It’s official. I’m feeling homesick.
The yearning for London is palpable. I have been back in Dakar for a couple of weeks and I feel like a disillusioned Dorothy, desperately trying to find her way to the Emerald City.
I thought I would pine for the obvious things. The latest restaurants and bars. Theatre nights. Shiny red buses. Shopping. The bar stools at Little House. Real cocktails and exceptional service. The best breakfast money can buy. And while I do desperately miss those luxuries, it’s the simple things I crave the most.
And you don’t see them until they’re gone.
You wear it everyday, but you can’t see it. It envelopes you and fills you up. However, until you can actually taste it, it’s not something you think about.
According to the WHO, Dakar is among the world’s most polluted cities, with 150 microns of crap per cubic meter of air. It goes without saying that it’s not great for the chest or the old ticker, not to mention little baby lungs.
Over the past 6 months there have been moments where breathing has seemed like a poor life choice. Roadside fires and burning tyres. Spray paint fumes. Sewage. Black emissions belching from cars; the arse of an exhaust dragging along the road behind them.
Now, I’m not a runner at the best of times. It takes a significant amount of cajoling to get me out the door at a steady pace. So when I’m strangulated by toxic fumes at the 50 yard mark, maintaining one leg in front of the other is a losing battle. Depending on the day’s air quality, jogging may or may not be possible. In fact, the last time I went running I ended up gagging, having unwittingly trotted downwind of a mass fish-drying enterprise.
Dakar makes London look like one of Michael Jackson’s oxygen tents.
It’s hard to let this one go. In London, I walked miles. Everyday. Arthur and I would set off along the Thames and march until my calves ached. I would take the babes out in the buggy and we would strut our metaphorical socks off.
Until you’re faced with fractured walkways at every turn, you don’t realise pavements are a prize of the developed world. Unlike Dorothy who could merrily follow that yellow brick road, in Dakar, I can only walk a few paces. To the car. Before driving to ‘a destination’. There is literally nowhere to push a twin buggy more than a few yards. A majestic Atlantic coastline screams for leisurely strolling, but the promenade is not yet in place.
Next time you’re rushing through London Town… look down. The streets might not be paved in gold… but they’re paved. And that is a very special thing.
DRAINAGE & SANITATION
As a developing city, Dakar’s drainage is also…. well, developing. It’s not uncommon to have to hop and skip your Charlotte Olympia kitty flats across a river of raw sewage. And with the arrival of rainy season, one can quickly find oneself sloshing through inches of filthy water as the drains struggle to cope with the sudden volume.
Maybe importing Hunter wellies should be my next business venture?
Our electrics cut out several times a week. Sometimes for seconds; sometimes for a little longer.
Which ordinarily isn’t a huge inconvenience. Until you find yourself four floors down from your apartment, sweating in 30 degree heat, with two babies, a buggy and shopping bags-a-plenty (did I mention Waitrose don’t deliver here?), thudding an unresponsive lift button in a blind rage. One must then find help to transport everyone and everything up flight upon flight of stairs. #fury
Thankfully the Senegalese are a wonderfully supportive community and one can always find a helping hand, or four.
Other minor irritations involve resetting WIFI, fridges and fuseboxes.
Oh, and discovering your dinner is still raw a couple of hours later because you forgot to restart the oven.
GREEN SPACES & RAINY DAY HIDEOUTS
One of my biggest expat frustrations is what to do with two flopsy dollies during the day. In Britain we are overwhelmed with public parks, beautiful museums, shopping malls, National Trust treasures, mummy groups, soft play (not that I’ve ever been), libraries, aquariums…
Dakar is a little different. There’s no Hyde Park here. No V&A or Natural History museum to pad around on a rainy day. No Westfield, Selfridges or Burlington Arcade.
Soft play in our house involves throwing all of the sofa cushions on the floor. And other than the beach where they will invariably face-plant every 30 seconds, and eat sand and rubbish in equal measure, there’s nowhere other than your own home to set them free on all fours.
As for mummy groups? The conversation usually goes
“My place, or yours? I’ll bring the wine.”
Yes, there’s so much to miss. Maybe you need to go far away from home to realise where you belong.
Thankfully I have a UK trip on the horizon. And I will endeavour to bring some sunshine with me.