Lathered in sweat and breathing heavily, the four-legged beast hauled its load up the sandy road as a harness blinded it to the chaos that ensued on all sides.
On its right, produce vendors dressed in traditional Senegalese clothing sat by the side of the road with ripening fruit that cooked in the African sun. To its left, concrete high rises stood erect along the horizon, creating a sharp contrast of the conventional and the modern. In front of it and behind, pedestrians ran across the highway and Dakar's iconic car rapides swerved in and out of lanes, kicking up dust in what appeared to be a choreographed dance of disarray.
Although only mid-morning, it was already as hot as — well, Africa. And as we passed the overloaded horse cart in our vehicle, Gabriel and I couldn’t help but compare the scene before us to a blend of Amman and Nairobi.
Minarets dotted the skyline, reminding us we were in a 94% muslim country. They rose between concrete apartment blocks that were not unlike those we predominately saw in Jordan. But the herds of goats and cows crossing city streets, sand covered roads and scattered trash prompted us that we were still very much in Africa.
And then, with one left turn, the chaos dissipated and we found ourselves in a quiet neighborhood. Well cared for houses lined the street on both sides, peeking over tall security walls. It was an interesting mix of French and African influences, from people’s dress to the architecture, foliage to lingering aromas from a midday meal.
One more turn and we found ourselves in front of our new abode: The Sandcastle. We attributed the apartment building’s name to its closeness to the beach, only a 45 minute drive away (traffic dependent) on the Dakar peninsula.
Although its open kitchen and living room are smaller than what our bedroom once was, it has everything we need. An island was brought in to give us more counter space (doubling what counter space we had in Uganda and tripling the counter space we had in Japan). Three bar stools line the island, where I imagine we will eat most of our meals together.
Our kitchen sink is shallow and the counter is taller than a standard American counter (due to Senegalese construction, I'm told). By the time I'm finished washing dishes, my entire shirt is soaked from the naval up — a result of unavoidable splashing. The first few days this irked me but I've found the silver lining: in 43ºC (109ºF) temperatures, it is quite refreshing to be soaked with cold water.
I’m not entirely sure how to fill all of our cabinets, but no doubt will figure it out in coming weeks as we discover new favorite snacks and edibles. I am, however, entirely sure how I plan to fill our small but functional fridge: with cheese. So far, this former French colony has not disappointed us with the variety and abundance of cheese it has to offer.
We have a gas oven and gas range. I’m hoping Senegal might be the place where I finally master baking with gas. But in the meantime, I’m sure my attempts will produce some humorous stories as my skills progress.
The shower/toilet room is a wet room with the toilet and sink area separated from the shower by only a small curtain that does not contain all of the water. We learned this the hard way the first day we showered — the toilet paper didn’t make it out alive but was doused and soggy by the time we exited the shower area.
It also seems that if you shower too long, water will start running under the wet room’s door and into the bedroom, since there is not a threshold between the two. And if you shower much, much too long, water will even run into the kitchen. But since it is so hot (day and night), I don’t anticipate we will be taking many long, relaxing hot showers.
Our bedroom is spacious and very comfortable. Even more comforting is the fact our wardrobe is also spacious. Sometimes the problem is not how much you can fit into your luggage when moving overseas, but where you are going to store it once you get there. I’m happy to report our large wardrobe more than covers our needs.
On Saturday evening — the end of our first full day in Senegal — a family was kind enough to host us for dinner. After enjoying some delicious pizza, salad and mango ice cream, we sat down in their living room.
Soon after, a hot wind began to whip against the glass windows, rattling them in their casings and calling our attention to a storm brewing outside. As a bolt of lightning flashed across the sky, it illuminated the night landscape just long enough for me to catch a glimpse of nearby palm trees bending towards the sandy ground.
“This will be a tropical storm headed to the States later this week.”
I looked at our hosts to see if they were joking, but they were quite serious.
“I guess we should call our parents and let them know we have a package coming their way.” I couldn’t help but chuckle a little at Gabriel’s humor. We waited out the storm and didn’t return home until late in the evening.
Stepping through our dark apartment, I felt the fine, silty sand under my toes before I saw it. I had just thrown my bag on the sofa when Gabriel flipped on the light and called my attention to our dining table, where a thick layer of sand covered the dark wood. Moving towards the kitchen, I wiped a finger across the island before moving towards the countertops. With each swipe, my fingers revealed a thin layer of sand across each piece of furniture.
I turned around to look at Gabriel. Instead, I couldn’t help but notice footprints in the sand — my footprints in the sand — that trailed lightly from the door to where I stood in our kitchen.
“Maybe this is why they call it The Sandcastle?”
As we swept and wiped and dusted, I thought about how annoying the sand incident could have been. After all, we were exhausted from travel and were running on more than a week with little sleep (a result of staying up late and packing as we prepared for the move). Jet lag had set in, making it difficult to get on a normal sleep routine. And we hadn’t acclimated to the heat, which left us a little uncomfortable and more likely to get agitated.
But instead, I found myself smiling. Our apartment is quite small. And it is very old. But it came stocked with the most welcoming basket of goodies — fresh fruits, comforting snacks, starter meals, dry goods, bread and cleaning supplies. The fridge also came with different cheeses, sandwich meats, minced beef and milk. We had everything we could possibly need.
It’s the little nuances of a new place that are charming to discover, even if they aren’t necessarily wanted. Whether it’s a new city, or country, or continent, it can feel as though there’s always an adventure or experience around every corner.
A month from now, we probably won't feel as though as sandy apartment is an adventure. But hopefully, we will have also learned our lesson and will have our windows closed before the next storm hits!
A special thank you for the warm welcome from Dakar Academy — from the families who hosted us for dinner during our first days in Dakar, to the housing committee who covered all of our needs upon arrival! We are grateful for the smooth transition and are excited to join the DA family.