Friday, August 6, 2010

Business Proposition

Today's adventure was talking around downtown for two hours trying to find the Oceanium and the French Cultural Center.  I was only partly successful as I quickly found the Oceanium on the Petite Cornice but never found the French Cultural Center.  As I walked down the road along the Presidential Palace that leads to the Petite Cornice I saw a European guy walking up the same road quickly away from an African guy who was standing on the corner.  When the European passed me I could hear him muttering something in French and he wasn’t too happy. 

As I reached the corner the African guy advanced toward me with his hand out and asked in French if I spoke English, quickly followed by the same question in Portuguese.  I responded in Portuguese but he couldn’t carry on the conversation in Portuguese and dropped into French and broken English.  The African dude introduced himself as "Camaro" and offered to show me around but I declined telling him I was going to the Oceanium, which was across the street, directly in front of me.  Camaro said he had a boat too and he wanted to show it to me and be a boat guide for me and my friends, I figured why not? So I followed him down a flight of broken stairs to a couple shacks on the waterfront where his boat was tied up.  His boat was just an oversized rowboat without a motor, but it was afloat in the water.  He said he had taken many people on boat tours in his boat, even down to the Gambia and Guinea-Bissau. 

Camaro then proposed a business deal- we would open an office in his name, I would correspond with Americans and other Europeans and get them to come down to Senegal and he would be their tour guide.  I would sit in the office behind the computer and he would do all the work.  As part of his plan he said that he had friends with large houses on the southern coast who could let the guests stay at their place- he had it all arranged, all I needed to do was start bringing the guests to him.  Because I wasn’t too excited about his business pitch, Camaro wrote down his cell phone number for me and told me to give him a call after I had thought it over.  But, he cautioned me, he might not answer the phone because it was an older cell phone and it might be out of minutes.  He then proceeded to pull an old brick Nokia cell phone out of a garbage bag he was carrying with him to demonstrate how old it was.  He said not to worry, just keep trying the number and eventually I would get through.

After listening to a tirade of broken French and English about how the Lebanese controlled the tourist trade in Dakar and raped the openhearted Africans, I followed a trail between the burnt garbage pile and the red brick shacks to the Oceanium parking lot.  Camaro didn’t follow any farther into the Lebanese owned dive center, but waved from behind the garbage pile.  At the Oceanium I met the owner briefly and he invited me to come back on Saturday or Sunday because they only dove three times a week: Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday.  He said they would provide everything and it would only cost me 18,000 CFAs (approx $36).  The boat went out twice a day- in the morning and the afternoon and they would go to different dive sites depending on your level of experience and the depth you wanted to go.  As I had just completed my PADI Open Water Certification, they said they would take me out to a place that was 10 meters (about 33 feet deep).

As I exited the Oceanium by a different path, Camaro raced to catch up with me and started cussing and swearing about the Lebanese again and how he was cheaper and I needed to go into business with him.  I kept walking and talking to him in French and listening to his stories of how good a guide he was.  Camaro then went on to talk about his most famous client- President George W. Bush, and how he had taken him around and ended up in a bar drinking Vodka with former president. 

Half an hour later I still couldn’t shake Camaro, even though I had gone up stairs and through another neighborhood to get to the Place d'Independance.  When he started to give me a broken history lesson on the Place d'Independance I had enough.  I repeated for the fifth time "I don’t need a guide.  I live here- I have been here many times, leave me alone" and darted through traffic across the street.   Only by starting to raise my voice did he leave me alone.  I guess I should be happy that I didn’t lose any money in the process.

As I wandered through the streets I was amazed at how the European tourists stuck out, usually by following some advice from a guidebook, so the women would have their purses tightly strapped to their chests.  Most tourists already stand out by wearing the latest safari gear from REI or some other outdoor store with huge vents in the back of their shirts and nylon pants.  The funniest and most obvious tourists even wear the old British safari helmets in the crowded streets of Dakar.  The first time I recognized an African tourist (tourist from another African country) I was surprised, but it made sense- Dakar is a great city with lots of colorful history- Africans from other countries would want to visit here too.

I arrived in Dakar a month ago and have learned a lot in that short time.  I still have a lot to learn (learning Wolof would help a lot!), but it was interesting to see an interaction between a Senegalese man and a white tourist (probably American from his clothes).  The tourist wore khaki cargo pants, a black t-shirt, and wore Oakleys on his shinny white shaved head.  The Senegalese man wore traditional clothes, not the usual dark blue jeans and t-shirt that most people wear in Dakar, but the baggy cotton pants with matching long shirt.  I was far enough away that I couldn’t hear the words, but I knew what they were both saying.

"My friend, welcome to Dakar.  Are you American?  Do you speak English?"

"Where are you staying?  Let me show you my shop.  Just look you don’t have to buy anything."

"I have a gift for you to welcome you to my country.  You don’t have to pay anything- its a free gift.  Here look at it, take it."

"Can you loan me some money as we are now friends?"

"Look, I gave you a gift, it would be rude not to give me a gift back."

"Let me see the other money you have in your wallet, I see you have other bills in there.  Give me some."

Stupidly, the tourist had accepted the gift and had been coaxed into getting out his huge expedition-strength "hidden" wallet on the corner of busy street and given cash to the local.  Eventually the tourist got angry and stormed away, a few thousand CFAs lighter.  The Senegalese man watched him go, put the money in his pocket, and looked around for his next mark.  I wasn't the only one watching this go down- it was just normal on the streets of Dakar.

Tips for surviving in Dakar:
- Wear what the locals wear- Mostly dark blue jeans and some kind of shirt.  The professionals wear long sleeve button up shirts, others wear a polo shirt or t-shirt.  Don’t wear obvious American logos or brands. 
- Only wear shorts when you are exercising, otherwise your white legs are dead giveaway that you are a tourist.
- Carry only what you need, in your pockets.  Only use your front pockets, as it’s easier to pick cargo or rear pockets. 
- Learn a couple phrases in Wolof and speak good French (still working on this).
-Don't respond to everyone that calls out to you.  If you give them notice, it’s an invitation to conduct business.  A popular way to initiate a conversation is for them to mention that they saw you at your hotel or the embassy (usually not true), and then the gift giving or tour of their shop will begin.
- With time, the locals will start to recognize you and look for easier marks.  There are plenty of tourists that are here only for a short period of time so it seems this has become a way of life and source of income for many.
-When people surround you put your hands in your pockets- you may be surprised to find another hand already in your pocket.  I was walking with a friend who was new to Dakar and was wearing shorts and a t-shirt.  As we walked by a stand on the side of the road two men walked up and flanked my friend, jabbering in Wolof.  They blocked him and one reached down and grabbed his pants, actually grabbing his cell phone through his pants (another common scheme) while the other went behind him.  We acted quickly to push them away and didn’t lose anything, but many aren't as fortunate.  Other similar tricks include calling attention to shoes, etc...
-Keep your doors locked and windows rolled up.  Breaking into cars doesn’t seem to be a problem, but some people will take advantage of an open window.

Crime doesn’t seem to be a serious problem here beyond pick pocketing.  However, there are the occasional robberies at night.  Most big cities in the states have a lot more crime and it’s never a good idea to walk alone at night in a major city.

1 comment:

  1. Those are some good tips! Learned the hard way, some of them, I bet! Thanks for passing them along!