Thursday, March 17, 2011

Going to Gambia

I woke up early, intending to head to Gambia on the double. But first there was breakfast—a wide assortment of bread products—to be had, and then I ran over to the ATM to get money. I wouldn't be able to use my bank ATM card in Gambia as only debit-cards with Visa branded on them work there.

And then while I was out anyway, I noticed that my Kindle-guidebook map (ugh, what a pain the maps are to read on a Kindle) showed a clinic right down the street from the ATM. My meningitis vaccine expired a few years ago. I'd intended to get it at home, but at $140 a shot, I only intended this long enough to be horrified. My last one had been twenty dollars at The Surgery in Kampala in 2005. I'd searched for a place in Melilla without luck, and with a clinic right here, it seemed foolish to pass up the opportunity.

But luck wasn't with me. The clinic receptionist instructed me to go to the big Pasteur Institute down by the Corniche. Or something. I actually have no idea where I went. He wrote it on a slip of paper and told me the taxi fare. I hailed a taxi and shoved the paper at the driver.

The driver got me there with no problem. I walked in the large door, took a number, and looked around.

Man, that's a lotta people with a lotta numbers ahead of me. Damn.

I didn't think I could really wait all day. And yet…who knows when I might next find a place that might have this vaccine. But I didn't yet know if they did here.

I finally went up to the desk and managed to convey something about vaccines. The woman behind the desk instructed me to leave the main lobby, go outside, and go around the corner to the vaccine clinic.

Which I did. And that's where a security guard showed me the list of vaccines. Just about all of them…except for meningitis.

The sun was high in the sky by the time I checked out of Hotel Farid and caught a taxi to the gare routiere. The hotel clerk and all my guidebooks agreed that I needed to get a sept-place to Kaolack, the last city this side of the border, then transfer from there.

I recited it in my head. Cow-lack, Cow-lack. But I needn't have. Sept-places went directly to the border.

"Banjul," said the tout drumming up passengers.

"Banjul?" I was incredulous, and not because he wasn't really going to Banjul. The taxi was bound for the Senegal side of the border, and Banjul was just down the road on the other side. We all knew the taxi wasn't really going to Banjul and that was just their shorthand. I was just surprised because everyone had told me otherwise.

No matter. I bought my seat—ugh, the last row again, so my knees would be in my chin—and handed over my baggage to the tout.

Who promptly demanded a small fortune for my bag.

I'd been overpaying for days. I don't mind overpaying a little, but in Senegal I'd been overpaying taxis by six times the price or more. A lodge owner later told me a story about his friend, who drives overland trucks here.

The driver had gotten cranky about someone trying to sell him something or overcharge him or something, and a dew-eyed, fresh-to-the-continent passenger had said "You've been in Africa too long."

The driver turned and said, "No, you haven't been in Africa LONG ENOUGH."


Okay, that's not fair to Africa. It's the same anywhere there are too many tourists and too much poverty meeting up. It's an incubator for opportunists keen to get whatever they can. And there are many, many more people who are helpful and kind than there are those who like to cheat you, but there comes a point when you realize you have to stand up for yourself or you're going to go broke rapidement.

"No. That's too much. Are you crazy? Do you think I don't know the price? Let me ask you something…all this money you keep wanting, a little for this and a little for that, where do you think this money is coming from? Do you think I am rich and have tons of money falling out of my pocket? No, you can't have it. That's the answer, and I am not paying that. Forget it. That's the end of it."

And I got into the taxi.

There was a father, mother, and young daughter in the middle seat, and they were howling with laughter. They were Gambian and understood English.

"They are always asking me for money too," said the father.

In short order, two large men bought the last two seats, squeezed past me into the back—poor things—and off we went towards Kaolack and the border.

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