Thursday, June 26
Dakar, Senegal

I spent nearly my entire first day in Dakar trying not to get ripped off.

I failed.

After finding a place to sleep tonight – this hotel isn’t within my budget but I don’t think much in Dakar is – I set off to explore the city. My main goal: to get my cell phone working so I could call the few friends of friends I’ve been encouraged to contact here.

The waitress at the spot where I grabbed lunch – tasty fish on a stick and oil-drenched French fries – showed me to a stand where I could buy a phone card. I was approached, quite aggressively, by several men who wanted to sell me their goods. Naturally, I caved to the most persistent one. He led me to an enclave down the street where we haggled over the price of a SIM card, which, once placed in my phone, would provide me with a local number.

I finally paid him CFA 6,000, about $15 by my estimate. But the phone wasn’t accepting the card like it should have, so the man, whose name I learned was Abdoul (“Like Paula Abdul?” I asked him. He smiled.), relocated again down the street where we met up with a few of his friends who had cell phones. They passed the card around, trying it successfully in their phones. My phone, they announced, was not compatible with Senegalese cards.

Nevermind the research I had completed before leaving the States to be sure the phone I bought on EBay would work in Africa.

Lucky for me, Abdoul knew a man who could fix it, he told me — for a price, of course! Since he had my cell phone in hand, I had little choice but to follow him again, weaving in and out of taxi traffic, me getting my first real glimpse of the city as I tried to keep up with him.

That’s how I found myself sitting on a stool in Dakar’s black market for an hour, while my phone was “fixed.” Afterwards, I paid not only the man who fixed it, I also bought some cloth at Abdoul’s store, a gift he let me know would thank him for his help.

The truth is, I did need his help; I didn’t have the faintest idea how to get the phone to work – and now it does.

As the sun goes down over the city, I’m sitting on my hotel balcony, enjoying the slight Dakar breeze, chatting with the French man beside me and listening to a mosque’s call to prayer in the distance.

Je suis en Afrique!