Vernacular Addis

If you need a break from the buzz from Addis and its high rising buildings and construction sites, go to Zoma Museum in Mekanisa. It’s a very relaxing haven of interesting vernacular and ecological architecture with a garden and a restaurant, all in one package.

When I visited the place there were a lot of men chiseling stone so it felt that we were in a sound piece, surrounded by false banana plants and ginger. These dizzying forms of housing made out of mud, cow dung, straw and other organic materials in very detaled patterns added to the lovely strangeness of the experience. There were even cows! Well, naturally.

Zoma Museum is open every day except Mondays and has a gallery, library, children’s center, “edible garden”, restaurand & café, elementary school, art and vernacular school, amphitheatre and a museum shop. 

Tata no 36 to Guediawaye

I hopped on a Tata bus no 36 that takes you from Ngor Garage to Guediawaye. These small Tata buses get packed with passengers very fast but on this particular trip I even had a seat! I like public transport in cities and not the least because using it really gives you a sense of place, provided that you have unhindered access to a window while you travel. Taking the bus in almost any Senegalese city is often a “full body experience” with frequent stops and engagements with fellow passengers. I am rather impressed by the ability of the Senegalese to make space in a bus that already looked too full a long time ago, and by their collaborative nature to make the coins travel from hand to hand towards the cashier who sits at the back of the bus and whom you can barely see when the bus is full. 

Dakar has numerous methods of mobility that shows just how effectively formal and informal economies work simultaneously. Just like any African metropolis, Dakar has its polarized nature with gated, rich residential areas and poorer overcrowded suburbs and peri-urban districts with failing infrastructure. And yet, all city dwellers move around easily according to needs and wallets either within their own zone, across the city, or commuting between the suburb and downtown areas.

I would usually take a Tata bus between Yoff and Ngor if it were not during the worst rush hour, in which case I would prefer a taxi or a clando. Tata buses and the bigger Dakar Dem Dik buses operate in most parts of the city and the latter has also a long-distance network covering different cities. Within the city you also have the famous colourful car rapideminibuses, and the ndiaga ndiaye vans-transformed-into-buses with boys hanging from the rear of the van, shouting their destinations and cashing the money in. The ndiaga ndiayes take you just about anywhere, and so do the sept-place cars that occupy the gare routière stations and operate between towns across the country. 

There is also a massive army of yellow taxis in Dakar. They will frequently honk right behind you if they are vacant and spot you in the street. Be warned: if you’re on a schedule, even the yellow taxis can let you down. I’ve had a few taxi rides where the taxi would break before reaching the destination, so better to be a little picky and choose the best looking car if possible. Sometimes the taxi does not even have a license and the driver takes you on a surprise sightseeing tour because he wants to avoid possible controls. On a more positive note: I once forgot my smartphone in a taxi and after several calls to my own number another customer picked it up and told not to worry, the driver would return my phone as soon as he could, which he eventually did!

In direct competition with the yellow taxis you have its “clandestine” version, the clando, that has proven to be very efficient in some areas of the city with their cheap fare and clever networks that cover important arteries between districts. They are practical, cheap and fast. These are just private cars that drive back and forth between fixed departure and arrival stops. In rush hours you need to be quite alert to get a seat, particularly so if you’re a tubaab: the drivers might not even think of stopping to pick you up unless you give a clear sign.

When the first motorways were being constructed in Dakar, it used to take even three hours to drive from Yoff to Diamaguène. People got used to the fact that to get from one place to another was slow – what choice did they have? And now with ready motorways and much improved bus network things are looking better. But the rush hours can still make your trip painfully slow because the number of people in the city just keeps increasing and especially because private cars are choking the streets of Dakar, crippling the public transport system and poisoning the environment. You need a lot of nerve to be a commuter in this city! My ride from Ngor to Guediawaye on a Friday morning took a little less than two hours although I got – typically – excited just watching through the window so much so that I lost track of time. So it may well be that the trip was even shorter. 

There is one thing missing in Dakar though, and that’s tram. I would so much love to see Dakar have a network of trams operating at least on the South-North and West-East axis. Obviously, this would require good governance with strong emphasis on sustainability – and of course money.

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For a very entertaining reading on taxi rides in cities like Lagos and Yaoundé I suggest you keep on reading: “Taxi Drivers who Drive Us Nowhere” by Howard M-B Maximus, written for Bakwa 09: Taxi Drivers who Drive Us Nowhere and other Travel Stories.

Chez Relax

I made a documentary about my hometown recently. In the film I am asking people to tell me about their relationship to their town, Saint-Louis, in the north of Senegal by the Mauritanian border. In its final stages of post production I came to realize that I may have chosen to shoot with mini-DV quite subconsciously: it creates a rather rough but at the same time soft view of the footage.

Truth to be told, this town is dirty.

If you have been to Saint-Louis, a town that still carries the Unesco World Heritage label, you may have wondered how it is possible that the river has become a dumping site for domestic waste. In the old days people used to give food as offerings to the river spirits but these days it is just trash, and more trash that finds its way into the river. Ngagne Dabo Ndiaye, who has traveled extensively in his life and who returned to Saint-Louis, had enough of this and has transformed the river side into a small oasis, right next to the bridge and opposite to Hotel Sunu Keur. Now there are plants, tables and chairs and benches for anyone to have a break. He took the initiative to clean this area and planted trees and set up a place where you can have a coffee and snacks and just sit back and relax.

Ngagne Dabo Ndiaye

Ngagne Dabo Ndiaye’s dream is that he will find collaborators with whom he could create more activities for everybody with canoes, paddling boats, games for children and so on. He has been running Chez Relax now for a year without any support and any small gain from selling coffee goes to keeping this place running. If you are in town, please do visit him and stop for a chat and coffee and maybe a sandwich! In case you show up there in the hot hours of the afternoon and he is nowhere to be seen, check under the bridge: he might me having his siesta down there in the cool river bank.

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View from Chez Relax coffee tent

Maka-Diama

Right next to Diama on the Mauritanian border there is a small and picturesque village called Maka-Diama. We had a ride to the village today and visited a project that makes paper out of a weed called typha that grows by the Senegal river. This plant can be used for thatched roofs or cooking fuel, or even paper. In order to create better working conditions for the women who make paper out of typha, the NGO behind the initiative has build a house out of local materials. The building project started in April 2019 and the house is now proudly standing and almost ready to be used. Before operating fully as a work space and a show room, some finishing touches and interior decoration is now all it takes. In the future this beautiful  house will serve also as a meeting point for people interested in local crafts, ecological architecture and design.

The reddish earth that has been used for the bricks  has been brought here from near Dakar and we witnessed how the construction technique with silt provides an amazing cooling effect inside the house: when we entered the building we could immediately feel it. Next to the main building there is a separate lavatory in which the waste water is collected and processed to irrigate a garden of aromatic plants. So the workshops will not produce just paper but also soaps and aromatic oils. If you are on your way to or coming from Diama and crossing the Mauretanian border, do drop by in this beautiful small village. The village women can make you a delicious yassa poulet for lunch in no time at all and while waiting for your meal, you can visit the workshop and cool down in this beautiful house and perhaps buy some handmade paper and fragrant oils and soaps.