series of things that the members need. The resulting funds can, for example, be used for medicines or health care, to pay for a lawyer if a driver has been in an accident, to retreive drivers licenses if they have been taken by the police, and even for the funerals of family members.

What’s more, all the drivers, members or not, pay 500 francs into a kitty for every journey they make and this money goes to the unemployed or retired drivers and workers who till hang around there. “No one would dare not pay,” said Mr. Wade. “One must be sensitive.” And there is no problem with fraud because all the drivers know who the retired or unemployed drivers are; “they are all friends,” he said.
Another 1500 francs goes to the coxeurs – the boys who bring in passengers – per trip, and all of this adds up to a not inconsiderable outlay for people who Wade says only make an average of 30,000 francs (about $75) a month. Problems? It would not be possible to not have them, he agreed, “life is very expensive. Gas is very expensive and it is the State who sets the ticket price.”

But every three years the Regroupement throws a large party, “out there in the mud,” moving out the vehicles and having a barbecue for all the members and their families. Elections are also every three years, and usualy there are various slates. Mr. Wade’s has won more than once, and he felt it was because of their policies. I asked how many people must work in the Gare and he said the number was ‘inestimable.” So why haven’t more people joined the Regroupement? “I don’t know,” he said, “maybe it’s because they liked the opposition.”

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