I often discuss the petty annoyances of life in West Africa – the bureaucracy, the corruption and so on. What I forget, is that although life is in many ways so much easier in the developed world, it can also be frustratingly annoying in other ways. When in the UK I have a lot of things to sort, to buy and so on and seem to spend half my time on 0800 numbers trying to explain petty problems that suddenly feel like huge issues, or unblocking credit cards that seem to assume that my use of them signifies suspicious behaviour. I soon get caught up with first world problems and it’s easy to forget I’m coming from somewhere that people will risk their lives by going to hospital too late, as they can’t afford the drugs.
So, there I was last Monday morning calling Lastminute.com who’d screwed up my mother’s birthday present. The first time I’ve been in the same country for her birthday in years and it was ruined.
Soon all these issues were history as we took off into cloudless skies where I had beautiful views over my green land, even spotting my old street in Brighton.
A couple of hours later and I was touching down in Madrid, before leaving shortly after for Dakar. It was good to be back amongst Wolof speakers and I could make out words and phrases as we embarked. A future book project means I really do have to be fluent in a local language so I’m making it my mission to learn in the next few months.
Upon landing into a Dakar night, the doors opened and there was that familiar feeling of entering the tropics – being hit by a warm wet wall, like entering a sauna, but fully dressed in European clothes.
The airport was barely organised chaos. Two or three flights arrived close together, and we all queued in the non-air conditioned soup as the immigration slowly worked through the crowds. Everyone fanned themselves with open passports, trying to push forwards as if that might speed things up. Despite taking an hour to pass through, the baggage carousels hadn’t begun yet and there ensued another wait.
Finally I was out into the still muggy air and was rapidly accosted by two lads promising me the cheapest taxi. Refusing their offer of what I knew to be three times the going rate, I went with someone else, but as he tried to lead me down a dark street, whilst other empty taxis were passing, I got nervous and hailed a new one. Still the boy, tried to take credit for bringing the taxi a customer and managed to have the price upped to include his commission. By now I was too shattered to argue.
Nothing much had change and we whizzed into town past the mass of humanity living on the streets. Soon I was at my friend Vero’s apartment and shortly after, book artist and friend Bert arrived. After a few g&t’s I fell into a hot slumber.
I had a few jobs, but with Bert there, didn’t achieve a whole lot on the first day. Still, it was good to catch up, relax and gently acclimatise back into the African way of life. Later in the week I visited the studios of West African Democracy radio for an interview and to record book excerpts that they’d serialise over the next week. I had my first wolof lesson with Astou, a young communication expert who I’d met working with Chez Alpha books. I also dropped books off at their shop and arranged to go up later this year to sell at the Lou Bess market – watch this space.
The city was so hot. Even sitting in the shade found me dripping. Two months in Blighty and it seemed I’d de-acclimatised. Roll on November and the cooler, non-humid weather.