The Rains Came Down and the Floods Came Up

Dakar, Senegal on the Cape Verde peninsula

The city of Dakar is built on the Cape Verde peninsula, a long, skinny neck of land that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean.  In fact, this peninsula is the western-most point of the entire African continent.  From what I’ve been able to gather, approximately 2 million people live here.  Not a lot of space for tons of people.  Right now the country is wrapped under the stifling heat and suffocating humidity of summer (June to September/early October).  Summer also means rain – this is the only rainy season during the whole year – and buckets and buckets of rain can drop at any moment.  Since Dakar doesn’t really have drains in the roads, that means that the entire city floods quite frequently.  My first day here I saw several wide, deep puddles that acted as vestiges to a previous rainfall that had occurred before my arrival.  However, my first real experience with the flooding occurred today Friday, September 7th.  A torrential downpour lasted for about two or three hours, and when it rains like that, no one goes anywhere.  So I was stuck at work until the rain stopped.  When it finally did, I headed out the door of our building, mentally preparing myself for a very muddy walk home.

Yeah… when I rounded the corner of the parking lot that looks out to the main street, I saw a knee-deep, brown river where the road should have been.  I was totally not expecting that.  Luckily I’ve gotten in the habit of wearing capris and hiking shoes during my 25-minute walk to work, and I then change into dress pants and sandals when I arrive.  When I go home, I change my pants and shoes again.  So, not willing to wait another two or three hours until the water went down (and having the possibility of getting stuck in another downpour, I switched my hiking shoes for my sandals, rolled up my pants, and prepared to walk home.

A bunch of students were milling around the gate that led to the street, watching buses, cars, car rapides, etc trying to drive their way through the water.  One guy looked at me and said, “You want to pass into the street?”  I nodded and he said, pointing to the water, “I don’t think that’s going to work…”  I nodded again and looked at the water again for a few moments.  Other people were slowly wading their way through the water and looked fine, so finally I decided to get going.  The guy that had spoken to me stared at me with the most flabbergasted look on his face as I sloshed into the water.  I’m sure he was thought that I was nuts, but I wanted to go home and I wasn’t going to let a little bit of water stop me.

It was actually kind of a fun walk.  The rain had cooled the air a quite a bit and a nice breeze made the temperature bearable for the first time since my arrival.  It took a bit longer to get home, but I found myself smiling at the people who passed me, and we kind of chuckled to each other as we felt our way through the water.  The streets surrounding my house were all flooded, and the little alleyway that leads to the front door of my apartment was completely submerged.  Thankfully when my landlady decided to raze her house and rebuild it, she raised the foundation and the front door.  She was smart, because she’s the only one in the area who didn’t have a house full of water.

Close-up of Dakar. Mermoz (my neighborhood) is on the left, almost straight across from the ‘A’ inside the red dot

But the thing that amazed me about this whole experience was the fact that when I woke up the next morning and looked down into the streets (I live on the top floor), 95% of the water was already gone!  I don’t know if it evaporated or what, but it was pretty awesome.

So now I can say that I’ve successfully survived my first major African flood.  Check that one off the list…

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