Back to
Photo by Elke Schmidt, Senegal Bridge Year Program.

Gettin’ Around

When we first arrived in Senegal, I was enchanted by the livelihood and newness of it all. Everything from the butiks and people to the “car rapid” (“fast cars”) and fabric shops seemed like a magical experience waiting to be encountered.

Now having been here for almost four months, while there are still many things I have yet to understand and experience, I have grown familiar with a few things about living here, one of them being public transportation, and more specifically: clandos. A clando is just a 5-seat car that has a specific route in Dakar. These paths are often short relative to the bus routes that will make their ways from one end of Dakar to the next, but clandos are more specific to each area.

When I first arrived in Yoff, my experience with clandos was not nearly as fluid. Clandos were extremely intimidating- something I thought I would never use. I thought: “There is no way I am getting in some seemingly random car!” How would I know which cars were clandos? What if the clando driver wasn’t going the same route I wanted to go? What if it made a left instead of a right? If I did manage to reach my destination since clandos have no specific stops, how and when would I get out the car? When would I pay the driver? Clandos were about as simultaneously magical and chaotic as the backstage of a Broadway show.

The first time I had ever gotten in a clando was with my 20-year-old homestay brother Adama. I had just come home drenched in sweat, and my host dad insisted I buy an umbrella to protect myself from the sun. He sent Adama with me to buy it. We walked out of the house, crossed the street, and stood on the side of the road. I was confused. “Adama,” I looked up at him, “what are we doing?”

“Yea, we are going to take a car,” he responded quickly. Next thing I know he waved down (what I thought was) a random car and we got in. No words exchanged between him, the driver, or the other two people already in the car aside from the standard “Salaam malakum.” About 5 minutes later, Adama said something to indicate to the driver for him to pull over because we were getting off. Adama asked me for change to pay the driver, and I handed him a 5000CFA bill. It turns out we only needed 200CFA for the clando. Getting the change to pay the driver turned into an adventure of its own—but that’s another story.

For those of us whose service sites are too far to walk to, we usually take the bus. The bus, however, can be stressful because it is incredibly crowded and I usually have to stand for the entire 45 minute (and sometimes hour long) ride. So, with Babacar’s help, I started clando-ing to work despite my disillusionment from my first experience. Now, I walk up to Nord Foire (about a 5 min walk from my house), hop into one of the clandos going to Rond Point 6. Rond Point 6 is a typical center for clandos to stop. I then walk across the street, ask for Bourguiba-, and hop into another clando. “Mayma watch fi,” I say to the clando driver. I hop out the car, walk about 10 minutes and finally reach my workplace, the YMCA. In total, the commute takes about 40 minutes, costs 400 CFA (80 cents), and I’m guaranteed a seat for the entire ride. There is no need to wait an unpredictable 5-30 minutes remaining for the bus; a clando will always be there.

From our last update, my use of clandos has increased exponentially. They have specific routes all around Dakar. So not only have I begun to rely on the clando system to get to work, but I also use them to move around Yoff. There is one clando route that goes through Yoff. All the way from Apecsy (where I live) to Yoff Market, where Felipe, Sophie, and Zandra live. I take a clando when I am going to visit one of the market people or to run errands from dropping off laundry to buying fruit.

When trying to understand why precisely clandos “mungi dox,” I began to question my initial evaluation of the clando system. Why did I believe they were disorganized? Why did I assume that they were unintentional? Why, because I was unused to this method of transport, did my mind immediately want to put it in a category of complete disregard for its sophistication and intentionality?

Before coming to Senegal, despite having lived in Cape Town for a year and having been on several mission trips, I had a very ethnocentric view which led me to label clandos as bizarre subconsciously. Whenever I went somewhere culturally different, there was this voice in my head telling me to dismiss things that seemed senseless because my way, the cultural ways of life I was used to, were better.

The fact that I had to come to this “revelation” made me uneasy with myself. I began to question why I had to have this realization in the first place. It is no secret that people are naturally drawn to things and situations that are comfortable. However, while this is a natural and seemingly harmless inclination, I realize that it can do more damage than good; especially if one is always moving away from what is uncomfortable. As our instructors are sure to remind us, the “learning zone”- the sweet spot between panic and familiarity, is where the magic happens. Uncomfortable situations are where we learn. When we are comfortable, there are things that we are unable to learn.

Being on Bridge Year has made me comfortable with being uncomfortable. The clando system, just like the family structures that Fernanda touches on, works because we are a part of a functioning society in which thousands of people live. The clando system works because it is an affordable, convenient, and profitable mode of transportation and it is now something I have come to use regularly. By initially deeming the clando system as bizarre, I completely disregarded an entire facet of Senegalese city life, and in turn a whole part of the cultural and social context in which I am living. I believe this realization, while simplistic, has been entirely essential in changing the way I view service and how to go about global issues. By recognizing that clandos are an equally valid mode of transportation, I also deem life in Yoff, an experience very different than my own back at home, as equally valid- encompassing all of its beauty and flaws, just like my life back at home. I am working now to deconstruct my ethnocentric worldview. Whenever I find myself uneasy with facets of life here, I always question why I may be feeling that way. Every day, I learn something new about life here; and every day, hundreds of more questions answer my head about how things work; and everyday, I gain more of an understanding and appreciation for all that I encounter. Clandos, and life here: “mungi dox.”