The easiest and cheapest mode of transportation in Senegal is the car rapide. It also happens to be the most dangerous. Car rapides are old, fast, usually crowded and may or may not have breaks. But I can get from my neighborhood of Sacre Coeur 3 to my internship in Yoff – about the distance of Target to Elon and back again, or Point Lookout to Great Mills – for 100 CFA, 20 cents. Car rapides try to go as fast as possible with as many people as possible. This means they may wait for a long time at a stop to get people to take it. This also means that once they see a final person about to board they’ll slowly start taking off and the person is just supposed to grab the edge and jump on.
Generally, I’m a pretty good jumper, but this particular morning, Thursday the 12th, I was wearing a green pencil skirt. The car rapide saw Claire and I approaching, she got on but I was still a few steps behind. The car rapide started to move forward – no problem! I’ll just jump on. But rather than landing on my feet in the car – my shin scrapped against the ledge and I landed hard on my knee. The car stopped when the other passengers made noise and the apprentice helped me in. He still made me pay for the ride though.
There is an open cut on my shin and knee but they are healing very well. My knee suffered the worst of the fall and it’s still swollen, it’s considerably warmer than my left knee and I can’t it bend well – meaning I walk very slowly. This probably wasn’t helped by me going camping with the other CIEE students at the Great Green Wall.
The Great Green Wall is an initiative to plant trees across the continent of Africa in order to stop the Sahara Desert from advancing further south. It also helps to alleviate poverty. But as I soon found out upon returning home, no one in my family knows about it. Friday, after a visit from some of the founders of hip-hop/youth civil society movement “Y’en a marre”, we took a coach bus for over 5 hours from Dakar to a town near Saint Louis. From there we got into the beds of 4 white trucks and drove two hours down a dirt road surrounded by nothing but open fields, speaked with trees, herds of crows, donkeys and goats grazing and the occasional thatched roof village compound. Our destination was a compound made up of a few buildings and many tents.
The next day, we woke up early and drove about 30 minutes to the site where trees were being planted. We received a brief introduction to the history of the initiative and were put to work. From 9:30 am to around 1pm, my fellow students and the workers set to work putting samplings in holes 10 meters in neatly pre-toiled rows. I hobbled along behind taking pictures and was eventually lifted into a truck to pass out trees. With Sama’s help, I was able to plant one tree by crouching down with my right leg out stretched beside me. Sunday, we made the same long trip back to Dakar, stopping in Thies for lunch.
While it’s obvious that I shouldn’t have gone camping this weekend and should have instead rested my knees and even more obvious that I shouldn’t have tried jumping into a moving vehicle in a pencil skirt – I can now say two things: I’ve officially contributed to the Great Green Wall and I’ve earned my stripes on the mean streets of Dakar. Because on the bright-side, my injury is one that could only occur in Dakar.