Thiès, it would appear, is not conducive to blog writing. Senegal’s second city with a population of c.270,000 (according to Wikipedia), situated some 70 kms East of the capital Dakar, Thiès is still a busy town inspite of the demise of its raison d’etre: the railways. One train a day manages to chug the short distance to Dakar and back, but the rails leading North, South and East are sadly overgrown, while rusting carriages rot in their siding graveyards. This is a shame because Thiès could really do with a raison d’etre.
I arrived in Thiès exactly one month ago to work with U-IMCEC on their Kiva programme in the area. The Fellows have a plan to blog about our efforts to live under the poverty line in our respective countries. I should really have jumped on this chance as my accomodation at 20,000 XOF for the month (or 85 pence a night) would have made the rest of the experience easy. I have no problems eating rice and fish twice a day at 5op a plate, but living in a small cramped room on the first floor trapped between the diesel fumes of a major road and the smell of drains from our waterless bathroom was an experience I would happily not repeat.
We are now approaching the hottest season of the year here in Senegal and Thiès, being utterly landlocked and surrounded by desert, is the place to experience la chaleur! Embracing this I downloaded Bikram Choudhury’s yoga class from itunes, waited until the hottest part of the day and then attempted to do an hour and a half of yoga without a mirror. I did manage to sweat a lot and was beginning to revel in Bikram’s new, cheap “torture chamber” before a savage mosquito assault left me with an infected foot and effectively put an end to my yoga.
Sadly my time in Thiès also corresponded with one of significant change at U-IMCEC, with many staff changing roles and the head of the office moving to take up a post at HQ in Dakar. I seemed to slip through the net and spent my days alone, sweltering in the office during interminable power cuts before (normally) giving up and jumping in a cab to take me into one of the town’s central restaurants and cafes, where under gently swirling fans and with European style coffee or very cold beer (depending on the hour – well, actually, often it didn’t), I would quickly forget any attempt to experience life below the poverty line.
Thiès is small enough for “Toubabs” to meet easily and regularly and as well as a number of new and dangerous Peace Corps friends (Peace Corps is surely a misnomer, those guys are way more dangerous that marines), I became good friends with fellow Kiva Fellow Sherrise from New York. In amongst afternoons spent lounging in Cafe Pamanda, we managed to get away for some great weekends, including a memorable trip to the beautiful seaside town of Saint Louis where we rented beachfront bungalows with en suite bathrooms, air conditioning and the noise of breaking waves to replace the thundering of overworked and under-maintained Senegalese lorries.
(For more on the Thiès riots, see my Kiva blog post at: http://fellowsblog.kiva.org/2011/07/06/a-senegalese-spring/)
It was also Sherrise who perhaps best summed up the squalor of my living arrangements. Having accompanied me for some moral raising dibiterie (bbq’d lamb, its really great, but you can get it all over Senegal there’s no need to come to Thiès), I sat re-bandaging my swollen foot chez Chateau Young. “No wait”, Sherrise exclaimed, drawing my attention away from my troubled limb, “is that a cloud of diesel fumes coming in through your door?” It was.