Some thoughts from a long summer of travel
A long cab ride in Senegal, Eid al-Adha and Pigeons in Jakarta, and the free-range children of Japan
This summer I went around the world in seven weeks, spending my first two weeks in Senegal, then two in Jakarta; then I walked across Japan with a final brief stop in Seoul. It was a bit too much, too fast, and while I tried to write most of what I saw, there were plenty of things I’ve left out. Rather than try to artificially connect disparate things, I’m going to go with the list approach.
When I’m in a country I’ve never been to before, I try to get out of the biggest city where I spend the bulk of my time, and visit a mid-sized town. Both to get another perspective, but also to experience how to travel long distances. In Senegal, there wasn’t an obvious choice, and my usual method, going to the central bus station and jumping on a random bus, was a little too volatile for even me.
So I asked the manager of my hotel, a third generation Lebanese-Senegalise1, where I should go, and she directed me to a friend’s hotel (Le Pelican du Saloum) in the village of Ndangane, about 150 miles away.
When I asked her which bus to take, she laughed and said that would take me a day, and she was sure I’d get lost, and said the front desk clerk could find me a driver, which is how I met Muhammad, who would be with me the entire time I was in Ndangane, despite me saying all I needed was a ride there.
I had already met Muhammad, although I hadn’t realized it yet. He was the tall thin older guy with the patchwork yellow and black Peugeot cab parked in the street next to the hotel. The guy either sleeping in his car, praying on the sidewalk on his otherwise rolled-up mat, sitting on a stool chewing a sothiou, or chatting with the hotel employees. Whenever I left he’d ask me, with a nice smile, if I needed a ride anywhere, which I’d always declined, mostly because I walk everywhere, but also because I wasn’t sure his car could make it more than a few blocks.
So at ten a.m. the next day me and Muhammad set off in his cab after he’d filled the radiator first with the old crinkly liter water bottle he carried with him everywhere. His car had no working gauges, windows stuck in either up or down, no seat belts, but the radio did work, which he turned to French pop music, presumably for me.
I want to say the ride was interesting, or fun, but mostly it was terrifying, because Muhammad might have been a good driver back when his eyesight was 20-20, but those days were long gone. Something I slowly, then quickly, realized, which meant I was going to have to be the worst backseat driver ever, because I’d rather be annoying than dead.