I’m in the guesthouse in Senegal, having got in last night. Airport wasn’t too bad – had a bit of trouble finding the person who was meant to pick me up, had to fend off a few taxi people who eventually believed I was being met, but all good in the end.
I shared a lift from the airport with Gregory and Olivia, a French couple coming out because she’s starting a job with Intermon Oxfam (Oxfam Spain), and got to the guesthouse to find it chocabloc with our colleagues from Mali – following the coup d’etat a couple of weeks ago and the worsening of the war, including our having to shut our programme office in Gao following its fall to the rebels, the decision’s been taken to evacuate our expat staff to the regional centre, so they’re all in the guesthouse at the moment.
This has pros and cons. The pros are that they fed me so I didn’t have to run out and shop on my first night (relief!). The cons are that the guesthouse is full so I got the room that no-one wants because it’s tiny and only has one drawer in it. Sigh. Guess I’ll be living out of a suitcase for the foreseeable then… Hopefully the Mali people will be back in Mali soon, then I can steal one of their rooms. Also, this would be good because it would indicate things are getting better in Mali. But mainly the rooms…
On the other hand, the guesthouse itself is pretty nice, which is a relief after the one in Chad, where my room was nicer but the common areas were grim. It’s got huge common areas, with tables inside and outside, a balcony upstairs, and a reasonable kitchen. Allegedly it has wifi as well, though I haven’t managed to connect to it yet and will probably post this tomorrow from the office. It’s also about a 3 minute walk from the office, which is going to be a nice commute.
This morning I was woken at 7 by two of Team Mali doing yoga outside my room to the sound of pan pipes, which made me feel a bit like being stuck in the toilet of a lowbrow restaurant, but which could have been worse. I got up and considered a run, but decided to wait till I knew the area a bit better. So instead I got Stephano, one of the yoga practicers, to take me to the local boulangerie, where we bought fresh baguettes for the house’s breakfast, then headed on to a cashpoint, a patisserie selling croissants and cakes, and a fruit stall where we bought tiny, flavourful papaya. Food wise, this was looking like a win.
At the office, I spent most of the day clearing emails and suffering death by induction. Always a pain when you just want to get on with the job, but at least I have a clearer idea of what I’m meant to be doing now, and I’m less worried that I’ll prove totally incompetent and somehow cause disaster.
After work though, another win. I needed to get food, so my boss and her partner took me to the Casino supermarket (yes, we have a French supermarket here. They sell lots of expensive things imported from France, and some less expensive local things). They wanted me to get a taxi back as they were worried I’d get lost (totally a reasonable fear) but I was equally determined not to, as I wanted to get to know the town. So I memorised where we went. Turn left after the sign for the chez Lila hairdresser, then right near the overpass. Then drive along next to the overpass and turn most of the way left. Follow the road across a little bridge to the centre medicale du cornice, then turn left. Then walk along the street to the supermarket.
Shopping done, I attempted to repeat in reverse. One small wrong turn, near the roundabout, but I got myself home. I feel a disproportionate sense of achievement, and the walk by the Corniche – the area by the beaches and the sea – has done me the world of good. There were dozens of people running there, including a fair few women, so I know I can run, and now I have somewhere to go. It wasn’t particularly pretty – though the Radisson hotel there overlooks the sea and I’m told is amazing for sundowners, which makes sense because it faces west across the ocean.
Just outside the house, I stop and pick up some papaya for breakfast tomorrow. It’d be coming it a bit strong to say I’m feeling happier about being here, but I feel like I’ve seen enough of the place to know that it’s nice enough, and whether or not I’m happy here will depend on the people. And whether or not I can get myself into a room that has some kind of storage device, because I don’t think anyone could be happy living with the contents of a suitcase strewn across the floor for a year.