Thursday, October 21st 2010
It’s day two of my trip to Senegal and I am discussing my terms of reference with BLD’s staff, including its Executive Director Antoinette Corréa. In order to get to the meeting venue, I had to take a taxi from around the airport in Dakar. The drive is fast, about 30 minutes on newly finished highways that run through the city into the famous Dakar suburbs. This used to take me over an hour and a half in one of the worst congested and polluted streets I have ever seen.
There is something that hasn’t changed in the popular neighborhoods around Dakar where over a million people live. The rainy season means that a deluge of sludge and mud water inundates the dirt roads. Even in front of BLD it looks like a lake. Schools, homes and unlucky office spaces are also flooded, restricting traffic and delaying the beginning of a new academic year.
Today, our meeting proceeds amidst the usual sounds of life in a busy neighborhood. Passing cars, honks, children playing, people negotiating the price of a commodity, the cry of a child in an adjacent building; all of this constitutes the background that my colleagues seem to have grown to tolerate.
All of a sudden, I see through the windows people running, all in one direction. Number one thing that comes to mind: where are they running to? I draw my colleagues’ attention hoping to get a translation of what is being said outside. The answer doesn’t take long: it’s not where they are going, but where they are running from. A gas leak, presumably from a nearby factory is threatening a whole neighborhood. With no mask, and no idea of where to run, I quickly calculate! The Executive Director has a great idea: use BLD’s promotional t-shirts to cover our noses. People out on the street seem to have found a piece of cloth to do the same.
Armed with the confidence that the T-shirt (dampen with water) will protect me, I pull out my camera and go out on the street to take pictures. This time, a school next door is sending all kids home. Kids, parents and maids are running to and from the school, but only a few kids are picked up, the others are heading in all directions with their nose covered to avoid the ammoniac smell. Some kids, clearly not heeding advice or not having a place to go, take refuge in BLD’s library. Soon, the stink disappears, the kids stay at the library and I resume my meeting…just another day in the suburbs of Dakar…and the trip must go on. Jeff and Lynn are expected to arrive in the next couple of days, so there is much to arrange.