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Getting Around in Senegal

FIRST-PERSON

Posted: October 27, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 27, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Walking is a common form of transportation in much of the rural areas. Most adults work within walking distance of their homes. Courtesy photo

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This summer, for sixteen days, I had the opportunity to participate in a life-changing service trip to Senegal, a wonderful country on the coast of West Africa.

I have lived in Santa Clarita for a significant part of my life, and living in a third-world country, for even as small amount of time as I did, was eye opening to say the least.

I am fascinated by the Senegalese culture, and was especially intrigued by transportation in Senegal.

Our group’s time was spent predominantly in the rural village of Palmarin, but we had the opportunity to become familiar with how common people get around in the urban parts of the country during our time in Dakar, the capital of Senegal.

Our group, which consisted of eleven high school students from around the country, began its journey when our plane landed at Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport in Dakar.

Despite being the main airport in West Africa, the airport in Dakar is not even the size of the Bob Hope Airport here in Burbank, which is considered a small and manageable airport here in southern California. As soon as we walked out of the airport, we were bombarded by swarms of friendly, but persistent, taxi drivers.

Our group almost always took a single large bus, minus two times that we split up and took separate taxis.

For a city with a population of nearly 2.5 million, Dakar has a shockingly small amount of cars on the road.

Of the cars on the road, the majority are taxis or other forms of communal transportation. Most Senegalese people are not financially able to own a car. Gas is around 900 CFA per liter, which ends up being around seven dollars per gallon.

Even most taxi drivers cannot afford to own their own vehicles, and are forced to rent a vehicle in order to have one to drive to earn a living.

With the exorbitant price of gas and the overhead cost of renting a car, taxi drivers walk away with very little profit.

On the positive side, however, the actual roads in Dakar are in very good condition. There is not particularly thorough signage, in regards to stop signs and speed limits, but there are also less traffic laws than are enforced in California.

We traveled around the city, and after two days in Dakar, the group left urban Senegal behind and continued south toward the village of Palmarin.

Our drive from Dakar to Palmarin was made in a rickety old Hyundai bus with Mercedes hubcaps. The farther from Dakar that we traveled, the less likely it was that we were driving on a paved road.

Our destination, the absolutely wonderful village of Palmarin, has no paved roads at all.

Our group was assigned to our host families upon arrival in the village. The people in the village generally do not use cars, at least not on any kind of regular basis. Every once and a while, a car packed with people would drive past Palmarin on the main road, but that was essentially their only presence.

There is lots of walking.

Our group’s project was to paint and clean middle school classrooms, and every day we walked as a group to and from the work site. It is roughly a mile and a half each way to the school from the village, and some days we would walk back and forth twice.

A middle school student living in Palmarin walks this distance every day, and more times than not in the hot sun.

Most adults there seemed to work within walking distance of their homes.

Horse carts are also occasionally used in more rural areas such as where we stayed.

I rode in a horse cart twice, and each time I had a blast. The cart itself has a wooden flat bed and two wheels, and is pulled by a horse that the hired driver controls from the front of the bed. It is a bumpy ride, but surprisingly efficient and fun.

We eventually grew used to walking nearly everywhere, and maybe even grew fond of it. It kept us active and the long walks were a great way to get to know the village, the culture, and each other.

The different ways of getting around in the village taught us all that slowing down or changing the way you get somewhere is not an inherently bad thing, but can make the trip an experience in and of itself.

Our return to Dakar from the village was not much different from our first trip.

Our fuel supply was a ten-liter water jug that had been emptied and filled with gasoline. It sat at our feet in the bus while we rode, because gas stations were few and far between.

We continued exploring and going on a couple of excursions in the lazy town of Mbour, but by the time we returned to Dakar, it was almost time for us to return to the United States.

On July 26, my friends and I left Senegal on an international flight headed back to America.

I learned on this trip that I have often taken advantage of the many transportation options that we have here in Santa Clarita and southern California in general.

However, a slower way of getting somewhere can be more enriching, and is no more wrong or right than the way that we get around in Santa Clarita!

 

Editor's Note: See this, and other stories, submitted by residents of the Santa Clarita Valley at www.signalscv.com/section under the Communities section on the menu bar.

 

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