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2 moves

I’m moving back to Dakar after 18 (long) months away… I will therefore start answering your questions again, or at least will try 🙂

Feel free to email me on askexpat AT gmail.com.

I’m also moving the blog to a simpler URL, dakarexpat.wordpress.com.

Getting Married to a Senegalese Man or Woman (in Senegal)

Question from Carol :

“I am about to marry a senagalese man. I am blond and scottish. any advice besides no. 50 sunscreen. i love senegal already! Are there many scottish there.”

Before I go into more general considerations about marrying locally, here is what I replied to Carol in the comments section of my earlier post on Senegalese beauty.

“Hi Carol,

Wow, congratulations ! All my best wishes for your marriage.

Mmhh… advice ? Well, you mentionned the only one I had for you :) Senegal is a lot easier when you are married to someone from there, because you really avoid all the disadvantages that non-integrated expats have to go through. The only thing I found annoying (being married to a Senegalese woman myself) is walking around in the street, and having people look at you because you’re a mixed couple. Although it does occasionally happen, it is rare that people actually make derogatory comments, but I really found the looks very invasive. The one thing I’ve appreciated since I’ve been back in Europe for a couple months now is being able to walk in the street without anyone really giving a damn. Apart from that, I always felt very privildged compared to my Western friends, because I always really got the best of both worlds : Senegal from the inside when I felt like it, and, when I wanted to take a break and be an expat again for a bit, I could still do that too.

Again, all my best wishes, and keep us posted !”

On a more general level, one obviously has to be cautious about the whole thing. I have seen a lot of different types of marriages : true love, mutual arrangement (I am old, ugly and relatively rich, you are young, pretty and poor), one-directional love, etc.

There are really 3 things you have to be aware of :

– the religious aspect : many families will ask that, if you are a man, you convert to Islam before marrying their daughter. They usually don’t care whether you practice or not, but it’s still not something most of us feel comfortable with doing. I do know of a lot who have though, and it is pretty much a standard for men wanting to marry locally. This does not apply to women as the interpretation of Islam they apply states that men can marry women of any religion they want.

– the financial aspect : just like anywhere around the world, including within our own capital cities, some people get married for financial reasons. Well, as you can expect, in a country where 95% of the population is less well-off than 95% of our population, the odds of it happening are pretty high.

– the visa aspect : a lot of people in Senegal dream to go to Europe, where they think that money grows off trees (although, to be fair, it often kind of does compared to Senegal). Getting married is probably the easiest way to a long term visa, and then citizenship.

My conclusion ? Just like everywhere, but a bit more I guess, there can often be mixed intentions. You therefore have to be careful. That being said, there are a lot of true, sincere couples out there, and the worst thing would be to assume, when you run into a Senegalo-European couple, that their relationship is not based on mutual true love.

New Taxis

Question from Terry:

On my last trip to Dakar, I noticed some new, nice looking, yellow taxis. Are they owned by a single company? Does it have a number? Are they more expensive? Do they have A/C?

Answer by Alex (Dakar expat):

Hi Terry – Ok, so let me try and answer your questions one by one. Just a quick intro first for other readers: The taxis Terry is referring to are all yellow (as opposed to yellow and black), brand new, made in Iran I believe (I can’t remember the name of the brand), and started to appear around the time of the Islamic Conference Summit held in Dakar in March 2008. They are a lot more comfortable than the very large majority of taxis in Dakar.

1. Are they owned by a single company? No. Basically, they are sold to taxi owners, as part of a government program, who return their old taxis, and then pay the difference over several years. Fyi, the base price for the new taxis is 9 million CFA, ie about $18k, which I personnally find expensive for what clearly appears to be the opposite of a German car. Taxis are generally owned by individuals, although some people often have several taxis, and lease them out to drivers who pay for petrol + 10k CFA/day. There are however some small taxi companies trying to professionalize the industry (such as Taxis Bleus), but, again, the new yellow taxis are made available to anyone with a taxi license.

2. Does it have a number? Well the answer to the first question means the answer to this one is no. Again, there are companies (other examples are Taxi Comfort and Taxi Sister), but they end up being expensive unless you are down town because they usually charge the fare from there. If you want to use one of the new yellow taxis, I recommend you find one on the street with whom you get along, and take his number.

3. Are they more expensive? In theory, no. They do however tend to search for tourists, e.g., by waiting outside hotels. As a result, they do expect you to pay more. But, as with any taxi in Dakar, you haggle, as there are (unfortunately) no fixed rates. They may also try to argue that the price should be more expensive because the taxi is new, but, again, that should theoretically not be the case. From my personal experience, I have often taken such taxis at the standard rate (e.g. 2500 for Almadies-Downtown), but have also found some who insisted that I pay more (in which case I just waited for another one).

4. Do they have A/C? Yes, although they will only turn it on if you ask for it, and will expect you to pay more if they do. In terms of how much more, I would say between 30 and 50% depending on how long the fare is.

Wade's succession

Question from Jez:

There are many rumours that the President’s son, Karim, is his likeliest successor. Is that really the case? What is he like?

Answer by Alex (Dakar expat):

Most local analysts seem to agree that the current President, Abdoulaye Wade (officially 82 years old, some claim he is in fact older than that), is working hard on having his son succede him. It used to be Idrissa Seck, a former Prime minister, and Wade’s “spiritual son”, who seemed to be the current Pres’ preferred option, but major issues between them, which led to Seck being fired and then emprisonned (officially on charges of corruption – he has now been freed), seem to have made Wade revert to his biological son.

Karim Wade has more of a business than a political background. He worked for UBS Warburg in London, and returned to Senegal after his dad’s election. He has a reputation for being closely implicated in local business affairs. He is also an official advisor to his father, and recently was the Chairman of the Board of the organization committee of the Islammic Summit 2008 held in Dakar (which is a big deal here, because the rich Muslim countries provided major funding to build roads and hotels in preparation of the summit). He has kind of become his father’s unofficial ambassador for rich Arab nations, and has for instance been seen heading delegations of Senegalese businessmen and officials to Dubai.

Some analysts are dubious about his ability to win a democratic election, given his businessman rather than politician style, and the Senegalese people’s reluctance to have a son succeed his father. The fact that his mother is French could also be an issue according to them. Others, on the contrary, think that for as long as he has the party in power behind him, and given how long the Socialist party in power for 40 years until 2000 needs to reconstruct itself, he will be easily elected.

Senegalese beauty

Question from Pat:

I heard that Senegalese women are beautiful. Is it true?

Answer by Alex (Dakar expat):

Well, Pat, it’s always going to be a matter of personal taste, and, like everywhere, each individual looks different from another, so I would rather not generalize. But, it can be said, based on the opinion of most foreign visitors, that the Senegalese people, and especially the women, are generally very good looking. They typically have delicate facial features and slender bodies.

Anti-Malaria Treatment

Question from Cecile:

I am off to Senegal to visit a friend for two weeks. My doctor in London gave me prescription for Malarone, but my friend who lives in Senegal told me Savarine is better. What do you suggest?

Answer by Alex (Dakar expat):

Hi Cecile – The Malaria treatment debate is recurrent among travelers, especially that no treatment can guarantee that you will not get Malaria. Some people say that Malarone is overmarketed and overpriced, and that it is more adapted for places like South-East Asia than for Senegal. Others say that, on the contrary, Malarone is the latest cutting-edge medicine, and that the other ones are obsolete compared to it. I have seen people catch Malaria with both treatments, and others be fine without any medication.

I just called my local doctor to ask her what she recommends, and she said Malarone, because it has fewer side effects than Savarine. Given that that’s also what your doc in the UK recommended, I would go for that. Just make sure you start your treatment ahead of time as you’re supposed to.

Fyi, unlike what a lot of people think, the type of Malaria that you get in Senegal is not the recurrent one. Over here, you get it following being stung by a Malaria-carrying mosquito (typically ones that do not make noise and appear towards the middle of the night), and then once you are cured it does not come back on its own (i.e. without a mosquito). The most typical symptoms are a 30 min to an hour ‘crisis’, where you start being cold, shivering and have a temperature, and then feel hot.

The best precautions you can take are to wear mosquito repellent, sleep under a mosquito net, close doors and windows at sunset, and not wear shorts or sandals in the evening.

Personally, I don’t take anything anymore because I’ve been living here for 5 years and don’t want to permanently be under medication. I had Malaria on 3 occasions, and every time, I caught it early and was back to normal after 24 or 48 hours.

If for some reason you feel that you might have malaria, or anything else, every general practitioner on the UK embassy list is fine (with a prefence though for Dr. Rahmi +221 33 821 04 09), so just go to where you can get the earliest appointment. If you cannot get one the same day, I recommend going to the Clinique de la Madeleine (+221 33 889 94 70).

Good luck, and let us know how it all went when you get back!

Local currency and the Euro

Question from Guillaume:

I read in an article that I could use Euros in Senegal? Does that mean I should not bother converting money to CFA before coming over?

Answer by Alex (Dakar expat):

Hi Guillaume – I don’t know your source, but if it is anything like this 2002 BBC News article that comes high up on Google, it is pretty misleading. The Euro has never been widely used in Senegal, and unless you are in particularly touristy or high-end places, no one will accept it. It is however pretty easy to get your Euros converted to local money, as there is a fair amount of street merchants who offer that, but I strongly advise you go to proper banks or change bureaus. That is particularly important when you are converting your CFAs back into Euros, because of the risk of being given fake Euro bills.

However, you cannot convert your Euros before coming to Senegal, because CFAs are not exchanged outside of the CFA zone. You will therefore not find them anywhere in Europe. If you have people you know picking you up at the airport, the easiest is to convert your money in a place next to where you will be staying. If you are on your own and need to take a taxi, then you can go the airport ATM (just ask the security people for directions), which is close to the exit area, but can be stressful (although it is safe), especially with all the luggage, because the airport is the most stressful place in Senegal. You can also go to the airport change bureau, but it will be closed if you arrive on a late flight. Finally, if you are going to one of the major hotels, that has a shuttle, such as Meridien, Sofitel, Club Med or Novotel, the best is to take the shuttle and convert your Euros when you get there.

Finally, fyi, the Euro is the standard for the CFA, i.e., the exchange rate never varies. The CFA used to be based on the French Franc, at 1 FF = 100 CFA. Now it is 1 Euro = 655.957 CFA.