Stranded on Tin Can Island

Our household goods and car are enjoying their last night on Tin Can Island, a tropical paradise for 40-foot containers off the coast of Lagos.

Buxsailor tracking table

Our goods should have arrived in Rotterdam last week, but as a result of congestion at the port, they had a bonus ten days of cocktails and afrobeat on Tin Can island, dodging pirates and acting inconspicuous … as only a 40-foot container can.

God knows why our shipper in Dakar put our stuff on this ship — it stops at every lampost round the Bight of Guinea before turning round and heading north to Europe. It’s no wonder M. Calasans of CATT déménagements has stopped replying to my emails — honte à toi, Patrice !

At least we know where the ship is now, thanks to fascinating tracking sites such as this.

Of course, given our paranoia experience of double-dealing African officialdom, we cannot be sure that our container actually contains our goods; it is perfectly possible that one or more Senegalese services “rerouted” our goods before the container was sealed. It wouldn’t be the first time a container was “washed overboard”.

What we can be sure of is that baby #4 will be here before our baby goods, so we’ve started buying and borrowing the basics as best we can: bath, blanket, bibs and bed.

The “B”s are covered.

Now, has anyone got a pram going spare?

Mbour Mblues on the Coke Coast

Name that tune …

Hey Jim, Jim? Where is Jim, man?
Jim, I want you to tell me somethin’
I want you to spell for me New York, Jim
Come on, Jim, I want you to spell New York

These days you could ask Jim how to spell Dakar, because a whole lot, whole lot of cocaine is running round West Africa, most through Senegal, with the resultant rise in Hummers and Escalades zipping along the Corniche with blacked out windows.

This week’s Guardian report repeats what has been public knowledge for over a year, that despite the obvious attraction to Colombian traffickers of a failed state like Guinea-Bissau, the lion’s share of cocaine seized in the region is further north, in Senegal.

The grim coastal towns south of the capital, Dakar, appear to be the most popular transit points, dumps like Rufisque and Mbour. Despite a few architectural remnants of former privilege and trading wealth — Rufisque was once one of only four cities in West Africa where inhabitants could claim French nationality — these days the only reason to be happy to see the place is that it marks the end of the bumper-to-bumper crawl out of Dakar — the only road out of the capital ! (average speed = 20 km/hr).

As for Mbour, looking on a map, one might imagine a sleepy, leafy town full of provincial charm, picturesque fishing port full of happy smiling people, a delight of unspoiled Africa for the popular neighbouring tourist resort of Saly. The reality, unfortunately, is a traffic jam the length of the single road through the centre, blocked with heavily loaded/leaning lorries from the titanium minings, belching low quality diesel fumes into the cars and buses around it; through the smog, you can see ugly buildings thrown up in 1970s style and not maintained or cleaned since; further still, the trash-strewn alleys lead to the fishers’ beach and a smell of discarded fish guts rotting in the sand. It is truly

a boyle on the erse of the world

as Chaucer might have said.

Yet to drug smugglers it is the capital of the Coke Coast; with busts of several tonnes of cocaine per year, one wonders how many more tonnes are getting through the underfunded, easily corruptible security forces. You can bribe your way in or out of the country; you can even bribe your way out of jail, as happened with the chief suspects of Senegal’s biggest coke bust (read more … in French).

The huge construction sites all over Dakar are probably one way the drugs profits are being laundered; it’s obvious that the scale of development is out of line with actual demand for new construction, and I predict a collapse in the Dakar property market in the next year.

And while some Senegalese may not care about what Europeans and Arabs stick up their nose, the influx of drug profits will surely rot local society, the drugs will seep into Dakar suburbs, turf and gang warfare to follow.

(>_<)>

Curious to see how, or even if, it will happen in such a traditional Muslim context.

Deep in it

Just heard that our stuff, including essential babyware and car, will now be leaving Dakar around the date it was supposed to arrive in the Netherlands. Apparently the delay is due to congestion in the port. The whole coast of Africa must be gridlocked if it takes two weeks to clear the way to port. I reckon the more likely causes are either incompetence or corruption — either our agent has no backup plan for these types of situation, or he forgot to pay off a key bureaucrat in the chain of exporting goods.

I’ll be glad when I don’t have to deal with this sort of crap. It was the same in Jamaica, by the way, trying to store and ship our stuff. Sure it got done in the end, but only after hours of emailing and skypeing every few days, wheedling and conniving, trying to explain what should have been understood from the start. It’s exhausting.

There really is a difference in culture that is almost insurmountable. And the difference comes in the education, both at home and at school, between the traditional style (“because I say so!” “don’t hit your sister” WhAcK! “Memorize these unrelated data”) and a more modern style (“… otherwise you’ll get your shoes wet”, “tell me why you hit her”, “do a project with your group”). You get the drift. And the results do come through in adulthood. The former culture is submissive, non-collaborative, always seeking an angle to promote or at least protect their own position, lacking initiative; the latter is reasonable, can handle negativity, can empathize with the customer and behave in such a way as to maximize the customer’s position, etc.

But for me, the best thing about being here is sleeping through the night. I don’t know why, but in Dakar I rarely slept the night through, usually waking at five am, worrying about one or more of the problems that needed to be dealt with.

Here, I sleep through … I may still be exhausted but it’s my alarm that wakes me, not my worries.

Edit at 9 am next day: Strike through “I sleep through”.
Reason: Sitting up with baby JuJu from 12:30 to 2:30 am. Choking in snot. beurrggh.

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