Heather in Senegal

Monday, February 12, 2007

Sept-places are station wagons with seats for seven passengers. One sits beside the driver, and then there are two rows of three seats. The last row is really uncomfortable. The middle row is better than the last row. Whenever I want to travel long distances here, I take a sept-place. I go to the garage and buy a ticket. Either the salesman writes the seat number on it, 1-7, depending on how many people got there before me, or I have to ask him to do so. If the latter, it means that I got the first seat and he was hoping to place me in back and sell the front seat to someone else. If I have any luggage that can not fit on my lap, I have to bargain with the driver about how much I must pay to put it in back. I once saw a driver get away with making a white girl pay for luggage that she was holding in her lap. I tried to argue for her, but she felt the price was too low to fight about. The car does not leave until all seats are bought. This can take minutes or hours. Occasionally, if the car is missing only one more person, the passengers will chip in to buy the final seat so that the car can get going.
I have had two especially colorful sept-place experiences.
I traveled to Dakar a few days before Tabaski, a major holiday on which many sheep are killed. Many of these sheep are transported from one part of the country to another, in what looks to me like a huge sheep-exchange. Sheep are placed in rice sacks (picture a potato sack), their legs are folded under for them, and they are tied up with just their heads poking out. Sacked sheep are placed on tops of automobiles and driven north and south. For most of my ride from Tamba to Dakar, the sheep on our roof was pointed so that he was urinating on the right side of the car. I, thankfully, had the window seat on the left. I felt terrible for him. His "bahs" started as vigorous complaints, but as the hours passed he grew tired and hoarse, until he sounded more like a scraggly little kitten. I had fantasies of cutting him loose, but I could not imagine how to do so without us both getting a beating for it. Close to Dakar, someone got out and took his luggage off the roof. The sheep was re-aimed, and the next time he urinated it came into my window and gave me a faceful of sheep piss.
When my mother and I rode from Kolda to Tamba she got the shotgun seat and I sat behind her. Next to me sat a young woman with a tiny baby. Suddenly, about an hour into the trip, vomit burst out of the woman. A bit of it hit my foot, but the bulk of it got my mom's head, neck, and back. The driver pulled over so I could wipe the chunks out of my mother's hair and try to sop up the liquid. The woman never stepped out of the car. She puked a few more times during the trip, but she had some fabric to catch it. With each vomiting, only the first bit of spray would fly out of her control and on to me.
But these stories are nothing beside other volunteers' experiences. Jenny once had a whole car ride with a sheep pointed to urinate on her side of the car, and the window was stuck in the down position. Another volunteer once sat beside a woman who, after a few hours of twisting and moaning in her seat, delivered a baby while the car kept driving.


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