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Photo by Elke Schmidt, Senegal Bridge Year Program.

How to Get Lost in Dakar: An Expert’s Perspective

  1. Leave your home at 07:45 in the morning to walk to the bus stop, making sure to leave plenty of time for accidental travel mishaps.
  2. Reach the bus stop between 08:15 and 08:40, depending on whether you are:
    a. Buying breakfast on the way
    b. Buying coffee on the way
    c. Walking to work with Zandra
  3. Wait at the bus stop for bus line 47. It will usually take between 15 to 30 minutes. Many other buses will pass before you see the one that you need to take. Sometimes, even multiple buses of the same line will pass! Sometimes, you see someone else from Bridge Year at the bus stop, but they usually arrive after you and catch their bus many minutes before you finally catch yours.
  4. Remember, in your heart, that somewhere in Dakar, the 47 is on its way.
  5. Spot your bus and wave it down! Sometimes it will pass you without stopping, and you will have to wait for the next one to roll by. It’s okay, though. You left home early to account for these possibilities.
  6. Board the bus, and buy your ticket. Standing room only, so brace yourself for the seemingly-constant stops. You will sometimes fall into other passengers. They will usually understand. Other times, you won’t have space to fall into other passengers.
  7. Look out for the OiLibya on the corner—that’s your cue to hop off!
  8. Jump off the bus and quickly discover that you are at the wrong OiLibya! It’s okay, though. Work starts in 45 minutes, and you left home early to account for these possibilities.
  9. Ask everyone you walk by on the street for directions to your work, pushing the boundaries of your Wolof. They will try to explain to you that the walk will be two hours long and that you desperately need a taxi.
  10. Just walk instead. Thankfully, you left home early to account for these possibilities.
  11. Continue asking for directions, preferably once every two or three minutes. Everyone you meet will be amazingly helpful, but they will also be confused as to how you expect to walk halfway across Dakar.
  12. After 35 minutes of walking, hail down a taxi in defeat. Ride in the backseat and make small talk in Wolof, while checking the time on your phone every five seconds and acknowledging that you are 100% already late for work.
  13. Pay your taxi driver 1000 cfa, and hop out when he stops the car at your place of work.
  14. Quickly realise that the taxi driver accidentally took you to a different location with the same name as your place of work. He is already long gone, so hail another taxi and spend another 1000 cfa going in the opposite direction.
  15. Sit in the backseat and avoid checking your phone because you don’t even want to know how late you are. Instead, stare out the windows for any recognizable landmark.
  16. Oh, look! It’s the right OiLibya!
  17. Practically scream at the taxi driver to stop because you are so happy and also so late.
  18. Run into work a little more than 30 minutes late. Shudder at the thought of how late you would have been, had you not left home so early to account for these possibilities.
  19. Silently and completely appreciate the convenience of private transportation. Lament the blisters forming from your stylish, yet quite impractical, sandals.
  20. Leave work at 13:30, exhausted and hungry for lunch.
  21. Walk to the bus stop. On the way, you will have to cross a busy street, and you may or may not be almost run over by a speeding motorcycle, car, horse cart, bus, or other vehicle.
  22. Wait for the 47. Again. You could also take the 8, which would probably be slightly faster, but the 47 holds a special place in your heart. Not only does it stop by so infrequently, but it also has a disproportionately large amount of stops. You wonder what went wrong with bus line 47. You wonder about a lot of things, actually—like how Dakar’s bus system operates so well without available maps and how the numbering system works for the bus lines. You start to mentally track all the types of buses and bus lines that roll through—the 4 is probably the most frequent, followed by the 35 and the 67. The 47 allows ample time for thought.
  23. The 47 drives into view, and you are practically jumping up and down in excitement!
  24. The bus ride home is long and crowded. Sometimes you will get home before 14:30. And sometimes the traffic will be so bad that you stand pushed up against the window for 90 endless minutes and you don’t even step off the bus until 15:30. Those are usually the days when you wonder the most about what went wrong with the 47—partially because you feel sad for the 47, but mostly, just because you have tons of time to wonder.
  25. Sometimes, the bus ride home isn’t crowded at all. These days are dangerous. These are the days where you find a seat by a window with a nice breeze and a place to rest your head and accidentally fall asleep and miss your stop in Yoff.
  26. Within your sleepy haze, you decide the best possible option to get back to Yoff is to stay on the 47 until it reaches the end of the line and turns around. Because I guess when you wake up from a nap on the bus and have no idea where you are, that seems pretty logical.
  27. So you sit on the bus for another half hour. And you wonder when it will finally turn around. And as it turns out, the 47 never turns around. It just pulls up into a parking lot at the furthest point in Dakar, and all the remaining passengers file out.
  28. You get off the bus and realize you are in Ngor. Upon coming to this conclusion, you immediately leave Ngor and enter a special place that your instructors like to call “The Panic Zone”.
  29. You speedwalk to the nearest taxi and pretend to know what you’re doing. You agree to a high price with little-to-no bargaining because taxis out of “The Panic Zone” are expensive. From the backseat, you call your instructor and tell her in your best impression of your non-Panic-Zone self that you got “slightly lost” and are “taxi-ing back to the program house” and “not to worry” and “this is just a normal thing that happens” and “please tell my family I won’t be coming home for lunch”.
  30. As it turns out, you are an entire 30-minute taxi ride away from the program house. But at least you are refreshed from your nice long nap on the 47.
  31. You arrive at the program house just in time for Wolof class and wave goodbye to the taxi. What a wonderful end to a fulfilling day of work!