A lovely taxi ride in Dakar
1040am, a hot Thursday in Dakar – the time escaped me somehow, I intended on leaving the office at 1030. I was going to the Inspection Médicale des Écoles, and since it would be my first time there, always a good idea to leave early. With more than a month of Dakar living under my belt, I am pretty used to catching taxis. The black and yellow cars are everywhere – in varying conditions of decay with varying degrees of driving skills possessed by the drivers. And because I stand out I get beeped at every few steps – they like to let me know that they are free in case I need a ride. You must always negotiate before getting into the taxi and therefore you must also be aware (or pretend to be aware) of the rate for your ride. Prices vary according to anything here – weather, time of day, president’s arrival, religious holiday… good thing I work in Pricing back home haha. A few wolof (local language) greetings, a confident statement of the price and a confirmation that the driver actually knows the location you are talking about and generally you’re on your way.
This morning, a slightly unusual thing happened, a taxi driver with a passenger already in the car beeped at me. In a brief English-Wolof-French confusion I quickly understood that she (the other passenger) was getting out soon and therefore the driver would be free to bring me to my meeting across town. Great! So I opened the skeleton-like door and forcefully slammed it shut (prerequisite if you don’t want the door to fly open mid-ride). The lady passenger (a primary school teacher) struck up a conversation with me in the few blocks we shared together – mostly we spoke about languages and how she is jealous I speak English and I am jealous she speaks Wolof. Only once she was out of the car, did I realize that the driver was sweating profusely. I mean it’s hot and humid here in Senegal but this was dripping sweat on a different level. We started chatting and he immediately apologized for the sweat, and explained that he had just come from a workout. I smiled.
I must pause here and explain the workout culture here in Dakar: ‘l’engouement sportif’ (workout craze) among young Senegalese men is mind-boggling. At around 7PM, the Corniche, a long strip along the coast of Dakar, transforms from a somewhat sleepy tranquil area dotted with palm trees where one might stop to take a gaze at the ocean to a chaotic, testosterone-driven bonanza; literally hundreds of people out running, interval training and weight training in a manner that puts any cross-fit gym in Canada to shame. As ‘physical activity’ (or lack thereof) is one of the main 4 risk factors for NCDs and is therefore of not only personal but PULSE assignment interest, I promise to work up the courage to infiltrate into this amazing sight at some point and take a picture that will truly illustrate what I mean.
The philosophy of this taxi driver really stuck with me: in his mid-30s, he came to Senegal about 20 years ago from his native Guinea, in search of a more stable, democratic, secure life. He drives his taxi every day until he hits his threshold of 10,000 FCFA (approx 20 CAD). At that point, he then parks his car, works out (again) and tries to find affordable vegetables to add to his dinner (he values health). At 10,000 FCFA per day, he has a monthly salary that allows him to have a lifestyle he enjoys and the autonomy over his existence.
It is this kind of interaction, authentic and basic, that I cherish. You could tell that this man, though energetic and animated, was at peace with his life and himself. He probably doesn’t know it, but his story will stick with me far beyond the 15 minute interaction we had that day.