Apr 192015
African art museum in Dakar.

African art museum in Dakar

I had a moment of travel discomfort last night. I met a colleague for dinner at our hotel in Dakar, and when I mentioned my plans for today included looking for a museum and roaming about a bit, he looked at me intensely and asked, “Did you have your security briefing?”

I had. Our internal security briefing, the U.S. State Department, and my Lonely Planet travel guide all assured me that Senegal was quite safe, with the exception of significant problems with pickpockets. Well, I’ve traveled in high-pickpocket areas before (have they ever been on the Charles Bridge in Prague during tourist season?). I’d noted the warning and was being thoughtful, but my colleague’s vivid description of someone he knew having their purse snatched (complete with screaming and passers-by who caught the guy and then brought him back so the victim could hit him if she wanted) caused me a moment of doubt.

And then there was the mosquito in the bathroom that evening. Normally, I’d hardly notice that. But in Africa, mosquitoes roaming at night are the culprits for carrying malaria. I became convinced that mosquito was an agent of death targeting me.

Goat traffic in the streets of Dakar

Goat traffic in the streets of Dakar

Suddenly, there just seemed to be a lot of things to worry about on this new continent—pickpockets and mosquitoes and the side effects of malaria meds (though I hadn’t experienced any) and brushing my teeth with bottled water and avoiding aggressive salespeople in the street.

For a moment, I had more empathy for people whose travel comfort zone is narrower than mine and who have asked me multiple times, “Aren’t you scared?” when I go somewhere I find perfectly welcoming, but that they think should be intimidating.

For a moment, I contemplated staying safely by the hotel pool today.

But my hiking pants saved my sense of adventure. If people stealing purses are a problem, I could fix that by not carrying a purse to steal. All the essentials—some money, a copy of my passport, chap stick—would fit into the zippered pockets of my hiking pants.

I killed the mosquito.

I discovered that German worked like a charm in fending off salespeople. They don’t speak it here (Senegal was a French colony), and repetitions of “Ich verstehe nicht” and various angry-sounding German phrases was enough to make even the most aggressive street vendor back off.

I found the museum of African art. I enjoyed a lovely cappuccino in a shady café. I wandered the market, dodging goats as necessary and buying some earrings. I found a lovely Lebanese place for lunch.

It’s good to push the boundaries of your travel comfort zone on a new continent. I think my travel mojo is back.

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