Senegal Transportation

When the accidents caused by the huge pothole caught media attention and became the talk of the town, city officials met urgently to discuss solutions. Many suggestions were offered; more ambulance cars, parking an ambulance fleet by the pothole…etc. Then one genius said “Instead of carrying the dead and injured all the way to the hospital, it makes more sense to move the hospital close to the pothole. This way we save on gas and driving time”. Applause! “Wait a minute”, another genius interrupted, “Moving the hospital is too costly. How about if we fill this pothole and dig up another one right next to the hospital?”
I was reminded of this Egyptian joke as the bus raced down the sparsely paved roads in Senegal. At least buses are running again.
During our first week in Senegal, bus drivers went on strike. There were a couple of bad accidents, so the government imposed restrictions on drivers including not carrying people over capacity, restricting operating hours…etc. The drivers went on strike because the new regulations would cut into their profits. The negotiations went on for more than a week, during which moving around was difficult. I’m not sure how it all ended or what compromises were reached. I wonder if anyone mentioned the road conditions?
Cars here zigzag all over the narrow roads to avoid potholes, goats, cattle, construction, speed bumps..etc. A little miscalculation can lead to disaster.
Senegal’s infrastructure is… What infrastructure? Nevermind. Unless we can call the asphalt patches that hold the potholes together an infrastructure, maybe? Yet things work somehow. It’s not a system that I’m used to, but it’s a system nonetheless. A differently abled system.
Getting from point A to point B is an exercise in patience and surrender. More often than not, vehicles, typically used many years beyond their functional age, break down and passengers wait till the problem is resolved. Cars here have way more than 9 lives. You definitely see and feel their painful journey. If you can open the car door yourself, that’s luxury! A 5 hours trip (according to Google Maps) took us more than 8 hours.
The most common way to travel, besides buses, is the “set plus” (‘sept places’, French for 7 places). A 6 passengers station wagon but we’ll squeeze one more in the backseat, and moves when it fills up. If you’re the first passenger you get the best seats, front or second row window seats. But you have to wait longer till the car fills up. If you’re the last, you don’t wait but you get squeezed in the narrow back seat with no windows and typically blinding gas fumes. Once we waited 2.5 hours in the hot, dirty “Garage” (shared taxi station), breathing car exhaust until our 7 places filled up. The journey starts: pothole-dodging, rattling, strange engine sounds, breakdown, waiting along dusty roads, fix, more dodging… After the trip is over, you feel like beads in a shaker after a percussion concert.
A normal day in Senegal.

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